30-Something Worries: On Controlling My Own Destiny

When you’re put in a position of losing your sense of job security.

Photo: Empty office by Anton Johansson/Flickr

It was 9 a.m. and we were all in the conference room. The entire content team had been informed the day before, rather unexpectedly, that there would be a big announcement in the morning and that we would meet early the next day, before the announcement. “This isn’t one of those things you can be late to,” we were told.

This was back in June and July Fourth was getting closer. Summer was in the air, and there is no better place to spend a summer than in Santa Monica. The start-up we worked for had been acquired a year-and a half earlier, in December of 2013. Things were going well for the products we were working on, and these products were key to getting our parent company the customers they needed.

The content team’s future, the team I was on, was less clear. Was our team critical to the company? We were at the bottom of the totem pole in our 60-person company. There was a nervous energy in the conference room as all 13 of us filed in and sat down.

We were told that in half an hour after our meeting, the announcement would be made by the higher ups from our parent company that our startup would be shut down. This community of coworkers and friends, who all hung out with one another outside of work, would be disbanded and “transitioned” out of the company.

The good news? Our team would remain with the company; we still had jobs. Almost everyone outside of our conference room did not. We heard them talking and laughing outside the door as we sat there in silence. It was all pretty awful.

Our team was moved from Santa Monica to a corporate park in Woodland Hills. We still get nervous whenever we get called into meetings, and we feel strange in a place where everyone comes in early and leaves by 5:30 to go home to their families or do whatever it is they do.

“Nothing stays the same.”

This is what I’ve been telling myself over the last couple of weeks. It has to do with my job, and it’s meant as a reminder that I shouldn’t expect anything, including job security.

I still have a job and nothing has happened to me yet. Decisions at a large company are made slowly, over the course of quarters and depending on which half of the fiscal year you’re on. But I should not be surprised that there may be changes to our team.

I work for a company that has laid off more than 1,200 people in the last two years, with a steady stream continuing into the present. Last week, I was told that there may be changes coming to our team, which may be overstaffed. One of us may not be needed, and it may very well be me.

When I take an outside perspective, I find it absolutely fascinating how things play out at companies like the one I work for. There are subtle clues that tell you you’re not that important. There are processes that perpetuate politics, which perpetuate winners and losers in a struggle for relevance. There is a lack of accountability. And most of all there is a fear that no one really talks about, mostly because the myth of “this is a great company” needs to be kept intact. I have not heard one executive use the words “layoff” in the time I’ve witnessed all of these layoffs.

I don’t think I would have noticed a lot of this before business school. I got lucky enough to take a couple of classes that opened my eyes to the things that actually happen at large companies. There are no real bad guys, just flawed human being trying to do the best they can with what they have. But when you put everyone together, there is a silent violence that leaves people feeling unmotivated, and often angry, or sad, or resigned.

One of the reasons I went to business school was for job security. And I am certainly not in control of my own destiny in the position I find myself today. This makes me mildly disappointed, because although I know that no job is guaranteed, there is that part of me that wishes things would get easier. It’s that same part that some people point a finger at and call my generation “entitled.”

I recognize the flaw, and I consider it a source of self-awareness, and sometimes a source of motivation. Becoming aware of my flaws has helped me move past them so I can consider the bigger questions with a more open mind. Accepting that things will never get easier, no matter my income or status, helps reframe the whole journey. Maybe the goal is to love the work rather than the rewards.

Putting that philosophy into practice, however, takes a new level of self-control. It’s easy for me to write these things, but harder to translate them into action, let alone into a consistent daily habit. The flaws will always be a part of me.

So where does that leave me and my job? Well, currently, as I explained it to my wife a few days ago, I see it this way: If I do get laid off, then I will go and find work somewhere else, hopefully doing something that turns me on more than my current role. If I don’t get laid off, I can stay. But there is still work out there that is more meaningful to me and that can make a bigger positive impact on others.

My current solution is to keep networking. In some ways being a couple of hours away from Los Angeles makes this easier. I have to put in a lot of effort to maintain relationships, because I won’t just bump into people at some party next week. This means my time will go mostly towards the people that I want in my life. And I trust it will be these friends and role models that will help me get to better places.

This article is the third in a new series.

Mircea Vlaicu lived in Los Angeles with his wife and son. He is a content marketer at a big tech company, runs a wedding photography business with his wife, and recently earned his MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. You don’t have to follow him on Twitter: @MirceaVlaicu


30-Something Worries: Some Things Are More Important Than Money

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