As many of you know, [we] have been working on an acquisition agreement for several weeks. We are pleased to inform you that earlier today, the acquisition of the first Phase [sic] of the proposed sale was completed.
As is the normal procedure in this type of acquisition, all employees … will immediately discontinue their at-will employment with [the company].
[The new company] will then make offers for new employment to the staff members that they wish to hire to move forward with them under the new ownership.
We appreciate all of your patience and understanding as we have worked through this first phase of the acquisition.
Three things stand out to me about this letter. First, it is introduced as a positive thing. “We are pleased to inform you,” it says. This is the equivalent of being told there’s good news and bad news, taking the bad news first, and then being told that there actually was no good news—they just told you that so you’d keep listening.
Second, it is presented as “normal procedure”. I presume from this letter that it is not “normal procedure” to tell employees what the normal procedure will be before they are summarily laid off.
Third, there is no signature. My generic notice that my employment was no longer necessary was delivered by “Anthem Education”, a company that, according to the letter it sent me, may or may not exist anymore. There is no name to associate with the action. No one to look to for recourse.
There actually was no good news—we just told you that so you’d keep listening.
All of this may have troubled me had I not already been looking for other jobs, having already decided that the one I had was not for me. I was, in fact, in the final stages of interviewing with another company on the East Coast. The layoff just made it easier to schedule interviews during work hours. But as that offer had not yet been made, I took to freelance consulting to make sure ends met. I was laid off on a Thursday and by Monday I was back to work—at my desk at home—doing 40 hours of week.
Had the East Coast job been offered when I was still at Anthem I most likely would have taken it. It offered a chance to walk away on what seemed my own terms. But getting let go changed my perspective. I think most people in the situation would navigate to steady waters, looking for the security that a job and a steady paycheck is supposed to provide. Yet I had just learned that job security does not exist. All this time, I had simply assumed it to be one of the benefits of working for someone else. Working for a corporation, I was nothing more than a faceless, nameless e-mail address to send a pink slip to. And while every business is different—and there are a lot of good ones—I realized something important. It wasn’t my business. It was theirs to do with as they pleased (in this case, that meant running it into the ground).
I had just learned that job security does not exist. All this time, I had simply assumed it to be one of the benefits of working for someone else.
I was, like millions of Americans, asking someone else to guarantee me the security I so desired. Yet the only true security in the working world lies in my own skills to get jobs done. In Uganda, where I used to live, there are millions of people who realize this. They cannot rely on government, cannot depend on a fledgling private sector, cannot trust in an under-developed economy to grant them security. They sell soap at the market, take up housekeeping, or subsist on the food they grow at home. In short, they rely on themselves. I had a friend who raised chickens, wrote radio advertisements and canvassed for a political party to make money. He was a true hustler, a term I never found to be derogatory. (And just like Jay-Z, they make songs about it.) It means that a person does not have a full-time job, but instead relies on his own abilities to make things happen.
So, I decided in the end, to continue down the perilous waters of freelancing, instead of accepting the new offer to work for a company, even though it probably wouldn’t have ended like this last job. I would have had a check to rely on every couple of weeks. And I’d not have to worry about striving to make ends meet every month.
But, and this is going to sound so entitled of me, I deserve more than that—more than just hoping that I’m still in someone else’s plans.
I wanted to take hold of my own life, to be the person steering the ship. If the waters get choppy, so be it. And, if it is indeed true that the only secure thing in an insecure world is the skill set I bring to the table, then when I’m the captain there is no limit to where I can go. I just have to figure out how to make a map first.