Thursday, October 29, 2009

One Year After The Vampire Bit

October 29, 2009 --

October 29, 2008, is one of those days that will always stand out for me. There are three reasons.

  • After several days of rain, the Phillies finally closed out their World Series win.
  • Arsenal wee-weed away a two-goal lead in stoppage time in a 4-4 draw against bitter rivals Tottenham.
  • The guy who runs this place:, who shall hence be known as "The Vampire," called me into his office, closed the door behind him, and, without even looking me in the eye, said, "I'm going to let you go," after less than nine weeks on the job.

Getting canned is one of those things that affects your worldview. It sure has mine.

The funny part about it is that I took that job largely out of fear I was soon to be laid off from my job as night sports editor at The Union Leader. I figured I'd rather jump than be pushed from the sinking ship that is newspapers, because I thought I couldn't endure the mental trauma of being let go from a job.

Yeah, life's funny like that, isn't it?

But this is a good news/bad news story. I still don't have a full-time job, but being fired hasn't been nearly the soul-crushing event I'd feared (nowhere near as soul-crushing as spending nine weeks in an office with The Vampire, that's for sure). I'll spare you the "discovering-my-inner-resourcefulness" psychobabble and just say, hey, I'm still here. That has to count for something.

And in some ways it's been a great year. Since that day I've:

  • Had Thanksgiving and Christmas off for the first time in 10 years.
  • Traveled to Colombia and Ireland.
  • Started a master's degree program in counseling.
  • Not missed a meal, mortgage payment or bill.
  • Not taken on a penny of credit card debt.
  • Learned we're expecting our fourth child.
  • Not gone a week without working.
  • Turned down a full-time job offer (the money was short and the schedule not workable).

We have complicated relationships with our work. (BTW, that line isn't mine. I stole it from a friend after a great Facebook chat the other night.) We place huge importance on it -- more than the income it generates. It defines us in a lot of ways. Yet, given the option, many of us would bail out of work the first chance we get. And, as we've discovered in the past year or so, a lot of employers are more than happy to kick folks out the door at the first sign of trouble.

But it hasn't been work that has helped me get through the past year. It's been family and friends. It's been the realization that I have a ton of support from so very many people (more than I deserve, really) who care only that I'm happy, healthy and thriving. Whether or not I'm working full-time or making a robust income doesn't seem to factor into the way they feel about me.

And some of that support has translated into the work I've gotten. I am very lucky to have friends who have confidence in the work I can do, and they've thrown enough my way to keep a modest income going. That's been very gratifying. I confess to being a bit unsettled at depending on part-time work, especially when the bulk of it is on-call, but it's been a year and the hours always seem to be there when I need them. It's as if someone's looking out for me, y'know?

Speaking of looking out for me, time to recognize the one who's done the most to get me from one year ago to today. People chuckle when I call Olga the Fabulous Bride, but if you'd lived the past year I have, you'd understand why that's the best name I can come up with for her, and why it still manages to fall far short of the mark. I've depended on her completely -- emotionally, physically and financially -- and that burden hasn't once seemed to cause her to worry or be weary. I live with her and still I can't grasp how she manages to be so reliable and present to an employer, dozens of students, three children and a husband. Some people are unfairly and unfathomably gifted, and I was smart enough to marry one.

And what about the children? The great thing about kids is that they don't see you as your job or your income. They see you as Mom or Dad and they love you because of that. How else to explain my eldest son, who shortly after I was fired gave up recess, went into the church at his school and prayed for me to find work. He didn't do it because he worried that Christmas was going to be light. He didn't do it because he worried for our family. He did it because he knew I was hurting, and he didn't want me to hurt anymore. Do you have any idea how proud I am to be raising a kid like that? The fact that, when I come home, my little ones come to the door for hugs and kisses means more to me now than ever. What a great lesson to learn.

Lessons? What have I gained from the past year? I guess only this: A job is a business arrangement. When you or an employer have no more use for one another, one of you will end the arrangement. Business is nasty, brutish and short. Relationships last, and good relationships last through good times and bad.

If you're in a tenuous or unfulfilling job situation, here's my advice: Grab hold of the people who mean the most to you. Understand that they will be there long after the business arrangement has ended. Let them be there for you through trying times. And know that they, more than anyone else, are the folks who believe in you and will be your biggest supporters.

One of my journalism professors at BU (in whose honor the men's room in a Kenmore Square pub is named) was fond of the phrase, "May you live in interesting times," which he said was a Chinese curse. I don't know if that's true. But I do know that I believed losing my job would be a curse. Instead, I have found the most interesting of times. I hope I can say the same on October 29, 2010.


Ray said...

I've been laid off four times, Matt, and each time my life has improved.

There must be a correlation.

Matt McSorley said...

Ray, knowing that about you is one of the things that gives me hope. You are surely one of those blessings I wrote about.