This column is about losing your job.
Now, before you think “that’s not going to happen to me,” or if, as my wife said, “no 30-year-old is going to think this column pertains to them,” think again. The subject here isn’t why you lost your job or how not to; it’s what to do when it happens.
Trust me, it happens. It happened to me.
And it happened to a superintendent I know who called a few weeks ago to tell me he had just been fired. His termination was a total surprise: Two weeks earlier, he’d received a stellar performance review and the club was “so happy to have him on the staff.”
What happened? Doesn’t matter. What does matter is being ready when/if/should this happen to you. Will you be ready for your next chapter, whether it’s a move up, laterally, down, or into a redirection of your career? I’m not suggesting you dwell on this, but somewhere in the back of your head should be a little voice that reminds you to, as the Boy Scouts say, “be prepared.”
I don’t care how old you are now, 30 to 65. Think about it. The way our industry is going, you need to be alert to the possibility of being out of a job at any minute. In particular, I’m seeing an unfortunate trend in over-50 dismissals. Maybe I’m noticing it more because I’m getting more phone calls like the one above. Or maybe because I’m in a position to help people like you find their next jobs.
So, whether you think everything at work is great and everybody loves you, or you have that sneaky feeling that something isn’t quite right, it’s time to take stock.
Start by understanding your financial situation. Take a good look at the current status of investments, savings, health care, insurance and, if applicable, savings programs for your children’s education.
How well do you understand the terms of your current employment? Does your contract include a severance package and/or a buyout clause? Do you even have a contract? Has it been checked lately by a lawyer? If you think your job is truly secure, consider asking your club for a new contract better aligned to your current financial needs.
OK, bang! You lose your job. What do you do?
Look in the mirror and ask yourself why and what are you going to do about it. Don’t beat yourself up, but think back and look for clues you may have missed. If you can, ask your now-former employer for a detailed explanation if only to have a road map to future improvement. (While I’m not advising you threaten legal action if you think your firing was unwarranted, this “explanation” is worth showing to a lawyer who can compare it to the terms of your contract. It’s just something to consider.)
This is important: If you did something wrong, own up to it, at least in your own head. Blaming others for your actions will not help you move forward.
Something else is important to understand: There is no such thing as “wrongful termination.” If there is a reason — any reason — your position can be terminated. A good attorney can make sure you get what you’ve earned and are entitled to, under either state or federal employment regulations or your employment contract.
Expect a flood of emotional reactions. It could take days, if not more, before the shock wears off. But don’t wait too long to get thinking about a few key elements.
Are you prepared to pay for your own health care? COBRA is your legal right and available at your own expense for 18 months following your termination. Verify the details with human resources or an insurance professional. And expect it to cost a lot more than you’re paying for health insurance now.
An important aside: Right now, while you are still employed and covered by health insurance, get a full physical. Superintendents are under a great deal of stress, often more than they realize, and I’m getting tired of hearing about colleagues suffering heart attacks, strokes and other stress-related ailments. Get on top of your health. Now.
Cut miscellaneous household spending. The bills still have to be paid so figure out how you’re going to do that. Lattes, games, hobbies, satellite TV, dining out, etc. may have to be put on hold until you get your next job.
Should you dip into your savings or retirement fund? That’s a personal, but potentially very expensive, option. Talk to an accountant, financial expert, someone who understands the tax implications. I’m not qualified to give such advice, but I do know that tapping into “rainy day” funds when you’re over 50 is a bad idea because there won’t be enough time to recoup.
If you’re in your 60s, retirement may be an option. However, are you really ready to shut it down? Can you go from go-go to slow-go overnight? Check your social security, too. Depending on your situation, early or semi-retirement could be great. There are lots of less-than-full-time opportunities out there, but you’re going to have to work hard to find them.
You’re going to have to start paying for lots of things that were once perks such as company vehicle, cell phone, gas and computer. Figure those into your new budget.
As important as managing your money is managing your mental health. Don’t be embarrassed by what happened. Job loss is way too common, particularly in our industry. Start networking right away. Be honest with the people you talk to. Explain what happened, and ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for you. Don’t be bashful. Get on the phone right away, ask for help. Even if you’re getting a long-term severance, don’t delay.
Don’t get angry at family and friends. They’re not at fault, they are there to offer help and encouragement.
If you want another job, stay current in the industry. Going to conferences and tournaments not only keeps you up to date, it gives you more ways to network. It might even be worth stepping down a rung on the ladder — taking an assistant’s job, for example — to help financially and remain plugged in.
Finally, consider this an opportunity to change your life for the better. You may uncover new interests or find a job that offers new challenges. Or have the time to de-stress, reconnect with family and friends, improve your health and seriously assess your life as a golf course superintendent.
I know lots of people in many different industries who look back at the misfortune of being fired as the best thing that ever happened to them. There’s no guarantee, I make no promises. But if you’ve been smart and made the right arrangements, and if you’re still willing to work hard while being totally honest with yourself, the loss of a job can be the first step to gaining a great new life.