October 2, 2003 was just another day in history for most. For me it was my dad’s birthday and the day that I lost my innocence about the corporate world.
I was working for one of the largest financial services companies at the time and we were at the end of what would turn out to be a 3-year bear market.
At the time I was an Account Executive working with high net worth clients that lived in areas not served by our branch network. This program had been successful, and we felt that we added significant value to people that would otherwise not have help from our company.
With the market volatility we began to hear rumors about potential layoffs. Working with some of the companies most profitable clients, we felt that we would be safe.
October 2, 2003 turned out to be the opposite. At 8am on the 2nd our team was brought into a conference room and told that our position was being eliminated. We had two options:
Take a layoff package that would give us one week of pay for each year we had been with the firm (7 Weeks in my case).
Take a significant demotion and reduction in pay and stay on as a service team member.
We had two weeks to decide.
I was allowed to leave work that day and take a personal day to think about my decision.
THE DRIVE HOME
The trip home that day, I experienced the five levels of grief dealing with my potential job loss.
Denial – The walk from our office to my car required about a 15-minute walk. On that day it seemed like an hour. I remember thinking the whole time “This can’t be happening”. “I have been a loyal employee”. “I thought I would be able to retire from this company”.
Anger – Driving home for me was an hour on the road. At this point I began to get madder and madder. “How could they do this to me”. “Screw this company”. “I will find another job and teach them”. “I will take my clients with me”.
Bargaining – As I approached home, the reality began to set in. I would have to tell my wife that no matter what happened our world was going to change. I would either be out of a job with no income in 9 weeks or take a huge pay cut. I felt like a complete failure. I remember praying to God at this point, “Lord please help guide us. I just want to keep my job and go back to the way things were.”
Depression – I got home, and my wife Crystal happened to be off that day. As soon as she saw me come in, she immediately asked “what's wrong?”. With tears rolling down my face I explained the situation to her. The weight of my failure pressed down on me like a boulder, until Crystal told me “we have got this, we can get through it together, I believe in you.”
Acceptance – For the next week I explored all my options, applied and interviewed for a few jobs, and in the end decided that I had to eat the big crap sandwich and take the demotion. Only 7 of us in a department of 29 took this path all the others left.
Two weeks later a Senior VP in our department was able to negotiate keeping us on for a year at our current pay. However, we would have to find jobs at branch offices during that time. They had identified 7 branches that were looking for representatives. All of these would require us to uproot our life and move with no help from the company.
I had interviewed and said that we would be willing to move to Florida until I heard that there might be an opening in one of our Dallas branches. I reached out to the manager, interviewed and was hired that day.
This career move was a significant raise, more job security and we were able to stay in our home, however things were never the same for me.
My relationship with the company had changed. I no longer had the unconditional love for the company and I began to experience an irrational fear that would plague me for the rest of my career there and at every subsequent job I had after that.
THE IRRATIONAL FEAR
My wife and I love to travel. We have traveled extensively around the world to more that 20 countries and 30 states.
However, after October 2, 2003, every time I would take vacation and come back to work, I would have the fear that I would lose my job.
This fear also manifested itself on Sunday evenings as I began to think about going to work the next day. This is a common fear and in fact more deaths occur at work on Monday mornings between 8-10 am than any other day of the week. People are literally dying to go to work!
For me this manifested itself in a sense of dread beginning every Sunday afternoon. It led to sleepless nights and a tightness in my stomach. I hated the drive to work on Monday. I would have a fear that my access card would not work when I got to the office. Every time that the card worked, I would relax and subconsciously think, “Whew, I get to work for another week”.
Being a man and a former soldier, I stupidly allowed this to occur, without seeking help for the next 12 years of my life both inside this and other companies.
Having the time to look back now it is so clear to me what was going on. As I analyzed this later in life, I began to realize there were significant periods of my career where I was excited and happy about work. However, there were times of my career where I was unhappy, unfulfilled and my fears would take over.
When I was happiest, I was working on major projects for the company where I was given minimal direction and allowed to just “figure out” the problems.
When I was unhappiest, I was being micromanaged, had jobs that were repetitive and highly structured and not allowed to use my creativity and problem-solving skills.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was an entrepreneur inside of other people’s companies.
In my next article I will explain how I was able to realize this and what steps I took to change my life.