Leaving a Mark

why losing my job was a good thing

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To mark one year since losing my job, I felt compelled to look back and share how it has been such a good thing for my career.

Mine is a common story in Calgary these days. The details may differ, but it’s the same nonetheless. I worked at a (major/medium/junior) (energy/service) company on a (processing/specialist/bitumen /conventional/shale) team working (projects/client services/ exploration/development/ asset management). Our team was (laid off/rightsized/ downsized/smartsized/streamlined/ redundant/consolidated), so I found myself holding my box of possessions and a severance package.

I know now that I took my job for granted. The challenge, engagement, responsibility, colleagues, professionalism. And the compensation. I didn’t appreciate these things until I had to go without. From the outside, I realize what a privilege it is to work as a professional in this industry.

I wasn’t prepared for the range of emotions I had to deal with. I agree with those who have likened the aftermath to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance. I dealt with all these emotions, sometimes all in the same day. The grief process wasn’t easy, but it passed in time. And once it had, I was able to embrace the situation and look ahead to the next chapter in my career.

Retrospection

Job mourning took me some months to work through, and included a personal retrospective of my past work. I couldn’t resist  entertaining the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” that might have saved my neck. It didn’t take me too long to come around and realize that regretful thinking can be a distracting spiral.

Once the grieving was over, my retrospective became something much more useful. With a neutral eye (well… as neutral as possible), I thought about the work I did and the way I did it.

I found certain things that I did really well as a professional — how my strengths had contributed to my successes. But it wasn’t about stroking my own ego. Having a professional self-awareness has been important for me in my job search in the oil and gas industry, and even more so while I look at opportunities in other industries.

Along with my strengths, there are also weaknesses. They say a person can be their own worst critic, right? This has been a great time to take a good, long look in the mirror and pick out all those things that I’m not proud of. I didn’t find any flaws I didn’t know about already, but I have a better understanding of the impact they’ve had on my work. With that knowledge (plus the extra free time afforded by a layoff), one can turn a weakness into an area of active improvement.

I’ve experienced the professional development that comes from the maturity of professional self-awareness.

I’ve undergone a lot of professional development in the past year, but not the kind that comes from classes on project management, or courses on seismic data processing. I’ve experienced the professional development that comes from the maturity of professional self-awareness.

Reality check

As an optimist, this layoff shattered my naive assumption that the corporate world is a meritocracy. Doing great work is not enough to ensure uninterrupted employment. I haven’t become a cynical lump, but I’ve formed a more realistic view of things.

Tasked with the responsibility of deciding which staff to retain, a person may use things like performance reviews if they’re available, but I expect they’re basing their decisions on whatever perceptions they have of the individuals and their work. If you’re still employed, ask yourself: who would decide your fate in a layoff? Your manager? Your manager’s director? Your manager’s director’s VP? What’s that person’s perception of you and your work? Do they have one? I’ve never been one for self-promotion, but it’s something I will have to do if I want to make an impression on whoever’s crafting the next org chart. And since they’re considering me along with my work, networking within the company will be important as well. Each person is comfortable doing this to some degree, so the trick will be to find what that looks like for me.

The bright side

this is an industry of really great people

The past year has been a great reminder that this is an industry of really great people. Genuine people who are compassionate and willing to help however they can: chats over coffee, an introduction to someone else in their network, tips on job leads, a copy of their grad thesis to study for an interview. It means a lot to those of us who find ourselves on the outside. It’s been comforting to know there are people looking out for me.

His Worship, Naheed Nenshi addressed a recent CSEG Technical Luncheon. I loved his take on the classic line, “Please let there be another oil boom… and I promise not to piss it all away next time.” In his inspirational speech, he encouraged CSEG membership to forget about the next boom — make sure we don’t piss away this downturn. This is an opportunity to do things that would never get done in times when everything is “drill, drill, drill”. Efficiency and innovation are born out of necessity. The trials that Alberta’s petroleum industry are facing will spark improvements in all aspects of exploration and production, and it will be better for it. I’m applying that philosophy at a personal level as well. I’m taking advantage of this unusual time in my career to refocus and renew.

forget about the next boom — make sure we don’t piss away this downturn

According to those still employed in industry, the mood in downtown Calgary has changed dramatically in the past year — doom, gloom, and negativity. Everyone is constantly worried about the security of their job, the future of the company, and the future of the industry as a whole. It’s true that things aren’t rosy right now, and a layoff would cause stress, angst, and challenge. While I can’t reassure anyone that oil’s on the way back to $80 any time soon, or that new export capacity is assured, I can offer some peace of mind: as much as a layoff is a door closing, it’s a bunch of new doors thrown open. It’s up to you to look for them.

Open doors are more than just a wish for my future. Talking with industry veterans who’ve been through tough patches before, it’s always amazed me how many times I’ve heard, “I got laid off, and it was the best thing that could have happened.” Though it might not have felt that way at the time, they look back and recognize that their layoff as a milepost on their journey, not a car wreck along the way. They haven’t let it define their careers. Their attitude sums up my plan for this layoff: make this something I can look back on and appreciate. I will start the next chapter in my career as a stronger, more effective professional.


Feature image: Tattoo Studio by THOR. Unmodified. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.

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