Introductory Chapter to “Displacement Day”
Have you ever imagined your own funeral? Who will do your eulogy? Who will be your pallbearers? Will anyone show up or even care? I attended my own funeral. Let me explain. But before I do, I need to disclose that no one died or was injured in the making of this narrative.
On a typical day when I was happily playing solitaire and checking Facebook at work, I got the call. June 6th—the anniversary of D-Day. Not World War II; I’m talking about Displacement Day—the day my twenty-three-year job was eliminated. Just like that, it was over. Hard work, tenure, and skills weren’t part of the cost-cutting decision.
On my ride to work on that fateful day, a news report announced that 175,000 jobs had been added in the United States, making the unemployment rate 7.6 percent. On my ride home I was on the other side— one of 11.6 million unemployed. To grasp the magnitude, take the entire population of New York City, and then add another 4 million people. The call was like a gunshot to the head. My work identity was gone immediately. I was being put to rest and people were preparing for my funeral. Condolences rolled in, hugs were bestowed, tears flowed.
What will people say when you’re gone? An old manager once asked me if I ran through a wall, would people follow? At the time, I didn’t know the answer. I needed to know the answer. That was a lifeline—a time for action. Fast-forward six years later to D-Day. I don’t recall a more calming day. It was a day of self-reflection…a chance to hover over my dead body and ask if my life and career were a success. The notes flooded in. “Tom, you’ve touched me more than you’ll ever know, personally and professionally.” “Tom, we love you… This IS your next speech.” I ran through a wall, and people followed.
How was I going to tell my three daughters that Dad was sent to the farm, just like my childhood dog? A spending freeze on shoes, clothes, and pizza may be worse than death for teenagers. My middle child’s head tilted down at a mourner’s angle and a small tear rolled down her cheek as if it was about to drop onto my coffin. My youngest daughter held me in a bear hug as if it was the last time ever, while my social-media-conscious sixteen-year-old daughter told me that all responses to relocation questions on Facebook were to be “no”—as if I had a choice. The denial, the anger, then acceptance—the exhaustive feeling of having my family watch my demise. However, my support system refused to let my casket be nailed down as they put in a crowbar made of emails, phone calls, and leads. I was being resuscitated.
How many of you have prepared a will? A will reduces stress and chaos. The run through the wall question six years earlier was my wake up call, but I didn’t realize then how it would prevent my professional passing. My eyes were opened wide as I started to build an extraordinary career-saving and life-changing network. In Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone he notes, “Build it before you need it.” Real relationships built over the years provided me meaning, and are the reason for my success now. I wasn’t six feet under. I was six degrees from Kevin Bacon, or at least six degrees from my big break. I was alive. My support system was my CPR.
My job loss became a celebration of life, not my funeral. It reminded me how deep my love and my appreciation really are for my family, friends, and network. I was not defined by my job. I defined my own life and was going to do my funeral my way. No, I’m not going to belt out Sinatra. I lost work but found me. I used my displacement as reaffirmation that when I leave this earth, I’m leaving with no regrets. Think about your own funeral—when your spirit is hovering over the mourners, will you leave them something to mourn and celebrate?
So, let’s go back to the question: Have you ever imagined your own funeral? Who will do your eulogy, who will be your pallbearers, who will care? My eulogy was shouted out by the many key people in my network who blew my trumpet for me and gave humbling accounts of the person I had been, and who I had become. My pallbearers carried me when I couldn’t go any further. The overwhelming flood of calls and messages showed who cared. I have to admit that I started writing this narrative immediately after I got the call, and I wrote the end too. We all know we’re going to die—I don’t mean that “end.” I mean the speech ending, where I get a job. I wrote it before I had a job secured. It wasn’t overconfidence, it was just a belief that I was surrounded by an ironclad network that refused to stop giving me the oxygen I needed to survive. Are you ready to see your own funeral? I lived to see mine, and it was beautiful.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job (Honorable Mention at the 2014 Paris and New York Book Festivals), The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World (Honorable Mention at the 2012 New England Book Festival), From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide (2013 Axiom Business Book Awards Gold Medal Winner and 2013 Paris Book Festival Honorable Mention). Audiobook version of “From Fear to Success” is also available! See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com. Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com
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