How did I get here? That’s a difficult question to answer. It means pinpointing the origin of the snowball rolling down the hill. And it has been rolling for nearly 32 years (my friends would say that I’m “just so negative,” but my realism mixed with sarcasm creates a much-better story, don’t you think?).
So I guess you could say it started when I was born, but that’s a little unfair to my mother and the birthday gods. In fairness, my story is about my most-recent experiences, namely what happened between being 31 and 32 (let’s leave mom, who has saved my ass countless times, out of this). To add clarity to how I got here — this situation, this exact place, this very moment in time — I find it necessary to rewind a bit.
It was between the months of March and April 2011. I hadn’t turned 31 yet. And after years of struggling with low-paying, not-going-anywhere jobs, I had finally found my niche. I was working for a marketing agency that specialized in search. You know, like Google search. My job title was Web-content correspondent, which sounds fancier than it really is. When you boil it down, the role was essentially a writer for online media, although I also assisted with other forms of cross-channel marketing. My efforts ensured that websites and other content were searchable on the World Wide Web. Fascinating stuff, especially considering that I didn’t have a clue that such a job existed when I graduated college — a time that left me thinking:
“Uh oh! What am I going to do with this worthless English degree? Shit. Bad choice. May I have a do-over?”
I don’t mean to downplay my role because I loved what I do (and still love what I still do), and content development has become so apparently important in today’s every-changing landscape of interactive media. The naming conventions, however, are what make many of today’s jobs so laughable. I actually saw a job posting once for a company looking for a copywriter, only they called it a “creative storyteller.” Can you imagine that on a business card? Or the advent of Facebook and Twitter means we actually have professional Facebook-ers and tweet-ers (or whatever they’re called). Even the term “copy,” which was well known when I graduated college in 2003, has taken on another meaning — content.
Things change, and so, too, would my situation.
About a year into my role as Web-content correspondent, I received the big news that I was being promoted to brand manager, something for which aspiring businesspeople actually seek their MBA. And here I was a lowly English major with a master’s degree in history of all things. I was elated. Stoked. Pumped. Hyped. My time had finally arrived.
“Look out, world! Shit is about to change!” I proclaimed (internally at least).
All those years of being a low-man-on-the-totem-pole writer, and I was going to be an integral component of the company’s strategic business.
For months, I planned with my boss, who highly recommended me for the new role and to whom I am still forever grateful, our brand strategy, which involved rebranding the agency under a new name, colors, logo, and the whole ball of wax. It was challenging. It was fun. It was creative. It was everything I wanted.
Then, it happened. Just a few months into my new gig, my boss’s door was closed for an unusually long time. When that happens, one’s attention turns to high alert, like a gazelle watching for prey as her baby grazes. Senses heightened, sweat dripping, suspicions aroused, I thought, “What is she doing in there?” Slowly, the door opened and her small silhouette emerged from the unknown (well, we didn’t know, but she did — and it was killing us). And yet, she remained silent.
After several more of those what-the-hell-is-going-on-in-there meetings, my boss called together all the team leaders (which, to my chest-pumping delight, now included me).
“The company is going bankrupt,” she said, “and it doesn’t look good. I just want you all to be aware of the situation and have a Plan B in case we don’t pull out of this. Also, please keep this quiet.”
Turns out the revenue from the interactive side of the business was growing by triple digits, only the sharp declines by our print advertisers could not offset the difference. We were a sinking ship.
[Insert the sound of air leaving a balloon here.]
Keep it quiet? How could I with such major news about to affect everyone and their families. We had just hired a new team to help with business expansion (I even heard that one would-be employee had just bought a house and quit his current job under the assumption that my agency was hiring him, or so they thought). We had just spent hours, sleepless nights, and thousands of dollars on our rebranding — signs, brochures, a website, you name it. Yet I did my best to remain future agnostic.
The wind had been knocked out of our sails, yet we remained hopeful that a savior would arise and lead us out of this darkness.
“Surely someone will fix this, and we’ll keep our jobs, right?” we asked with a hint of hopeful skepticism.
After several weeks of guessing, rumoring, and gossiping, we finally heard that the company was indeed closing; we would receive severance, and we should indeed begin alternative preparations. I was even tasked with a new role of “professional résumé proofreader,” having to handle editing requests for hundreds within the company (many of whom hadn’t worked on a résumé since they landed at the company decades ago). It wasn’t my shiniest moment, but it was the least I could do in this the-world-is-ending moment.
In April, our team huddled in a tiny conference room, many of my colleagues with misty eyes. Then, we were sent on our own ways, and I haven’t seen many of them since (unless you count Facebook, which means I see them quite regularly). As I walked out the door, my mind was a frenzy of firing synapses looking for a solution. That drive home was long and winding (literally — I took the back roads). And it would set in motion a summer of job searching, soul searching, big decisions, and major moves. And those moves would define what has been the past year.