I had finally done it. After working a few years on the east coast to establish my career straight out of college, I got an amazing opportunity to move out west – to Arizona, where I truly wanted to live. And so I moved, and life was damn great.
This was back in 2007, and I settled into my brand new home in the suburbs. I worked for a fairly large science and information technology company at the time. It was fine work, but certainly nothing to write home about. I went into work, wrote computer code, then left for the day. Normal job. Paycheck. PTO. Cool, good enough.
But still, I enjoyed the experience. That job allowed me to work in the place that I wanted to live. I settled into my new home and started to do the things that anyone would have done, like fill the rooms with stuff to make it feel like a “home”. A couch here. A rocking chair there. Basic shit.
I made friends with my co-workers in the office. I went out to happy hours with them and joined the office softball team. Grabbing lunch and drinking beer with my teammates was a common practice. Things were going well. People seemed to be happy.
Then about a year later, on a Friday, I got called into my boss’s office. Shit suddenly got real.
After working for this company for four years, I was given my official layoff notice with a month’s severance package. I was told that my division manager attempted to find work for me, but there wasn’t enough to go around. No more work. No more money. I was completely blindsided.
“Shocked” might be a better word.
It’s not as if the office already went through a couple rounds of layoffs. In fact, no rumors circulated at all about the possibility of layoffs. One day, bam – you got a month, see ya.
My performance reviews were always positive. I got along incredibly well with my co-workers. I hardly took a day off from work in four years. I went from a state of shock to utter confusion.
I’ve done such a good job for this organization. Why would they lay me off?
What that layoff taught me about my job
What makes this layoff more interesting (read: fucked up) is that I walked down the hall from my boss’s office and secured coverage on another project that same day. I went from being laid off because “work dried up” to finding work in a matter of about an hour.
Wait, I thought all work was gone. How was I able to find coverage on another project in a matter of a few minutes, but my boss failed at finding me work in the lead-up to my “layoff”?
This experience taught me a couple important lessons about jobs.
First, it’s okay to love your job, but at the end of the day, we need to prioritize ourselves first. Organizations will always do what is in their best interest, not necessarily the best interest of their staff. Remember, it’s YOUR heart and soul, not your organization’s.
It doesn’t matter if you just relocated to a new area and bought a house with a fresh mortgage to establish yourself. It doesn’t matter if you poured your heart and soul into your work for four years. It doesn’t matter if you never take a vacation, opting instead to show up at the office and work like a good little staff member.
We are all dispensable. Our jobs can disappear nearly instantly.
And second, we need to be proactive about our careers. I had initially relied on my boss to keep me gainfully employed. After all, that was his job, right? But at the end of the day, he apparently failed to find me work. I, however, hunted around the office and found work that same day.
The truth is your boss isn’t there to keep you employed. Your boss’s goal is to maximize productivity, minimize conflict and build a stable and dependable environment on which profits are realized.
After all, if your boss commands a sinking ship, his or her career is in jeopardy. If a couple layoffs help improve the bottom line, so be it. After all, shit happens. They’ll find other work.
At one point in my career, I was the boss too. I hired and fired. Even those with whom I had a positive relationship, business is business. If someone needed to be let go, they were let go. My #1 job was to keep my department running as efficiently and effectively as possible. My staff was the tool to accomplish that job.
In the end, this “layoff that wasn’t” turned into a huge reality check for me. I always strive to do the very best work that I possibly can. But in contrast to how I operated earlier in my career, I don’t define myself by my job. I no longer count on work always being there and I understand that I’m just a tool in the overall operation of the business.
I prioritize my needs first and foremost. For example:
- I take more vacations than I used to – I realized that experiences are far more enjoyable than things, and spending more time in the office was not contributing to my overall level of happiness. Oh, and speaking of time…
- I understand that time is a more valuable asset than money – These days, I always choose time over money. Time is a finite commodity; we can always earn more money, but days are limited to 24 hours. Never let time get away from you.
- I never compromise on short-term savings – Today, I can lose my job at a moment’s notice and live just fine for a good number of years because my wife and I have spent the last couple of years relentlessly saving – damn near 70% of our total salaries every month. I am very rapidly approaching the FU, Money club.
I also now understand the role that I play in an organization. The point of any business is to make money, and people are the sources of that money. An organization may truly care about their workforce and consider them to be family, but when the bottom line becomes a problem, the family will always thin out. That “big” happy family isn’t quite so big anymore.
Take care of yourself first. Be proactive. Then, look for a job that helps you become financially independent – quickly. Then, spend the rest of your time doing what you truly love, and you’ll never again work a day for the rest of your life.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.