Your Serve: Fifty and Fired
After being unexpectedly let go from 21 years on the job, a longtime tennis director shares what he learned, and words of encouragement.
By Mark Rearden
Not so long ago I received the shock of my life. I strolled into the main clubhouse of the facility where I had worked for 21 years. I grabbed my mail, spoke to the club secretary and was headed back to the tennis complex to start my day, but the general manager pulled me into his office — then summarily offered me the terms of my dismissal. What??
A couple of weeks later I finally came to terms with the fact that this is what has been going on in corporate America for ages. Mid-level employees are being fired with little or no warning and their severance is … well, a severance. No parting gifts, just 90 days’ salary, clean out your desk and best of luck to you. Wow, what an awakening.
Needless to say, I was distraught, having poured my life into this club and to the service of its members. Initially, I felt management had robbed me not only of my career, but also of my passion. I reasoned that I would never again find this perfect fit, this place where I have the respect of my peers and from those who seek me out simply because of my reputation within the industry.
So, is there something to be learned here? Is there a moral to this story? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
First and foremost, know why you chose this career. I chose tennis because I have a passion for teaching, not just the game, but for all that goes with it. If that is truly my motivation, then that is something that lives inside me, something that neither the general manager nor board of directors can take away. A friend in a similar situation recently told me not to worry because all they could take from me was my job. Obvious, but sage. If you have your arms around why you do what you do, then where you turn next is much easier.
Another lesson to be learned comes from a more practical point of view. What will I do if I haven’t found work when my severance runs out? Financially, you must plan for a worst-case scenario. Most financial planners will tell you that you need about six months of your normal income in savings for these types of emergencies. Another friend who was fired two years earlier had encouraged me to start socking away cash, but I didn’t heed his advice because I thought I was different and that my situation was different. Not that I was above it all, but I just wasn’t going to do anything to get myself fired, and I didn’t.
We all recognize the work climate just doesn’t look the same as it did 30 years ago. Very few people remain with the same organization for a lifetime or like me, even 21 years. As a tennis professional, there is very little likelihood you will remain in the same job more than 10 years, especially given the state of the country club industry. So be ready for the inevitable.
Although I am an Elite Professional in the USPTA and Professional in the PTR, I have come to realize that many job listings are asking for a Master Professional as their preference now. That certification may be all that separates you from your dream job. So, begin documenting all that you do professionally. Years later, it is pretty difficult to remember all that I have done within my industry and even more difficult to get documentation on those things that occurred years ago. You will need all of that if you decide to apply for Master Professional in either organization.
So why take the time to rehash all of this? I think mainly because it is cathartic. Another reason is that if I am a teacher first, then I need to share what I have learned. I came out of this a touch jaded, but I think I am wiser from the experience, and I will certainly pay closer attention to what is going on around me in the future.
I offer this encouragement to each of you fellow pros, especially you younger ones. Love your job; just don’t fall in love with it. Be optimistic about the future, but know that your show can be cancelled if they hire a new producer. Also, take care of business as it pertains to your financial and professional future. Begin today.
Mark Rearden is the Head Tennis Professional at Palmetto Tennis Center in Sumter, S.C. A career tennis professional, he is a certified PTR pro and an Elite Pro with the USPTA. He authors a weekly newspaper column titled “Mark My Words.”
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