Survivor Guilt



Once upon a time, almost a lifetime ago (it seems), I kept a lot of journals. Several years ago, in some self-aware weird phase when I made the decision to "let go of the past", I shredded almost all of them. One of the survivals from my shred fest was a binder I kept filled with articles I had copied and newspaper / magazine clippings. Above is one of those clippings. I guess "Phone Call From a Stranger" freaked me out so much in 1989 that I cut the description right out of TV Guide. (Watching movies late at night can cause weird after effects.) The movie (I saw it again recently on TCM) is about a man who is the only survivor of a plane crash. He decides to personally contact the families of three victims he spoke with at length during a long layover in order to finish their unfinished business and give closure to the departed and their families.

It's quite a stretch to compare going back to work tomorrow to being the sole survivor of a plane crash, but the feelings are the same. Many people I've worked with for years are not as fortunate as me and did not get the call to come back. Two are members of the very team I managed. I know how easily it could be me not returning because after 9 days of waiting - I had about given up hope.

Blogging about being laid off and even posting it on my Facebook page was difficult, but necessary. Many people I knew were in the same boat and were asking if I was still around. Now, I am one of the very few returning to my job. If I didn't mention it here, I would feel guilty about all those who were wishing me well and saying to "hang in there". Now I feel guilty about being celebratory when so many are still suffering.

One of the people who was a true mentor to me at work told me "Don’t look for just recovery, look for an opportunity to do better." I don't think I was anywhere near prepared enough for anything more than recovery. There are things I am going to do now, including getting some real certifications (Project Management, for example) and not relying solely on bulletpoints on my resume to prove my skills to a new employer. I'm going to work to expand my side hobbies (computer work I do for basically everyone I know) to something I could turn to if needed. I'm also going to look into some freelancing in technical writing. The nine days (known around the house as 'my sabbatical') were a real awakening for me and I know how lucky I am to be returning to work tomorrow.

Obviously, layoff survivor guilt is a reality. It was written about in 2002, and again in the last month in Time and BusinessWeek. Tomorrow I start over - day 1 with the new owners and new leadership. And, day 1 to work with the bigger picture in mind - just in case this all happens again.