A Painful Subject

I have been involuntarily laid off from jobs twice in my life.  Both layoffs came at times when I had a young family to support and when new jobs were hard to find.  I haven’t forgotten how difficult those days were or my feelings during that time.

Yesterday, I ran into a former City of Albany employee who was laid off about a year and a half ago.  She seems to be doing well, and we had a pleasant conversation; but I left the encounter with some of the same feelings I had from my own experience in the early 1980s.  Work is such an important part of our lives that anything suggesting we are no longer of value at the places where we are employed can be devastating.

A friend and I were recently talking about a former colleague who, after retiring as a city manager, started spending most of his time in his garage drinking hard liquor straight.  Everything we knew about our colleague prior to retirement was positive.  He was highly regarded in his community, had a long record of achievement in two careers, and seemed to enjoy a good family life.  He died a few weeks ago, and my friend observed that his work was so much a part of his life that he no longer felt of value after he retired.

I understand that feeling, although I learned some valuable lessons from my own experiences.  My worth as a person has much more to do with the present and future than it does with the past.  As long as I am able to be of service to others, regardless of how much money I make or the title I have, I can be of value.  My grandchildren remind me of this nearly every day, just as my children did soon after I was laid off in 1982.  I spent nine months as a babysitter that year, and I regard that period as one of the most challenging and rewarding times in my life.

My chance meeting with our former employee was a good reminder that many, if not most, of us overcome the challenges of a job loss or retirement.  Our worth is not dependent on what we get paid to do and what should be most important to us isn’t either.

More than 50 City employees are currently eligible to retire, and many more will become eligible in the next few years.  We have had a limited number of layoffs, and I am hopeful that we will not need to make additional cuts in the coming budget process.  Regardless, whether retirement or an involuntary job loss, the quality of our future will not be determined by someone else’s choices.  The examples of our former employee and my city manager colleague are an inspiration and a warning.