By Perminus Wainaina
What happens when you lose your treasured job just four days to Christmas?
Peter, a graduate of the Speak With Confidence (Public Speaking) Training class shared his unique experience of how he went from having a well-paying job to being unemployed, all in a matter of days.
In the Public Speaking Training, one of the assignments involves sharing your life experience on a given topic. In Peter’s class, one of the topics was to share your most vivid memory from the previous year.
After the training, I sought to learn more of his experience. Here is Peter’s story, the lessons he learned, and his advice to you.
“What fascinates you about teaching?”
“I have always wanted to teach and mentor, in one way, or another. Throughout my career, I sought out mentorship opportunities.”
Today, Peter wears the hat of lecturer, businessman, husband, and father. Here is how he was fired four days to Christmas and the lessons he picked along the way.
“Before I share my experience, there are a few things you should know. One, I was a top performing employee; I never thought I’d be the one to get the pink slip. Two, I had never tarmacked. I was lucky enough to get opportunities just when I needed them.” Says Peter.
“I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce –finance option. And got a job at an NGO.
While I loved the job, I felt it was not the right place for me.
Soon after, I started CPA, I felt it was a great move and would open more opportunities for me.
After the NGO, and equipped with my academic qualifications, I moved to a SACCO in the coastal region. Again, I felt something was amiss. I wanted to work for a financial institution.
After a while, I landed a job at a leading financial institution in the region. The position was entry level, but I knew I could grow within the organization. So neither the pay nor the position bothered me much. After all, I was doing what I loved.
After two years in the bank, I got my first promotion. A year after, I got another promotion, and another followed.”
“As your career was growing, what were you doing to keep up with the promotions?”
“From early on, I knew I had to continuously add skills to my name. Each year, I ensured I had taken a short professional course. Later on, I saw I had pursued most of the courses I was aiming for.
I now applied for my MBA and later my Ph.D.”
“In 2009, the government tightened its hold on the industry. To keep up with the fines and regulations, most financial institutions started cutting cost by reducing the workforce.
This was the time I first thought it was possible to lose my job. I had to be smart; I started thinking of a plan B –an exit strategy in case I lost my job. By 2011, retrenchment cases had become a constant affair.”
“Having studied different subjects, did you want to be in banking till retirement?”
“No, no, not at all. After the reality of losing a job hit me in 2011, I started planning for any situation.
My plan was to be in employment for 15 or so years. After this, I would then move to the public sector. Finally, I wanted to work with acclaimed international firms. I wanted to have a feel of the public, private and international sectors.
Life had it differently for me, I got fired after 14 years.”
“How were your personal finances? Had you saved up for a rainy day?”
I believe my biggest investment was in my personal development. I invested in my education.
Since I was in the banking industry, I had information on how to invest wisely.
I sat with my wife and we decided to invest in farming, real estate, and insurance –life and a pension plan.”
“At this point, you’re studying; you have a young family, a full-time job, and some side businesses. How did you balance it all?”
“I had a great support system. My wife was my backbone. She would do everything in the house, and in the evening, she would keep me company as I studied and did my research. You see, I embarked on my Ph.D. soon after we had our third born.”
“Let’s go to the day it all happened. Did you know you were about to get fired?”
“Before that day, let me tell you about two weeks earlier.
The bank had sent communication asking for voluntary separation. This came with a few benefits, but I still had one year to go in my plan. Furthermore, I knew based on my performance, I was not among those being targeted.
During the two weeks, they did everything to downsize. The most common was re-interviewing employees for positions. In one of the departments, they wanted to reduce from 50 employees to 20. They re-interviewed all 50 employees, and 30 of them were unsuccessful.
I was fired on a Friday. That Thursday, I was from Kisumu and had just flown back. At the airport, my boss phoned me. She asked if I would be in the next day. ‘yes,’ I told her. Then, said she would like to have a meeting.
While it was odd for her to call since she was on leave, I made nothing of the matter.
The next day, I went to work, like any other Friday.
At work, my boss phoned me, she asked me to go to the HR’s office, where we would then have a conference call.”
“At this point, did you think you were about to be fired.”
“No, not yet. I found the events curious, but I didn’t think of being fired.”
The Conference Call
“I walked into the HR’s office. A few minutes later, she asked me to head to the boardroom, where she soon followed.
My boss called. She delivered a long monologue of how good I had been at my job, and how I was an asset to the organization. Then, she pounced for the kill. She informed me the company was downsizing, and my role had been declared redundant. She told me that was going to be my last day, then asked if I had any questions.
‘Why me?’ I asked her.
‘To be honest with you, it was either you or me. I’m sorry Peter.” She responded.
‘So, who takes over my job?”
She said some guy’s name. After the call, I went, met the guy who was to take over my job and gave him a debrief of my roles.”
“Did you tell anyone you had gotten the pink slip?”
“I had a circle of about 20 coworkers. The people I considered my friends. However, at this point, I only disclosed to Jake –he used to sit next to me. I gave him the letter and watched as he went through it, line after another.”
“What did you do after? What was on your mind?”
I packed my things and went to my mechanic. I had been planning to get the car fixed.
I was thinking this was a good and bad thing at the same time.
On one hand, it was a few months before I had planned to leave. The job just gave me a push. On the other hand, ‘why me!’ my performance was great!”
“How did you tell your wife you had just been fired?”
Peter takes a deep breath.
“On my way home, I didn’t know how to break the news to my wife. When I got home, she was not in yet. A few hours later, she came home.
I still didn’t know what to do. I went to the bedroom, called her, and laid the letter on the bed.
She took the letter, sat down, gave me a concerned look, and then began to read. Not once did her expression change. I watched her closely to see signs of shock, worry even, but, nothing.
She finished reading, sprung to her feet, and gave me a hug.
Now, the interesting thing is, the following Monday, we were to go on vacation to Zanzibar for the Christmas holiday.
We canceled the trip and started planning how to save every coin we had.
“Did your livelihood drastically change?”
“In some ways, it did. Canceling the trip was just one of the ways. However, I had by now established some side businesses. These helped us earn a coin or two.
In November, we’d decided to move the kids to a better school. Now, I believe in quality education. So we still went through with this.”
“You mentioned you had a circle of about 20 friends at work, did any of them reach out to you?”
Yes. But most with their own agendas. The first one was the guy who replaced me. He only called when he needed me to explain how a process works. Once he had a hang of things, the calls never came again.
The other was someone I considered a close friend. He called to ask why he wasn’t seeing my kids in school. I told him we’d moved them, and his calls never came again.
There’s only one person who’s stuck with me. He called to check up on me, see how I was doing. It’s funny, I thought I had friends, but this experience revealed otherwise.
“What was next after you got fired?”
I decided I had had enough of employment. I approached a few universities and got part-time lecturer jobs.
These jobs are great, they give me income to sustain my family and run a few side projects. The side businesses also supplement the income.
I also love teaching because I get to mentor the students and guide them along with school and their professional life. Having a part-time job also clears my schedule to spend time with my wife and kids.”
“What was the biggest lesson you learned”
“Being fired taught me a lot of life lessons. My biggest one was to always have an exit strategy. For me, I was able to save, start a few businesses, invest in my education, and plan to get out of employment.
I see many professionals who get employed, and they go about as though they’ll always have the job. Always save for a rainy day. It just might come as unexpectedly as mine did.”
Peter’s experience is something we should all learn from. He made decisions that helped him stay afloat even when the pink slip came.
Invest in education, take up short courses and develop new skills, make meaningful connections through networking, have a support system, and most importantly, have an exit plan.
Perminus Wainaina is the C.E.O and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR & Recruitment consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing. Click here for more on career coaching.