My Education Began
I was working diligently on my computer that afternoon. I was drafting elevations for a new office building in Augusta, Georgia. Everything was going smoothly.
I was focused. I was making progress. It was just your typical Tuesday.
That would all change.
My cubicle neighbor Bob walked into our studio. Bob went straight to his desk and grabbed his keys. Some times, I think keys jingle just so people can hear when you try to leave the office early.
After grabbing his keys, Bob appeared to be making his exit but he stopped by my desk. He turned 90 degrees looked at me and said: “See ya Steve. It was nice working with you. I just got laid off.”
“Haha……ahh…what………ahh…….seriously?” I said.
Bob was a bit of a jokester. He had an interesting brand of sarcastic comedy. You know that strong sarcasm where you are not sure if it is a joke or the truth? (I have that sickness as well.)
“He must be joking,” I was thinking.
Bob was not joking.
“Yea I just got laid off,” Bob said.
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said.
I had no clue what to say to this. I stood up, we shook hands and he walked out.
“Ah…what the fuck just happened?” I was thinking.
“Wait…was he joking?” I still thought.
I sat back down at my computer. Not really understanding the gravity of what had just occurred. I did not really have anyone to talk to about it. For some reason, there were not many people around my studio at that moment. I also did not have many friends in the office as I still a new guy.
So I did what any hardworking intern would do: I just put my head down and went back to work drawing windows and doors on my Augusta office building.
I was very naïve about the economy. In my short career, I had never experienced a firing or a lay off.
I worked for the next two hours with out saying a peep. Around 4pm, the receptionist called over the intercom, “please come to the atrium for an all office meeting.”
I made my way to the atrium. Again, not saying anything.
The atrium slowly filled with employees. Everyone gathered around the perimeter of the room as if a trap door was hidden in the center.
Everyone was quiet. Everyone looked very serious. There was very little chatter and definitely no smiles.
It was there that the office leader briefed us on what had happened that day. The office leader explained that it had been a very tough year. Financially the firm was struggling. Experts predicted the economy would continue its nosedive with no end in site.
In an effort to save the firm, the leaders had decided that a downsizing was necessary.
I don’t remember the specific number of people that were let go that day but I believe it was close to 15 people. 15 out of 100 employees.
This was just the beginning.
For the next 12 months everyone would wonder when the next round of layoffs would occur. 2008 finished as bad as people projected and 2009 was even worse. More layoffs just seemed inevitable. We were not very busy. When you were light on work, you would do menial tasks like organizing flat files or drafting standard details.
It was only a matter of time.
But this time would be different. This time we knew the drill. We knew that dooms day part two was coming.
Again, it would occur in the fall.
It started mid-morning. At this point, I had a bunch of friends within the firm. Throughout the day, we communicated via email. As we saw people leave or noticed people were missing, we would send a group email.
“Patrick just got let go!”
“I haven’t seen Jessica?”
“You guys still there?”
Throughout the day we communicated like that. It was like a buddy system. It was horrifying. It was like waiting to be drafted.
Every time someone’s phone would ring you would expect the worse. I barely got any work done that day. How can you stay focused in a situation like that?
Just like the prior year, we were ushered into the atrium at 4pm to hear the news. This time was different. Everyone knew what had happened. People were looking around and doing their own head count. Who was missing?
“Oh shit, where is Bruce!” I remember thinking.
The office leader briefed us just as he had the previous year. This time the layoffs were referred to as rightsizing rather than downsizing.
We had been rightsized.
When will the bleeding stop?
In July of 2010 I became a licensed architect. Shortly after that, everyone in the firm took a pay cut. This meant that I was making less money as a licensed architect than I made as an intern architect. That was depressing. After I got licensed one of my family members asked if I got a raise. I lied and said yes. I was embarrassed.
Fortunately, our pay cuts only lasted about 6 months and things slowly got better. 2011 was a better year. 2012 better than 2011. And we have slowly climbed back.
But it was brutal.
This story is not unique.
The 2007-2010 Great Recession was brutal to all industries especially the building design and construction industry.
How many architects lost their jobs?
It is hard to say. I have looked for an accurate number but cannot find one. The best thing I could find was this 2010 Architectural Record article that lists a 24% employment drop at architecture firms: Exactly How Many Architects in the U.S. Are Unemployed?
I suspect that 24% is conservative. I remember hearing that 1 in 3 architects had lost their jobs. Many firms reduced their staff by one half and many closing the doors altogether.
Whether it was 1 in 3, or 1 in 4, it was a lot. It was too many.
Interns, admin staff and architects at all levels lost their jobs during the recession. Tenure did not matter. Salary did not matter. It was brutal.
It was horrible for the people that lost their jobs.
It was horrible for the people that had to administer the lay offs.
It was horrible for the new graduates who were entering a job market where nobody wanted them.
One of the best parts of architecture school is the part where you collect your diploma, exit stage left and begin your career. That did not happen for many students.
Many of those folks never started their careers in architecture and never will.
I was hesitant to share this story because I was one of the fortunate who kept their jobs during the recession. As things were crumbling around me, I remember feeling an odd sense of guilt because I did keep my job.
I cannot begin to empathize with those who lost their jobs. I can only share my story: what I saw and how I felt.
I feel it is important to share this story because it will happen again. The economy is cyclical and as I write this in 2017, many predict we are overdue for the next dip.
I do not want you to be as naïve as I was the day that Bob stopped by my desk. I want you to be prepared.
This book is about being prepared.
I am sharing these stories and lessons so that you can become indispensable and prepared to weather any storm. Becoming indispensable should be your #1 goal as an emerging professional and is the topic of chapter 12.
Writer’s Note: The names in this story were changed to protect privacy.
Another chapter in the books!!!
Chapter 7 by the Numbers
· 1,342 words
· 5.3 – Translates into approximately 5.3 pages in book form.
· 1 – Blog Posts
· 5 – Hours to Write and Post on Blog
· 5 – Stretched over 5 calendar days.
· 1.06 – Average book pages written per day.
The Book by the Numbers
· 15,751 – Total Words
· 63 – Total Pages
· 22 – Total Blog Posts
· 220 – Goal for final page count.
· 35 – Straight Days of Writing
· 1.8 – Average book pages written per day.
· 103 – Estimated days to completion. (220-63) / 1.8) = 87
· 6 – Chapters down.
· 24 – Chapters to go.
· 0 – New subscribers to the Breaking the Box Email Newsletter
· 27 – Total subscribers to the Breaking the Box Email Newsletter