I hung out at a friend’s house the other day and the moment she opened the door, she exclaimed that she had been laid off—that very day! She thought it was strange that she was given vague reasons for her termination and after a few moments of silence, she asked me if I had ever been laid off before. Oh yes, I certainly had been. I didn’t get into the nitty gritty details with her, but as I drove home, the feelings I had of that strange time resurfaced.
Some time during the mid-1990s, during the early days of the Dot-com boom, I landed a job as an “Operations Assistant” at a high-tech public relations firm. I don’t know what ever happened to the PR firm, but back then, it was a leader in their field of PR for high-tech firms.
I remember feeling all at once excited and scared when I learned that I got the job. My duties included the mail room; ordering office supplies, drinks, and snacks; managing the periodical library (which had every conceivable computer-related, high tech magazine); covering for the receptionist during breaks; setting up the conference rooms with food and beverages for meetings; assembling all new office furniture; and best of all, I was encouraged to learn HTML to become the company “Webmaster.”
In theory, it should have been a dream job. In theory. Most of the time, I felt lucky to work for an exciting company that offered plenty of growth. I had a great work ethic and I did my job well. I arrived for work early and didn’t leave until all my work was done for the day. So I’ll never forget that day I was let go. The boss was there, along with the head of Human Resources and the Operations Manager. I remember feeling excited when I was called into Human Resources and I felt nervous as I took my seat. I seriously thought that I was getting a promotion and a raise.
Well, the joke was on me. I left the meeting in tears. Though I was reassured that it was nothing personal, I felt that it was. I felt upset and confused, almost as though I was in a terrible breakup. I felt like the first person eliminated from a reality show like Survivor.
They said they were letting me go as a casualty of streamlining their operations. And so I wondered, why the hell did they hire this other dude just several weeks before as my co-partner in my department? At the time they hired him, it never occurred to me that the new recruit I was training would eventually replace me. After all, the company was growing at such a fast pace (it tripled during my short tenure there), it only made sense to hire more help.
Feeling insulted and unappreciated, with my small box of office decor and whatever dignity I had left, I walked out. As my mind raged in a torrent, I immediately drove to the unemployment office in South San Francisco. I thought about what I had done to deserve termination. Perhaps I should’ve attended all those baseball games and company parties. Perhaps I should’ve been more sociable by accepting invitations for after-hour drinks with some co-workers. Or maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut when the CFO had threatened to “bite my head off” if I ever fulfilled an office supply request over $50 without his direct authorization. I guess I could’ve been nicer to my boss, who clearly suffered from an acute case of Asia-philia.
Though it was not clear to me at the time, getting laid off from that job was the best thing that could’ve happened. Of the seventy employees who worked there, only a handful were sincerely kind folks, while the others were blinded by hubris. Simply, they were cut throat, blow hard assholes. No, I’m not disgruntled—just honest. Working for a big company left such a bad taste in my mouth, I only sought to work with small companies thereafter. However, one of the best things which resulted from getting laid off from that PR firm was the motivation it gave me to go back to school, in hopes of one day securing enough credentials to be indispensable.