Video: Speaking Of Interview with Brian James – Friend and Account Manager for Custom Ink

Happy Thursday! Check out my 2nd Speaking Of interview – this week I’m talking with Brian James, an account manager at Custom Ink and friend.

Brian’s service is truly the best I’ve ever experienced, and I wanted to talk to him about that (which we do at the beginning and near the end), but also wanted to have an informal chat to learn more about him. 🙂

Check it out, and please subscribe and share.

Let me know if you have anyone you’d like me to interview. I love getting to know people and see what makes them tick.

I Lost My Long-Time Job in a COVID Layoff – and I’m Thankful

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

I “lost” my job in a mass layoff due to COVID-19 a few weeks ago. Isn’t “lost” an interesting word? I know where my job is – it’s at my old company, but as per the official definition below from dictionary.com, I “no longer possess or retain” the job, so I suppose it is “lost.”

Definition of Lost on Dictionary.com

It’s super weird, and yet, kind of exciting. That probably sounds weird, right? I mean, I spent all of my 30s (so far) there. I was there for 8.5 years, and I appreciate everything that I was able to do, the skills I learned, and the people I met.

While working at my last job, I had the opportunity to do some really cool stuff like building a team to manage corporate culture, and managing all philanthropy for the company. I created those roles, and that’s awesome. In a tech company, there are few roles like the one I created and filled, and I was lucky enough to do that.

There are certainly some bittersweet things about being “gone.” Although I have been working remotely from a different state for some time, the end is now official. I said bye to so many people before I moved – and even to the buildings on the campus – and didn’t know it would be goodbye forever. I thought I’d be back a few times a year for certain things. Now, if I go back, I’ll get a visitor badge. How bizarre.

I remember my interview – which was actually rather entertaining because there was a mixup. I was told by recruiting that it was an in-person interview and my manager (who is now my friend, Nina) was told it was a phone interview. So, there I was, sitting in the lobby, while the receptionist tried to track down my future manager but couldn’t find her because she was in a room trying to call me for the phone interview. Thank goodness I felt compelled to check my phone and saw missed calls and a voicemail from her asking if I still wanted to interview. Then she walked down the stairs and the receptionist was like, that’s her! She flagged my future manager down, and then I had a very informal interview.

During the interview, I met the team. One of them asked about my husband, and I said he worked at a home improvement store. The guy said, oh, so he wears a vest? I jokingly said, “Yes, he wears a vest. Nothing else. That’s his whole uniform. No pants, it’s weird.” My future coworker laughed and my manager seemed impressed because she said he was “a tough egg to crack.”

Me and Nina before I moved

In total irony, I wasn’t offered the official job until another phone interview with a man I called “the culture detector,” who made sure that potential associates were a culture fit for the company. I never in a million years would’ve imagined that I would’ve ended up creating and building a culture team at that company. It was such a unique position that I held pre-IPO, though the IPO, after the IPO, and through a major leadership change. It’s not often that people get to see culture through that lens. I’m so thankful that I did.

Through my role, I met so many associates. I got to work with them, learn about their stories, help them with their goals, contribute to their passions through matching donations and organizing volunteer events. How lucky, right? I also managed associate perks, so I really was the “shiny/happy” part of the company, a role I was privileged to hold.

I remember my first day on the job and being so nervous, and also being so excited! My first week featured on-site massages, a software release party, free lunch, and working in a building with free slushy machines.

I remember meeting the man who would become one of my best friends, Jody. I remember the first time he asked me to lunch – he wrote a note, like an old-school, on paper, note – drew a picture of his signature dog with the words “I’m hungry.” I still have that somewhere. I had no idea that he – who started 1 month after me and was laid off on the same day as me in the mass layoff – would be become one of my best friends. He has one of the most varied life stories of anyone I’ve ever encountered, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have had 8 years of lunches to learn about them.

Me and Jody at our favorite restaurant!

I remember meeting (my now close friend), Jaclyn, who started at a folding table as a contractor. She was at a folding table because we were growing so fast that there weren’t enough desks during the busy season. Her desk was right by the bathroom, and even that couldn’t dampen what I’d eventually coin as her “Spirit Sparkles.” She put her Spirit Sparkles to good use on the culture team, and continued to brighten the company as she progressed in her career. She, too, was impacted by the layoff, but I know that she’s off to do something amazing.

Me and Jaclyn, at OUR favorite restaurant

I remember meeting Lisa, who was interviewing for the receptionist position. I had no idea why I was asked to interview her, and had no idea that I’d end up being good friends with her and she’d become part of my work and friend group (She’s also an A+ jam maker. Seriously – no one makes better strawberry jam). She’s organized, upbeat, fun, and gives good advice. She moved on shortly before the pandemic, so my whole crew is gone!

Me and Lisa before I moved. I love this picture!

I remember emailing the CEO/Founder of the company when I had my daughter. His family donated millions to build the new children’s hospital (that now bears his name) shortly before my daughter was born, and thanks to the role I worked in, I was able to meet the team at the hospital. I had no idea that when I toured the NICU while I was pregnant that my daughter would soon become a patient due to her early birth. The CEO emailed back right away with encouragement and his cell phone number.

Now, that is all over. I won’t ever be on a lunch break with my friends (shout out to Jody, Jaclyn, Lisa, and Nina). I won’t be able to organize another family event there.

But, that’s okay.

I was there for 8.5 years. I was comfortable there. The role was awesome, but it was something I did for years. I never expected that I’d be one of several hundred laid off due to a pandemic. It actually seems weird to be part of history in that way. But, I really feel like it was the best thing.

I got the call, and I wasn’t even upset… or even surprised. I mean, as I said, my job was at a tech company, so my role of culture and philanthropy (while important) didn’t contribute directly to the product. It’s not like I was in engineering or sales or account management. I worked in associate happiness, so by default my job required spending money, and when we got news that layoffs were happening, I assumed I would be on that list.

Is being laid off a positive? Not in the moment, right? You have to figure out money, and all the other things. It also creates a surprising amount of things on your to-do list (outplacement services, unemployment, transferring benefits, retirement accounts, updating your resume, job searching, etc.). BUT, I really feel like this was a tremendous opportunity. How lucky to be pushed out of the nest????

What would I be doing in 5 years if this didn’t happen? Probably working there in the same role. Where will I be in 5 years from now? I have no idea, and that’s really pretty awesome and exhilarating!!!

Is it a coincidence that Dawn and I started working on this blog and the videos a few months ago – before the pandemic happened? I don’t think so. I think it was meant to be.

Would I have ever fully “bet” on myself and left that comfortable corporate job? Probably not. But, how I choose to move forward is now a decision I have to make and can really think about. I love it.

I want to look back at the day I was laid off as the turning point in my life. I want to be proud of what I chose to do and how I took action to achieve my goals. I want to be able to say that I’m living my dream.

So to summarize this layoff, I say:

Thank you so, so, so, much for my time at the company. I grew so much there. I lived so much life during the time I was there. I started as an almost-30 year old who was newly married, and over time I bought a house, got a puppy, my husband got a second degree, he entered a new career field, I had a miscarriage, a high-risk pregnancy, a daughter with a 3-month Nicu-stay, lost my dad, and faced a serious health issue in my family (all is fine now). That’s SO much life. On the job, I was able to grow my career and learn so much, and really become an expert at what I did. I’m a different person now. How could all of that *not* change you?

I appreciate all of the opportunities, the friends I made, the beautiful campus I worked on, and the flexibility I was granted during my daughter’s time in the NICU.

And also, thank you for the layoff. Thank you for putting me on that list, and forcing me to grow once again. I grew a lot at the company, and I will grow again now, because I have to. I may never have taken this step, but I’m so thankful to be here now, at this crossroad, figuring out what’s next. KNOWING, something else great is next. It’s time for a new adventure.

Photo by Riz Mooney on Unsplash

Building a Friendship

PICTURE ALBUMS - 0550

Dawn & Steph on the last day of senior year

Dawn and I met about 20 years ago (whoa!), in 9th grade. I was pretty quiet and Dawn was more outgoing and definitely had more friends at that point (and probably still does!). Our maiden names were close alphabetically, so we always ended up in the same 5th period class, which was 1.5 hours long. As I remember it, Dawn would randomly turn around and tell me things out of the blue – outrageous plans for her future, or other things she wanted to do. It would always crack me up. It kind of seemed like confession. I don’t even know if I ever said anything back. I’m not much of a rule breaker, so I probably didn’t even talk during class at that point!

Our friendship stayed at that random-fact-phase for several years, until 11th grade, when we had yet another 5th period class together (this time was Chemistry, neither of our areas of strength) and also were in the same SAT prep course. We each hated that prep course, and hated that it was after school. The mall was much more fun. So one day we decided that we were going to skip the prep course and head to the mall. A few other girls who were mutual friends of ours went, and then they had to go home by a specific time. Dawn and I decided that we weren’t ready to go home at that point and so we drove back to our little suburb, dropped off our mutual friends, and then headed back to the mall (which was about 1 hour round trip). Well, wouldn’t you know, my ’88 Cavalier broke down. And we both had to pee.

There’s something about being in a broken down car in a pretty crappy area, needing to call your parents to ask for help (after lying about skipping the prep course – which was about the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done to date… I’m pretty lame) and attempting to not pee your pants that really fosters a bond.

I honestly don’t remember much about how long we were there, who came to pick us up, when or where we ended up finally getting to use the bathroom or anything else, but I do know that it led to a life-long friendship. I’m not sure that Dawn and I ever hung out with those mutual friends again, or if we ever attended another prep course, but Dawn and I have stuck together ever since and had a fabulous time together! I ended up with a new Cavalier and put 18k miles on it in the first year – pretty much just driving to the mall and back! Now we’re moms (when did we grow up???) and are figuring out how that life is supposed to go.