By Tim Hayes
Talk about a dream job.
Dedicated speechwriter to the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company. Near-complete autonomy. Hired by a friend who had lobbied for, and created, the job with no one but me in mind. Had established a comfortable, productive, positive rapport with the CEO, and had racked up a display case full of regional and national awards for speeches I’d written for him.
But the dream started to fade when my friend and boss walked into my office one day to tell me that he had accepted a job with a global firm in Manhattan, and would be leaving in two weeks. His boss, another champion of mine, announced her retirement around the same time. Suddenly, my position had become tenuous.
By that point in my career, I thought I had a fairly good handle on where I stood on the corporate politics chessboard. Certainly I had moved away from being a front-line pawn. But on that back row, corporate life got progressively more iffy. Was I a rook? Maybe a knight? Not a bishop, and I sure as hell wasn’t the king.
In the end, it didn’t matter. My new boss, an import with no knowledge of the staff he inherited, simply saw the world in a different way – a way that, in time, led me out the door with a few months’ severance and six boxes of stuff from my office on a loading dock. This, despite nothing but exceptional performance reviews, mind you. While I’ll never hear the real reason, I think it was simply a matter of a new supervisor looking to bring in his own people. It happens.
I had come into work the morning of Nov. 1, 2000, suspecting something unpleasant with my name on it was about to happen. I had brought leftover candy from the prior night’s trick-or-treating with my kids, and set it in the department kitchenette, on a special Halloween plate from my house. By 10 a.m., after a surreal, out-of-body experience with an HR representative, a security guard led me by the arm to the loading dock, where I joined my boxes and was instructed to go get my car and leave the premises.
Out of work, angry, confused, and scared, I drove home. My wife and I decided that, with three young kids and every member of our two families living in the same city as us, the best move forward both personally and professionally would be for me to start my own independent practice.
And, with that decision, November 1 turned from a day of negativity and panic into Emancipation Day. A day we celebrate every year.
Fourteen years ago this weekend, I walked away from corporate public relations and started an adventure in entrepreneurism that has been amazing, fulfilling, occasionally terrifying, and truly unforgettable – a ride I have loved and that is nowhere being finished. I extend heartfelt thanks to all of my great clients, collaborators, friends, and especially my fantastic wife and kids, who have been both my inspiration and my joy all these years.
I’m currently reading a book about the leadership style of Pope Francis, and was shocked to learn that during his adolescence in Argentina, he went to school from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then worked from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. That’s not the shocking part, though. During this period of his life, he suffered a serious lung infection and actually had one lung removed – a condition he never talks about, even to this day.
Pope Francis learned as a young man that each episode of adversity offers a chance to grow, to develop other strengths, to seize new opportunities. Most people along the road of life learn that same lesson. Fourteen years ago, I sure did, and as the poet said, “…that has made all the difference.”
As Year 15 begins, only one thing still bothers me about that old corporate job. Those bastards never did give my special Halloween plate back.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting