In order to capture the depth of nausea that I felt on the day that I got fired, you need to picture me sitting across from my boss in his glaringly sunny office. Then you need to envision giant tufts of wiry white hair sprouting out from the neck of his company logoed polo shirt.
If you look two feet behind him, you’ll see the star of the show: a dented box that every terminated person has received since the beginning of time. It looks as if someone has jumped up and down on it before hurling it at the brown particle board bookcase that it lays in front of–dead.
And, of course, there’s the company lawyer. I always forget about her. She didn’t say much, but I think she was there in case I decided to go from fired to disgruntled.
“This is difficult for me,” my boss says.
Counsel shakes her head solemnly as if someone just told her that she’d lost her designated parking spot.
“Very hard,” she agrees. We all sit there, saying nothing for several moments until my boss breaks the silence.
“Your position has been eliminated,” he announces, and then gestures to the box behind him as if to say, Time to pack!
The Makings of a “Dignity Plan”
Four months earlier, Bain Capital had acquired the small marketing company where I’d worked for 20 years. Rumors of a gigantic equity firm swooping in and pillaging our business had swirled for years, so when it finally happened, everything and everyone unraveled.
There were closed-door meetings filled with desperado eye contact. Passing someone in the hall was like seeing another prisoner in the weight yard. Several people had permanent expressions that telegraphed Help! I’m going bonkers.
During this delightful period, I started having heart palpitations. As a Vice President, I was involved in some strategic pow-wows, but my gut feeling was that I was on the short list to get booted.
I wasn’t the only one filled with paranoid dread. I remember being in the elevator with a colleague who admitted his fear of getting fired the minute the doors shut. I offered support, gave him the just-do-your-best speech–but he didn’t buy it.
Looking back, neither did I. That period of time was wrought with such hideous scrutiny and confusion that, even if I had been gung-ho about our new leader’s money-making agenda, I couldn’t have survived the ongoing soul-chafing chaos.
What I needed was a plan. Some kind of mission to muster a Post-It note’s worth of dignity that involved more than walking around looking like I was going to vomit.
I needed inner oomph.