“Do you have a minute, Ronell?”
Those six words still ring in my ears, even today, more than two years after they were uttered. It was Dec. 2, and I’d just sat down at my desk, ready to get started after downing breakfast in the lunch room.
It was a tumultuous time at the company, which had, exactly one month earlier, been purged by ESPN, sold to a trio of wealthy businessmen.
As I stood up from my desk and entered my senior director’s office, I broke the threshold to see the administrative vice president seated in the corner, a sure sign of what was ahead, but even then I was unaware, as if in a dream state.
“We’re ceasing publication (of your magazine), and with that…eliminating your job.”
Those are the words I remember being said. There were numerous others, but those stick out.
Not because they hurt. They didn’t.
I was only shocked at the timing, but I knew business-to-business publishing wasn’t in line with the new owners’ goals.
In those few short minutes, my emotions went from shock (“Is what I’m thinking of about to happen?”) to surprise (“This is happening now?”) to calm (“It’s over. I’m fine with it.”).
“You will? Really?”
When given a choice of staying on through the end of the year or leaving right away, I chose to stay and finish the magazine I was working on. Apparently my agreeing to do so surprised at least one person in the room.
Truthfully, I didn’t stay because I was so committed to the job that I’d started; It was more that I felt it was the right thing for me to do. Besides, I had zero ill will, no hard feelings and I wanted to control what I could control, which included getting my personal images off the computer, packing my own belongings and tying up any loose ends I might have left dangling.
The hours immediately after receiving the news were some of the most enlightening of my life, at least as regards my career.
Up to that point, I could not get clarity on what my next steps should be. I had always seen the position as a five-year job, and I was six months beyond that. But the harder I tried to focus on what I wanted to do next, the more my mind locked onto what I didn’t want to do. However, as I left the office the morning after getting the news, I instanteously had more career clarity than at any point in my life.
1. Being untethered means being (mentally) unencumbered. I’ve always functioned best when I am closed off, unconnected to the outside world, whether in a closed room, airplane or alone in a boat. The freedom I felt upon leaving the office that day was as liberating as it was disconcerting. I knew I was closer to my next career move, and I knew my current job wouldn’t “stand” in the way of whatever decision I was to make. Also, being disconnected meant my career path didn’t have to follow any presorted trajectory. I was free, in every sense of the word.
2. I was able to focus on the possible, not just the practical. In the days leading up to my firing, my boss had asked me what additional roles I saw for myself at the new company. In retrospect, it was his way of saying “Your job is going away. Is there anything else you’d like to do for the new company?” Hard as I tried, I couldn’t think of anything. Everything I wanted to do seemingly didn’t fit with the direction of the company, or my being a part of it. I knew I wanted out. The news unburdened me, in a sense, allowing me to think of possibilities outside the company or the industry. Everything was on the table and in a way I could never before envision.
3. Losing your sense of belonging doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself. Being raised the youngest of three kids, I’ve always been somewhat of a free spirit, in that I’ve never thought of myself as having to be a member of the club, so to speak. In a weird way, being fired gave me a sense of pride. Even though I didn’t initiate the exodus, inwardly the action manifested itself as “Unlike everyone else here, my options are wide open, and I cannot allow the promise of a job to keep me from taking advantage of the active management of my career.”
In the next post, I’ll share details of how the days that followed steeled me for making some tough but needed career choices that continue to pay huge dividends.
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