I have a reputation of staying calm under pressure. My years playing quarterback in high school and college were key in developing this mindset. The ever changing atmosphere occurring throughout a football game demands a QB that will remain calm and lead his team no matter the situation. Yet, here I am only 3 weeks into this unique situation of being unemployed, with a feeling of uneasiness knowing that he has a family to support.
The messages and conversations with colleagues and friends continue to happen with all of them ending with the same encouraging message of ‘You will be a huge asset to the next opportunity that comes your way. You will land on your feet quickly.’ It is great to hear, but yet, there is a part of me that wonders about the unknown- when and where will the next opportunity come about?
So what is one to do about the negative mindset that is always lurking in the shadows? For me- it is to focus on the positive facts that are present all around me. I have had some great conversations with recruiters and past colleagues with some opportunities that may be promising. I also had one of my blogs 10 Thoughts a Teacher Hopes All Parents Know featured in the writing of Joey Helleny here where he discusses how to Make Your Employees Proud! Where he supports that ask of your employees “Are you proud of where you work?”
“Are you Proud…” is a simple question that I continue to ask of myself and my team as I lead them. It started as a personal philosophy in the classroom with my students that allowed me to judge their work individually rather than my preconceived notions of what I believe was great work. It is a simple question that people are honest about. While I tended to keep a very high bar of success for my students and my team- it is only fair that the end judgement is based on their individual gains, improvements, and successes. If individuals are proud of their work, proud of their team, and proud of their company- success is inevitable, and customer success is manageable.
So every day- I have incorporated the same philosophy into my current situation. My current situation just happens to focus on pursuing opportunities and taking care of the family chores. I have focused on doing my best to create and find opportunities towards the next chapter in my life, but also to help complete the necessary chores around the house when time is available. It allows me to accomplish tasks rather than sit around and lose myself in negative thoughts. It keeps me fresh with my habits of creating task lists, and following up when necessary.
I am also taking the opportunity to focus on my time with my family. To enjoy the little things that make memories. Without the hustle and bustle of everyday demands of work- I have enjoyed watching my son play HS football- as his team is now ranked #1 in New Jersey! I have enjoyed my time driving my daughter to her dance classes, even though sometimes it means a 45 minute drive to drop off, then pick up- both ways! Work/Life balance has always been important to me, and I appreciated the balance given to me by HMH- as I rarely missed anything of significance! But in times like these- I have more appreciation for it!
So as week 3 ended, and week 4 begins- Is it time to panic? Not at all…… I have some great conversations and possible opportunities to look forward to. This will be a marathon, and not a sprint, and I understand this. There are thousands of others who are in the same boat as I am- and there are many people who are great candidates just like me (Heck, I have a short list of great colleagues, also laid off, whom I would build a team with today if given the opportunity!) I just need to continue to wake up everyday, look into the mirror and ask:
I have been lucky. I have been paid (worked)- to do something that I have loved for basically all of my working life. At 15, I was a camp counselor at Brookdale Community College Sports Camps and worked there every summer until I was 30. I played sports throughout high school and college- thus playing and coaching were the mainstays of my life!
After college, I did have a couple of months where I did not know what I was going to do but needed money, so I picked up a nighttime job at a local pub called The Parker House. It’s a great place to grab a drink, and a hotbed for summer visitors down at the Jersey Shore. With my luck- it was also filled with football coaches and teachers working the bar to supplement their income. This led to me being connected with a young football coach, who at that time, needed a coach immediately to start. Thus began a 15 year saga of teaching elementary school, at the absolutely best level of 4th and 5th grade, while coaching state championship football and softball at the varsity level. I was living the best life…….
That is until the perfect storm began to form and blew into my life- giving me the opportunity to advance myself and expand my learning! The storm included my 3 kids growing up, a jealous and vindictive union president, the bleak teacher financial outlook, and one special offer. Coming out of the storm, I found myself building a new home at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under some of the best leadership and colleagues I have known.
While it hurt me (and still does to this day) to leave the classroom and ability to positively impact my students- I made the move for the betterment of my family over the asks of my extended family of students. The opportunity to change the classroom by being a Solutions Architect brought new goals and adventure. By listening and collaborating with school districts nationwide- I was able to help position technology being used properly in the classroom with the proper form of content from HMH. I never felt like a salesman for HMH- but rather shined as an advocate for the district. By making sure their purchases were going to fit their need for today and vision for year to come- I was able to position solutions for many important districts like Frederick MD., Ceres CA., Sapulpa OK., Asbury Park NJ. to name a few- along with a great trip/meeting with the Minister of Education for Trinidad Tobago! These solutions led to great Partnerships and relationships which led to great student outcomes. Simply by taking the time to listen and understand the use case for the classroom, administrators from across the nation would trust in me and eventually my team!
And then came Oct. 17, 2019…..A call, that while not a surprise- totally hit us from left field. I will never forget the phrase used “HMH has decided to NOT pursue being in the business of Tech Services. HMH has chosen to partner with a 3rd party to provide your services……Your services are no longer needed.” After the initial shock began to fade, I remember thinking that this is some kind of a joke. Should I unmute myself and laugh out loud? We all knew that a 3rd party would not be able to ‘provide’ what we actually did. There was no way they overlooked the positioning/partnership with Google I initiated, or the creation of the internal access to our new ED Platform. Yet- the shock must have been felt by everyone else also- as no one said anything. How did we get to this point? How did executive leadership believe that all we did was roster districts to our platform? Yet here we were waiting for our leader to speak up- but all we heard was nothing…..a sound I will get to later…..
In the blink of an eye- I, no we, were now unemployed. We were part of a massive layoff impacting 8% of the HMH workforce, but we were the only division to be let go as a whole group. Did I have questions? You bet! Was I angry? Yes! Was I confused? Without a doubt! Our group was told over and over how important we were to the success of the company, and more importantly, to the success of sales and relationships. So who could I/we turn to at this point in time for answers? Our direct boss? Well- hindsight is 20/20. Our trusted leader had gone radio silent for a week, and missed our manager’s meeting the night prior. There would be no outreach there……
So there I was- after several phone calls with colleagues who were also impacted- all alone. My wife, who worked night shifts as a manager at the hospital, was still sleeping upstairs. Waking her wasn’t going to change anything, and she needed her sleep. She was now the bread winner of the family and it is important for her to get her sleep in as her job could be impacted negatively for lack of sleep- Who wants that? My kids were going to be coming home soon….What will I tell them and how will they react? I was able to make the best use of the time given me to put my own life beliefs into play. This was not a situation where I did not do my job. As I have always believed- the efforts I put into the work given me was done to bring respect to my name. By taking care of my name, I would always be representing the company name with respect. My reputation was undeniably in good light- as this was a business decision. I didn’t have to agree with it, and I certainly didn’t have to let it soil my name and the work my team and I were able to accomplish. While the company may not have seen the value, I looked at my team and the trusted relationships we had built with PRIDE! The more I thought about our accomplishments over the last 3-4 years, and the accomplishments I have had over the last 8-9 years- the PRIDE built up and my smile returned to my face and my decision to post my feelings on LinkedIn. The feedback has been tremendous and uplifting from simply putting my feelings around a bad situation into writing. The power of the printed word and the internet is incredible. Thus my decision to write about this journey on my blog. I hope that my thoughts and feelings are able to provide some peace and comfort to those in need, but hopefully just inspire you to look at your situations in a positive light to learn and progress from!
So fast forward to today- a full 2 weeks since we were let go. I have put together my resume, and began the search online with LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter. I have reached out to friends, and old colleagues who moved on years ago. I found it sad that I had let so many friendships fade simply because we did not work within the same company, but yet- isn’t that just how life works? I worked with folks who did not live next door- but yet- we developed a great work environment virtually. Out of sight/out of mind- right? For the first week- I was surprisingly relaxed. I felt no pressure to run out and find a job. It was an eerie calm that I succumbed to as the week went on as the voice in my head kept repeating: Something will come to you. Your work ethic and reputation precedes you! And yet, I could faintly hear another voice trying to be heard- something about not sitting around and just waiting for an opportunity?
Week 2 was filled with optimism and disappointment. As applications are being filled online- it is obvious that an employer doesn’t get to know the real me by just submitting a resume. So when the replies come back that ‘after review and consideration’, I am not what they consider a match- it is a punch to the gut. I would not have applied if I didn’t feel as if I would bring something to the table….how do I get to the table to showcase me at a face to face interview? Remember how I stated ‘I have been lucky’? Tell me I don’t need to be lucky just to qualify for an interview……and then there’s the email to set up an interview- and the return of optimism! So here I am heading into week 3 with some hope of landing the new role that will bring the new adventure. I have begun to expand my view outside of education with the knowledge that teaching and coaching is my passion. I can lead, teach, coach, and inspire a team of individuals to be successful without it being focused on education. I’ve done it in the classroom, on the football field, on the softball field, and in the business environment- all with success. Someone saw it in me then, and someone will take a chance on me again! I can’t wait for the silence of waiting to end. It is the sound that brings me my only disappointment and learning moment of this whole situation. I do not hate my former boss for remaining silent during the call, but I have lost all respect for the choice of remaining silent since that call. A simple phone call to simply talk and break the silence would have meant the world to me and the other managers. Your silence to this day speaks volumes about your integrity and character. Leadership is about being vocal and personal in good times and bad (especially in bad times).
Well- I will check in at the end of week 3 or 4! I know some of the people have already found a landing spot elsewhere- and congrats to those companies for scooping up those great individuals. As for me- the search is still on……..stay tuned and stay positive!