Three Awards

The corporation I work for has three awards to recognize employees’ accomplishments, none of which I qualify for.

One is for journalists, and I am not a journalist. One is for people who work on specific products that we offer, and I work on none of those products. And one is for managers, and I am not a manager.

Which leaves me in the pool of employees who essentially work unrecognized, day after day, year after year. This would include people such as accountants, help desk representatives, or the people who make sure the toilets still flush.

However, there is one award we all qualify for: the “service award.” This is the “award” people get for sticking with the company for 10 years or more. It basically recognizes people for being unambitious and unable to be employed anywhere else. It rewards people for not being creative enough, or providing enough value, to be noticed. It rewards people for blind loyalty and doing the minimum required to not get fired.

The situation does not inspire me to achieve much. I was laid off once from this company and I fully expect that it could happen again.  I know I’m expendable. This makes the “service award” less impressive than the others. (Full disclosure: even people who’ve won the above mentioned awards have been laid off.)

Which means that all the corporate-speak about teamwork, collaboration, and excellence ring hollow. If employees truly mattered, there would be more ways to recognize, more value placed on everyone’s work product (and not just the work product of the few). There would be a CEO who actually spoke to employees, not at them (we used to have one; he’s dead now).

Corporations are different than they used to be, and I don’t think it can be entirely blamed on the economy. My father ran a commercial operation for over 20 years in San Francisco and he knew the name of every one of his employees. This could still be done today if the CEO wanted it to, instead of wanting more salary and to please the shareholders. Or to achieve greatness. In other words, corporations are the people who compose them, more so than their stock ticker or SEC filing. It would be nice if they behaved that way.

Extending an Offer

When I was laid off from my job four years ago, everyone told me that it was not a reflection of my work, skills, or commitment. It was just the nature of the business.

“I know that you are not happy with what happened,” the general counsel who handled my severance said in an e-mail. “However, for what it’s worth – I want you to know that I enjoyed working with you and if you need anything, feel free to contact me and I will try to help however I can.”

I tried not to take it personally, I really did. I secretly hoped that someone would step forward and tell me that my years of service were appreciated. “We don’t want to lose you,” I imagined they would say. “We have an opening in another department we think you’d be good for.”
the corporation

But that didn’t happen. And since then, I wondered whether that kind of thing happens only in the movies.

Recently, though, I overheard a conversation between a couple of colleagues. One said that when she’d first applied to the company, she thought she was well-suited for the opening. But the company liked her so much, they made her an offer for both the job for which she’d applied and one for which she hadn’t. “We know you didn’t apply for this position, but we think you might be interested,” she recalled the HR person saying.

It was two for the price of one for my colleague. Those HR people recognized in this colleague some skills badly needed, which, of course, is as it should be. But more than that, they took the initiative to extend an offer that she hadn’t known was there. I guess the key is having the skills, and making sure that others know you have the skills, that are in need at that time.

So this really does happen. It just didn’t happen to me.

I personally know of at least five people, in addition to me, who were laid off and subsequently rehired by the same company. If you consider the payouts for severance and the subsequent costs to publicize the position and reintegrate the workers into the corporation, it seems like an inefficient process. I’m not sure who benefits from this. I certainly didn’t.

It’s Time For a Revision

 

A Manifesto

I’m tired and I want out.

Until recently, I was pretty sure I was in my choice of career, acquiring the knowledge and skills that would allow me to be a purposeful part of society. But perhaps the traditional career is not my cup of tea after all. Instead, perhaps I need to reexamine what set me on this path in the first place, and redirect my efforts into work that is more personally rewarding.

When I lost my job in 2009, I basically panicked. I have a wife, two kids, and a mortgage. I had to do something. Unfortunately, this obscured my ability to see any alternative opportunity. Like a drowning man, I lost hold of any rational view of the best course of action. I ended up being re-hired by the same company, doing work related to my former position.

Revision camp
As the panic has subsided, I am able to look at my assumptions. One is that I wanted a traditional career, the conventional man-as-breadwinner model.  It seemed a reasonable assumption, being the best way to make my mark in life and provide for myself and my family. However, I’ve realized that when my job was eliminated, the idea of my career had been eliminated too.

This has not been an easy realization for me. I wrote an essay that was published elsewhere about my conflicted feelings concerning my career, or lack thereof. (I was given a pseudonym by the publisher as protection from potential career damage.) I said there that for many people, and men especially, the career goes to define the adult self. Without the recognition that a career brings—amongst peers, colleagues, and maybe also the public—life lacks direction.

Now I’m seeing that I committed career suicide a long time ago–I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, though, I’ve never had a clear vision of my course in life. I’ve flip-flopped many times, with few consistent threads to hold it together. But I had a dream, an ephemeral idea of who I saw myself as. Essentially, it involved being an effective part of finding a solution to what I saw as the critical issue of my generation—the environment. And it involved doing so in a creative fashion, most likely writing.

But my dream had some flaws. Specifically, my pursuit of a career has been misguided in regard to corporate life generally and specifically work on environmental issues. Neither has been as satisfying or successful as I had hoped. I thought that, given enough time, the personal rewards would come, but it just hasn’t happened.

Time to set a new course.

A writer friend of mine once pointed out that the word “revision” actually is “re-vision”, as in “to see again.” Recently, I’ve come to see that my life, post lay-off, will require a revision.

But long-standing points of view do not change overnight. And I see, with the help of some time and distance, that my insistence on sticking to the corporate comforts and the environmental path was blinding me to other possibilities.

This means that I need to stop clinging to what I think I ought to be doing. Says writer Amy Gutman, “The more wedded we are to a specific outcome—the more we narrow our sights—the harder it may be to craft a fulfilling life with the materials at hand.”

Changing entrenched habits requires new methods. To borrow from the “tactical urbanism” lexicon, I need to take a deliberate, but phased, approach to change, making short-term commitments and keeping my expectations realistic. In other words, I need to make a choice, set small goals, stick to it, and take baby steps.

Furthermore, I need to see the problem in its component parts. Only then can I eliminate what is unnecessary and cast off the extraneous. What remains is what I need to live.

Thoreau wrote “I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.”

A vision is forming, and I think I see a way. I’m letting go of the dream…to find a new one.

Note: See also the addendum to this post.