Monday, June 6, 2016

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get up Again

As an actuary, my life revolves around studying the risks of shitty things happening.  I know that the whims of the universe may smite me with some nasty disease or some sleepy bus driver could turn me into a pavement pizza.  As such, I have protected myself and my family from the financial strain of such calamities through the purchase of the various insurance products I've grown to love.  They're like a family that protects my family...

Then came the day that I never saw coming.

The Notice...

In a windowless conference room, a person I had never met before sat across the table from me and informed me that my employment now had an expiration date. I was chopped, axed, kaput. Of course this was not "performance related" and the company "valued my contributions," but those phrases were akin to having the knife getting pulled from the wound. The damage was done.  My pride was injured. My heart was broken.  And I had no insurance for that. Or did I?

Getting a termination notice, especially one you don't see coming, is painful. It was like I was breaking up with a girlfriend in junior high all over again. She sent her best friend to tell me the relationship was over. The feeling wasn't mutual. After fighting the urge to scream profanities at the top of my voice, I entered the grief cycle.

Denial, rage, despair, and finally acceptance.  I went through them all.

I waited for my boss to call me and say, "oops, we really screwed that one up.  Our bad. No hard feelings?"
That never happened. ( By the way, I recommend Scott Adams book to help understand that everybody is an idiot)

I don't get easily upset.  I find anger to be pointless.  I think a little green dude with big ears talks about anger and fear as a path to the dark side. That said, I was angry:

  • At myself for not seeing this coming and doing something to prevent it.  
  • At my employer for being an idiot (in my opinion).  
  • At the fact that the people who enjoyed working with me were now upset to see me go. (Mess with me but don't mess with my family)
  • At the incompetence of the HR staff in charge of processing my termination. 

And to be honest, a few rants sprinkled with choice expletives felt really good. It was cathartic.  But over indulging would have been poisonous and nothing ever changed as a result of my tirades.

The despair part is probably the worst part.  It was hard to keep the tears out of my eyes as I put my belongings in a box.  I choked up a bit with some of the goodbyes I had to say. These people were family, this work was like a good friend.  I enjoyed what I did and who I did it with. Goodbyes suck.

Although, there's a silver lining. Having good people around you who feel bad for you can turn into a lot of free lunches and drinks. Beer and hugs are good salves for soul wounds.

These emotions ebbed and flowed throughout the days post termination, but I knew through it all that I had to get back on the horse.  In fact, the day after I got my notice, I went to work.

And this is when I started to realize that maybe I did have an insurance policy after all.

My Intangible Insurance Policy

  • Instead of paying premiums, I had built relationships.  
  • I had tried to get to know other actuaries at my company on a personal level.  
  • I volunteered for various actuarial working groups and committees in the industry.  
  • I even expanded my network through writing emails to actuaries that authored articles in section newsletters. 

While my experience made for a nice resume, it was the connections that were the secret sauce to get me that next job.

Also, I made a decision several years ago when I first felt like work was a never ending barrage of impossible deadlines and that to get a super awesome rating in the annual performance review would involve selling my soul.

I decided I'd place people over profits, both personal and corporate.

  • This meant that work was not a place I went to complete assignments, but a place where I had an opportunity to make somebody's day a little better.  
  • This meant that I would look at my work in terms of how it would affect the policy holder. 
  • This meant that family would come first. 

The paradigm shift was crucial.  I became even more effective at my job because my tasks were not a continuum of measurements against which I would be judged, but instruments of assistance to my colleagues to help them in their roles.

So, even though my pride was injured, it was only momentary because I quickly had an outpouring of support.

Quickly my attitude shifted from discouragement to excitement about the future and new possibilities.  I attacked the job market with a vengeance.  I went into beast mode.

  • I made a goal to apply for a job every day. I did that and then some. 
  • I went after actuarial positions, at all levels and disciplines. Even ones I had no business applying for.  
  • I went after closely related occupations at companies that employed actuaries including underwriting, data science, financial analysis, and even insurance sales. 
  • I had five different recruiters searching on my behalf. (lesson learned here - be sure to disclose that you are working with others because double representation is awkward.) 
  • I took on a career coach and had my resume critiqued by a resume specialist. 

And the calls started coming in.

And I began to court my next future companion. Much like dating each prospective employer had attractive features and things that made me hesitate. You know, the whole nice rack but no brains type of thing. Soon I went from rejectee to rejector. And thus the ego was restored.

Cue the Adele music now...

My story has a happy ending. And this probably won't be the last time I face rejection or adversity.

I can't guarantee that if you follow my approach that your outcome will be the same. But I do know that there are benefits to the following:

  1. Build relationships with your coworkers.  Human beings need our tribes.
  2. Get involved in organizations in the profession or the industry to meet people from other companies. It's a small world indeed, and there are some bad ass actuaries out there.  And chances are, they got some company drama too.
  3. Know what REALLY matters. a.ka. the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Life > Work.
  4.  Face failure head on. Look it in the face and say thank you for making me a better person.
  5. Be present/in the moment.  The past won't change.  Sorry Marty McFly. The future is unknown.
  6. Open yourself to reinvention. 
  7. Embrace the hidden opportunities.  While unemployed, I volunteered, took time to be with my kids, crossed off house projects, and enjoyed staying up late and sleeping in.
  8. Never give up

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