I should have been terribly sad, and maybe I ought to feel guilty about lacking such sentiment − but I wasn’t and I don’t. Certainly, one would expect me to be depressed at the time, for after all I had worked there for almost 18 years. Instead, nothing, other than initial anger, because of course I didn’t realize on July 4, 2012, that I was one of more than 100 being laid off during the summer, that this time, the periodic downsizing was going to include me.
I surprised myself at how quickly I got over it. It seems during those 18 years, initially so vibrant, so full of inspiration, that somewhere along the line my soul had departed my automaton body, gone to lie down in the shade under a willow, and then turned comatose while its host body continued on, churning out standard newsletter after newsletter mainly about government draft rules. It had started out so differently. Ah, the golden years, those early days were.
The turning point, after those first wonderful years, came when I lost my first boss, whom I shall name “M” for mentor. M had encouraged me to grow beyond what I knew, had provided me with inside training and supported my taking of courses to enhance my skills. Thanks to M, who evidently saw in me a capability I didn’t realize I had, I flourished, became creative, innovative, a maker of lively books, glossy magazines, attention-grabbing posters and more: all colourful, quirky, with tables, graphs and pictures that made “newly enacted legislation” and “federal budgets” actually easy to read, even interesting, to any layperson who cared to look.
M included me in meetings with authors, asked my advice during consultations with senior counsel, and added me to a team of capable and experienced professionals from whom I learned and to whom I contributed. I felt included, was kept in the loop, got promoted. I loved my job and continuously put 120 per cent into it.
The change came when that boss was replaced by another staff member, whom I shall call “D” for dictator. It began with the slightest of transformations within the first week of D’s governance; my database postings, in which I attached new editions, were suddenly wiped off and replaced by D’s versions, and I was asked to stop posting anything, because “I need to raise my profile. I want my name on the postings.” Soon I was dropped from meetings with authors, lost sight of the bigger picture and was not kept in the loop.
Still I continued on, disappointed but eager to do the work I so loved. I immersed myself in the firm’s rebranding, changed the look of our new publications, sent samples to our writers and advised on editing. Slowly, though, my beloved job was whittled away by D, who now took over canvassing authors during annual write-ups and who discussed new work with various departments without including me, instead announcing, after all decisions were final, that I was to do this or that, at exactly this or that time. I became busier, but behind a curtain, and my career dissolved into a conveyor belt that resembled a train continuously circling a short-track loop: chug, chug, chug.
D, charming on the outside, made sure to ask me the same dutiful question on Monday mornings: “How was your weekend … go for any nice walks?” and half-listened as I responded. I was at first enthusiastic, but eventually on automatic pilot as I came to recognize the uninterested party behind the question. I attempted other, varied conversations, with little response. I was always fascinated, though, by D’s horse-like laugh in the company of higher management. The more senior the person present, the more high-pitched became the neighing until eventually I felt disgusted at the obsequious whinnies and sycophantic bowing. I tried hard to curb what I knew to be growing resentment, put my head down and continued working − with my arms, my fingers and head being yanked more and more like a marionette at the will of the master puppeteer.
I was now given formulaic texts, mainly about federal and provincial changes, for creative new projects were often passed to another department. My conveyor belt began to sound more like that short-track train: “draft rules, draft rules, draft rules.” Over the next couple of years, the belt became faster and noisier: “draftrulesdraftrulesdraftrules.” My cheery demeanour began to crack due to ears continually deaf to my concerns, but still I tried hard to keep up.
I was laid off last summer. A day later, I walked into Employment Ontario and sat with eight others to hear a counsellor’s talk about Second Career. As I glanced at my fellow unemployed, I began to feel a surge of – was that what I thought it was? – happiness. I realized, suddenly and very clearly, that for a long time I had been clutching at an illusion, behind which lay marginalization and isolation. My career, once so promising and fulfilling, had gone along with my old boss.
So no, I did not feel sad. Rather, I understood that I was now back in the world, to thrive and grow on adventures new, meet different people, experience novel situations, listen to my inner yearnings and walk the path I wanted. I knew I was free to start again. And I have.
Sheila Tucker lives in Oakville, Ont.
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