Staring Failure in the Face by Thomas
Success always comes from the strangest
places. On the day I lost my full-time job this summer, I quietly walked out
with a plan already established. As a competitive speaker, I wrote this short
narrative on the day it happened.
“Have you ever imagined your own funeral? Who will do your eulogy? Who
will be your pallbearers? Will anyone show up or even care? I attended my own
funeral. Let me explain. But before I do, I need to disclose that no one died
or was injured in the making of this narrative.
On a typical day when I was happily playing solitaire and checking Facebook
(insert sarcasm here) at work, I got the call. June 6th—the anniversary of
D-Day. Not World War II; I’m talking about Displacement Day—the day my
twenty-three-year job was eliminated. Just like that, it was over. Hard work,
tenure, and skills weren’t part of the cost-cutting decision.
On my ride to work on that fateful day, a news report announced that
175,000 jobs had been added in the US, making the unemployment rate 7.6 percent.
On my ride home I was on the other side—one of 11.6 million unemployed. To
grasp the magnitude, take the entire population of New York City, and then add
another 4 million people. The call was like a gunshot to the head. My work
identity was gone immediately. I was being put to rest and people were
preparing for my funeral. Condolences rolled in, hugs were bestowed, tears
What will people say when you’re gone? An old manager once asked me if I
ran through a wall, would people follow? At the time, I didn’t know the
answer. I needed to know the answer. That was a lifeline—a time for action.
Fast-forward six years later to D-Day. I don’t recall a more calming day. It
was a day of self-reflection…a chance to hover over my dead body and ask if my
life and career were a success. The notes flooded in. “Tom, you’ve touched
me more than you’ll ever know, personally and professionally.” “Tom, we
love you… This IS your next speech.” I ran through a wall, and people
How was I going to tell my three daughters that Dad was sent to the farm,
just like my childhood dog? A spending freeze on shoes, clothes, and pizza may
be worse than death for teenagers. My middle child’s head tilted down at a
mourner’s angle and a small tear rolled down her cheek as if it was about to
drop onto my coffin. My youngest daughter held me in a bear hug as if it was
the last time ever, while my social-media-conscious sixteen-year-old daughter
told me that all responses to relocation questions on Facebook were to be
“no”—as if I had a choice. The denial, the anger, then acceptance—the
exhaustive feeling of having my family watch my demise. However, my support
system refused to let my casket be nailed down as they put in a crowbar made of
emails, phone calls, and leads. I was being resuscitated.
How many of you have prepared a will? A will reduces stress and chaos. The
run through the wall question six years earlier was my wake up call, but I
didn’t realize then how it would prevent my professional passing. My eyes
were opened wide as I started to build an extraordinary career-saving and
life-changing network. In Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone he notes,
“Build it before you need it.” Real relationships built over the years
provided me meaning, and are the reason for my success now. I wasn’t six feet
under. I was six degrees from Kevin Bacon, or at least six degrees from my big
break. I was alive. My support system was my CPR.
My job loss became a celebration of life, not my funeral. It reminded me
how deep my love and my appreciation really are for my family, friends, and
network. I was not defined by my job. I defined my own life and was going to
do my funeral my way. No, I’m not going to belt out Sinatra. I lost work but
found me. I used my displacement as reaffirmation that when I leave this earth,
I’m leaving with no regrets. Think about your own funeral—when your spirit
is hovering over the mourners, will you leave them something to mourn and
So, let’s go back to the question: Have you ever imagined your own
funeral? Who will do your eulogy, who will be your pallbearers, who will care?
My eulogy was shouted out by the many key people in my network who blew my
trumpet for me and gave humbling accounts of the person I had been, and who I
had become. My pallbearers carried me when I couldn’t go any further. The
overwhelming flood of calls and messages showed who cared. I have to admit that
I started writing this speech immediately after I got the call, and I wrote the
end too. We all know we’re going to die—I don’t mean that “end.” I
mean the speech ending, where I get a job. I wrote it before I had a job
secured. It wasn’t overconfidence, just a belief that I was surrounded by an
ironclad network that refused to stop giving me the oxygen I needed to survive.
Are you ready to see your own funeral? I lived to see mine, and it was
Success strategies start with a plan and the understanding that individual
success is not likely without a support system. How many of you would think
that your funeral would be synched with the word success, let alone the word
beautiful? It can be when you start building your own network now.
Bio: Thomas B. Dowd III is a 24 year veteran of the corporate world. He is an
award-winning speaker with Toastmasters International, and a member of the
National Speakers Association. Tom’s first two books, The Transformation of a
Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received accolades
at several book festivals in the business category. His latest book
Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job will be published by
Motivational Press shortly. Reach him at www.transformationtom.com.