A Not So Sad Tale of Career Adversity

Back in the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of blog items on kindness. Both were directed toward increasing one’s capacity for and experience of happiness. I posted links to them at the bottom of this piece.

I thought this item might be interesting and useful to you pretty much on a similar premise. The kicker is that this act was one of treachery and unkindness and I was the recipient as opposed to the creator of it. I hope you will find the outcome of interest.

At the beginning of my career I worked for men’s magazines. They were the kind considered sexy at the time, but by current internet standards they would be described as quaint or curious at best. At the time I was married and my first wife was pregnant with our son.

The tool of my trade

It was a small publishing house with about 30 people working in editorial, art, production, sales and distribution. We produced several trade magazines on other subjects, too.

Our publisher, Felix, (not his real name), was in his late 50’s and from time to time would take advantage of attractive females who worked for him. This was long before such things as sexual harassment suits so Felix operated with relative impunity. He also possessed a personality on the unpleasant side and consequently had few friends, so he would often have office lunches and hold court over us throughout. He paid for the meal, but we paid more heavily in terms of our personal experiences.

Ginny was an attractive woman who edited one of his trade magazines. Ginny and I became friends and conspired with another of the writers to often leave for lunch early to avoid Felix’s lunches.

Felix pressured Ginny for sexual favors as he had other women, but she just laughed at him. She was happily married to a successful businessman and didn’t need the job. Both she and Felix knew that he had no leverage over her. She could leave any time.

Because he had seen Ginny walking out with me and the other editor, Felix started office gossip about ‘Tony and Ginny.’ The staff knew better, so no real harm was done other than to diminish him further in the eyes of his employees. At the time I just thought that he was being mischievous, but in light of what happened next, I have come to realize that he truly believed that whatever was going on between us he hated me for it.

My son was born on April 15 of that year. Again, this was long before paternal leaves. I asked to talk with Felix because I wanted to request a couple of days off to help my wife with our newborn son and our 5-year old daughter. Felix called me in to his office and told me (after I had worked for him 18 months), “It isn’t working out.” He gave me a check for two weeks severance pay and terminated me.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had never been fired from anything in my life. I knew I was good at my job, but also realized that was irrelevant in this situation. There was no recourse beyond Felix. I was driving to the hospital that afternoon to visit my wife and new baby trying to decide whether or not I should even tell her what had happened. This was a blow. We had only been married six years and had the usual mortgage, car loans, etc. and not a lot of savings.

Finally, I decided to tell her about it, thinking that it would be more stressful for her to find out later. Also, I really didn’t like the idea of concealing something so important from  her no matter what the situation. As it turned out, she took it well and we decided I just needed to get a resume together and check out the want ads on Sunday. This was in the days before the internet and online job listings. Also, we did have two weeks covered before we had to start worrying about finances.

That Sunday I answered a number of ads including one for an international wire service. I got an interview with them, spent two weeks taking care of my son and daughter with my wife and – got the job.

I started working for Reuters two weeks to the day after I was fired. So, the psychological and financial deathblow attempted by Felix turned out to be a paid paternity leave – before they became fashionable. Also, professionally, it became one of the best things that ever happened to me. I worked for Reuters for 20 years, setting up their coverage of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the heyday of pork bellies and live cattle futures. I got a magnificent education (in journalism and economics) not to mention first hand trading floor experience covering the hottest markets in the world at the time. After a tennis injury I moved over to the Chicago Board of Trade and learned the grains and soybean  markets. In 1977 I became the first American transferred from the U.S. to London to work in the Reuter office on Fleet St. An unparalleled learning and personal growth experience for me.

I wanted to mention some of these highlights of my career there because they resulted directly from the firing by Felix whose intentions had only been to hurt me.

I love the irony of the fact that his treacherous act turned out to be the springboard to a wonderful new career as a successful professional journalist on an international stage.

You can read Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Anatomy of an Act of Kindness by clicking the links.

So, what’s in this tale for you? No matter how bleak things look for you remember how fantastically well this worked out for me. I know it’s a cliche that when one door closes another door opens. But be on the lookout for it.

Tony

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