“We have decided to make a change in IT leadership.” Not exactly the words you want to hear on a Wednesday afternoon. But I knew it was coming, so it was not a surprise. First off, it was a Wednesday and my CEO always fired people on a Wednesday. Secondly, he and I were a bad match, not bad people, just a bad match.
No, I knew it was coming. I cannot imagine how an individual who is surprised by this type of news would react, but it must be earth shattering. For me, at least, it was expected. My CEO had avoided me for the past year, and he even asked me to coordinate my communication to him through another executive. In my head, I did not want to believe that with the string of successes and major accomplishments over the past five years, he would actually give me the boot, but in my heart I knew it would happen, and it did happen. Just like that, it was over.
As I left his office I was numb, and walked to my car in a bit of a fugue state, not quite knowing what I was feeling. You see, I am a first born Italian male of a first born Italian male. Stereotypically, and please don’t be offended, this is not the most emotionally aware population on the planet. I have three emotional states: happy, sad and mad. Simple enough, and it got me through the first 50-something years of life, not to mention several years of therapy.
I realize that an emotionally mature individual will have labels for more expressive psychological states, but that is not me (by the way, did I ever mention I’m a former neuro-psychologist). Nope, happy, sad, mad seemed to be the depths of my feelings and, to this point, I was ok with that. But on the drive home, I became angry and, as trauma frequently makes one introspective, I questioned why. For the past two years, I did not like the job, was not tickled with the new CEO, and was actively looking for another position, so why was I angry? I sputtered all the way home.
My state of confusion increased when I got home and told my wife. Expecting her to be mad or sad, she surprise when she blurted out, “That’s great Daniel! You’re out of a bad relationship, you got a great parting gift, (excellent severance package), and now you can look for a job you want. We should go to the Caribbean and celebrate.” Huh! Have I just lost touch with reality? Celebrate. We are in a great economic recession, we have financial responsibilities, I have just lost my professional identity and you want to go to the Caribbean? “Are you nuts,” I blurted. This is terrible. I just got sacked and have to start looking for a new job. We are not going on vacation!
So I’m sitting on a warm beach in Curacao, drinking a cold Pina Colada, when I picked up my iPad and started to look for a job. I reached out to executive search firms, started to troll job sites, and e-mailed my resume to friends and associates for review and comment. Somehow I was feeling happy, but it did not seem right. And so went the first week of being unemployed in over 20 years.
The next few weeks were exciting, I was competent, relatively well known, and have a history of accomplishment. I should get a job in no time. But weeks turned into months and the excitement turned to sadness. I was not getting interviews, friends took a little extra time returning my calls, and I felt my confidence erode on a daily bases.
Let me interject that if a friend or associate of yours loses their job, reach out to them. It may feel awkward, but we, all of us, are the professional connection to each other and, in a time like that, it is important for your friend to stay connected (Lecture over).
I was fortunate in that there were a hand full of collogues who were supportive professionally, and I had a family who was supportive spiritually and emotionally. Nonetheless, I found myself at five months to be somewhat depressed, bordering on despondent. I was not happy, not really mad, and sad just did not seem to cover it. Negative thoughts, doubt, envy, frustration, guilt, and shame all seemed to find a place in my thoughts, and I was not equipped to deal with these feelings. Once again, my wife had some very supportive words for me. “Cut the shit,” she said, “get out of the house and find work. Go do some consulting and make yourself useful.” Is that any way to talk to your husband, I thought, and huffed away sputtering once again!
So I’m driving to my first client, feeling a little better. A friend was able to get me a consulting gig with another friend who had a great staff and nice organization. In addition, I was a final candidates for two positions and I had two new interviews lined up. Things were looking better. But a month later, happy roller-coasted to sad when I did not get either of the two jobs for which I was finalist, and one of the new interviews decided to cancel the search in favor of an internal candidate. Each day became a struggle. I was envois of my wife when she left for work each day and of my friends who were gainfully employed. I was generally feeling sorry for myself. I felt oblivious, obscure, and unsure. But it was spring and I was able to push those thoughts out of my head for a few hours each day as I worked in the garden.
This took me through months 10 and 11 of being “out of the office,” but my overall state of being was not, shall we say, positive. On one weekend before a second interview at a health system, my wife turned to me and said that she thought the reason I was not getting offers was because I had lost that sense of wonder I always had when it came to healthcare and healthcare IT. She said, “Whenever you spoke of your work, your eyes used to light up, you were animated, and you had passion. You used to have a sense of wonder which is not there anymore. Go back and find it.” I sputtered something about her lack of sensitivity and went off to pull weeds.
Somewhere in the garden I unearthed that old wonder.
So on the fifth day of the 13th month of being “out of the office,” I found myself walking down the hall of a new hospital towards a new office. I realized that change happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in happy, the next day you’re sad and, if you are lucky, there are very few days when you are mad. But the memories and support of my family, a few friends and good collogues stay with me for the long haul. I remember my jobs, the people I admire, the friends I met along the way weaving the tapestry of my career and realize the golden thread was my wife.
She’s always been that essentially thread and, with luck, she will always be there with her wit, sarcasm and support. To paraphrase W.H. Auden: She is my north south east and west. And, as I look back on a career which I am sure is like many other careers, with friends and family that are a lot like others’ friends and family, with challenges that are a lot like the challenges of others, I realize it is because of her that we are special and, after all these years, I can still look out … with wonder.