Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are You "Mad as Hell"?

Sara Clemence's article "The Just-Laid-Off Checklist" on Recessionwire.com reminded me of one of the best pieces of advice I received the morning of my layoff: "go see a movie." The words came from my job outplacement agent, and for some reason, they are the only ones I remember from that morning (aside from the infamous "...your job has been eliminated").

It just so happened that a layoff classic arrived off my Netflix queue that afternoon: Network. In case you haven't seen it, the movie starts when network news anchor Howard Beale looses his job. With two weeks left as anchor, he announces on live television that he will commit suicide by shooting himself on air. As you can imagine, the plot only gets better. The pinnacle moment being his instruction to all viewers to open their windows and scream out loud "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Watching Beale's speech again, I saw how strikingly relevant it is today. For starters, the movie takes place during a similar period of economic crisis in America (1976). If it was delivered on air tonight it would still make sense (just substitute "recession" for "depression" and "Iraq" for "Russia").

He not only describes a state of economic depression but individual depression -- the solitude of workers arriving home at night to eat dinner alone in front of the TV. His rally to viewers to stop the cycle and declare their worth, to admit to themselves and the world, "I'm a human being God damn it. My life has value!" is as powerful now as it ever was.

Beale says that nothing's going to change unless people get honest, and that starts with getting "mad as hell." And I think what he's getting at here is "feeling" something, feeling anything passionately again. That's what the experience of job loss is all about. A fresh start. A new horizon. And in particular, the day after you're through being mad, when you start building your life back up again, with a greater sense of who you are and a stronger foundation.

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