Thursday, March 12, 2009
Do You Have Any Idea Who I Am?
Many years ago, I drove a SuperShuttle van. One night, I picked up a grizzled old-timer and drove him to San Francisco. He was my only passenger on that run (which meant I was making like $2.50 an hour) and we got to talking. I guess he enjoyed the conversation (which focused on the ups and downs of unionism in the Reagan era), because after a while he told me, "Ya know, you got personality. A lotta guys don't got shit."
That stuck with me as did the notion that, if I had anything, it was "personality." As fate would have it, for a time I was able to make a career of said personality, eventually coming to embody, for good or ill, the corporate culture at a global staffing company.
If corporations can have celebrities, I was one. I authored the corporate blog, wrote newsletters, direct mail, and"thought pieces," and represented the organization across the social media sphere. Additionally, I hosted a weekly, organization-wide conference call known as a the "Fireside Chat," a responsibility I had inherited years before from the COO after he had taken it over from the CEO. Moreover, at annual company events and manager's meetings, I regularly served as MC/host, and, when people were publicly recognized for their accomplishments, I was the tuxedoed one handing out the awards.
In effect, I addressed both employees and a variety of external audiences more regularly than any member of senior management. Then, last week, I got laid off.
I was surprised, though not shocked. After all, announcing weekly performance stats was part of the Fireside Chat format, so I knew which way the cookie was crumbling. Naively, I had believed that my celebrity, to a certain extent, would shelter me as the layoff waves mounted, but events proved me wrong.
More jarring than the lay-off, however, was losing my status as a "personality." This loss was driven home when I received my severance letter. Although the numbers were tailored to my specific situation, the letter itself was decidedly "form." It felt strange to go from a "somebody" to an "anybody (who gets laid off by this organization)." A few days later, I was at a networking event and, though I knew a few of the attendees, it was clear that a bunch of the people there HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS.
I'm not opposed to anonymity. Nor is the notion of "ego-loss" foreign or repellent to me. On the contrary, I see it as, if not totally ideal, undeniably inevitable, and even desirable in some circumstances. Still, I really didn't appreciate being reminded that social status and personal identity is dependent on the decisions and ongoing acknowledgment of others who do not have the maintenance of the aforementioned status and identity as their primary objective.
Image Courtesy of freeparking.