Yesterday, I was fake fired from my fake job at the company I don't work for. Don't panic, I run my own company, so it's not like I'm actually fired, but we'll come back to that in a moment.
Several years ago I was speaking with a manager who used to work at Boeing. When I say, used to, I mean it had been 9 years since he worked there. One day he was driving to his current place of employment, and pulls into the parking lot, and realizes, he's at Boeing. His brain had gone back in time and driven him to the employee parking lot of his previous position. That's a work habit.
My father was always an early riser. Years on a farm and then the military ingrained in him the desire to wake up around 5:00 in the morning. I could never understand this, but years after he needed to, he would still rise every morning, out of habit.
I worked in a cubicle for 9 years myself. Different jobs, but a cubicle nonetheless. So when I moved into new office space in April that had a cubicle, I set up my computer and was hit with the strangest emotion. Fear. I was afraid a boss was about to come by and tell me what to do. That was a habit.
I've run my own company for six years. I've had an office for the last three, a retail space in Ladue that was very nice and most important, mine. When I moved to Dallas, I tried the home office, but decided to sub-lease some space, and the first available was a row of cubicles inside an office of a friend of a friend. I figured it would be fine, so I took it. And after a few days, the "boss" feeling went away, and I worked 10-12 hours at a clip.
So imagine my surprise when the guy who rented me the space walked up to my cubicle and asked to speak with me, privately in his office. I walked back to his office, and he told me that I couldn't sublease anymore. The office management was notified of new keycode access, and when they realized it was a sublease, pointed out they weren't allowed to do this. It wasn't a big deal - in fact I had my eye on an executive suite two blocks from my gym I was going to move into in August, but the next 10 minutes were surreal.
People wouldn't meet my eye when I walked by. When I handed in my keys, one asked for the mouse I had borrowed that morning. I exchanged addresses with the guy I had become friendly with, and promised to stay in touch. I took my Red Bull from the fridge, dumped the salad I had saved for later, and erased my data from a whiteboard behind me. I had to box up my stuff, and when I was done, they cut me a check for the unused portion of my rent! Short of having a security guard escort me out, what happened was exactly what would have happened if I was actually fired.
But, there was no emotional aspect to it. It was like I was being fired on the day I hit the lottery. It was comical, not sad. I called my wife and we had a good laugh, and drove to the executive suite to secure a place for the next day at the same price but with more privacy. 30 minutes after leaving, I had a new, better place. I was fake hired and a new fake job.
And yet, lingering in the back of my mind, is the recognition that if I had been employed there, if I had needed the job, my emotional response would have been much different. I haven't ever been fired, but I have fired people, and I've been there when others were fired.
Yes, my story ends well, because I was never in danger. And yet, l can't quite shake the feeling that yesterday, I was let go. Call it an old work habit - a ghost from days past when the threat of losing your job every day was real. Even though today it is my responsibility to hire, manage, and make a payroll, old habits die hard. From Boeing parking lots to early rising to bad coffee in the breakroom - every day at work is creating a habit in who you are.