Vaporized - Part Two

Part two of my 2003 work about discontinuous change...

No Language Describes It

We have no language to describe a vapourization, just like we have no satisfying description of death. We imagine, we might even find the faith to believe in an afterlife, yet we can search the archives and leave only certain that we’ve found no objective first hand account of what happens next. We describe from painful, shared experience the process of coping with the death of others, but find nothing but obscure scripture written in allegory, like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to guide the steps of those passing away. We have descriptions of reinvention and re engineering, but these are continuous changes, where someone can track the differences between the old and the new. We can only characterize the missing spaces, the voids left behind by those who leave us. We cannot track their journeys once they leave.

Reinvention and re engineering repair, like surgery. Vapourizations utterly destroy. Reincarnation might be possible, but like the Hindu fable of the man reincarnated as a flea, no one, usually including the reincarnated, have any connection to anything in their past. Those who remember past lives are haunted more than reassured by them.

The great challenge for anyone interested in learning to cope with vapourization, what happens to their industry, their company, and themselves, is that they can be certain only that they will never craft a plan that will make them or anyone else a master of the experience. Vapourization will render them victim before they ever discover another mastery, and their new mastery will be irrelevant to their old context, and their old skills irrelevant within their new context.

Our models for change hint at these catastrophes, but utterly fail to address them. Yet we have no language to describe it. Consequently, we have only crude methods for coping with it. We can sometimes forestall it, but never permanently and only at some cost. We can ignore it only so long before it has its way with us. We can submit to it, which, because we have no adequate language to describe the experience, feels more like self-destruction than self-preservation. And so it becomes self destruction, and we stiff-arm acceptance until destruction is certain and our reincarnation unaffected.

What Vapourization Isn’t

Not only do we lack a language to describe vapourization, we lack personal experience of it. We mistake being laid off or shifting careers for vapourization, but neither experience adequately represents personal effects of vapourization. Can you prepare for it? Will you survive it? These are troubling questions which have no simple, discrete response. Coping with vapourization will challenge more than your expectations and demand more than your present skill.

Laid Off

You’re running late this morning. The kids were fussy over breakfast. Your son couldn’t find the shirt he absolutely needed to wear today. Traffic didn’t help, either. About fifteen minutes behind your usual arrival time, you pull into the familiar parking garage, finding vacant only the unfamiliar places furthest from the building, adding another five minutes to your tardiness as you gather your briefcase and hustle toward the front door.

Something brings up the hair on the back of your neck, as if your collar had suddenly developed a static charge. Two security guards stand, one on either side of the entrance. As you approach, they make a dog catcher’s eye contact, hinting at something certain and terrifying that you cannot imagine. The taller guard asks to see your identification and you warily pull the string dangling plastic cards from beneath your coat. He checks your name against a list on a clip board and, in a voice that says you don’t have a choice, he asks you to please follow his partner.

His partner won’t look you in the eye. You follow him into the building to the Human Resources department, where he opens the door of a small conference room. Inside, your boss fidgets, standing awkwardly as you enter, offering you a chair with the same sickening solemnity as the tall guard‘s greeting. Your escort stays in the hall as your boss closes the door and turns to face you with his eyes cast downward and to one side.

His “good morning” doesn’t warm either of you as he takes his chair across the small table. He looks up tentatively, then begins.

“The board met yesterday and came to a painful decision.” You don’t hear most of the rest of the explanation. You’re not the only one and the company appreciates your many years of dedicated service. Yesterday was your last day, though your salary will continue for some time and you can choose to extend the benefits. The guard waiting outside the door will escort you to your desk, where you’ll have the time it takes to box up your personal belongings. He’ll accompany you to the garage.

A chill passes almost through you, sticking in your gut as you pass your ID cards across the table and, limply shaking your boss’ hand, accept his best wishes.

No one’s head pops above any cubicle wall as you move down the aisle, guard trailing at a watchful distance. You see several other suddenly empty cubicles, two with a guard hovering as the inhabitants shuffle through desk drawers. Your familiar cubicle feels cold and foreign. You silently fill two boxes with recognition certificates, books, and a decade’s detritus of personal effects. You are too numb to feel anything and your usually sharp perception sees nothing but light and shadow. Mostly shadow.

You won’t remember the balance of the morning. You must have loaded your boxes on a hand truck and followed the guard to the parking garage. Someone might have passed a shy smile or a dismayed nod as you moved out of the department that you helped build to become the best in the industry. You must have driven somewhere. You took temporary refuge in the back of a small coffee house, where you call your spouse on your cell phone and fail to explain anything.

You have not been vapourized. You’ve been fired. After a suitable period, you’ll find another job. Maybe you’ll have to accept a position beneath your former grade or move to a different location, and while these changes will certainly challenge you, they will never threaten to destroy you. You will survive.

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