Learning how to be the help
“It’s time for you to get on with the next phase of your career.”
With those words, my last corporate boss fired me. The truth is, he couldn’t have cared less whether I continued my career or not. All he wanted to do was to get me out of the company of which he was now president. He hadn’t liked the way I managed the public relations department, and as was his perfectly legitimate right as CEO, he showed me the door.
As you can imagine, I was surprised to learn the news. Then, more or less in succession, I was stunned, angry, resentful, hurt and in a state of denial. During this down period, I was fortunate to have strong support and encouragement from my partner, Tami (now my wife). In good time, she began urging me to get over it and move on. Eventually, I did.
The whole episode was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
I had always planned to work after retirement, but I had thought that retirement would happen at age 65 in 2001, not at age 61 in 1998. So I wasn’t prepared for “the next phase of my career” when it showed up. But there it was, staring me in the face.
At first I took some time off. I took advantage of the forced sabbatical and did some things I’d wanted to do for a long time. I took cooking classes, built a deck in my back yard, took scuba classes and ran a lot.
Running was as good for my mental health as my physical health. I was able to work through a lot of anger at my firing, all the while improving my strength, endurance and waistline. I ran three marathons that year – no big deal for trained athletes, but I felt that it was pretty good for my age. And as I put in those long training miles, I gradually came to realize that regardless of my former boss’ intentions, he had done me a monumental favor.
Since that memorable firing day in early 1998, I have rebooted myself as a public relations and communications consultant. I started my own company, and a good friend gave me my first big contract. Thanks to a succession of more good friends, good luck, and some hard but fun work, I am continuing to consult. Every day I am grateful that I was fired and forced to reinvent myself.
And I’ve done several mini-reinventions since I hung out my shingle as a consultant. A year into consulting, I found that most of my clients were high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, I was a low tech person. So I decided to go back to school.
I took a two-year course at the University of Phoenix, studying computer information systems. I didn’t become a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I did get exposed to many fundamental subjects in the computer field, and the education significantly helped my consulting business.
As a consultant in communications, I’ve had to learn how to be the help, not the boss. For most clients, I am serving the internal communications manager. I am definitely not the manager. This was an adjustment because I had been in a managerial position for about 25 years and I’d gotten used to it. Now I had to get used to a new idea: give the client your best recommendation, make your best argument for it, then remember that you’re a hired hand. If the client says no, the answer is no.
In 2006, I underwent another mini-reinvention. I decided to take up teaching for the first time. I landed a position teaching online at the University of Maryland University College (then UMUC, now UMGC for Global Campus). I taught crisis management in the Graduate School for a few years, then switched to the undergraduate school where I now teach journalism and public relations.
And now I’m at it again, updating and managing RebootYou.com. Where this latest reinvention will lead is anybody’s guess, but it’s providing me with a lot of energy and invigoration. I’m trying to live the philosophy I’m promoting. I believe passionately in reinvention and rebooting. I hope you do, too. I thank you for visiting the site, and I hope you are finding it helpful to you as you reboot yourself.