I was 34 and working as a middle manager at a really cool publishing company. I'd loved working there for over a decade but my job was starting to get on my last nerve. Too many reorganizations during those last couple of years wore me down. Yet I had finally gotten to a place where I really, really loved my job. But of course that didn't last. With more changes I became disappointed. The place had started to feel like the movie Office Space. I was starting to act like Lundberg.
In August of 2001, I took a really fun girls' trip to California. That was the last time I would ever travel without feeling totally stressed out.
Bring Down the Headcount
At 8:30 AM on 9/11/01, I went to a meeting in our Human Resources department with other managers. Our charge was to bring down the headcount of a few departments. So we sat around the table talking about each person on our lists.
My immediate boss, who I adored, walked in a little late. She said, "Sorry I'm late, but I just heard on the news, a plane hit the World Trade Center." A few of us asked "What size plane?" because a few years back a small plane had hit one of the buildings so we assumed it was another little one with little consequence. She said, "I don't know." The H.R. director kept us on task.
Close the Door
Then, an assistant opened the door to the room to notify us that another plane had hit the second tower of the WTC. With the meeting room's door open, we heard the rising chatter out in the maze of cubicles. She was told to close the door and we were asked to focus again on our layoff lists. I started to get nervous. Our New York office called into the meeting, and we asked him how things were going, and he said, "Everything is fine...now, how's it going with the layoffs?"
Yeah, that would never happen now. We'd all check our texts and Twitter to get the real scoop instantly. Also, if this happened now, I wouldn't stay in that room.
The VP of HR came in around 10:00 after we had submitted our list of layoffs. He briefed us on what was going on in the world, and said we'd best be hustling back to our departments.
Some of the higher-level managers were being hard-nosed, urging people to keep working, yet slowly realizing that they were losing control. The staff pretended to work while checking in on their loved ones. I talked to a few team members who were so upset because they couldn't locate, for example, a brother who worked at the Pentagon.
I had to connect with what was happening, so I went to the conference room where the TV was on, and I watched one tower collapse, live. I couldn't even grasp the human tragedy. I said, "Is this real?"
On one side of me, someone said, "We're going to war." on the other side, someone yelled, "I HAVE A MEETING IN HERE THAT WILL START IN 5 MINUTES SO YOU HAVE TO CLEAR THE ROOM AND TURN OFF THE TV."
Like nothing was more important than a fucking meeting about finances at that very moment.
Everyone has a story
I don't remember much more about the immediate aftermath, beyond the media saturation and hundreds of obituaries and American flags and U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind.
In subsequent weeks something clicked. I realized that I was on running on a treadmill in a job where I allowed myself to work too stressfully, and that I had no idea what was outside my own front door. Life was short and could be taken at any moment. My job position was changed and I hated it. I had been transferred to a new boss. I figured I would be next on the layoff list and I didn't think I'd be able to handle that kind of rejection.
I was clashing with a new bitchy co-worker in the office next door to mine and we'd have arguments after the rest of the staff left for the night. We slammed our doors after talking to each other. Real mature.
Bitches and blowjobs
During one of our arguments she stopped me and said, "You know what? You don't belong here. You should go work for a non-profit."
Bitch was right. What happened in the aftermath of 9/11 made me realize that I needed to be connected to a mission and I needed to see in front of my face how lives could be changed. Mostly I needed to change my own life. I needed to slow it down. I needed to know what was going on in the world and not be in a closed meeting, ever again.
That bitchy broad and I resigned within two weeks of each other. I was not invited to her going-away party. My going-away party was WAY more AWESOME than I heard hers was. Mine involved blowjob shots and a karaoke after-party.
I dove into a non-managerial position at a non-profit arts organization, for a small fraction of the compensation I had been earning. I was so proud of myself, and convinced I could do it and live on less (even though Salty D. disagreed with me.) At that time in my life, my job defined me. I felt better defined. I was ballsy and fearless and did things I never thought I would do. It was my first big career change.
I mean, eventually, that new job turned to shit because everything will come to suck in time. And working at a little non-profit vs. a bigger for-profit doesn't really matter to me now. Also, I should clarify that working for a non-profit definitely does not slow you down. But during 2002 it was like a new dawn breaking. I felt nourished. I had a fighting spirit. I grew closer to my family. I suddenly cared about protecting my freedom.
So what's your deal?
My story is unremarkable, but it's my story. What's yours? Comment or post a link to your blog post in the comments.
End of longest blog post ever.
Next in this series: How 9/11 Made Me Weaker. Lest you think I'm lauding the catalyst of September 11.