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The Road Not Taken (Before) February 24, 2009

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Self-Worth.
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Last Friday, I joined the ranks of the unemployed.

This was not by choice.

Given the state of the economy in the US, even in the tech sector, this is not completely unexpected or, for that matter, all that newsworthy or unusual. Even so, for me, it is unusual. For the first time in my adult life, I am making a job change against my will, on my own.

In the past when I’ve changed jobs, it’s generally been my choice to do so. For awhile, I would get bored at a job, find something new and shiny somewhere else, and dash off to see if the grass was truly greener on the other side of that fence. Sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn’t. Around our house, the running joke was that as soon as benefits would start to kick in, it was time for me to look for a new job.

Once before, I was given the opportunity to relocate to Rochester, NY, but chose to stay in KY. As a result, I was out of work, but so were roughly 100 of my good friends and former co-workers. We shared the misery of the corporate decision to shut down our location, and could each take solace in the fact that it wasn’t so much a reflection on our individual abilities as it was a reflection of where our parent company wanted to take the business. The business had changed, and if we didn’t want to move along with it, then we would be unemployed. (In a bit of ironic and poetic justice, the relocated company went under within a year, giving the 98% of the employees who didn’t relocate a bit of smug, if misdirected, satisfaction.)

Unfortunately, this time, there’s not really anyone else to commiserate with. It’s true; I can share in the misery of the hundreds of thousands of people across the nation who have lost jobs recently, but the company I was working for is still in business, and in fact, hired a new employee just a few weeks before my departure. And so this time, it feels far more personal than before. This time, my departure, in spite of a severance package, had all the earmarks of a very pointed and personal condemnation of the work I did and was doing. No longer could I sit back and say to myself, “The different skills and abilities that I bring to the table are so varied, it won’t matter if the business changes so that this skill or that isn’t needed… surely they’ll need something that I have to offer.”

Apparently, they didn’t, which causes all sorts of inner reflection. Is my skill set actually that limited? Much of what I was doing was documentation, both user-level, and design/specification work. My boss, for whom English is a second language, seemed to be rewriting much of what I wrote over the past year, leading me to question my ability to formulate coherent sentences using my first (and only) language. Had my writing skills really diminished so dramatically and quickly? Even worse, given that I had been put into a role that was principally producing documentation, were my technical skills even less-useful than my writing skills?

Now, lest you (the ever-patient reader) think that I’m engaging in a drawn-out session of pointless self-flagellation, I’ll admit that most of these moments of self-doubt have been short-lived. Thankfully, I am surrounded by supportive (and possibly dishonest) friends who have continually told me, “Tim, it’s not you.” While I appreciate that sentiment, and am working hard to believe it, the fact of the matter is that at some point, bills have to be paid. At that moment, and at that point, my friends and family can only do so much. At some point, the value of what I can bring will be measured (or not) by compensation for the work I can produce.

At that point, it is me.


1. Rod E. Smith, MSMFT - March 1, 2009

Thanks for poignant writing about this. I wish I could employ you. I would.

(Perhaps we should think of a way of going into business).

Your writing (and I think I have read almost all of it) reveals to me that you are a man of deep integrity.

2. Your evil banker, er brother... - March 8, 2009

I agree with the comments from Rod, but I’m probably a little biased…

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