Have you ever had to go outside into the pouring rain to do whatever it was you were going to do next?
You wait and you wait and you wait for as long as you can, but the rain isn’t going to stop or even slow down and eventually you just have go out there and take your soaking.
As I wrote this, it was sunny and gorgeous outside, with mild temperatures and the hint of a breeze.
But I’m still going to have to go out in a downpour.
When my boss came into our office and said hello as she walked by, I just picked my head up from my computer, responded and then got back to work.
Because of the way the department I manage was set up, not only do I not work in the same office as the people I supervise, I’m not in the same office as my boss.
So I figured she was there meeting with one of the other managers, and she’d pop in to catch up when they were done, especially about my just-concluded vacation.
And then all of a sudden she was at my desk, saying she needed to meet with me and the other manager. My first response was the usual one, “Am I in trouble?” even though I couldn’t be. After all, I had just gotten back from vacation, so whatever bad things happened the week before couldn’t be my fault.
It took me a couple more seconds to realize I was being summoned for … the meeting … the meeting that ends with you being unemployed, in my case, two weeks from now. Not because of poor performance, but … reasons.
I probably didn’t handle it well. Given the state of mind I was in, I figured that if I looked at or spoke to anyone, only a few things could happen and they were all going to be bad.
So I just stared at the table, and hardly said a word.
“There’s a you that goes way beyond your job, your professional skills, your family, and your friends. It’s made up of your own unique view of the world, what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what you do to engage with the community around you, what you do for fun, what you believe in, and what and who you love, whether or not they love you back.”
— “Define Yourself by Your Work? How (and Why) You Should Stop Now,” Minda Zetlin, Inc.
I know you’re not supposed to define yourself by what you do for a living — after all, it’ll never love you back — and I’m somewhere between decent and terrible at that.
After all, I’m Suzi’s husband, my parents’ son, an older brother, a friend, a guy who loves sports, a guy who is way too obsessed with his pickleball game, a guy who splatters stuff on the internet every so often and shockingly has people who like it … just a guy … a 47-year-old guy with good parts and bad parts and lots of stuff in between.
But work is still how I make money to help pay the bills and do all the stuff I do in life. Weekdays are divided into working and not working; weekends are temporary respites, vacations longer ones.
And I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve spent the last 21 years, 16 of it at the company where I am now, in the field I’ve wanted to be in, doing (mostly) the things I want to do.
It hasn’t all been perfect, but the ledger has a lot more good times than bad ones.
But now that’s going to be done, and while there are things I could do that use the talents I have, I’ll probably never do exactly the same type of thing again.
Suzi and I have had a low-level disagreement over the past several months about those talents. She insists, and she’s probably right, that if things ever did go south, my abilities can transfer to a lot of other places and a lot of other fields.
Meanwhile, all I’ve been able to see is that I’d have to start all over again.
I don’t remember where I originally saw it, but for years, when I’ve been ready to leave work, I’ve often said “I’ve done all the damage I can do for one day.”
Sometimes, I’ve followed that up with “fresh new damage awaits tomorrow,” but pretty soon, I’m going to be done with whatever I’m doing that day, close up my computer and that will be it.
All my damage will be done, and there will be no more to do. I’ll turn in my computer, my work cellphone, the office key and the key to the building, and that will be all she wrote.
And no one will miss me.
I don’t say that to be bitter or depressing, just that it’s a fact of workplace life. It may take a while to adjust while they work out the kinks of what I did — I prepared a list; it’s long — and I’m friends with enough people I used to work with (and get along well with my coworkers now) to know that I’ve been fairly popular in all the places I’ve worked.
But for however much people think I’m a swell fellow, work will have to go on. There will be one less person there, but the stuff that has to be done doesn’t stop.
As someone who once drove three hours to a trial for another job while my colleagues were at a holiday party and the only other person in the office was a Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t at the party because she didn’t celebrate, I get it.
Regarding the picture immediately above, my mate Gardner took it at a previous going-away party for me — this one voluntary, as I was moving to a different unit — and the woman holding the cake box is my friend Nancy.
If I leave someplace, and it can’t run without me, I consider that a failure, because that means I haven’t built anything other than a cult of personality. Therefore, I’ve always said that I want whoever replaces me to make everyone forget about me, to be better than I was.
In addition to being an extremely kind human being, Nancy replaced me in the job I was leaving. I’ve told her that of all the times I’ve said I wanted my replacements to be better than me, she’s the only one who clearly thought I meant it.
I called Suzi, and my parents, emailed my staff, got back to work — because I am still working for the next two weeks.
And during that time, Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” had taken up residence in my head.
This is a good thing. It’s a wonderful song, and she’s brilliant. I just didn’t know why it had earwormed me.
But when I actually played the song, it hit me … Suzi has been trying to tell me this all along.
You hold tight to your umbrella
But, darling, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
And then the responses to my Facebook post (because why not tell practically everyone I know?) came rolling in — friends, family, former coworkers, people I’ve supervised, all telling me how great I am and how there is something better out there.
After a while, I actually started to believe them. If felt like my birthday. If I had known that would happen, maybe I would have gotten myself laid off ages ago.
Suzi, my parents, my brother, my friends … they’ve all been really encouraging. Although the feelings I feel about the whole situation are still there, and could re-emerge at any moment, it’s largely because of that encouragement that I’ve been able to function.
I’m still nervous about what happens next, but the sky isn’t as dark now, and someday it will open.
They haven’t yet, but the wind and rain will stop blowin’.
I just need to run out the door and get wet first.