It wasn't so long ago that Charlie Sheen, the indisputable bad boy of the small screen, stunned and captivated America by going on what many believed to be the psychotic celebrity meltdown of the year. After delivering a radio rant that was filled with so much shock and awe it made Howard Stern seem more like Mr. Rogers, Sheen decried many psychologists' suggestion that he may be bipolar and instead added a new word to our lexicon, "bi-winning."
Without placing any judgment on the content or character of Sheen's initial PR faux pas (after all, I think we can all agree that his characterizations of the respect-worthy Mr. Lorre were culturally insensitive, to say the least), I, like many spectators to that circus, was fascinated by Sheen's flagrant rebellion to his boss' ultimate attempt to win the war of words.
Watching in amazement from the edge of my living room seat, I excitedly cheered on the rogue TV star and was one of the first 1,001,000 people to "follow" him when the sparring match spread from television to Twitter. I watched all of the live Ustreams (OK, maybe just the first two), tuned in for all the primetime interviews and E! investigative reports, and contemplated buying tickets to Sheen's one-man show (but right before I clicked to confirm my purchase, my better sensibilities kicked back in).
Surely, I was aghast over Charlie's verbal recklessness, but as a former member of the Unemployed and Discarded of America, I recognized something much greater in the actor's antics. After reading Sheen's Twitter bio line, I was both inspired and motivated and thought, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Succinct and impactful, it simply read "Unemployed Winner!"
In that moment I was transformed from a horrified viewer to a card-carrying member of Team Sheen, because with those two words, even if unknowingly, Sheen offered a platform of defiant dignity to many Americans battling the shame and loss of respect that comes with unemployment and job termination.
Whether downsized, laid off, fired or berated in a public battle carried out across the television, radio, tabloids and the Web, any person who has ever faced the misfortune of losing a job has also had to deal with the loss of self-esteem and self-identification that it brings. There is no golden parachute or exit counseling that can prepare you for the confusion and shame that you experience the first time, or the one thousandth time, someone asks you what you do.
In a culture where people are commonly defined by occupation, salary range and job title, the unexpectedly unemployed are left to suddenly piece together the remnants of their pride and embark on an arduous soul-searching journey to answer the question, "Who am I?"
In two simple words, poetically placed in the bio field of his Twitter profile, Sheen gave a new, hip answer to that question -- not only for himself, but also for all of the displaced and daunted ex-workers of America. With the click of Charlie's mouse, we all became unemployed winners.
We were reminded that our jobs, or lack thereof, do not define us. We remembered that we are the same people today that we were when we were employed. We were encouraged that we are not alone in the proverbial unemployment line. We witnessed that neither our former bosses, nor the HR reps, determine our value. And most importantly, we learned that we decide who we are.
Each of us, every day, has the opportunity to write our own bio, to define for ourselves who we are. Even amid hardship, unemployment, financial strain and controversy, we have the power to write the scripts for our own lives.
Charlie Sheen did not wait to land a new role before updating his résumé. He didn't wait for a Wikipedia writer to update his bio to include "out-of-work actor." He didn't wait for the tabloids to pen his feature story, "The Tragedy of the Talented Mr. Sheen." What he did, and what I found to be exceptional, was take ownership and authorship of his own life, by telling the world who he is: the same person he'd always been in his eyes, a winner.
By declaring victory in the face of adversity, Sheen redefined his circumstance. When everyone around him said he was crazy, Charlie told us he was #WINNING! When the psychologists said he was bipolar, Charlie said he was bi-winning. When the media reported that he was out of his mind, Charlie rebutted that he was from out of this world -- a "rock star from Mars," to be exact.
Fast forward less than six months, and the actor who starred in his own self-made production of "The Terminated" is slated to star in an all-new television show scheduled to debut this fall. Based on early reports, Sheen will play a character very similar to the man America got to know and obsess over during the past few months. While this news may come to the chagrin of some, I believe this offers a valuable lesson in unemployment management.
We, the pink-slipped of America, must continue to hold our heads up high and refuse to accept any notions of diminished self-value. Like Sheen, we must define ourselves for ourselves, and in the end we just may find that the universe, and the job market, will hire us to fill our own custom-made roles.
Now that is #WINNING!