Rolling with the transitions

My older son graduated high school on Saturday. It’s a day for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. I was glad to celebrate this passage with him, though he said he felt much as I did when I graduated high school: “Dad, I’m a good student; was there ever any doubt this day would come?”

But I’ll admit it, the day tore open some hard feelings for me — regrets that thanks to the divorce and living apart, I didn’t get to spend every day with him as he grew up. And I see even less of him now as he has taken a job and prepares to go to Purdue in the fall. I really miss him.

When we’ve managed to get together lately, we’ve had some really good talks. He loves video games as much as I love old cameras and film photography. He deeply understands game design and has a remarkable feel for story arc and how it is best used in games. He also has good insight into the business of video games, which is enough like the business of software (what I do for a living) that we can talk meaningfully about the ins and outs of what makes both a video game and other software products successful, and why sometimes a seemingly sure thing fails.

Doing homework, as usual
In college, doing homework, as usual

But I also got to say some things to him about heading into this next phase of his life. I remember going off to college at 17 and feeling not just that I was expected to keep moving forward, away from my parents and into my adulthood, but that the door had closed behind me. I’m sure my parents didn’t mean for me to feel that way, and would have been supportive had I reached out. But I felt alienated from all I had known just the same.

And then I had some typical difficulties of adjusting to college. Because I chose a tough school, I was buried in homework and worked harder than I ever have since. I struggled with some of my classes and briefly wound up on academic probation. I kept getting sick, as the same bugs got passed around the dorm over and over again. I became deeply depressed, and I felt like I had to bear it all alone.

I was unusually fortunate then to know my calling: making software. I pursued it, I pushed through the difficulties, and for the last 26 years have spent my working days doing it. But my son is more typical. He has a general direction in mind, but the picture of his future is cloudy.

But even if he knew exactly where he was headed, I don’t want him to feel as alone as I did. I told him that no matter what, I’m on his team. If things get tough, he should call; I’ll listen to him dump and vent. If he needs to come home to decompress for the weekend, I’ll go get him. If he wants to change majors, he should just do it. If he decides Purdue isn’t for him, then for heaven’s sake don’t stay. Come home and we’ll figure out a next step.

01-001 proc sm
An apple on my former desk in my former office

It’s ironic, then, that I’m not making software at the moment. I was laid off from my job last Monday. My boss came to my office, ashen-faced, first thing to break the bad news.

I joined the company when it was small to build a testing team from scratch. (Programmers write the code, and testers make sure it works.) They make a very useful product, one that has a real chance at changing an entire industry for the better. But the company has always struggled to sell enough of it.

And so I wasn’t terribly surprised when my boss said that the company needed to cut expenses to match revenue, and that it meant my job and the jobs of several of my colleagues.

Truth? I was flooded with relief. I had been unhappy for some time. There were things I had hoped to do there that I thought would deeply benefit the company but in which I couldn’t generate any real interest. It was frustrating and disappointing to see my ideas repeatedly rebuffed. And I just didn’t mesh with my peers in management. The company culture loves bold alpha males, and so the middle-management team tends to be lone wolves who operate independently. While I’m all about moving initiatives forward powerfully, I’m more of a quiet collaborator. I kept feeling steamrolled and countermanded by my high-independence, high-action, high-emotion peers. It was exhausting.

I’m not wealthy — the modest payout the company gave me will run out sometime this summer, and then I’ll have to start paying the bills with the money I plan to send to Purdue. I have plenty of anxiety over that. But fortunately, I’m well connected in my industry in my town, and I’m working my network hard. Right now, it’s very hard to fill open positions in software development here, as pretty much everyone who wants to work in the field has a job. The last time I hired someone, resumes trickled in and it took four months to find a good candidate. So I’m optimistic that I’ll be back to work before the money runs out. Wish me luck.

But there is a bright side: when my son visits this summer, at least I’ll have time to spend with him.


22 responses to “Rolling with the transitions”

  1. Gerald Avatar

    I’m really sorry to hear that Jim, and although you say in some ways you’re relieved, it’s always better if you can leave at a time of your own choosing. But it’s good to see you’re being positive and taking it as an opportunity to spend more time with your boy. And you can also use it as an opportunity to take more photos :)

    Good luck with the job hunting and wishing you all the best.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Absolutely Gerald — I’m unhappy that I’m now on deadline to replace that job, as the money I have on hand won’t last forever. But it is what it is, and I remain glad to be moving toward my next gig.

  2. Jason Avatar

    Jim I am quite happy about your son’s new chapter in life and dismayed about yours. You are able to see a positive in all of it, which is more than many people would be capable of doing. Best of luck in your job search.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Jason, what frees me to be so positive is that it’s hard to fill jobs in IT/software dev. here right now, and I’m well connected in my industry. If these things weren’t true, I am 100% sure I’d have a different outlook.

  3. jpcavanaugh Avatar

    I am now a grizzled old veteran, having sent 3 kids off to school. What surprised me a little was how much contact we continued to have. With Facebook and text messages, we could share things of mutual interest, so their leaving wasn’t cold turkey like it was when we went off to school. But it is still nice to get that occasional phone call.

    You make me realize what a blessing it was to have that day to day contact with them in high school. At least most of the time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In my day, sonny, there were no cell phones or Facebook. The school I attended didn’t even have phones in dorm rooms. So yeah, it was much a different time.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Having been through my share of transitions, I am happy to report that, mostly, the reward once through is worth the journey.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s like riding a roller coaster. While you’re going up and down and around you feel your stomach in your throat. But you know the ride will end and you will get off safely.

  5. davidvanilla Avatar

    We do most sincerely wish you luck, and same for the Boy as well.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks David! I trust all will end up well for both of us.

  6. hmunro Avatar

    I’m so happy for your son, Jim — but so sorry to read your tough news. It’s wonderful to hear you sounding pretty positive about it and embracing the silver linings, though. And I’m sure you’re right that, between your experience and your connections, you’ll be back at work soon. Wishing you all the best …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Heather. Really, except for the fact that the money will run out in August, this is a good thing all around.

  7. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    Boy we have both had an interesting couple of months, really sorry to hear about your job but you are a skilled individual and you will soon be be back to work for sure. I go back next week after three months off with the health issues even with insurance the bills are massive go figure.

    Congrats on the recent graduate Purdue is a great school my son is freshman in high school and he says that is where he wants be when he graduates. Maybe they will run into each other in a few years !!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Bernie. I’m sure I’ll end up all right. You would not believe how many of my colleagues have swung into action to help me find my next job. And the sooner the better I find it – Purdue isn’t cheap!!

  8. dmzhodges Avatar

    Hey Jim. So sorry for your job loss, but glad that you will get to do something new. God will provide in His perfect time. Keep spirits up. Congrats to your son; I hope he enjoys his college years. They can be very happy and fun years. Take care.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much! Here’s hoping His perfect time is fast so I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the mortgage. :-)

  9. Joshua Fast Avatar

    It sounds like there is one heck of a silver lining here. Your son sounds extremely intelligent and worlds above his peers. He’s going to a great school and will remember many years from now his fathers unconditional support. As far as the layoff…you will have time to enjoy the best time of year in Indiana, take some pictures and be there for your son in a transitional period. I remember when I was laid off in 2009. I got to experience so many things my job wouldnt have normally allowed. Keep your head up, keep writing and enjoy every minute of it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much for your encouragement. One thing I am looking forward to is going out with a camera on some sunny days. I do need to spend the bulk of my time looking for my next gig, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this summer!

  10. Steve Miller Avatar
    Steve Miller

    Oh, gosh! The only thing that’s worse than the current job is finding the next one. Best wishes for your search.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m enjoying making contacts in my industry, despite my introversion and a general desire to just stay home! But here’s hoping I find the next gig quickly.

  11. George Denzinger Avatar

    I saw this the other day, but was en route to a friend’s beloved father’s funeral. Nothing like driving 700+ miles in two days. So sorry to hear about the job, but I hope that things will turn out well for you. Funny you mention your experience going off to school, mine was similar. Not that I went far away to school, (and I was even allowed to take my car!), but I had this feeling I had to make it on my own. I would have done fine if I hadn’t lost my job (the economy was in recession in 1981-82) and ended moving back home anyway. It was quite disheartening, but I learned from that experience that not all setbacks are bad or permanent.

    Good luck to your son, I think you’re being available to him will be a source of comfort when he needs it. It’s a trial that everyone has to go through, like the first job, enlisting in the military or the first year of college. A lot of growing up happens in those situations. I’m guessing that you will be amazed at the person you have raised.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks George for the encouragement. My son has experienced some setbacks and challenges in his life so he’s not a rookie. I look forward to seeing the man he’s ready to be.

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s loss. It’s so good you were able to be of support.

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