That time my father told me he was Ronald McDonald
I remember driving with my dad in our 1980s white Chevette when he shared some news. “I’m going to start working at McDonald’s next week.”
“Well, what are you going to do there?” I asked.
“I’m going to be Ronald McDonald,” my father sarcastically replied.
Although his tone suggested he was joking and I should know the right answer, my eight-year old self didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. My father was a teacher and a well-known high school football coach. He didn’t work in a restaurant.
It was the mid-1980s and the country was still recovering from a recession. The trickle-down effect was that school districts had to trim their budgets. This included reducing the number of phys ed teachers schools had, which is why my father’s position was cut.
As an empathic kid, I remember the energy in the house shifted. Money had always been tight for five people living on one teacher’s salary, but this was really different. My father’s job being eliminated so suddenly jolted the foundations of our collective sense of security, my parents’ confidence in being able to provide for their young children, and privilege of being able to dream about tomorrow. My parents became very much focused on survival.
I’m reminded of this now as so many people in my timeline are sharing news of having lost their jobs over the past days and months. I can imagine the disbelief they’re experiencing as they click the “open to work” button on their profiles.
From having experienced a shocking family job loss as a young child to my years at Bain & Company coaching consultants who were getting the tough news that they were being separated from the firm, I have learned some things about moments such as these.
Find someone to talk to. You have experienced a trauma. Whether it’s a coach or therapist, make sure you talk to someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in what you’re going to say (i.e. your partner who you don’t want to freak out by being honest about what you’re really feeling). Angry, hurt, ashamed, numb, ready for what’s next – these are all feelings that have been expressed to me over the years, and they’re all valid.
Take a moment to figure-out your finances. Figure-out how much money you have, what your expenses are, and what you really need to earn. While this isn’t a fun exercise, I find that my clients often need to get clearer on what they have and what they need. They assume that if they’re not making exactly what they have been making or more that they’re in trouble. Often, it’s just a matter of rethinking aggressive savings and/or investing goals for the moment.
Take care of yourself now. In addition to talking with someone, look after yourself in really foundational ways – exercise, eat vegetables, take walks in nature, and try to sleep (hopefully exercising, eating well, and getting fresh air will make sleeping easier). Again, your body has experienced a trauma.
Take care of yourself for the longer term. Be prepared for your job search to take as long as six months to a year or more (depending on how specialized your role is). Even when the economy is booming, January, February, and early March aren’t busy times for hiring. Q1 is usually a time for companies to get back from the holidays, look at their budgets, and plan for hiring. (In typical years, hiring picks-up in late March/April, goes strong through June, slows down for the summer months, picks-up again in September/October, and then slows down at the end of Q4.)
I’ve heard a lot of newly laid-off people say “my job will be finding a job,” which is a great attitude, but not fully realistic. Sitting at your desk for eight hours a day, five days a week will not get you a job if there are no jobs open. Consider pairing your job search with a new hobby or exercise routine – so you have something else to focus on other than your job search.
Reach out to your network. I love seeing people post on their LinkedIn timelines that they’ve been affected by layoffs and are now searching. That’s not the right approach for everyone. Some people will do better to reach out to their networks less conspicuously and that’s okay. The thing to keep in mind is this is not your fault. Companies are laying-off people in response to global economic conditions. You might feel a blow to your confidence, but the rest of the world does not experience you as anything other than unlucky. Ask for help from the people that know you best.
For those of you who feel strange asking for help, realize that your contacts may need your help at a future date. Networking is all about asking for help you when you need it and repaying the favor in the future!
Use this as an opportunity to dream about what you really want to do in life. During my time at Bain, I often had conversations with job searching consultants who would express interest in working in start-ups and then end-up targeting big tech firms. That was because they wanted the entrepreneurial spirit, but also the safety of working at an established firm – the compensation including the access to equity, and the certainty of not losing your job suddenly.
This moment in time teaches us that there is no certainty. Just as my father’s choice to become a teacher, in part, for safety and predictability turned out to be neither safe nor predictable, the “safe” jobs are no more. So, now that you know that nothing is safe, what’s possible for you?
Yes, there are a lot of people who have already predicted that so much talent looking for a place to focus their energy will ignite a new tech wave. That’s exciting. But for you, personally – what’s possible and appealing?
What’s the idea you have? What do you want to see more of in the world? What’s not working for you? How could your life (and your family’s life) be better if work wasn’t the way it’s always been (long hours, long commute, same un-energizing problems being considered)? What do you want your legacy to be?
For my father, he eventually got another teaching job and figured-out a niche as the school district’s strength and conditioning coach, introducing thousands of kids over the years to his passion – weightlifting. He used some of his time off to help our local church parish make some necessary building repairs, and his time cooking at McDonald’s helped him gain confidence cooking at home – he became an incredible breakfast chef!
He also realized that time he would have previously used to coach a local football team would be better spent coaching my siblings’ and my sports teams, or just attending our games. And my mother went back to school teaching full-time. We went from a one-income family to a two-income family.
The loss of my father’s job was a big shock to my family, but it turned out to be a chance for my parents to gain perspective on what was important to them and recalibrate. As a child who experienced my father’s situation and can now look at that time in the rear-view mirror, I have nothing but deep pride.
For those of you who have lost your job in the last days or months, you, too, will eventually be able to look back on this time as a memory. With the pain, I hope you also learn about yourself and write the next chapter in a way that feels authentic to you. There is so much opportunity in this moment.