Sink or Swim Redundancy
Image by Robert Bye.
It had been a bitterly cold winter in New York City. The sort where my face was about frozen by the time I’d walked to work.
It seemed like any other day of the week. Working on the multiple projects that were part of the renovation of the United Nations Headquarters. A cool $2 billion+ project.
I was given a nudge to see if I could join a meeting at 2pm that afternoon.
No problem I thought.
What followed was a very American experience.
My boss and I were sat in a meeting room. My heart sank as out of nowhere I saw the Head of HR and one of the VPs coming towards us.
It transpired that times were hard, many people needed to be let go, and unfortunately, I was one of them.
I had until 5pm that day to return my phone, computer, say some goodbyes and I’d be escorted off the premises; returning my ID badge that got me in and out of the UN site.
3 hours’ notice may not seem a lot (it certainly appalled my Swedish friends and colleagues who, in the same scenario, would be given 8 weeks’ notice), but I’d heard of stories within the finance world of people going to the toilet, and being accosted by security once out, and then manhandled out of the building. Even less fun.
As I walked out of the Secretariat building with my hard hat under one arm, and my small box of work possessions under the other, I looked at the sky and took a deep breath.
I wasn’t quite sure if I should be crying or laughing.
I hadn’t been utterly passionate about the job, but there was a lot to learn, some amazing colleagues to work with, in one of the greatest cities in the world.
As I walked past security, left the United Nations sovereign territory and returned to United States soil on 1st Avenue, it dawned on me even more.
I was an Englishman in New York, without a job. This meant my visa to live there had now also expired.
I was officially an illegal alien.
To add to this, my studio Manhattan apartment still had a further 6 months to run on the lease and I had no way of breaking this. At $1,800 per month before bills, this was no small problem. My redundancy package was a week of pay for each of the 3 years I had been with the company. This wouldn't last long.
I don’t remember too much about the walk home. Perhaps the odd glimpse of the Chrysler Building and The Empire State Building, but I was now into solution finding mode.
It can be easy to get into the worry trap, but I’ve found that can lead me down a long and dark rabbit hole. And this massive challenge before me needed the best version of me.
I’d learned that the way for me to feel less stressed was always to take action.
It’s a funny memory but at the time Jay-Z and Alicia Keys had released the song – Empire State of Mind.
“In New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for New York.”
Just the sort of lyrics that made sense and gave me a boost.
Getting home I set about making a list. What were all the things I needed to do?
I figured my blood sugar was low after that afternoon’s shock, so my first option was Pizza Mercato around the corner.
Maybe I went for the human energy boost. “Hola, que tal amigo y tu novia?!” was the usual friendly welcome and asking after my girlfriend of the time. The chat coupled with 2 slices of quite possibly the best cheese pizza and a drink for only $5 meant I was uplifted and ready to roll.
Back to how I ploughed through this redundancy shit storm.
I prioritised my list.
One of them was speaking to an Immigration Attorney to see what the lay of the land was and my options. I used the flight home offered as part of my redundancy, went home for a couple of weeks for some R&R, and returned to NYC on a tourist visa for 3 months to sort everything.
My apartment? My girlfriend moved in, having sub-let her place and we split the rent - reducing my outgoings somewhat.
I cut every expense that was not crucial.
This was 2010. Not that long after the 2008 financial crisis. So work wasn’t easy to come by in the US. Particularly for someone needing a visa.
The UK wasn’t really much better.
“Love your background and experience James, but sadly your construction experience is from the States. We work differently here in the UK. Your property experience is from France and Sweden so for all roles you’d be starting at the bottom of the ladder again.”
This didn’t put me off. But I’d lost some of the passion for the sector and the corporate world. I didn’t want to be making peanuts and sharing a house with 7 other professionals on the outskirts of London.
I took this as a sign.
A voice suggested I set up a business, which I then jumped at and turned this around within a couple of months. All while transitioning life from the States back to the UK and managing a relationship from afar.
So, if you are faced with redundancy, as shit as it may be, don’t lose hope. You’d be amazed what you can achieve in dark times.
Don’t forget that redundancy is about the role being made redundant rather than you the person.
It’s easy to feel that we are toxic when being let go, but this tweak in thinking is important to remind ourselves that we do have value to offer and that other great things await us.
So, take action.
Make a list of the things you can control and need to do.
Remain in touch with people that will be your support network.
Get out there and meet people, start those conversations, volunteer, do odd jobs for others and doors will begin to open.
I look back and often wonder how I managed all of these things. But when you need to. You get it done.
Go for it. I’m right there with you.