Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Don't Make My Bed Here Anymore

     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!"


Douglas said...

I, too, watched as others got laid off (the company called it "downsizing") and the the platitudes offered in the hopes, perhaps, of easing the pain. But there came a time when I wanted to be downsized, wanted to be retired early. I had reached that combination of seniority and age that would allow me to retire with pension and benefits. But there were 4 years of watching others get the "buy out" while I waited and hoped there would still be such a program when my turn came... if my turn came. My turn came, and the buy out was the same as the one they kept threatening to end, the year I was to turn 59. I leapt at the chance, bit that hook, and landed in the retirement "boat." I have no dreams, no nightmares, at all about my former job. I had those during my 34 years.

Friko said...

That seems to have been a remarkably lucid dream. Mine are usually jumbled, all over the place, although they make sense while I am dreaming them.

I stopped work before retirement, due to ill health and I have never regretted it. In retrospect, I was happy at work, but then, at the time, I complained an awful lot.

If I’m truthful, I don’t mind not being on the treadmill anymore, although it means I’m old, past it, surplus to requirements.

I pity the middle-aged who are still working, never knowing from one day to the next if they have a job.

Anonymous said...

I left Bell, not because I had too, but because I too became disenchanted with the workplace. The company offered me a buyout/retirement package. I could have stayed with the company and advanced beyond where I was, but I would have hated it.

I was a technical person (demographer) but made a manager over an economics staff. People skills are not my strength. I would rather be alone in a space on my own, writing or doing math things. Dealing with subordinates, one with AIDS who drove he women in my group nuts showing them photos of himself in drag, a black male who took any comment as a racial slur, and a hysterical 40-year old woman, divorcing and trying to adopt, as well as a Berkley grad who hated corporations, but needed a job (my stupid boss hired her, and had an affair with another woman on my staff), wore me out.

As you say, be careful what you wish for. I joined the government because I had worked for the government years before, and thought I could make a contribution. Naive me.

The government job proved to be worse, because the people in the organization I joined had become government employees around the same time, and worked there for at least 20 years. Hidebound isn't strong enough.

It took me years to be accepted by enough of them to 'belong' to the group. By the time I made a few good friends, I was "old" and had a heart attack, then a stroke, largely because a new young hot shot wanted me gone and did several nasty things to get me to retire.

I finally got the dream boss and he helped me recover from my stressful work life. But as things go, he got promoted and then moved on. Meanwhile, I found myself working for another young man, a decent fellow, but by then I was bored with the work and ready to retire, which I did.

I have never looked back. I love retirement and only pray my grandchildren have better work experiences than I did. So far, so good for them….

mxtodis123 said...

After 51 years of working, I retired in July of this year and am loving every minute of it. I worked as a substance abuse counselor for mentally ill homeless people for many years and loved my job, but then my office moved and with this move I lost my office. We were put into cubicles in the middle of the floor, and there was never any respite from clients. There wasn't even a room one could go to and close the door to take a few deep breaths so from morning til night there was nothing but noise and interruptions. As a result, there was no way to keep up with all the paperwork so I sometimes found myself bringing it home.

Eventually it all caught up to me. Went to the doctor and my blood pressure was 183 over 134. We tried everything to bring it down, but even with three medications and a salt free diet, it stayed up there. That's when I realized it was the constant stress that was doing it and made my decision to retire.

Best decision I could have made. My health is steadily improving and I am so much more at ease. I don't have much money, but I am finally living life and savoring every moment of it.

DJan said...

You obviously struck a chord with your commenters, Tom. I retired at 65 after thirty years with a job I loved. I had grown tired of all the politics and really wanted a fresh start. I also moved away from my home town and came to the Pacific Northwest. I've never been sorry, and I was fortunate to turn my annuities into a monthly income in January 2008, just before the economy tanked.

I do have the occasional dream about my old life, but it's usually not as descriptive as yours! I love the imagery and message in your dream! :-)

Rosaria Williams said...

How can we not have dreams/nightmares. Work is so much part of who we are, what we aspire to be, how we deal with problems. I left work before I had to, and felt guilty and burdened for so long. It took me years to accept a life without responsibilities.

stephen Hayes said...

I have dreams about mt last job which was twenty years ago but mostly I have a repeating drea from college where I'm due to turn in an art project and I haven't even started it. This is disturbing yet interesting because it never happened.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tom. I have been a regular reader of your blog for quite some time, but never commented because I have an aversion to word verification. I decided to comment now, because your topic struck a chord in me. My husband resigned from his job as comptroller in July due to unbearable stress and is collecting unemployment benefits, which will expire Jan 31. It will be interesting to see what happens at that time. Meanwhile, he continues to go to job interviews.

Tom said...

gigi -- thanks for the comment ... and good luck to your husband. I apologize for the word verification, but last year I tried going without it for a while, and I just got too much spam. Do you have any other/better ideas how to block spam?

Meanwhile, well, honestly, I don't associate Hawaii with ... football. You'd be better off in Ga., Fla. or Calif. But I bet Shane Victorino is by far your favorite son these days! Pls. don't be a stranger.

Janette said...

I absolutely loved what I did, when I was allowed to do it! The paperwork and changing rules got in the way. I walked away from my vocation much earlier per then most. I dreamed about it for about two years. Now I dream about how to get things done on our little farm.
I love that you told the boss that you were not going to make your bed. You must have great control over your happiness in retirement. You don't feel your life is about satisfying society anymore!415

Mac n' Janet said...

I've been retired for 10 years now, I took early retirement as a teacher. And from time to time I still have the "class from hell" dream, the class you can do nothing with no matter what you do. Don't know why I have this dream for I never had a class like that in the real world.
As for retirement, I LOVE IT!

Olga said...

I liked my work, but not always the job--you know, all that political maneuvering and petty territorial infighting that can happen--and the paperwork, which always seemed more important than the people at evaluation time. And I am so very glad I did retire early and had the time that Mike and I spent together over the past nine years.

Anonymous said...

Well, Tom, I found that your word verification wasn't too difficult, so I'll try it again now. As for football, yes, it is a big thing here in Hawaii. Both college and high school football games are shown on local television. College football pays the bills in the athletic dept.

Bob Lowry said...

I will sometimes think about how my business would have been stronger and not failed when it did if I had approached things differently. If I knew then what I know now......

But, I really only dream about my time as a radio DJ, something which ended over 30 years ago. It is always the same dream: the record is ending and I can't get the next one ready in time, or I get locked out of the studio just as the song ends.

That is when I wake up so I have no idea what happens next...probably a good thing.

Unknown said...

About two years ago, I was working at a job that I was beginning to truly hate. Unfortunately, it was exactly the career path I had worked so hard to achieve. For all intents and purposes, I was a success. I had reached my goal, yet I quickly became burnt out and it seemed like I could never leave work at work. Almost every night I would have work related nightmares.

While I wanted out, it was hard to leave such a respected position that I had worked to hard to earn. Ultimately, the universe intervened and I was laid off. After almost a year of job searching, I switched careers, took a significant salary cut and couldn't be happier. I actually look forward to going to work again.

Now, I no longer have nightmares about work, but I do often dream about being in school again and forgetting my locker combination on my way to a big math test. Talk about anxiety . . .

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Kirk said...

I retired 8 years ago at 56. I'd worked at a series of small tech companies that had all been acquired by larger ones, and the last was the worst. I had to fly cross country to California every month for meetings that were very confrontational on technology issues; since we were the ones acquired, we were by definition the dumb ones. After 8 months I gave up.

I never have dreams about work, but fairly often I have ones about school. Usually I'm late for class and have no idea where the classroom is, and haven't done my homework either.

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