Saturday, December 31, 2011

Redundees Anonymous

As part of my generous redundancy package I was given time with an outplacement company. I’d never heard of this kind of service before and I imagined it was a head hunting organisation that would grab my resume and run with it to the nearest large corporation who would want to pay me a gazillion dollars.

Outplacement companies do not do that.

Just like in the movie “The Company Men”, I resisted starting my outplacement experience because I knew that once I started it was all too real. I would then be officially a job seeker, one of those statistics, one of the 40,000 jobless people in Australia.

Once I made the appointment though, I was quite excited about what was included. Not only did I have my own executive consultant who would coach me into finding my next dream job, but they also offered group workshops where I could meet others in my situation and network with people who had gone through the same thing and survived.

My consultant showed me the reality of job searching with some stats and graphs of data he’d been collating over the years which gave me an honest look on what I should expect. Despite my intentions to be employed in a month, he told me that it could take 6-12months to land a great position in a company I wanted to work for. I didn’t believe him, so I gave myself three months. Here I am at six.

We worked on my strategy. Apparently just sitting back and hoping for job offers to come rolling in is not a viable strategy.

We reworked my resume. It needed more than four words. (I want a job).

We worked on my personal pitch, my elevator speech, my 2 minutes of “about me” that would land me an invitation to meet with hiring managers.

And then I booked in for the workshops.

The very first group session I went to, I secretly wanted to video it. There were about ten of us sitting in a circle with the purpose of talking about our experience and learn about how we keep ourselves buoyant and motivated. At first we had to introduce ourselves to the group with a little blurb about us. Everyone in the group was shy, myself included. I have never been the first one in a group to speak up, in fact public speaking makes my heart beat so fast that I am sure I have been on the verge of many heart attacks in the past. Regardless, I was reinventing myself so I decided to introduce myself first.

“Hi, my name is Lisa and I am a recovering redundee” was not received well in the room and anyone wanting to open fire with a machine gun would have been warmly welcomed. I thought it was funny, but the looks on the faces of my new friends told me otherwise. And then the penny dropped. Most of the group were late 50’s males in executive positions with families and mortgages. They probably would not land another job like the one they were in. They were most likely mortgaged to the eyeballs with kids in private schools, and here I was, the second income earner of our family and making light of what had happened.

I redeemed myself by keeping quiet for the rest of the session.

I went to a styling session where my personal stylist suggested I get rid of the greys and the tummy. First impressions counted and my new potential employee may consider my greys as not having any “attention to detail”. Regardless of my earlier promise of wearing my greys and wrinkles as a badge of wisdom and honour, I dyed my hair that afternoon. I also booked into Pilates and became friends with my cross trainer that had been getting dusty at home. I was reminded that every opportunity is one to network, and even when out shopping I may run into my next “boss” so always be mindful of what I wear. I invested in a couple of Akira dresses. (OK, so I had been eyeing off those lovely dresses for months and now decided to justify spending the equivalent amount of a small countries debt).

I went to self-care workshops and learnt how to visualise. Apparently I am really good at this! (but was advised not to add this as a skill to resume).

I went to a session on personal branding and using social media to my advantage. As a Facebook addict, I needed to apply my skills to LinkedIn and Twitter. Proudly, my LinkedIn status was used as an example to the class. And I was able to make a few more connections with my new group.

I was loving these workshops so much I didn’t want to ever get a job.

And then I went to a workshop that changed everything. Everyone in the group was just like me, made redundant and searching for work. I was the only one in the room who was upbeat and positive, and those around me were depressed and working on amazing impressions of “Eeeyore”. I knew for my own well being that I either had to be the best positive influence in the room or take a break from workshops.

I took a break.

Exercise became my friend in the place of the workshops.

I have not returned to the workshops, but I have started seeing my consultant again.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dont Tell The Neighbours

By the time I returned home from the office for the last time, my husband had already told the kids about what had happened. We decided to head out to dinner to discuss it as a family. This was a really kind gesture of my husbands to get me out of the house and focus on the positive side of the future.

The boys were quite pleased that I was now unemployed because to them it meant more time together. My husband was absolutely thrilled that I was made redundant, he saw the opportunity in personal growth for me way before I realised it. I just had to get used to the idea.

I called my parents and told them the news, and sent an email off to some of my colleagues to say goodbye and give them my new contact details. I was very careful in phrasing what had happened because I needed people to know I accepted what happened and was prepared to move on to a new future. My facebook page was filled with comments from well wishers and in the two days following my departure, there were over 400 emails from my colleagues around the world wishing me well. My heart sang at the lovely messages I read and I responded to all of them with a sincere and motivating message on what I had gained from working at the company.

Despite the beautiful emails from well-wishers, I was worried that the rumour mill would be working overtime because of the way the redundancy had been executed. In my mind and especially on reflection, it was brutal and suggestive of wrong-doing on my part.

I was called out of a client meeting and taken to the HR department, where I waited for the Managing Director to join us. I was so nervous and couldn’t for the life of me work out what I had done wrong. The last thing I expected to hear was that my role was now redundant and I was being immediately terminated before being walked to my desk to gather my things. I was then escorted off the premises by my manager in front of staff, peers and colleagues. It provided opportunity for the fodder of rumours to circulate and I was genuinely concerned that this may effect my reputation.

Regardless, I was determined to act with grace and remain as positive as I possibly could. I accepted this was a business decision and I was not going to be negative or respond with comments that would ultimately reflect on me as a person. Its not to say I wasn’t angry, but there was no way I was going to lose any dignity or pride over this experience. It was very important to me to be honest, but for my own mental well-being remaining positive provided a boost and didn’t allow me to go down the “poor me” track.

I prepared my “story” for friends and family. When I was asked how my job was, I would say that I’d left that company and was now in the process of looking for something else. I smiled. Sincerely.

Six months down the track, I talk about my previous role with pride and always focus on the positive. I am constantly aware that networking is the number one way to securing the next position and every opportunity is a chance to network.

My story goes something like this now...

“I specialise in emergency assistance/crisis management which I really love. I enjoy the adrenalin and the thought of going home everyday feeling rewarded that I had made a difference to someone’s life. I hope to find another job where I can have the same sense of achievement like that soon”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Food for the Soul

Redundancy can come as a bit of a shock, kind of like an electric zap when you least expect it. While I felt sad and hurt that it had happened, I also felt relief and excited at the opportunities ahead of me. I was fortunate enough not to have the burden of primary income earner for our family and the payout felt like a nice windfall to our bank balance. Redundancy not only awarded me finances but also time.

Time to reflect on what had happened and why, and also time to be kind to myself and do some things I wasn’t able to do because I was always working.

At my farewell drinks a couple of days later I was reminded of a team-building project I had been working on where I wanted to send a team of staff into Cambodia to build houses for a charity organisation. The project was only in its research stage but something I had been very keen on organising.

The next morning I booked my flights and made contact with the organisation who arranged the house builds. It was timely, the next group of 30 people were arriving the following week and I was allowed to join them. I loved Cambodia, I’d been there a year before on a work trip and fell in love with the people and the place.

I knew this would be a test to my confidence, being in a large group of people I knew nothing of and feeling the way I was feeling. I was hesitant, and a little nervous. This was truly throwing myself to the gods without any real knowledge of what was going to happen.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh I knew I had done the right thing, it just felt right. My first night was spent in luxury to treat myself and the following day I met my team of 30 new best friends. A little shy at first, I reminded myself of the personal commitment I made to be the most positive person in that group. I was keen not to tell my story of woe but rather what my plans were moving forward.

We travelled to a remote province south of Phnom Penh and built our 30 houses in unbelievable conditions. The heat was strong and the humidity high - to match our attitudes. It was hard work, I’d never held a hammer before in my life let alone built a house. The first fifty nails failed - who knew that hitting nails would be so difficult? I tried to be a Buddhist and become one with the hammer. The next fifty nails failed. So I decided to get angry. I named those nails. I’m not a hateful person; in fact I can count on one finger how many people I truly dislike. That one person got the privilege of being honoured with fifty nails. It worked a treat, my nails slid in beautifully. Sometimes anger is a good thing if being directed in the right way.

At the end of our week, we handed over the 30 houses to the villagers who had saved their pennies and waited patiently for seven years for this to happen. Its very hard to articulate the feeling you get when you do something like this, pride was certainly there but also absolute love that I was able to help a few families out because I had time to do it. And of course a bit of money.

After the house building, I travelled 4 hours with a driver to a small fishing village on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, a cute little place called Kep. I rented a beautiful villa by the sea and sat in my little room writing, emailing and reading. I loved my new MacAir so much that spending time alone with it was easy. It had all my favourite songs downloaded, as well as photos of my family and my house building experience, and of course access to the outside world with the net.

Sadly my trip was cut short due to a family tragedy, however the time in Cambodia and the friends I met were everything I needed to know that I am a good person with a lot to give.

This was food for the soul. It was healing and gave me a new sense of purpose. Confidence restored.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Getting of Independence

After 24 hours of crying at the thought that I was no longer valued in the company I had given almost 8 years to, I wiped my eyes, checked my bank balance and decided to buy myself some independence.

In the form of an iPhone and an Apple Mac Air.

Having been a corporate Blackberry user for many years and having never looked at a phone bill, I was intimidated by the choice and options in front of me. The iPhone salesman saw me coming.

When asked what I wanted to do with a phone, I thought the guy was pulling my leg. I want to call people, and I want people to call me (preferably with a job offer). Did I want emails, did I want to surf the net, did I want to take photos. All of this is a given if you were born after 1990, I just had to guess this is also what I wanted in my life as well. $800 later and I was the proud owner of a miniature computer known as an iPhone. My life was now complete. Until I realised I had to hook it up to a plan.... and this is when the fun really started.

There are a gazillion different options available when it comes to a phone carrier and my head was now swimming with details on data, sms's, domestic and international calls, buzz buzz. I had to make a landline phone call to my daughter and ask for her advice. Optus Pre Paid and I haven't looked back.

The next stage of my independence was in the form of a gorgeously sleek MacBook Air that fit into my handbag. At every opportunity I would whip out my new found freedom in its silver sleek case and surf my way through various job posting sites. Writing my resume and cover letters was almost joyous on this little thing that fit beautifully on coffee shop tables and park benches.

In all my working life I had to endure the horrible thumps on the keyboards of Dells and various other clunky machines - and now I had the freedom to type on whatever I liked.

Redundancy was starting to feel good.

The Lead up to Unemployment

Being unemployed may sound like the ideal life for most, waking up late and lunching with friends, and all night cocktails without any thoughts of seedy mornings in the office. I live to tell the tale that unemployment is not a life in paradise.

Employment in itself is defining. To some it comes with resentment of working for the “man”, slaving away for someone else, or even being self employed and slaving away to keep the wolves from the door. For many it means turning up to work every day and socialising with work mates, participating in something that is worthwhile and being rewarded with a pay packet. To me it also meant contributing to the community and a sense of pride of doing something I really enjoyed doing.

In social gatherings, the most often asked question is “What do you do for a living” and in my inner city circles this is closely followed by “what does your husband do”. I was a proud story teller of my profession and the organisation I worked for, my eyes would light up when recounting my daily life in emergency assistance helping others. I got my big ticks in life by telling people what I did for a living.

It all came crashing to a sudden death the day I was made redundant, when I was walked immediately off the premises in front of respected colleagues and peers. Suddenly my role as co-contributor to the family income had vanished and in its place was a mother who was out of work. A huge chunk of my ego came crashing down as well, and then the unbelievable sense of the “why me” period that ensued. No amount of self questioning would appease me and I was far too proud to ask my ex-bosses the real reason why I was let go.

Well meaning friends suggested taking time off to reflect on life and enjoy spending time with the family. After all, I was now given the freedom to only accept a job that I really wanted. I could pick and choose the companies that would treat me best. It doesn’t actually work like that, and after six months of searching, I decided to blog about my experience.