Just a few years ago, I checked into the W Hotel on Lexington & 54th Street at the very beginning of a hectic week in Manhattan.
- I was managing through a major reorganization at my company.
- Positions were being eliminated and I was asked to consult on projects that I couldn’t talk about.
- My own HR organization was mess, and I knew two things about my life: my husband was about to lose his job and other people who worked hard and loved their jobs would lose their roles, too.
I was stressed, and I took my role very seriously — almost too seriously. I sought the advice of a senior leader in my HR organization who said, “Things are tough. Your life is about to change. The next time you’re in NYC, do something nice for yourself. Stay at a different hotel. Enjoy a spa treatment. Enjoy your status within the team. You’re doing a great job. You’ve earned everything you have, Laurie.”
I wasn’t sure I trusted that message, but I booked a room at The W and tried to trust that I wasn’t a total fuck-up. The hotel was ultra-luxe with a Bliss Spa attached to the facility, and the ambiance was moody and very faux NYC. The lights were dim, the women were skinny, and everyone wore black.
I had a great hotel room, and I planned to enjoy a dinner with colleagues at The Four Seasons Restaurant. Have you been there? The restaurant is a landmark in NYC and was designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. It’s a place known for the décor, the service, and the wonderful menu. If you’ve never been there, know this: you can make a reservation in the pool room, order dessert, and simply ask the Maître d’ to tell you about the metal curtains on the windows. Holy crap, it was an amazing place in it’s heyday. The staff loves to tell stories.
So to recap: I was staying at the W Hotel, planning on dinner at an amazing restaurant, and I booked an appointment to have my hair blown out at the Bliss Spa. I felt like a champ. Queen of HR. On top of my game.
Unfortunately, I was Icarus. I flew too close to the sun.
Before dinner, my cell phone rang. It was my brother, and he was calling with bad news. My father, who had a decent career with one company for over 28 years, was homeless. The homeless part wasn’t a surprise because that’s how my life rolls. One dysfunctional cell phone call after another. The tone in my brother’s voice caught me off guard, though. Although my dad was retired, he left his organization too soon under the allure of an early retirement package. He was never able to attain full employment in any capacity, and he drained his savings accounts and his 401k. Debt collectors hounded him, his life was a mess, and (for reasons that I don’t fully understand) he was waiting to the last possible minute to ask for help.
Ugh. So frustrating and heart-breaking. That’s addiction & pride for you, though. In our case, we were dealing with a tragic combination of mental illness, alcoholism, and hubris.
My brother, who is younger, was upset with the state of affairs. There were no easy or comprehensive solutions, either, because neither one of us wanted to enable a situation and make it worse. Here’s what I did: I booked a hotel room for my father over the internet, paid for room & board for several weeks, and reassured my brother that we were not horrible children because we couldn’t do more for a father that couldn’t do anything for himself. I may have said a small secular prayer for my sanity, and I definitely put on a brave face and went to dinner.
So I write about work because I think about my father, and many people in my life just like him, who have failed at work and in life. They are human beings who deserve respect and kindness, but they have behaved in ways that have negatively impacted others. I look at the landscape of my family and the out-of-work-broken-down-human-being isn’t an anomaly, either. I see people who cannot get along with others. Colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates who are always viewed as enemies. There is always conflict. Many people in my life will openly state that they are too good for work and they resent the fact that they are asked to show up in the first place and contribute to something that isn’t tied directly to their self-interests.
I really write about work, and I offer career advice, because I’m trying to harmonize my existence as a Human Resources professional, an entrepreneur, and a woman with a past. I want to be a writer, and I struggle with my history as a woman, a daughter, and family member of people who don’t know how to work.
And honestly, I write about work because I’m not sure I know how to work, either.
That’s my story. That’s why I am here every day.