Kicked to the curb and liking it

January 1, 2010 at 3:17 PM 11 comments


It’s a Tuesday morning in January and I’m sitting at my desk at IBM, drinking weak coffee, wasting myself on ten games of Lexulous, poking around in my e-mail inbox when all of a sudden I get a ping from my manager: “Can you come by my office?”

The word was out: If you received an e-mail on Monday night asking you to see your manager, you were going to be part of IBM’s “resource action.” That’s IBM-talk for getting kicked to the curb.

I checked my Lotus Notes mailbox ten times on Monday night. I was safe.

But the jig was up when I got the ping and I knew it. “Here goes nothing,” I said and did the perp walk to my manager’s office.

I thanked him for my two years in the research division and told him with faux geniality to thank that great corporate entity in the sky for my nine-plus years in the place. I meant every word. Sort of. You don’t want the big boys to see you sweat.

You know that moment in Mad Men — season two, episode eight, I think — where Don Draper tells Roger Sterling that his predominant feeling about leaving his wife is relief? That’s how I felt about being “RA’d” from IBM. Panicky, but relieved. No more pretending to have passion for the work, no more cant about e-business. When I used to think of working there until 2019, I wanted to weep.

Coming clean about work

IBM gave me a small severance package. I could get by for six months without employment. After that, I had to face the prospect of finding a new job in the worst economy I have ever lived through.

I had another more personal problem though: I don’t like work.

I don’t like waking up early every morning and going to sleep early every night. I don’t like brown bagging it. I don’t like eating in a cafeteria. I don’t like commuting in traffic. I don’t like office parks. I don’t like sharing office space with mental patients. I don’t like cubicles. I don’t like personal business commitments. I don’t like annual performance reviews. I don’t like corporate initiatives. I don’t like diversity training. I don’t like marketing campaigns. I don’t like conference calls. I don’t like working on teams. I don’t like team-building exercises. I don’t like bosses. I don’t like secretaries. I don’t like promotions. I don’t like demotions. I don’t like copy and fax machines. I don’t like Powerpoint. I don’t like charts, graphs, office chitchat, meetings, business conduct guidelines, Windows updates and patches, software upgrades or sales rallies. I don’t like any of this stuff because none of it is really productive work. It’s crap and corporate life is full of it.

I do like working. I liked writing a novel. I liked writing a book about nurses. I liked writing a long personal essay about a trip I took in the late 1990s with my parents to Poland. I liked interviewing people for IBM business articles and technology podcasts. I even like cleaning my home.

A message from the radio ether

As I drove away from IBM, I happened to hear a news story on the radio about the handful of companies that were posting profits in an economy where people were losing their homes, their jobs, their cars and their minds. One was Apple. One was Amazon. One was Exxon. The rest of the news was about layoffs. Fortune magazine had tallied up 125,677 job losses at America’s 500 largest public companies in February 2009, the month I got the boot. The list did not include the 300-odd layoffs in the research division, so Fortune might not even have had a complete count.

It hit me: I would probably never have a job again. It’s true that I don’t like to work, but I do like to eat, sleep in a bed, dress nicely, watch movies and plays, work out at a gym, travel and give my son presents. How was I going to live without ever drawing another paycheck?

When you’re flipping out, your mind starts making connections. Some are off the wall, but some are rational. My mind took the news report about the three profitable companies and painted a picture for me of a world in which people were plugged into their iPods, chatting on their iPhones, buying books and electronics and putting gas in their cars. My own leisure habits mirrored just enough of this profile to make me think I could take my IBM skills and “leverage” them in a commercial but lovable project.

By the time I got home, I had the idea for Bookpod worked out in my head. Maybe it wasn’t rational, but it wasn’t off the wall either.

I needed a business plan. The very thought of writing one stopped me dead in my tracks. I fretted for a few months. I decided that a graduate of the Harvard Business School needed a business plan. What Barbara Finkelstein needed was to begin working. I set up an interview with Peter Wortsman, an old writer-friend of mine. He gave me enough material to create an audio essay that is sure to be one of the best in Bookpod.

Talk it out, ye heretics and believers

Each episode is about five minutes long. Except for a short intro and valedictory, I try not to get in the writer’s way. The writer is that gorgeous voice in your ear telling you what really matters in this world. You won’t have to put up with any Powerpoint presentation or marketing campaign or team-building exercise. The only thing you’ll hear is the writer’s voice — in the audio essay and in an accompanying pdf transcript.

My interview subjects are non-fiction writers and novelists, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, heretics and believers. Bookpod is where they come to be humane and intelligent and, if necessary, controversial. Not a bad agenda for a podcast in a world where all too many people prefer armed combat over talking it out.

Oh yes. Thank you, IBM, for teaching me how to be self-reliant through technology. And, although I may come to rue my words, thank you for setting me free.

Barbara Finkelstein

January 4, 2010

Dilbert: How long have I been doing things that don’t matter?



Entry filed under: Bookpod, Working. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Bookpod Nostalgia for the mud

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sonia pilcer  |  January 5, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    This is fantastic! I’m so proud of you. Happy New Year, kiddo. Let’s see each other soon. xox

  • 2. Yonina  |  January 5, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    Barbara — I loved this piece. When are you writing the book that you can interview yourself about for Bookpod? A dream being fulfilled. Inspiring.

  • 3. daniel  |  January 5, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    May you and this enriching project thrive!

  • 4. Linda Nardin  |  January 5, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    So many of us have been in your shoes….We understand the painful process of mourning the loss, gathering our thoughts and moving forward to subsequently find our authentic selves. It’s a beautiful ride. Your important new work–giving voice to the written word–will live on… and on…and on. Congratulations, Barbara!

  • 5. Charles F. Spingler  |  January 6, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Good for you, this is great – all the best in the year ahead — & beyond!


  • 6. Karen Cunagin  |  January 6, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    Lovely project. Many blessings in this good work… and money to pay the bills! Karen

  • 7. Sharon  |  January 9, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Thank you so much for your honesty and candor. Your description of getting the “ping” made me Laugh Out Loud! I’m so thankful I didn’t have to do the “perp walk” when I got the “we need to talk” ST ping from my manager during that same era.

    Loved the “I don’t like…” part. Those things are so offensive and counter-productive. Here here!

    I am so proud of you for following your heart and doing this site and series. I look forward to following you on your journey.
    Best always!

  • 8. Malka Margolies  |  January 10, 2010 at 10:33 PM

    Terrific post. A friend “introduced” me to your blog and I’m thrilled she did. I share your sentiments. Indeed resigned from my job last week after 7 years and after 25 years of always having “a boss.” On my own and enjoying it.

  • 9. Shara Sokol  |  January 15, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    Ha! Love this. You go! – Shara

  • 10. Teri  |  January 20, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    I’m glad a friend of mine shared this link with me.
    Very eloquently put Barbara… It surely is a bittersweet situation.
    Best to you in 2010.

  • 11. Harriet Jackson  |  January 26, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    I hate all the same things you hate and think they are useless. I pray we can pursue our passions, make a living out of them, and never ever return to Corporate Amerika! BRAVO to you!


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