12. New Beginnings

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.
–Mark Twain

As much as I had been anticipating it, I was seriously wounded when the words finally came. After 25 years of continuous employment in Silicon Valley, the layoff bullet I had been dodging for so many years finally caught me in January of 2017. The official explanation was “corporate downsizing.” The ensuing farewell email went out that day with the title, “new beginnings.” (1)

New beginnings, for sure!

I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I wanted to count. Once the dot com bubble burst in 2000, layoffs at Sun Microsystems had become a drumbeat that never seemed to end. (2) I am reminded of a Gary Larson The Far Side comic where one deer says to the other (who has a bulls-eye on his chest):

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”

Every six months, we were paraded in front of management for a closed-door session to see whose turn it was to pack their boxes and leave. It was as if we were lined up for a firing squad and didn’t know whose gun had the bullet. The layoff meetings had become so commonplace that one manager actually read me the official “You’re fired” script in a closed-door session, only to pause, and then tell me he was kidding!

What!?

At least I knew how it was going to feel when I finally did get the gun with the bullet. Thinking it over after, I was sorry I hadn’t fallen to the floor and feigned a heart attack!

All hoodwinking aside, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss. I waited for the pause, but he was not kidding. Leaving the meeting left me feeling as if I had a bold “L” tattooed across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off,” take your pick). As the official script read, it had nothing to do with my performance, age, or even my regular use of the corporate gym. I had finally woken up in the wrong job with the wrong product at the wrong time. I shuddered at the thought of not having a job to go to tomorrow. It was another “green flash” moment. The world stopped turning as I walked down the hall back to my office.

At 62 years of age, it was time to go job hunting. I decided to write about it as a means of coping with the ordeal. According to the outplacement firm Oracle Corporation provided to ease my transition, this was good therapy. (3)

Hired at Sun Microsystems: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle Corporation: January 19, 2017

The goodbyes of that final day were memorable and many. I usually started my day in the cafeteria, where Mary, Julia, and several other faithful servers had become an important part of my work routine. Although there are no free meals at Oracle, I would miss those folks.

I dropped in on those few on my team who were left behind to defend the fort. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. Ricarda stopped by my office with her cheery “Buenos Dias!” to empty my trash as I was packing my final box. Knowing my limited Spanish, she understood immediately when I motioned the cutthroat sign to her. I handed her one of my plants, and she showed great compassion.

My good friend Steve Sarvate and I snuck out to our private court for a final round of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived. (4) As I bid farewell to the Club Oracle recreation center staff, I was reminded how my officemates could not understand how I found time to go to the gym each day. I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made an incredible difference in my productivity and attitude at work.

Tennis partners on the Oracle clock

As I was walking out to the parking lot with my boxes, the looks I got from those left behind brought back fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. The sense of guilt over why you dodged the bullet was disconcerting. My work did not disappear; they would soon be bearing the burden of picking up the pieces.

It was an emotionally draining day. Despite trying to be present amid the farewells, I could not help but wonder about my future. A Silicon Valley marketing job would not be easy to land if you were unemployed at my age, no matter how good you were. I’d been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool-looking eyeglasses.

OK.

The drive home was a bit more upbeat. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of release creeping in on me. The breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose sleep over. I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!

The family and I decided to head straight to the theater for an early showing of the Disney movie Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote to the day. It opened with a short film called Inner Workings, which immediately spoke to me. It followed Paul’s internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.), a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work with dozens of other employees sitting at desks entering data into their computers.

They were moving in monotonous unison while his brain took notice of the dreary routine of his life and came to realize that this cycle would eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. No surprise that Paul looked to be my age. Ha! It was as if God was suddenly waking my internal organs into a new life, I was stepping off the Silicon Valley treadmill for the first time in years. It was refreshing. Best of all, I could now paddle out at Steamer Lane mid-day during the week.

Yeehaw!

Life carried on, even though my job had stopped. In so many ways, nothing changed (including the bills!). For 25 years, I had gone to work. I was lost with nowhere to go. It was clear that I needed a plan. Having my calendar wide open was not the good thing it used to be. I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind. Surely, I could land on my feet. All those years of fighting the good battle in the valley of infinite silicon did teach me a thing or two. Work/life balance had been my creed, but I also knew how to handle combat. I was not afraid of digging into a fox hole for a frontline battle to find work.

There were days of melancholy. I lacked purpose and realized my job had been how I measured my value. It was humbling. I wanted to make some changes there. Like Paul in the movie Inner Workings, my perspective had changed, and I was afraid of what might lay ahead. It was as if I had been on an express train for 25 years blowing by all of the stops with complete focus on the destination. Suddenly the train had stopped, and I got off. It was unfamiliar territory for me.

The good news was that I had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation, every day. I sensed that God had plans for my passion around work/life balance; it was exciting to think about what might unfold. I knew this time away from the daily routine of work was a gift and I wanted to use it wisely. I studied John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success for encouragement. At the very pinnacle were the two words I committed to stand by:
– Faith (Through prayer.)
– Patience (Good things take time.)

As I faithfully waited on God, I recited a prayer each morning by Saint Ignagius Loyola. (5) Its simplicity and purpose was just what I needed to start each day:

“Lord Jesus Christ.
All that I have and cherish, you have given me.

I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
Your grace and your love are enough for me.
Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.
Amen.”


Footnotes:

  1. Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle on January 19, 2017 (3:51 pm):

    Subject: new beginnings

    I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
    It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
    THANK YOU — especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
    I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.


    Mike Mulkey

  2. When Oracle Corporation purchased Sun in 2009 (for $7.4 Billion), it was another scramble to justify your existence to the new CEO, Larry Ellison. We were all on the chopping block. I was an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership Sun had with Intel Corporation at the time. The first meeting with the then-President of Oracle Safra Catz did not go well. She began the meeting by dropping the strategic partnership agreement between Sun and Intel on the table and asking, “What is this shit?”

  3. One of my inspirations to write this book was author William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days at about my same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing after a long career as a well-known author of international journalism. In his words, “I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer because of how I would be perceived as a writer.” Barbarian Days is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling worldwide from the 1960s up to the present day. What makes his book so remarkable is that it is very well written. Finnegan debunks that myth that surfers are not good writers with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre) in a way that makes it attractive to even a non-surfing audience. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, he’s now my hero.

  4. Steve Sarvate lasted another two years at Oracle before getting laid off himself. He sold his home in Sunnyvale and moved to an apartment in San Francisco. Once the pandemic hit, we had a couple of zoom calls to check in on each other. He passed away of a heart attack in 2021 on a tennis court in the city while waiting for a game. Steve read all of my blogs on surfingforbalance.com, and I rest in the comfort that he knew (and often debated with me) the truth of Jesus Christ.

  5. Saint Ignatius Loyola was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).

4 thoughts on “12. New Beginnings

  1. Good stuff again Michael. I also read Barbarian Days. It took me awhile to digest. What a life. You are a very good writer Mike. You must have gotten better grades in High School then I remember! It actually probably comes from all your corporate memo writing. I’m looking forward to reading your next adventure going to work for Trader Joe’s. Blessings – Johnny

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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