I left work over ten years ago. And yet work is still with me. Do you still have dreams about your job? Are they happy ones, or nightmares?
I had what I would call a middling successful career, working for four different companies throughout my life, not counting the jobs I had when I was still in school. Some jobs were better than others. Some were fun and rewarding at times, but boring and stressful at others.
The last fulltime job I had -- the one I had the longest -- was with a book and magazine publisher. The actual work was mostly interesting, but the people could be difficult, especially during my last years when the company -- like a lot of print publishers -- was having problems. Management was always anxious, never knowing quite what to do about changing tastes and changing habits. They tried one strategy, then another, until they came upon one tactic that improved the bottom line, at least for a while -- what they called "right sizing," which as everyone knows means layoffs.
The layoffs came in waves, usually once a year, sometimes twice a year, sometimes smaller waves, sometimes bigger ones. I especially remember 1996. That was a tidal wave. Somehow I was spared that tsunami and ironically, because the ranks were so thinned out, I was then able to work my way into more responsibility and got a promotion and was, briefly, even making more money.
But be careful what you wish for. Now, instead of watching other people get laid off, I was thrown into the position of being the hatchet man. I vividly remember the four different occasions when I had to go into someone's office, carefully place the dreaded manila envelope that came from Human Resources on their desk, and tell them they were being laid off. Meanwhile, I watched with both regret and envy as a few other people quit their jobs, either to take early retirement or go to another job in different company.
But in a declining company in a declining industry, that situation didn't last long. Eventually I was the one on the receiving end of the manila envelope, which I approached with a mix of panic and delight. Panic because . . . how was I going to support myself? I was well into my 50s. Who hires anyone in their 50s? And delight . . . because I was finally going to be delivered out of this poisonous, stressful and untenable situation.
As it turns out, I was able to find my own way, making some money as a freelancer and consultant, and with my kids mostly grown up I had fewer financial responsibilities. So in retrospect, that day I was laid off should be counted as one of the happiest days of my life.
But wounds leave scars. They remain with you, even many years later. I still have dreams about my old job -- they're not always nightmares, but they are usually disturbing.
Last night I dreamed . . . I was lying in a bed in the corner of an office. Was I just waking up, or taking a nap? I'm not sure. But I remember the covers were all messed up, the pillow askew, the bedspread all crumpled up, the sheet trailing on the floor.
I heard voices in an outer room, friendly voices, but they were discussing some sort of business issue. I got up and opened the door. My old boss was standing outside, talking with a group of colleagues. They were dressed in business clothes. I was wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms,with bare feet. But I wasn't embarrassed.
The people in the group turned their heads to look at me, and offered a friendly greeting. I nodded cordially, then started to make my way out of the room, not back to the office with the bed, but out into a hallway.
As I reached the door, my old boss casually called to me, pointing back into the office. "Tom, don't forget to make your bed."
I looked over through the door and saw the bed, all in a jumble. A sudden realization came to me. And I laughed as I said, "I don't have to make my bed, anymore. Goodbye!"