I lost my job last Friday. I am one of the white collar casualties of a struggling economy and changing industry (television) -- and let's be frank -- managers looking for a scapegoat to save their own jobs.
"Why?" I asked.
"Ah, it's just the business," he said. "That's just the way television is."
I sat across the desk from a boss who told me that management had decided to go another direction. This was the same boss that a few months before had given me a glowing personnel review for the work I had done as the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. anchor at the NBC affiliate in Nashville. The same boss who told me a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post on local flood coverage was "extraordinarily well-written" and reflected well on the station. The one who told me three months ago not to leave to take a job in Washington, D.C. because they were very happy with my work and wanted me here. (That job has since been filled.) The same boss that submitted video that resulted in my being nominated for two Emmy's for coverage of breaking news. (The awards haven't been handed out yet.)
This is the American workplace, 2010. No loyalty, and a cavalier consideration for the life changing consequences of treating people and their livelihoods as mere pieces on a chess board.
So what comes next? I don't know.
Here's what I do know. It's hard to sleep not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from; not knowing whether we'll run out of savings as you try to land a job in an economy worse than at any time since the Great Depression; not knowing whether contacts you've made over the years will throw you a lifeline with a job opportunity, or be part of a whisper campaign to define you as a sad vestige of your former professional self who hasn't faced the reality that the world has changed and you're not part of where it's going.
Initially you get emails, texts and phone calls. They're all supportive in describing what "idiots" your employer is -- their words, not mine -- and how you'll land on your feet because you've got so much talent. But the calls stop. The emails and texts lessen in frequency. And after the anger directed at the injustice of it all goes away, you're still left with finding your next job, the direction of your future. Will it be an idealistic "falling up" story where a door is opened after a window closes, or a now common tale of middle class Americans losing everything and ending up homeless?
But occasionally you hear something that really does give you hope. One of the people who called was my former colleague at CNBC, Herb Greenberg. (For the record, Herb was in a book I published this year called Forbes Best Business Mistakes: How Today's Top Business Leaders Turned Missteps into Success.)
"I've got two words for you," he said. "Ray Kroc. He started McDonald's when he was in his fifties."
I don't want to say how old I am because age discrimination exists in the real world, even though in the legal world it's not allowed. But let's say I'm closer to Ray Kroc's age when he started McDonald's than I am to the age of the participants on "American Idol."
And as I go to work each day in my new job -- finding a job -- I know that I am not alone in today's American workforce. In fact, since my employer technically is exercising a clause in my contract to end my employment, I won't even show up as an unemployment statistic. But I'm out there.
I have hope that things will turn out well. And I have fear as well, because the American Dream doesn't seem to be as likely as it was back in Ray Kroc's era. I just hope not to become part of the growing number of woeful stories that constitute the new American Nightmare.