One year ago (yesterday or the day before), I was laid off from what I intend to be my last job in advertising – an industry I had been working in for nearly ten years.
The layoff wasn’t a surprise. In fact, it was not only expected but warmly welcomed when it finally took place. I had long since realized that advertising and media as it is, especially on the client service end, was not a right fit for me at that point in my life – nor I a right fit for it.
That Friday started off like every other. I woke up, took the 217 bus to Wilshire Boulevard and then the 20 local to Beverly Drive. I walked down the street and into the office. I booted up my computer, logged into my blog, opened up my email and went into the kitchen for Friday breakfast.
While I was eating at my desk, I resumed work on a bullshit project for my manager until our weekly department meeting at ten. I hated these meetings and seethed my way through them because I found them to be a colossal waste of time. I barely cared about what was going on with my own clients let alone what was going on with other people’s clients (definite hint that it was time to go). To pass the time, I would take notes…notes about my career in television that existed inside my head.
A couple hours later, I was still working on that bullshit project. Much of the office was out at lunch. The HR Lady, whom we’ll call Molly because of her eternally bright disposition no matter what time of day it is, came out of her office, called my name and motioned for me to come into her office.
My desk was situated between her office and my manager’s office, so I could only think of three reasons why I was being called into a meeting with her: they didn’t like my deteriorating attitude, they noticed I was spending more and more time working on my blog or they wanted me to rekindle the fire I had when I first started by giving me a pep talk.
I walked into her office. Seated on the far end of her long white couch was my manager. Molly sat down next to him and asked me if I wanted to join them on it. I declined and opted for the nearest hard plastic chair.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to have one of those hard conversations we talked about,” Molly began after I sat down and got semi-comfortable.
There are two previous mentions of a hard conversation to which she is referring. The first one took place about a year prior. I was having difficulties with the lead of one of the agency’s key accounts. She always spoke to me very condescendingly (which is an absolute no-no for me no matter who you are), nitpicked at everything I did and had no problem throwing me under the bus in front of my manager or the client.
So I did what any self-respecting young man would do. I sent her an email -- edited and re-edited down to a professional, yet pointed couple of paragraphs.
She sat on it for the day and called me the next morning to talk about it. But what she was really looking for was an argument. And she got one. She hung up on me and five seconds later I heard the phone in my manager’s office ring.
This was a Thursday. He sat on it for a day before calling me into a meeting with him and Molly at the end of the next day. Molly led the meeting. Neither of them bothered to ask me my side of things because they didn’t care. Apparently, the clod I had been dealing with was a VP. Who knew? So Molly basically told me that if this happened again we would need to have a “hard conversation” – which meant suspension or termination. At the time, I still cared about the job and wanted to keep it so I fell on my sword.
The second mention was during a one-on-one meeting in Molly’s office. She was curious about my goals within and without the company. She then suggested I think about what I really wanted to do (shades of a similar conversation I had with the CEO of the last company I worked for – shortly before I resigned and moved back to LA to be a writer). If what I wanted to do didn’t line up with the direction the company was headed (which I knew didn’t), then we’d have to have a “hard conversation” – which meant some sort of separation. This was a couple months before the layoff and the job by this point was nothing more than a paycheck.
“We’ve lost a lot of business this year,” Molly continued during what was our first actual hard conversation. “We’ve had to take look at who we are going to keep and who we are going to let go and I’m afraid we’re going to have to part ways.”
None of this lost business was mine, mind you, but immediately peace descended upon my soul.
“That was the hard conversation?” I replied.
“Huh?” my manager asked.
“What does mean?” Molly asked.
From my vantage point, that was the easiest conversation we could have had. A harder conversation would have been for them to tell me that I needed to adjust or change my attitude. I didn’t walk into the job with it, so obviously the job caused it. Behind that, letting me go was their best option because my attitude was only going to get worse.
I just laughed and told them it was nothing. I then asked when this parting was taking place.
“Today. Today will be your last day,” Mollie informed me. “How do you want to handle this?”
Because I was still working on my manager’s bullshit project, I suggested I finish out the day and just not come back on Monday.
Molly looked at my manager.
“Why don’t you just start your weekend early?” he said.
I thought to myself, “Why didn’t you just say that? Why did you ask me in the first place?”
We had a few laughs and embraced. I was directed to the main conference room where two hours earlier I was sitting in a laborious weekly meeting talking about accounts that, unbeknownst to me, I wouldn't even be managing by the end of the day.
I wonder if my manager knew this at the time. If he did, then why he didn’t just suggest I not attend that meeting so I could “finish working on the bullshit project”. That would have made more sense to me than to have me sit in on a meeting when my participation in it would be inconsequential by mid-afternoon. Then again, maybe he only found out shortly before I did. I will probably never know.
The other HR lady, who walked me through my new hire paperwork eighteen months prior, walked me through my severance package and COBRA paperwork. In the middle of it, Molly pokes her head in and asks if I was done with my computer so they could shut it down.
I told her yes but I thought to myself, “Not yet. I still have to transfer secret agency files onto my thumb drive so I can take over the world.”
A few minutes later I walked through the lobby. I didn’t need to go back to my desk because I had already taken home everything I wanted to keep in anticipation for either a layoff or my resignation. I waved at the office manager, who got up to give me a hug.
I walked out of the office, into the elevator and out the door. I walked down Beverly Drive with a newfound sense of freedom and into the nearest branch of my bank to deposit my final pay. As I walked east down Wilshire Boulevard, calls and texts came in from co-workers wondering if what they thought had happened actually happened.
The congratulatdolenatory celebration lasted throughout the weekend.
Then came Monday. Once again, I had to figure out what to do next with my yet still young life.
I knew this much -- I did not want another job in advertising. I did not want to be in client service. And I was going to eke out a living as a writer. I just had no idea how to make that last part happen.
It’s been an interesting journey thus far.
Shortly after the layoff, I went with a friend of mine to the LA Improv for a comedy show where I met a comedian from Texas. We chatted after the show and I went to several of his subsequent performances. It gave me a taste of the comic scene in LA – so much so that people began to think I myself was a comic. While I may be funny at times and even though I did wind up performing stand-up at his biweekly show, I am hardly a comic. But it was a nice experience.
I was at my local West Hollywood watering hole talking to one of my bartender friends there. He told me about the web series he was producing. I asked him to let me know if he needed any help. I arrived on location a few weeks later to do background work and got a behind-the-scenes look into the life of the struggling actor scene in LA. I have profiled several actors from this project for my website.
I also became friends with the director and his production team – many of whom I had known of from the aforementioned watering hole. They were in the third season of their own web series, which I started to watch and enjoy. Like Carol Burnett on All My Children in 1983, a part for me was written into their upcoming fourth season.
Another actor I had profiled for my website was also interested in producing his own web series. He pitched me the idea and asked me to co-write it with him. We met for five consecutive Thursdays and wrote an episode each week. The first episode has been filmed, with the remainder of the season being shot over one weekend in July and another one in August.
One Sunday afternoon while I was holding court at that same watering hole, I received a call from Equality California asking if I wanted to join one of their canvassing events. I said no. They asked if I wanted to come in and make phone calls. Again, I said no. Then they asked me if I wanted to come in and do data entry. Bingo! That I can do because it doesn’t require talking to people.
I signed up for a Thursday and thought that was going to be it. But as I began to learn about all of their current initiatives, I began to believe in the organization and what it was doing. So I went back. And I kept going back. It feels very gratifying to be doing something for a cause other than my own – even if it’s just data entry. The activist in me that I have always been afraid of is coming out of hibernation. I hope to have greater presence in this world at some point so as to be of greater benefit to the organization.
And just recently, a new friend – also from that same watering hole, told me about a pilot script he had written and wanted to produce on his own. One production meeting and two shooting days (for the fundraising campaign video) later, I am in charge of marketing and awareness.
I told you all that to tell you this – there has been a seemingly organic flow to all that has gone on in the past year. One thing has led to another which has led to another. I have met a lot of new people. I have given out a lot of business cards. Awareness of what I do has grown. I’ve done stand-up comedy. I built my own website (albeit from an existing Google sites template, but whatever). I hosted a premiere party. I sat in on a casting session. I went to an award show. I’ve done three live readings and attended several others. And I have stumbled upon the greatest of performing outlets every Monday night at the watering hole.
So I can’t imagine that something I am doing now, which I love and have always wanted to do, won’t lead to something that resembles a regular paycheck.
But as anxious as the uncertainty of the moment keeps me, I can’t imagine a better time in my life. Good, bad or indifferent -- anything is possible. Every morning I wake up and think that this could be the day. While I have so far gone to bed wrong every night, I know that every day I am working toward “the day when” and every day I am laying the foundation for “the day when”. As long as I continue to do that, then I don’t necessarily have to worry about “the day when” because it’s coming.
I just have no control over when that day will come. With that being the case, I’ll just leave it in the hands of who or whatever is truly executive producing the TV series that is my life.
Original Fiction from a Sitcom Mind > The Halls of Shambala > The Non-Fiction Archives: 2012-2014 > The Unemployment Chronicles >