This series used to be called The Recession is Bullhonkey series, where I shared stories of those who had gotten hired and/or started their own businesses (or sometimes both!) since 2008. In 2016, though, it felt irrelevant, so I’ll now be sharing these made-my-dream-career-happen-despite-challenges-and-adversity stories under the title I Did It Anyways, because by golly, they did! Natalie Fisher took a layoff and turned it into a career coaching and resume writing business. She walks us through that fateful day by sharing her story below.
The Lead Up
It was nearly 3:00 pm on a Thursday, time for the weekly all-hands staff meeting where 60 of my co-workers gathered to hear departmental updates. The IT crew set up the big-screen TV to connect us with a dozen more colleagues in the Vancouver office. On a typical Thursday, we’d all trickle into the kitchen, grab a cookie, and listen to the CEO’s announcements, followed by updates from the department heads. But this Thursday was different.
My normal routine on Thursdays was to check in with my front desk staff and chat with them for a few minutes before the meeting. As I stepped out of the elevator, I felt an eerie vibe right away. Just before I got to reception, two very tall, thin men in suits walked abruptly past the front desk without saying a word, completely ignoring our company’s sign-in policy. Our Chief of Security was with them, so I thought this was especially weird.
My staff were shocked and super confused, they didn’t know what to do. I came up to the desk and they said in a panic: “Those men just walked in! They walked right past us without saying anything, and they didn’t sign in! What’s going on?”
Of course, I had no clue either. I told them I didn’t know, and that we would likely find out in a few moments at the weekly meeting.
The Main Event
We headed to the kitchen with our ‘spidey senses’ going off like crazy. Some people were there that we’d never seen before: a tall, thin, white-haired, older (but quite fit) lady, along with what was presumably her team. I heard whisperings from a few of my coworkers. “What are those people doing here?” “Who are those people?” Even the Chief Operating Officer was asking around. I looked at the big screen where our Vancouver staff were gathered via tele-conference, and noticed that there was a group of strange people in their office as well.
Our CEO stood up at the front to speak. The first words out of his mouth were: “Today, we are shutting down operations of Seeker Solutions.” I don’t remember what he said after that; it’s all pretty much a blur. I saw he teared up as he continued to speak for a bit. A million thoughts ran fast through my head. Anything he was saying was superceded by all of the internal thoughts and questions racing through my brain.
I felt a flurry of emotions right at that moment, but I tried to keep myself calm, composed and centered as best I could. I was sitting at the very front of the room, and I looked behind me to see all of my coworkers. All I remember was seeing tears, mascara running down faces, and a few people hugging.
The next thing I remember was the lady with the white hair at the front of the room, explaining what would happen next. She offered to answer any questions, and one of my staff members asked, “Who will let all the people we’ve been dealing with know that we’ve been shut down?” The lady replied, “That would be a good question for the CEO,” and she turned around to look for him, but he was gone.
I remember feeling anger towards this woman, acting as if she knew how we felt, reassuring us that she knew what we were going through and to keep calm as she and her team helped us through this transition. (Yeah right, I thought…)
On a brighter note, something that I remember clearly was Carlos. Carlos was kind of the annoying ‘class clown.’ Some people loved him; some people wished he’d shut up. We had been planning a staff chili dog day before the upcoming long weekend, and I guess he was pretty excited about it. After the lady had finished speaking, he ran cheerfully up to the front of the room, grabbed the microphone and said, “Awww, well, I guess this means we won’t be having chili dogs now,” in true Carlos style. Everyone laughed as he broke the stunned silence. Then he gave a short, warm, and fuzzy speech about how it had been such a great time for him, working with all of us, and how he would miss our smiling faces every day.
Several people stayed in the kitchen for a while, doing whatever they needed to do to handle their mixed emotions and saying their goodbyes. I saw a lot of strong faces and a lot of teary eyes. Everyone grabbed their severance and information packages at the back of the room. They were arranged in alphabetical order on a long table, with the team of people who were ‘handling the shutdown’ standing guard. (At least that part was sort of well organized.)
Word got around for everyone to head over immediately to one of the local bars. At the time, alcohol (for a lot of people) seemed like a great idea. The group of us who were there spent time reminiscing, worrying, talking, and reflecting about what had just happened and what would be next for all of us.
After the company closed, weeks and months later, I saw many people floundering, looking for work. There were super talented people that took ages to find a new position. There were other people who found one right away. Then there was a guy who reeked of such desperation that “he would do anything for anyone,” and we all ended up avoiding him if we saw him on the street.
I realized that we just didn’t know what to do at the time. Everyone was panicked, crying, scared and spinning in circles wondering what would happen next? How would they pay their bills? Who would hire them? What would happen if they didn’t find something? Uncertainty all around!
All these concerns are normal, but they don’t need to be there when you have a process that you know works.
This type of thing can happen at anytime, to one person or to a group of people. The universe requires no word of warning.
After this happened it became clear to me that I wanted to be the one to help everyone stay calm and map out a clear path in times of panic. I wanted to create something that inspired people and motivated them. The service hired to do the shutdown was paid by the company. It was clear that they were available to help us too, but their help made me feel like I was in grade school again and that I had to do what the teacher told me to. No freedom to map out my own course or make choices that were best for me, without the judgment of the ‘teacher’ who I felt was actually holding us back. I ditched that help after getting into an argument with the career counselor who told me never to apply to companies not hiring.
In this experience I realized, I needed to do this. (I needed to be that career counselor lady who didn’t know what she was talking about) except for I would actually help people.
I’d love to hear from you; have you ever been through a company shutting down? Or found yourself out of work suddenly? What was the worst thing, or the best thing, that came out of it for you? Looking forward to hearing your comments!
Natalie lives in Victoria, BC. Canada. She is a career coach and resume writer. She’s worked for companies like Amazon, FLIR Systems & xMatters. What led her to pursue career coaching was the view that navigating the world of ‘career’ for a job seeker is an ambiguous task. Natalie loves defining the unclear. She strives to help people navigate the unwritten rules of conventional ‘job searching’ while making sure people stay true to themselves while they’re succeeding. Visit her at nataliefisher.ca to learn more.