Right, you've been fired. Call it what you like: Restructuring, redundancy, garden leave, moving on; the long and short of it is that you were asked (civilly, I hope), to leave the company. You – that vital spoke in the corporate wheel – have gone, while the wheel grinds on unrelentingly without a stutter. Perhaps you were asked to hand over to a successor; perhaps an apéro was organised and weepy speeches given. More likely not.
In Basel, we live in the city of the corporate, and, very often, projects named ‘Lean' or ‘Efficient' reflect the need for sizing down in a tough economic environment. "Don't take it personally", offers your soon-to-be-ex-boss. "Make it a clean break and move on," advises your outplacement consultant, as though it's a relationship rebound.
You cringe. How will you tell your nearest and dearest? If you were one of the high achievers in your family, you will struggle to explain how you have fallen flat on your face. They might be supportive and say you needed a break, and will find bigger and better things. Or they might imply in many different ways, that they had told you so. Friends might seem embarrassed. And what about your colleagues? Those people you travelled with, spent long hours with in corporate meetings, discussed the eccentricities of your boss and the pleasures of your latest ski holiday. They're gone. Disappeared. MIA.
As the writer Stephen Fry once said, if you are a halfway decent human being you've probably been sacked from something in your time – school, sports team, political party…something. There's no use denying the fact, we all feel a little undervalued and to be told officially confirms our gut feeling. It is a rare experience to be proved right on anything and it does wonders for the amour-propre, even when, paradoxically, what has been proved is our suspicion that everyone considers us superfluous to their needs. After that, we have other issues to contend with.
Time. The most precious commodity.
Suddenly, we have plenty of it. It can be delightful – being able to sleep till 8am, actually eating breakfast for the first time in half a decade, time to use that gym membership on which you've forked out for years. It's nice not to be bogged down with calls, no more urgent emails, or team-building exercises, or sipping yucky coffee from the office machine at 8pm instead of dinner. You can really inhabit your own living room. You will aggressively refute any claims your partner makes that you are sinking into depression. So what if you are watching re-runs of Prison Break or Breaking Bad at 12 in the in your PJs? You've worked hard for years, been responsible, taken all your holidays with guilt. Shouldn't everyone be delighted you are finally around?
Bills. Money will be the next commodity you think of.
Despite having six months of salary, a severance lump sum and hopefully testimonials that should sort the next job, panic will overwhelm at some point. Switzerland is an expensive country, and even though Basel is not Zurich or Geneva, still a light lunch can set you back 30 francs (Kohlman's), a double expresso CHF 9 (Tinguely Musuem) and a much needed day-hike to the mountains CHF 71, even if you still have a valid half-fare card that luckily your company paid for. You realise with horror that your mobile phone bills are astronomical and the tariffs from the few that rule the Swiss mobile market are staggering. Was Basel always this expensive? Well, with time on hand, you can now foray into Lörrach or Freiburg or Colmar to shop for groceries and clothes. It's a high that one can't deny, filling in those green customs to reimburse approximately 17% of the Euros as you re-enter the country. The 30 percent markdown in Lörrach will, at least, leave you smug.
Rediscovery. It's the time to re-evaluate who you are and set new goals.
Your new friends are those you met at the outplacement job seekers course who you couldn't believe were ‘let go' by their companies. You start to re-evaluate what you should have, or could have, done: Networked more, taken those lunch breaks, kept your head down in office politics etc. But now you can find your inner writer, your latent entrepreneur, the budding designer. You will finally take the German classes that came with your joining package. You will trek to be with nature in the beautiful country you've inhabited, but have never seen. You will find out who your neighbours are and what time the post arrives.
Finally, you will survive. You will learn humility and humour.
You will learn things you had lost perspective of during those busy days at work: To value your job, any job. Paying the bills will no longer be too mundane a life goal. You will soon know that you can definitely spend too much time with your family. You will fail to meet your own goals. And though you're unlikely to say it aloud in the next job, you will tell yourself, ‘It's alright to err. That's how I learn. This might happen again, and, if it does, I will survive...and perhaps even thrive."
Image: © Thomas Leuthard / Thomas.Leuthard.Photography