20 Years Ago Today

It was 20 years ago today that I got downsized from my corporate marketing job, and began the rest of my life. Many of us have gone through this type of journey. And, many of us are facing challenges in our lives right now.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5, -0,.3 step, 1/250, ISO-320, subject distance 855 mm

I suppose anniversaries of this type tend to evoke memories from the past. In my case I have some memories of advertising campaigns that i directed. Trade show displays and related training. Sales and customer service training sessions. Data analysis, and other such things.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-800, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

My most cogent memory is how utterly relieved I was that the act of downsizing me had finally happened.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/500, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm

Like some other folks I had seen the warning signs several years earlier. So, it wasn’t a matter of if… but when. There was little use in worrying about it. My time was better spent preparing for it.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 48 mm, efov 129.6 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-3200, extension tube used

I was fortunate in that my exit package had been negotiated before I started with the company, but I had no assurances that it would be honoured. The executive with whom I had done my negotiations was long gone.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO-200, -0.7 steps, subject distance 1.1 metres

It was prudent for my wife and I to review our finances and build up our emergency funds as best we could. My formal education was a bit of a soft spot so I took steps to bolster it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.3, 1/60, ISO-200, subject distance 1.1 metres

I got a couple of days of advanced warning when the downsizing deed was to be done. That gave me a chance to prepare a comprehensive ‘hand over’ memo. This detailed the state of all of the projects that I was currently directing, and all of the actions that needed to be done to bring them to successful conclusions.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-4000, 10 mm and 16 mm Kenko extension tubes used

As I anticipated, the company was not aware of my previously negotiated exit package. After making them aware, about a month and a half of back-and-forth exchanges occurred. These resulted in a less than optimal result, but sufficient to avoid the hassles of going to court. Life often has trade-offs and that was one for me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 295 mm

The economy in Canada was in a recession when I was downsized. So, I didn’t bother to apply for any corporate jobs. I didn’t need the negative energy of rejections. I had never considered myself to be an entrepreneur, but accepted the fact that this strange life was my only path forward… so I embraced it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-200, handheld focus stacking used, subject distance 275 mm, out-of-camera jpeg

Negative thoughts about ‘fairness’, and the loyalty and effort that I had given to the company, were pitfalls to avoid. Those feelings didn’t help me move forward.,. or provide for my wife and children.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 75 mm, efov 150 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-4000, 10 mm and 16 mm Kenko extension tubes used

A mentor had explained to me many years earlier that Loyalty Avenue is a one-way corporate street. It doesn’t matter how well a person performs, when their skill set is no longer needed… employment ends. It just is what it is.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, subject distance 245 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

Did I have some of those negative feelings? Absolutely. I just couldn’t let them get in the way of me focusing on the future. What was.. simply was in the past and could not be recreated.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO-3200, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 210 mm

I don’t know how other people have dealt with this kind of event in their lives. For me, it came down to doing a dispassionate analysis of my marketable skills. Then, identifying how I could leverage those into some kind of income stream. I needed to identify how I could help companies grow their business. Then create and provide services that would help my clients grow or be more profitable. That was the only reason why they’d pay me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm Kenko extension tube, f/8, 1/500, ISO-2500, subject distance 225 mm

I started doing marketing, strategy and sales development consulting. Not too long after I became a certified business coach and added some additional services like employee surveys, normative assessments, team building exercises, and executive coaching. I still do some of that work today.

Olympus TG-5 @ 11 mm, efov 61.1 mm, f/3.6, 1/100, ISO-200, microscopic mode

Each of us has a ‘best before’ date. After that date our industry experience becomes dated, less relevant… and less marketable. Reinvention is needed. Focusing on growing in new areas is at the root of our individual survival and future relevance.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/.2.8, efov 120 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-6400, subject distance 265 mm

Early in the 2010 decade I began to focus on my interest in photography and video, combining that in later years with writing. Safety videos became a speciality and a point of differentiation. I have no doubt in my mind that within a few years from now that speciality/differentiation will also wear thin. More personal reinvention is required. The journey continues.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 32 mm, efov 86.4 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-800, extension tube used

In his book, The Road Less Travelled, Scott Peck talks about life being hard. And, once we truly understand and appreciate that it is hard… that acceptance makes life easy. It makes life easy because we no longer enter each day with fanciful ideas of entitlement, or that the world somehow owes us something.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 IS @ 100 mm, efov 200 mm, f/5.6, -0.7 step, 1/800, ISO-320

It is each of us who owes the world something. We owe it the best that we can be. We owe it our optimism that we can make a difference. We owe it our courage that we can overcome obstacles that appear to block our path. We owe it our generosity to give with no thought of return. We owe it our confidence that when knocked down, we will get up again and keep moving forward.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, subject distance 950 mm

None of us can control events that happen in our lives. The only thing that we can control is how we choose to react to them. We can immobilize ourselves by focusing on what we perceive we are losing through change. Or, we can choose to look for the opportunities that are sometimes difficult to see when change happens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/2.8 IS PRO, @ 100 mm, efov 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-1600, Hand-held Hi Res Mode

All each of us have, are our moments of ‘now’ every day. Tomorrow is nothing more than a promissory note. A note that will one day come due. From a material standpoint we will each leave behind the same as J. Paul Getty… all of it. A more important consideration is how we touched the lives of others.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm Kenko extension tube, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-6400, Hand-held Hi Res Mode, subject distance 190 mm

Let us all have the courage to engage with life. Not keep ourselves and our talents hidden. Like the flower images in this article, let’s show the world our colours… our potential! 20 years ago today I lost my corporate marketing job. It ended up being one of the best days of my life, as it helped lead me to where I am today.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process which now includes DxO PhotoLab 4 and Topaz Denoise AI. The degree of cropping is indicated for each image.

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22 thoughts on “20 Years Ago Today”

  1. Congratulations on sharing this thoughts and experiences. It definitely struck a chord with me having had a similar experience 20 years ago. My ‘comeback’ from being a CEO included certifying and working as a sailing instructor, returning to college to update computer science skills and working in software development again for the last ten years of my working life after a 35 year break. Having a partner support my efforts during this period was an immeasurable help. Looking back now from retirement, I’d encourage anyone facing a similar challenge to keep options open and horizons broad.

  2. Your words carry a lot of positivity and hope in these difficult times. Though not yet personally affected in the current crisis, the key is definitely to embrace change if it happens and go with the flow. It will bring with it a certain clarity, take stock of our marketable strengths and everything that’s not important will fall away by the wayside. Regards.

  3. Tom,

    Aside from being a gifted photographer, you’re also blessed with the gift of positivity. I agree with you, pessimism wouldn’t help so why dwell on it. As they say in positive thinking circles, where attention goes, energy flows.

    The new normal is definitely unknown terrain for many. I myself have been bounced from jobs just like that so I resonated deeply with what your mentor said about loyalty and its relative ‘un-importance’ in today’s workplace.

    Again under the new normal, working remote can both be a joy and a pain. A joy because one can find work from faraway, even overseas. A pain because it’s easier for employers to cheat (I’ve won and lost employments since the lockdown here twice because either my employer wouldn’t pay me fairly or because of unfair practices such as sanctioning open theft of intellectual image property). Zoom/virtual meetings and virtual hangouts can’t replace the actual thing but hey, this is the new normal so it’s a case of adapt or shrivel.

    Unlike the job landscape decades ago, there’s little to no job security. One has to be a chameleon, willing and able to shape-shift and retrain if one is to survive.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for sharing some of your experiences during this period of a ‘new normal’. Whether in this current period of history, the past, or in the future… our world will have people in it who will cheat and steal. It is the path that some choose. Over the years thousands of my images have been stolen. I can be fearful of more theft and allow it to dissuade me from sharing my work with others. Or, I can protect myself as best I can, and choose to continue on my path knowing that most people are good and honest.

      From my perspective positivity is not a gift. It too, is a choice. Like countless other people I have walked through some of the dark hallways of human experience. Sometimes only guided by the faintest glimmer of purpose. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel describes his horrific experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. During his incarceration he observed how some of his fellow inmates succumbed to the environment and behaved in the most base and animalistic ways, while others rose above it. He discovered that the difference between the two outcomes was that the second group of people had identified meaning in their lives. When we have no meaning we can fall prey to the manipulations of others, and to the most base emotions.

      Job security has long been an illusion perpetuated by self-serving interests. The truth of employment has been more clearly revealed in the past number of decades, and as your comment confirms the necessity of being a chameleon.


  4. I and many others can relate to your road travelled. I too was downsized 6 months ago and at my age (65) am not a good hire candidate, especially with over 2 million unemployed added to the job seekers, so will now plan a formal retirement. Until then I continue to look, apply and spend time with my Nikon 1 system taking pix. Thanks for your sharing of photographic and personal experience.

  5. Nice switch from the normal topic — not that I don’t like your photography writings!

    One caution: this is a much more uncertain world than being laid off from a job might indicate. Humanity’s weight on the world is quickly becoming the next “lay off” event, on a much more personal level and on a grander scale.

    CoViD-19 has shown us many of the cracks in our industrial civilization. Long-term care, prisons, our industrial food system, the recreation “industry,” and many more things are “breaking” under the stress of this pandemic.

    For such reasons, I’d caution any who feel secure in retirement. Private retirement plans can go away with the flick of a corporate take-over or a corporate bankruptcy. Even public retirement is in peril — look to the veiled threats against Social Security in the US.

    So I’d encourage those who see retirement as “only doing what you want, when you want to do it” to broaden their view and make themselves invaluable to society in some way. That may be volunteer work, such as learning practical skills to help feed and shelter others.

    How long and well we live may rest more upon how we “touch the lives of others” than the balance in our 401k or stock portfolio. Whether you get to eat as you grow older may depend more on having taught a young person how to grow food.

    1. Hi Jan,

      Thank you for adding to the discussion and providing many very important insights. As you comment points out there are many issues that need to be addressed with how our societies are structured and perform. I am hopeful that many of the technical innovations that we are seeing with countries such as the Netherlands in terms of food production, will allow humankind to better utilize resources and help return much of the land currently used inefficiently for food production into much needed forests.


      I am also very interested in how technology is evolving that allows us to grow meat without having to raise and slaughter animals for food.



  6. Excellent life summary, Tom.

    I have travelled a somewhat parallel path. When I lost my first adult job, I was able to retrain and have a very positive work experience in the ensuing 35 years. Looking back, the loss of that first job opened numerous opportunities, leading to a very fulfilled professional life.

    Your comment that the important factor is how we’ve “touched the lives of others” ought to be chiseled into the entrance of every business school, factory, bank, library, etc.!! Youthful ambition ultimately leads to senior wisdom, and clearly you have reached that position in life.

    Warm regards,


    1. Thanks for adding your experiences to the discussion Bill! Time and perspective are great teachers as they help us discover and value what is truly important in life.


  7. And here I thought that my reaction was unique … when my last “boss” gave me the news that I was being let go, I seriously did not know whether to kick him or kiss him. But after I had a few minutes to process the news, it was as if he had just lifted Sisyphus’s boulder off my shoulders.

    As part of my separation package, they sent me to an employment counselor who have me a battery of psych tests to determine what my “next job” should be. “Wow! You are really done with Corporate America, aren’t you,” she concluded during our review of the results.

    I moved directly into retirement, moved back to Canada, focused on my hobbies, and I have never ever looked back.

    As one of my former mentors told me, as he explained his logic in volunteering for an early retirement package in the late ’80’s, “It is best to have a plan that, when the opportunity presents itself, can be executed.”

    All I can say is … absolutely.

    Congratulations, Thomas … it seems you and I have successfully made the transition, both physically and, most importantly, psychologically.

    1. Thanks for sharing some of your life experiences Martin… I agree with your transition assessment!

      In the pre-COVID days I regularly had a coffee with a business associate during which we’d wax philosophically about ‘life it’s own self’. A few years back we came to agree that being retired meant ‘only doing what you want, when you want to do it’. We laughed in unison as we realized that, from that perspective, we were both already retired… even though we were still technically ‘working’ at the time.


  8. It seems that you didn’t fear change but embraced it. Always looking for what you could do rather than what you couldn’t do. Inspirational piece. Thanks.
    P.S. Great photos!

    1. Thanks Lewsh!

      I’ve been through a number of changes over the years in different industries and jobs… an interesting ride for sure. Changes to me have always been opportunities to leave the past behind and reinvent myself.


  9. Very well stated Tom. Life is hard, but with your planning and positive attitude you seem to have weathered the storm rather well. And your photography, even in these rocky times, is something of beauty. Thank you for the message and your fine photos. I read you daily and appreciate the work and thought you put into every post.

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you for your supportive comment… I’m glad that my articles and images have been of value to you! We all face storms in our lives… and the most important thing is that each of us bring our ship to port safely.


  10. I can say: been there, done that. However, you articulated it much better than I ever could. I plan to save your essay for the younger folks that I know who may go through the same. In the meantime, we certainly enjoy our photography. Thanks.

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