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!)

The Circle of Life

“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
Coach John Wooden

Circle_of_life_pic
(click image for “Circle of Life” quiz)

Prologue (4.2)

To me that it’s the simple things in life that can make the biggest difference.

This story starts with a bit of an epiphany I had one night while in graduate school at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles.

As I was launching my career in high technology with ROLM, it became apparent that my Sports Management degree was only going to take me so far. After successfully navigating the transition from tennis club into telecommunications, I enrolled into a Masters degree program at Golden Gate University to both learn about the industry and open opportunities for advancement in my career. Over the course of what seemed at the time like an eternity (eight or so years of night school), I completed a Masters Degree in Telecommunications Management.

golden_gate_logo

One of those evenings in class as I was sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I discovered something that was to stick with me for the remainder of my career in high-tech.

It was the first day of a Telecommunications 101 class, and the instructor walked into the room to begin. He proceeded to pass out something completely unrelated to the class syllabus. He called it the Circle of Life.

Wait, what!?…
This caught my attention.

I sat back trying to understand why he was talking about “life” beyond telecommunications. Yet as he spoke, I realized that he was quite serious about this and in fact it made good sense.

“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.

What a novel thought. So simple, yet so true!
Best of all, he backed up his claim with a quiz he proceeded to pass out to test us on just how well we were doing in the area of life balance right now. We had immediate feedback on the life we were living. For me, it stuck.

Then he moved on to the class syllabus for Telecommunications 101 and I went back to my hot chocolate.

I’d like to tell you that my life changed that very moment as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz and began thinking about the areas where I wanted to focus to achieve better balance in my life. But in truth, that handout went into my class binder and did not come back out for many years later.
In fact, a marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

When it finally did surface, I was working for Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park in 1999, riding the high-tech Silicon Valley bubble. I leveraged my telecommunications skills to join Sun’s new and emerging “Netra” division, and they were selling servers like In-n-Out sells hamburgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough.

sun_logo2

As the story went, Scott McNealy provided a $1 billion credit line to a senior executive at Sun by the name of Neil Knox to bring a family of telecommunications grade servers (Netra product line) to market for Sun — FAST. These early days working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park were high-flying and very fun times. Sun had been labeled “the dot in dot-com”. They had invented Java. Scott had even coined the term, The network is the computer, and that was BEFORE we had the internet. It just didn’t get any better than this as far as I was concerned from a professional standpoint.

ironman_logo

Congratulations!
During this very hectic time at work, I received the highly coveted acceptance letter from Ironman Hawaii announcing my lottery number had come up, and I was accepted to compete in the 1999 Ironman Hawaii Triathlon.
Whoa…!  How I would possibly find time to do the necessary training without losing my job or my family!?

Fast-forward four months down this path and things seemed to be working out Ok. Or, so I thought…
Then my wife said something to me, which really captured my attention.
We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she suddenly blurted out,

“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues…!”

Gulp.

Now mind you, I am pretty good about that balancing act between work, family and play. But that one really stuck.

Enter the Circle of Life.

Clearly my life was revolving around my job and my triathlon training, and not much else, other than the necessary sleeping & eating to keep it all going. Family had taken a back seat. Once I pulled out the Circle of Life and mapped it out – it was clear as the light of day to me. And worst of all, I had been in a cloud of denial about seeing it.
Thank God my wife brought me to my senses.

This is a discussion much larger than just triathlon training, but it helps make the point to use this example. Just like the three events of a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I needed to equally balance the time and energy I was spending in each area of my life (Work, Family, Self) in order to come out with the best overall performance.  But I also needed time to rest and have some inner quiet time (in the words of Dr. Richard Swenson, margin), to feed my soul and attain an optimum performance in the triathlon.

And most importantly, this was about not sacrificing my family.  I truly believe that the family is the key to our future.  There is a saying that:
“If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.”

Whether it was work, sport, or maybe something else, keeping my family a priority is something that would be important to me for the rest of my life, as well as something I would model for my children.
I had to make some changes – right away.

Here is a 5 page document called the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file).
It is best if printed so you can fill it in and keep it with you.

Give it a try!
It has helped me several times get order back into my life. As my instructor stated in that Telecommunications 101 class many years ago,
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.

He was right. I have experienced both sides, and I can tell you that a balanced life not only feels good, but it just plain works!

** Resources **
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Amazingly, Richard Bolles has been updating this book since 1975, when it was first written.  In spite of the dramatic changes in the job market today – driven largely by the emergence of the Internet and social media tools like Linked-In, his principals pierce time and are life changing if properly applied. Most importantly, he does something that many of these job seeking books miss.  Richard makes a strong case for taking a thorough inventory of who you are, before embarking on your job search.  In other words, what color is your parachute.

What_Color_Parachute