The first time I was ever laid off I was astounded. I had been told I was coming in for a performance review. I had been asking my manager, who was the VP of Sales even though he had never made a cold call (his fiancé’s sister was the CEO’s wife), for some feedback and ways I might improve. Instead of receiving a performance review I was asked to turn in my building badge.
I should have seen it coming. The stock price of the company that developed the software I was reselling had taken a nosedive. The rumor was that the software was quickly on its way to irrelevancy. I had also recently discovered that when I was hired my manager had misrepresented the performance of my predecessor, setting my quota at three times my predecessor’s average sales. My manager knew that I knew.
Determined to handle myself with dignity, I turned in my badge and was calmly out of the building in minutes. This first experience is probably why I never leave too many personal items at work, even today – I don’t keep anything at work I can’t fit in my handbag.
Standing on the street outside the building, I called a friend. I vented, I got upset, and then I told myself that was enough. There was no more time for coming undone. I had to figure out what I was going to do next. What was I going to do the first day I was unemployed? Applying for unemployment seemed like a reasonable place to start.
I did my research and was ready to go the next morning. I got up, put on my make-up – I was raised in the South where woman don’t get the mail without make-up on – and went to the unemployment office. There were computers available for job seekers and binders full of job announcements that were so old it looked like the paper was ready to turn yellow. “Where do I apply for unemployment?” I inquired. “Go home and call this number,” I was told. A trip for nothing, but this was okay I told myself. I was information gathering. I was doing what I needed to do. This was just the first step in the process.
At home I called the number I was given. I was on hold – no exaggeration – for half an hour at minimum. Finally, someone answered the line. What was my name, my address, the name of my last employer? When was my last day of employment? And then a dial tone. We had been disconnected. I called again. I waited half an hour until finally, again, someone answered. No, my information from the previous call had not been saved, and they’re sorry for the inconvenience – the unemployment office is experiencing technical difficulties with the phone lines. I inquired if I could give the representative my number in case we were disconnected. No. I would have to call back, with my name, the name of my last employer, the date…disconnected. I was on hold for hours and disconnected four times.
I was reminded of a college theatre professor who said if you want to make something comical, make it more serious – make it worse than it already is. “I have no need to be the center of attention at parties, no need to regale my friends with entertaining stories,” I appealed to a higher power. “Spare your comedic work for someone else, let me be boring – from here on I would prefer the genre of drama.”