In one of my favorite movies, Gone with the Wind, Melanie Wilkes says “The happiest days are when babies come.” Few can argue with that. Having welcomed my first grandchild into the world just a few short months ago, I can attest to it personally.
The inverse would be “The most difficult days are when people go.” I find that to be equally true. In the workplace today, and especially at this time of year, we are facing the difficult days of people going.
I’m not here to question the decisions about reductions. I know our leaders must make difficult decisions – ones they aren’t always happy to have to make. As such, I know these days are difficult for them too. The difficulty is universal – it is difficult being one who learns he or she is going, it’s difficult being the ones who have to make the decision or deliver that news, and it’s difficult for those of us who are on the periphery of it. We struggle with survivor’s guilt and sometimes even with a sense of indignation over the who or the how or the when. None of that is easy and I’m not here to minimize it.
Earlier this year, I met someone with whom I have interacted online and she asked me how I stay so positive. At first, I choked on my own laughter because I so often don’t feel positive, but since then, I have given this a lot of thought. Here is my response: I have to find the positive or else I will suffocate under the weight of the negative – there simply isn’t a choice.
Back in 2002, I was let go from a company. The company is no longer around, so the name isn’t important. What is important is this: that door closing is what ultimately created my pathway to where I am now. I have had many wonderful experiences where I am now, many opportunities to learn and grow, and without the loss of that other job, I wouldn’t have found my way here.
I realize I am looking at it with the benefit of hindsight. In the moment, when I lost my job, I pulled a scene befitting of the dramatic Scarlett O’Hara. “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I threw myself on my bed and cried a river of tears. But like Scarlett, I pulled myself together, shouted out “Oh fiddle-dee-dee!”, and made an interview suit out of the drapes in my bedroom. A few months after that, I came to work for the company I am still with today.
(That’s all true except for the part about the saying fiddle-dee-dee – I would never say such a dorky thing!)
I have watched quite a few fine people exit the company I’m currently at over the years, and even had to deliver the news in some cases. I am sure some of them threw themselves on their beds and had Scarlett O’Hara moments. I keep in touch with many of these former coworkers via social networks such as LinkedIn. They, too, pulled themselves together and made interview suits out of draperies and forged new paths. In 100% of the most recent cases, those I have spoken with are happy – many of them happier now than they were before they left.
I am not promoting a world where we minimize or dismiss the hardship of these changes – I’m merely trying to add a perspective for those who are cut, for those left behind, even for those wondering if their names are on a list somewhere. We should not let ourselves get mired in despondence or fall victim to survivor’s guilt. For those of us who remain, we should be empathetic of our colleagues – supportive of them. If we can help them in their quests for their next challenges, we should do that.
But we should also not minimize the fact that in so many cases, these types of forced-change actions end up, in hindsight, to be positive for the individuals impacted. I bet Melly Wilkes would refer to these situations as “Blessings in disguise”. In fact, I’m sure of it.
Probably most of us have more Miss Scarlett in us than we do Miss Melly. I know I do. Maybe such self-awareness is enough to get us to pause, take a deep breath, put our Miss Scarlett (scrappy girl that she is – we admire her ferociousness and tenacity) in a time-out and channel our Miss Melly for a spell. We can be kind and gentle and understanding of the hardship felt by so many in these difficult circumstances. We can try to find the silver-linings (without being unsympathetic or dismissive of real hardship) and we can help others see it too. We could all use a little more Miss Melly in us, couldn’t we? The world could use a little more Miss Melly, too, I think.
Our friends and coworkers aren’t gone with the wind. They are set-back temporarily, like Scarlett was so many times in Margaret Mitchell’s book. And through adversity, they will find their steel cores, find the Scarlett within them, and rise above it in triumph. I know they will.
After all, tomorrow is another day.