Terminator, I Love You

After I was terminated from my job like it was 1984 and Arnold just appeared naked in the parking lot, multiple people told me I took it well.

Agreed. Not bad for my first time. It should get easier with more reps. There was one misstep though that makes me think I was more flustered than I let on.

As I was driving out of the parking lot for the last time, one of the endearing office managers was walking the opposite direction in the same lane. I only had a second or two to process the predicament but realized the only option was to engage. It was a virtual certainty she would see me, and even the illusion of peripheral eye contact would have been too awkward to bear.

Without even thinking really, I rolled down the window and said, “Thank you for everything [first name]! I love you!”

I don’t think I even tapped the brake, so I felt like a schoolboy blurting out his crush and then running away.

I love you? Who says that? Generally when somebody yells something out of a moving vehicle, it’s a hurtful epithet. This was almost as unprofessional. Were they firing me in some kind of time warp because this happened first?

To the office manager’s credit and compassion — and my everlasting gratitude — she rattled off “I love you too” and some other niceties without skipping a beat. We need as many people like her as possible during the Covid-19 era, folks who are kind and can roll with surprises.

My god that was embarrassing though. I drove away more distraught about the “I love you” exchange than losing the ability to provide for my family. I think I will always remember that morning without the images fading much:

  • getting a Slack from my boss in New York three minutes before our one-on-one to go to the Green Room, the only conference room sealed off from the rest of the building by badge access
  • walking in to see an HR person seated and my boss on videoconference and deadpanning, “Well this can’t be good.”
  • the Terminator line being “This will be your last day at Acorns.”
  • what I interpreted as empathetic, maybe even pained expressions from the other parties
  • sensing I would not be allowed back up to my desk but asking anyway. Pondering whether it was really a security protocol thing or just a humane way to spare the freshly unemployed from a gauntlet of blundering goodbyes. I would have forced myself to take a lap on all three floors, which sounds roughly equivalent to a dentist appointment when you’re hung over.
  • my impeccable timing having downloaded 411 baby pictures and videos from my phone onto my work laptop the night before as an inefficient intermediate step to freeing up space. I had to explain these were not backed up anywhere and scrambled to put them in a folder while suggesting solutions to transfer the huge file size before they took the laptop. The HR person, an amiable work friend, saw my distress and promised she would take care of it. Two days later, the other office manager (not the “I love you one” but one I love equally) dropped off the pictures on a flash drive at my home in the pouring rain as the corona office shutdown began.

Overall I feel the company treated me well during my 16 months, including the exit. The details of that morning stick out vividly more because it was a unique experience for me rather than emotional.

Of course it was unpleasant. We are evolved to react viscerally to rejection. You figure the prehistoric chap who was dismissed from the tribe during the days of hunting, foraging and saber-toothed cats usually didn’t last long enough to pass on his genes.

It is not an uplifting feeling when you put your heart and mind into something and are told no thank you. (And then you inexplicably reply I love you.)

So what happened — My position was lodged in the path of the massive Covid wrecking ball? Methinks the pandemic might have been an abrupt accelerator, but this was coming eventually anyway no matter how hard I continued to fight.

Why? Here’s the thing. When you try to answer that question, the natural inclination is to launch into ego protection mode. You got rejected and want to preserve your sense of worth to others and yourself, which are intertwined no matter how independently confident you hope to be.

Now, unless you’re a degenerate and got fired for salacious behavior that would make for a more interesting blog post, there might be some reasons outside of your control and fault. The probability increases if you’re smart, likable and hardworking. And increases further in the wild west of business development at a startup.

That’s about as specific as I should go. It doesn’t feel like my business to write about an active business of which I am no longer a part.

Plus, after about 15 seconds of explanation, it starts to resemble a mash-up of excuses and whining.

No one cares. If you followed sports before they converged recently into one giant flashback to a basketball team that played in the 90s, you know a lot of outcomes could have been different if it weren’t for this injury or that questionable call. No one cares or even remembers in the long run. It’s part of the game, garbage (can) Astros notwithstanding.

In general, complaining without an action plan should be relegated to the dinner table when conversation with significant others is slow. Otherwise you should appreciate all experience as good experience, and don’t waste the pain by not getting better from it.

Gotta bring in my boy Ray-Ray here. Ray Dalio is a billionaire philanthropist who started and ran the most successful hedge fund in history. He wrote a book called Principles to share his framework for life and work.

I indirectly credit the book for helping me get the Acorns job. Offer letters don’t come easily there. I didn’t finish Principles until this month after a long hiatus to focus on baby reading, which was so boring I lost my reverence for the written word.

Somehow I picked up Principles again just before the part about firing people. So you could say Ray-Ray guided me end to end.

The way he approaches removing employees might seem savage to the avocado-toast millennial. Run a business like a machine. People are an input.

It sounds impersonal, but his stated goal is meaningful work and meaningful relationships. His path to get there is anchored in hyper realism. But Ray-Ray also seems to draw upon just the right amount of optimism when expedient.

Page 522:

Don’t get frustrated. If nothing bad is happening to you now, wait a bit and it will. That is just reality. My approach to life is that it is what it is and the important thing is for me to figure out what to do about it and not spend time moaning about how I wish it were different… It makes no sense to get frustrated when there’s so much that you can do, and when life offers so many things to savor.

Everything happens for a reason. People tend to use that notion too liberally, with the implication everything happens for good reason or at least as part of a grand plan. Let me know how those case studies on genocide and child cancer are coming along.

However, you can make some negative things appear to happen for a reason by producing good outcomes afterward and then retrofitting. If Acorns hadn’t let me go, I would have never…

It’s up to me to fill in the blank. I plan on an answer that will allow me in hindsight to embrace Terminator Judgment Day — dare I say, even love.


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