“You are just a lever I had to pull.”
This was the rationale given to me by my former CEO when my position was terminated this past January. You know who pulls levers? Executioners, and when these words were spoken, images of Old Sparky came to mind. I suppose this was appropriate, he was killing my employment after all – though I’d rather not be thought of as a corporate Ted Bundy.
I was not let go for cause – in fact, over three and a half years of employment I had billings in the millions which, for a qualitative research guy, is a lot of dough. That could certainly keep the lights on for a while (pardon another electricity reference, though this was certainly kinder than the first). At the time of my unceremonious termination, (did I mention it was done over the phone?), I was in the middle of three projects which, in total, my company would bill in the six figures for. The business as a whole, though, was in decline and cuts had to be made. My salary was at the top of the food chain and I, a living, breathing, father of three supporting his family on one income, was reduced to being a lever. That characterization actually hurt more than the actual loss of employment – which was actually the best thing that ever happened to me.
I finished my projects on a Tuesday and set off to an industry conference in LA on a Wednesday where I’d was to run a roundtable discussion on using mobile tools in the qualitative research industry. I announced to others in my industry association that Vertigo Partners LLC, the company I formed years ago and put on hold, was back in business and hungrier than ever. I left that conference with a project.
When I got back home, I reconnected with an old friend from my Unilever days who heard about some unique work I’d been doing with mobile and she wanted to talk about a potential project whereby participants would record the shopping experience for one of her company’s products using their mobile phone and I would follow up with an in depth interview. Bam, another project (and thank you Indeemo for the ability to use your awesome platform). Yes, Eugene Murphy, I’ve made some money today!
Three more followed; two for a pet care company and another for a large Mexican beer brand. Presently, I’m working on two more; one for a well-known snack-food company and another for a digital agency that heard about some unique eye tracking work I’ve done in the past to assist with user experience evaluations.
But that’s not all.
After being tied up in a large research agency for over 40 months, I finally had time to breathe. I finished writing my fourth novel (The Last Homily), finished a fifth (a Roman à clef novel) and started a sixth. Nothing fuels the creative juices like a little breathing room!
Never once did I characterize myself as being unemployed. Instead, I was self-employed (and very motivated to pay the mortgage not to mention tuition and the OUTRAGEOUS amount of money for COBRA – which actually eclipses my mortgage. Really, we have to do something about the cost of healthcare insurance in this country).
My attitude is what made all the difference in the world.
Recently, I was tempted to join the ranks of the full time employed and went through a multi-phased interview process. I met the CEO of a tech company in the research space for breakfast while he was visiting New York and then met with a few others in the organization. Time passed and I was invited to fly out to their corporate offices on the left coast for another day of interviewing where the feedback I received was positive. Things were looking good.
Then, a period of silence. Then, a request to speak with a guy from Europe who confirmed our phone interview just hours before and then did not show up – no explanation. This interview was then scheduled, and rescheduled, two more times at the last minute, but I stuck with the process because, as my father says, it never hurts to have a conversation. We finally spoke and he recommended I speak with a few more people on his team.
I obliged and one, in particular, apparently suffered from the same affliction his manager had because the door to communication was opened and quickly closed with no explanation whatsoever. Another breakfast with the CEO was scheduled and then cancelled at the last minute.
I had to ask myself, why are you doing this? I’m gainfully self-employed, have time during the day to watch my kids play for their high school sports teams, and can follow my passion of writing (see http://uncorkingastory.com/books/ if you are looking for some great summer reads. Every purchase goes directly to the Carlon Triplets College Fund). Why am I looking to change any of that?
Here’s where I am netting out. I know that I am restless. I know that I am always looking for new ways to innovate in my industry (qualitative marketing research) and I know that I am a people person. Those are all valid reasons to want to seek out an employment situation with a company where N > 1. But of all the things I have learned about myself in the past five months, there is one thing I have learned that I am not – I’m definitely not a lever someone had to pull.