Friday, February 7, 2014

leading economic indictor- my job

well, now I have more time to spend with the kids
   So, last Friday I got a call from the head of Human Resources while I was sitting in my cubicle trying to finish a project that I was supposed to turn in before the end  of the day.  In a very nice voice he asked, "Would you mind coming down to my office, Jeff?"

Of course.  Why wouldn't I?  But I knew exactly what the call meant as soon as I got it.  The same call I've heard that others had gotten a few years ago when layoffs happened in waves, each month or so during the depths of the Great Recession.

I  walked down the stairs,slowly, to the HR Director's office.  I've been there before to chat.  I had designed his patio and some of the landscaping for his yard, so I stopped by every so often to see how things were going and to say hi.

The Vice President of the Architecture Division was there too.  I pretty much knew he would be, because I had heard that this was what happened when they were going to lay you off.  Make you reudundant.  Kick you out the door.  Send you a pink slip.

So we had the obligatory awkward conversation. Your workload had been low for the last couple of months.  It isn't your fault.  We'll have you back as a casual worker if we have more work to do soon.  Oh, and your health insurance ends today, sorry.  Here's a form to sign if you'd like to get severance pay. Think it over, and get back to us.

At least they didn't walk me out the door as I've heard they've done to others.  I suppose I didn't pose much of a threat.  I've never made a stink about anything in the past and I suppose they knew I wouldn't about this either.  Even so- I decided that I wanted to clean out my desk that afternoon and make sure I didn't have to come back again.  For what, I can't really say.   Maybe to face the humiliation of seeing everyone, knowing I'd been laid off, when they weren't. One other guy, an architect, was laid off at the same time, but I still didn't want to face those who were left behind if I didn't have to.

It felt very different than I had imagined, being laid off.  In the past- in 2009 and 2010, when seemed like layoffs occurred every odd Friday there was a sort of funereal air about the office as the rumors drifted around of who had lost their job that day.  Of who may be next.  Would it be me?  Back then I had two very young children at home.  We had an infant and a toddler and I desperately didn't want to lose my job.  It would have been close to catastrophic at that time, and fortunately the axe never fell on me.

But I imagined it, and I prepared, to the extent that it was possible.  We saved some money.  Never enough, but more than we may have otherwise.  We gardened like crazy and canned food.  We looked into alternative employment.  I imagined that the act of being laid off would be as gloomy and funereal as hearing about the layoffs of others, but without the welcome rush of relief of making it through another Friday without the call to the HR office.

The reality was very unlike I had imagined it.  I dreaded the walk down the stairs.   I knew who I'd see in the office, with the exception of the CEO.   I heard he sat in on some of the firings in the past.  He didn't show up for mine.  It was just the three of us, and a fairly friendly conversation.   My voice caught in my throat at times, but I kept it together.  Because, as they were taking my job away, they were also offering me a sort of liberation.

I cleaned my desk out in a haze.  I was out of a job I'd had for seven and a half years.  But not a job that I particularly liked or wanted to hold on to that badly.  A job where I could have done so much, but where I mostly designed parking lots and designed the minimum necessary green stuff to meet the minimum requirements of whatever city or county or watershed district the client happened to have their facility located within.

I sent an email to all my co-workers thanking them for seven and a half years of companionship and mentoring and growth and left my contact information in case anyone wanted to be in touch.  I wasn't sure if my email would work for very long, so I wrote it quickly and sent it without editing.  I could have written more but I didn't.

A technician I hadn't talked to very much during my time at the company, but who I enjoyed talking with when I did, walked out to my car with me, and waited with the push cart full of my desk stuff, while I pulled my car from the parking ramp around into the waiting area to load up my four boxes of books and office junk.  We talked for what have must been a half hour- about how the job sucked.  How the older folks in the office did next to nothing but earned twice our salary.  How people our age were always the ones who were laid off and how it made no sense for the future of the company.  It felt really good, and I wished I had had this conversation with him a year ago, when it could have reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of my co-workers and the company itself.

Also unexpected were the short letters and notes I got that day from (now former) co-workers who had also been laid off in the past and who offered messages of condolence and hope for better things to come.  They were heartfelt and uplifting in the way that a Hallmark card isn't.  Those were the best part of the layoff day, and they made all the difference.

My heart felt light  as I pulled away from the gloomy turnaround in the underpass between office buildings where I once worked.  I was leaving and not coming back and that was OK with me.


So this last week has been one of readjustment.  Of my spending more time finishing off our home renovation.  Fortunately we've already purchased most of the expensive stuff, and what remains is doing the hard work of putting it all together.   I have plenty of time for that now.  And dropping off and picking up the kids from school.   And working on new job leads, as well as the prospect of self-employment, now that I no longer have a 'no-moonlighting' agreement hanging over my head.

It's liberating- as much so, or even more, than it is depressing.  The initial shock was hard to take.  Now, seven days later, it feels pretty good.   Today, Gita and I spent the day at a seminar held by a St. Paul based non-profit on starting our own business.  I would have had to sneak out of work and feel guilty to attend something like this before.   Now I can do it honestly on my own time.  Now I can say 'yes' to people who are asking if I have time to take a look a their yard this spring.   That is, if, in fact I don't have a full-time gig lined up by then.  I can, in fact, look at all the opportunities that I haven't had the time, energy or ambition to pursue in the last seven and a half years as I was bound to a place which churned out parking lots and highway medians with abandon. 

I would have had difficulty walking out of there on my own- so I owe them a certain amount of gratitude for making the decision on my behalf.

On to bigger and better things.


  1. Well, that sounds great then. Getting fired from a crappy job was one of the best days of my life.

    I am feeling very economically vulnerable right now, so I am feeling fear for you, but that is just my baggage. It sounds like you are in as good a place as can be hoped.

    Enjoy your time with the family, and doing good work.

    1. Thanks Ruben. I think that all will work out well over here. There's no way to know for absolute certain, but so far, so good.

      I wish you the best in your own economic situation- is there anything I can do to help? I remember how you organized food deliveries from 1500 miles away when Gita was sick. Is there a way I can return the favor?

  2. Thanks Jeff. I guess if you know anybody who needs a high-priced recycling consultant, send them to

    But we are good for now. I have some work and my wife is pulling in a steady stream. I just don't see much of a future for recycling or behaviour change specialists. It is mostly governments that pay for that sort of thing, and austerity is biting, and will only bite harder.

    So, I worry about paying the rent. And mostly I am worried about the transition between this economy and the future, in the time when people are still pretending the old economy is going to come back any day now. So, landlords won't drop the rent. Underwater owners won't riot in the streets.

    I have spent my time re-skilling for the next economy--learning how to make sausage and beer, and can food and garden. But in the transition time it may be hard to afford ingredients for all that stuff.

    So, yeah. I am just feeling vulnerable right now, and so I am worrying more than usual. Thanks for thinking of me. I am glad you are coming out the other side.

  3. Hi,

    I've been reading your blog for quite a long time now via RSS, but I've never commented before. Getting laid off sucks and, if perhaps there's never a good time, this would seem to be a particularly difficult time all round. Still, I'm glad that you have options, and I really do wish you and your family the best. At the end of last year I walked away from a job that was so horrible that it had destroyed my career prospects and my social life, and was having a massive impact on my health. Quitting, with nothing lined up and very little by way of reserves, was very scary. It worked out, though; I've found something that is far less rewarding financially but much, much more rewarding in almost every way - and which has opened up opportunities for much better things in the future. The fear and uncertainty of leaving what on paper was "a good job" would have stopped me taking this path if I hadn't effectively been forced to leave. I hope that things also work out for you, and that your 'liberation' shows you that there really are better things waiting for you.

    1. Hi Bogatyr,

      This is the sort of thing that keeps me going! If I hadn't been laid off, I never would have heard stories like these. My job wasn't satisfying, but hadn't reached the point yet where yours had. I think it would have eventually if I hadn't been let go.

      Thanks for the encouragement, and kudos for making the change and coming out on the other side better for it. I am hoping to be able to say the same in a year or two.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    So you're a landscape architect...I didn't know that. Congratulations on your recent dismissal;-).

    I'm a landscape designer but mostly I do fine pruning & gardening these days. There is more demand in Cascadia for those services than for my style of landscape design, which I call "less unsustainable".

    I was a LD for 15 years in Rochester, MN. I saw a lot of designers and LA's come and go during my time there. I have seen a lot of nice people take the walk you describe. My wife was a masters level therapist in the psychology dept. at Mayo Clinic. So we both had good jobs but were both ready for something different...and better. I was burnt out on the whole paradigm of landscape design in the upper Midwest. We moved to Cascadia in 2006, and we're now both self-employed.

    My wife sometimes misses the camaraderie of a large medical center, but I never miss "The Office". And we really haven't looked back even once.

    Hang in there...I think this will be a good thing for you!

    Cheers from Cascadia

    1. Thanks! Good to hear from or commiserate with someone in the same profession. It hasn't been easy these last few years, being an LA. Not much work to do, and what there was, was pretty grim. Hope you're hanging in there.

  5. Odd how reading this post makes me uncomfortable and hopeful. We all know it can happen to us and half hope it might. We both have full time jobs and work our farm full time. And, we’d love to both work on our farm exclusively. Yet, we fear making that leap. But we fear the loss of healthcare and all the other reasons why this system keeps us sucking at the teat. Maybe it is time to be “weaned”.
    Good luck with the transition and hopefully you find the right job to support that lovely family.

    1. It is somehow easier to have someone else make the decison for me. Makes me feel kind of stupid to have to have someone else take the initiative for me, but having two kids limits my options. Now that it's done, lots of new opportunities are popping up.

      I enjoyed your blog by the way. It's a good read. I'll have to add it to my reading list.

    2. Thanks for the kind words on the blog. I'll add yours to my blogroll.

  6. Ah, your testimony takes me back to my own experience almost exactly five years ago--though I didn't like my job at all. (One of those do-it-for-the-"health-insurance" deals.) Then I spent precious money and time on a home energy auditing course--and that didn't lead to paying work. Then I started getting more serious about learning to do more for myself without money, and began connecting with others who were on similar paths.
    But you're already there. I suppose you'll still have plenty of scary moments--I still do--but you'll be alright.

    1. I think the scariest thing is the uncertainty. Not knowing what is coming is frightening, but at the same time, really energizing. I haven't felt this alive in a long time. I loved the safety of the desk job, but nothing else about it really. I needed the safety while my kids were small, but now they're both in school, and while this isn't a good thing to happen, at least it happened at a good time. I really do think that bigger and better things are coming.

      We'll all be alright.

  7. Just wanted to chime in with good wishes and to say we've been (and still are) there. I can say thank goodness for at least access to affordable health care, it has taken some of the pressure off finding the perfect job, and I hear your state is better than ours in this respect. And like you, we implemented a money saving-food growing plan ahead of time, so some parts are easier than expected. Still change can be hard, even when it's a positive change, good luck to you!

    1. Thanks! We are more than half through our food that we canned this fall, but fortunately we don't need to live completely off of it just yet. It does save a lot of money though, and every time I go to the pantry and see rows of jars of marinara sauce and pickles and applesauce and jelly, I feel like we have real wealth- not the kind in a bank, but real value and security, in our basement.

      Change is hard, but comments like yours make me feel good about it. I'll get more into what our plans for the future are in upcoming blog posts.

  8. Keeping you in my prayers as you sort out new opportunities.

    And weirdly, thanking you for the reminder that I should be building up my rainy day funds - and contemplating when I truly need to be a consumer or not. :-)

    1. Thanks Amy J. It's always good to have a rainy day fund. I see new opportunities developing already. This may work out to be a good thing in the long run.