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).

New Beginnings

Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle:


Date: January 19th at 3:51pm
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


Hired at Sun: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle: Jan. 19, 2017

After 17+ years of employment at Sun / Oracle, the layoff bullet which I have been dodging for so many years finally caught me.
Official explanation:  Corporate downsizing.
Above was the farewell email that went out on the day of my departure.

New beginnings for sure!

However, I need to mention that I am looking for a new job…
Please contact me if you know of anyone looking for a Marketing Leader who can make big things happen in a hurry.

Along with so many of us in Silicon Valley, I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I want to count.  But finally, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss, send out the “farewell” email to friends, and carry the cardboard box of belongings out to the car, feeling as if I had a bold “L” imprinted across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off”, take your pick!).

“You’re FIRED!”

I had finally woken up in the wrong job on the wrong product at the wrong time, and it was now time for: “EXIT stage left — Audios amigo  — C U Later — Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Since I had recently celebrated my 62nd birthday, I felt prompted to come clean and write about my experience as a means of coping with the whole ordeal.  According to Right Management, the outplacement firm Oracle provided to help ease my transition into the next phase of my career (and life), this is good therapy for me.

I’ve also been a bit inspired by William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days, at about the same age.  Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author of international journalism.  In his words, ‘I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer’, because of how he would be perceived as a writer.   Of course, he’s now my hero.

There’s definitely something to be said for having a little perspective when you take the plunge into a new phase of life.  And although I am still in the job hunt in Silicon Valley (the mortgage payment did not disappear with the job), it feels pretty good to write about it.  For what seems to me like an eternity of fighting the good battle here in the valley of good fortune, I have learned a thing or two in the midst of all those bumps and bruises I took over the years.   And work/life balance is the one God has placed on my heart as the most important.

My final day at Oracle was quite memorable actually.  When I scan over the many, many hundreds of days I have spent in the office over my career, this one might actually make the top 10 list!

Oracle painted the Sun Santa Clara campus red in a hurry following their acquisition in January of 2010

The day started with breakfast in the cafeteria (my usual spinach, onion & pepper scramble with house hash browns) where I could say goodbye to Mary, Julia and several others who had become close friends of mine in the Oracle cafeteria.  Not that Oracle is buying me breakfast (there really is no such thing as a free lunch at Oracle), but seeing these folks every day had become an important part of my work routine that I now appreciated more than ever.

Then it was over to see Ricarda, whose cheery “Buenos Dias!” greeted me every day [to empty my office trash] when I always seemed to be just a little too focused on an email I was composing.  I had several plants I’d been nursing, and asked her to take her favorite.    My Spanish does not go much beyond “Donde esta la playa”, so I gave her the cut throat sign when she asked what I interpreted to be “why”?   She got it right away and showed great compassion for me.

Then it was up to see one of my favorite team members, Meera, to give her another plant (a violet flowered BabyCenter), which she had been admiring every time it flowered.  She gave me a big hug with tears.  Oh my…  I knew her pain.  Not a good feeling to be one of the chosen few to hold the fort down while the others carted their belongings out.

Then my good friend Steve and I snuck out to our “private court” for a final game of tennis on the Oracle clock.  He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived himself.

Tennis buddies at lunch

Next was a goodbye to Max and Rick and the Club Oracle recreation center staff.   As I would often tell them when I walked out the door, “Thanks guys, that was the highlight of my day!”  People used to tell me they could not understand how I could find time to go to the gym every day.  And I would reply that I could not understand how they could not!  It made a amazing difference in my productivity and attitude and overall energy at work.

I will miss my “room with a view” …

There were several others I could mention, but suffice to say, it was an emotionally draining day.  And being 62 just accentuated that feeling.  I’ve been told more than a few times that my next Silicon Valley job is not so easy to land when you are my age, and unemployed – no matter how good you are!  I’ve also been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool looking glasses.

Ok.

When it was finally done and I was walking out to the parking lot with my box, the looks I got from those who kept their jobs brought back many fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes.  I know for a fact that the workload always increased exponentially to fill the many gaps left by all those leaving.  The sense of guilt over why you got to stay when someone equal to you was walking out, was confusing. 

As it turned out, the door didn’t hit me in the butt on the way out and nobody yelled out “Hasta la vista baby!”.  The drive home was actually a bit more upbeat than I expected.  Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of freedom creeping in on me.  No question that the breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose any sleep over – but I was sensing that this could be good.  Maybe even great!

The family and I had decided to head straight to Shoreline Theater for an early showing of Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote.  Included with Moana was a Disney short film (called “Inner Workings”) that set the tone for my day perfectly It followed the internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc..) of Paul, a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work. Paul and dozens of other employees sat at desks and entered data into their computers, moving in monotonous unison while his brain takes notice of the dreary routine of his life, and comes to realize that this cycle will eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man.  I won’t give away the story, but of course, Paul looked to be about 62, and I felt God was sending me a personal message.

I felt like a new man to be out from under my job for the first time in almost 30 years.  It really was refreshing!  This 1-minute video provides a glimpse of that:

What to do when you get laid off at 62…

On a more serious note, I could write about how life changes when you are unemployed.  But in so many ways, nothing really changes.  For everyone around me, life continues on just as it did when I was working.  The world keeps turning and of course, the bills keep coming in…

Yikes!

I’d be lying to say there weren’t some challenging adjustments.   One of those was figuring out where to go in the morning.  After all those years of “going to work”, I suddenly felt very lost.  With both kids and my wife at home, I knew I had to get out of the house, but where to go…?

Another big one has been planning my days of the workweek so that my calendar is not completely vacant.  I quickly found out having a day wide open was not necessarily a good thing.  In truth, I have had days go by where I could not even remember what I did at the end of the day!?  It did not really matter what those commitments on my calendar were (tennis works great!), but I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind as I search for my next step.

Now I leave home to hangout at public libraries, coffee shops, city parks, and restaurants; anywhere with free, high-performance Wi-Fi.  Each day is a bit of an adventure.  My favorite coffee spot is Philz in downtown Sunnyvale.  I am actually on a first-name basis there with the manager Travis, who has given me a Philz mug, and calls out my order before I get to the front of the line.  He has no idea how much that means to me right now!

Of course, I do lots of 1:1 networking meetings over coffee and tea and lunch.  I’ve even joined some networking groups who meet regularly to exchange ideas on how to attack this unemployment thing.  The good news is that my Linked-In connections are now at an all-time high.  The bad news is that I am becoming a Peets/Starbucks/Philz Junkie.

I’ve also learned to carry a lunch box with me in the car for wherever I end up that day.  You can burn up a lot of dough eating outside the corporate subsidized cafeterias of Silicon Valley.  And even if your networking group charges $5 and says, “lunch provided”, I’ve discovered that unlike the many lavish lunch meetings I had at Oracle, it will likely not be enough food to feed a bird! Often I end up eating my lunch in city parks with the homeless folks.  It has truly been humbling to see that side of life going on outside the walls of corporate America.

And, there are some days where I just plain get depressed.

It really has taught me a lot about the importance I place on my job in determining my value to society.  But like all things, those cycles come and go.

There have been adjustments, also many upsides too.

I have had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation and contemplation in this new phase of life.  I believe God has great plans for my focus on work/life balance and I am excited to experience it.  This time away from the daily routine of work is surely a blessing from God as part of that plan.  It is a direct answer to prayer.

Next post: Hit over the head by a 2×4

** Resources **

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan


As mentioned above, William Finnegan truly inspired me with this story of his life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author. It is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling around the world from the 1960’s up to present day.  But what makes this book so remarkable is that it is so very well written.  Pick up any surfing magazine and you will quickly agree that [in general] surfer’s are terrible writers.  But Finnegan debunks that myth with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre, which I thought he nailed) in a way that makes it interesting to even a non-surfing audience (hence, the Pulitzer Prize!)