Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ace Up My Sleeve

I would say that I never thought I would ever be laid off, but even at the time I knew better. The signals were all over the company, all over the cards. I could smell it.

Now I'm not here to talk about specifics. For one thing, the terms of the agreement I signed in order to receive my very generous, as they go, severance package make it clear that I don't want to talk about the specifics. I was part of several waves of layoffs that over the years has restructured that company into something I probably would not recognize now. That's actually a relief. I had knowledge at the time of some of the inner workings and vulnerabilities that was vital to doing a good job while I had it but a dreadful burden to carry when I was let go. I harbored a secret pleasure that I wasn't in the first wave, cold comfort.

I was, of course, emotionally devastated anyway. Some of my team members who had been dedicated co-workers and sincere friends stood with me on the curb that day while I waited, tears streaming down my face, silent, desolate, hoping my husband would get there quickly so the awfulness of that moment could pass.

I think my friends were not sure I was going to get past it. It was touch and go. I was utterly focused on getting through it, past it and on to the next job. The trouble was that when hundreds of peers whose resumes are also pretty good were laid off at the same time, the local market was flooded with people who did essentially what I did if you don't look too closely at the details. It was a time when I had to reinvent myself and highlight what difference I could bring to a potential employer. I was willing to do what it took to get that new job.

First and foremost, I had to be re-convinced I had something special to give. I had worked hard to get a job that I loved as much as the one I lost. I had put myself through school to get a second college degree while still working a full time job. I had turned myself from a clerical drone into a programmer, then a database analyst, then manager and director with a credenza full of awards for business appreciation, customer focus and technology peer recognition. And then, it was over. It must have been my fault, something I did, something I didn't do. It couldn't have been the wheel of misfortune turning to the "I have no reign" position. It couldn't have been a volatile economy affecting a volatile business. It couldn't have been something like human error on a large scale. I was the cause of my crisis. Right.

My head was clear enough to realize that I needed help and one of the best benefits of my package was employment counseling. My work was cut out for me. I had to remake myself from the ground up. It wasn't just a resume refresher. It was everything, the wardrobe, the career goal, the boundaries of what I would give up and what I would not. It was gaining a perspective on the job market, how well I matched what people wanted and what I needed to do to adjust so I was not just a match but the best match. No matter what the cause of my crisis really was, I had to be the cause of my recovery.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I was relentless, 16 hours a day for months while the money dribbled away. Finally, after 10 months, when the money had just run out, I found the Ace of Pentacles. I got a job offer. I wasn't second best. I was the one they wanted. It was real. Many things made it less than ideal. The money was less than I had made before I was laid off. But it was better than $0! It wasn't a management job, but I had come to realize that I didn't want that. I wanted to solve problems that were hard for other people. The biggest compromise was that it was 400 miles from my home. But I could make it work and make my house payments. Slowly, things were getting better, at a pace only pentacles could appreciate.

It's been a long road, but that was years ago now. I was digging through a box to untangle a couple of chains and found 4 of my "Excellence in Service" pins, the only keepsakes remaining from that previous job. It was a little like reading love letters I had written to someone long ago, someone who didn't love me, someone I no longer loved. I loved the excellent service I had given and finally felt that the source of that good feeling was within me. It wasn't at a street address in the financial district in any city. That was the ace up my sleeve I had lost, momentarily.

The Ace of Pentacles is the new start of something tangible. It moves more slowly than "fire sign" people like me would like. It stays longer than you would expect. It is not just the search for wealth or chasing a buck, although, if you make it that way, it can be that shallow. It can be that deep too when it is the basis for stability, health and general well-being. No matter how high your ideals, how spiritual your path, how crisp your intelligence, how noble your goals, you have to cover the basics one way or another. The pursuit of money to the exclusion of all else, that's shallow. Reinventing yourself, regrounding, starting over, starting a new job, career, relationship, life, that's hard. Hard, but not shallow. Hard, but even if it goes slowly, suffers setbacks, gives you nightmares in the daytime, sticking with it feels like winning the prize you get to keep.

Best wishes.


  1. wow... I am going through all these things in this very moment... however, I am waiting for the Ace of Wands to show up and make things work out.

    I think that the worst part is being unsure, you know... let's see how things turn out.

  2. Marcia,
    Layoffs and experiences like the one you went through are devasting. I'm sure many people will be able to relate.
    Doesn't surprise me that you received 4 "Excellence in Service" pins. If only that company had had "Excellence in Upper Management". Good people are the lifeblood of business. It's not only about the bottom line. Some executives are beginning to get it.

    Glad you landed well.