“Jerry? You wanted to see me?” James peered into the office as he tapped lightly on the door.
“James! Yes, I was looking for you earlier.” Jerry motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
“Yeah, I went to lunch with Sarah. We’ve had a lot to discuss lately.”
“I can imagine. That’s quite a move you’re making. And that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I need to you to take off next week to get all the arrangements worked out. Jennings wants you in Chicago by the end of the month.”
James felt his muscles tense as he tried to formulate his response. He had been practicing what to say all the way from lunch today, but he still wasn’t sure exactly how to say it.
“Well, uh… I don’t think I’m going to take the offer.” James watched Jerry’s face in anticipation of his response.
“What?” Jerry uncrossed his legs and leaned forward in his chair. “You’re not taking the offer?”
“Yeah, Sarah and I discussed it and we don’t want to move to Chicago right now. Sarah’s classes are…”
“James, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Jerry interrupted. “Man, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. This is what you’ve worked so hard for.”
“I know… And I appreciate the consideration, but the time is just not right.”
“Do you know how rare it is for someone to get picked for an assignment like this? Corporate wants you. You go there now as a new division lead and you’ll be a VP in six months – a year at most.” Jerry leaned back in his chair again, placing his hands behind his head.
The mention of VP caught James’ attention. The title of Vice President was one of the goals he had set for himself when he started. He had to admit that this promotion would put him in a good position to get a VP title. He pursed his lips together as he considered the thought. “That is extremely tempting, but Sarah really doesn’t want to move. Her classes are booming right now and she’s working on an art show for the Civic Center.”
“She doesn’t want to move? She teaches painting, for crying out loud! She can do that anywhere. I imagine Chicago is a lot more art-friendly than our little Kentucky town. Besides, the twenty percent pay increase they’re offering should offset what Sarah has been making on those classes she teaches.”
James felt a tinge of anger as he listened to how Jerry talked about Sarah and her art even though these were the very same arguments that he had posed to her in their conversations. Over the course of their discussions he had come to realize that there was something special to Sarah about the art community she had established here. It wasn’t money or recognition that fueled her. It was something more, something intangible.
“The way I see it, James, it’s about investment and reward. You have to invest a little bit into the company now by taking this assignment in Chicago and you’ll get the reward you’ve been working so hard for.”
“I understand, Jerry, but…”
“And… there’s one more thing I didn’t tell you the other day.” Jerry leaned forward in his chair again as he spoke. “This job opportunity is actually more of a reassignment. You really don’t have much of a choice.”
“What do you mean?” James laughed. “They can’t force me to move to Chicago.”
“No, but the truth is… this reassignment is part of a downsizing event. If you don’t take the assignment, you don’t have a job here. You’ll get six weeks severance pay and be out looking for work.” Jerry now had his elbows resting on his desk with his chin sitting atop his hands. His eyes looked at James with an intensity that James assumed was concern.
“Why didn’t you mention that the other day?”
“I didn’t think it was important. Hell, how was I to know you would consider turning this down? It’s an opportunity anyone here would love. The way you work sixty hours some weeks and call in from vacation to finish things up, I assumed moving to Chicago for a better job and better pay would be an easy decision.”
“Jerry, somebody is here for that copier. What do I need to have him do?” James and Jerry were jolted from their conversation by Jerry’s assistant, Walt.
“Tell him I’ll be right there.” Jerry said, turning immediately back to James. “James, I think you should reconsider. I wish I could give you more time, but if you’re going to turn this down I need to know today. I’m making announcements at 3:30 to the rest of the team about the layoffs. As both your manager and your friend, I have to say that I really think you would be making a career-ending mistake to turn this down. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
James watched Jerry leave the office. Any confidence he had about this being the right decision had evaporated as they had talked. He pulled out his phone and called Sarah.
“Sarah, I really need to talk to you. If you get this message, please call me back quickly.”
James smiled as he hung up. He wasn’t sure why, but hearing Sarah’s voice always made him smile. They had been married for five years now. They didn’t really have time for children as they both worked a lot during the week. Sure, they had their problems and disputes, but James had to admit he was still crazy about her.
But James was also married to his work. He wanted to make an impact and be recognized as a leader. He took work home with him and spent long hours making sure his assignments were flawlessly executed. His goal was to be an executive and help make the big decisions. That was his motivation for working so hard.
“Don’t try to do too much. You just want to lead the eye with subtle lines in this painting…”
James slipped into the back of the room as quietly as he could. He watched Sarah move among the students as she talked, stopping to provide specific advice on each painting. One student seemed quite distraught at a mistake, but Sarah made it better with a few simple strokes of the brush.
Several minutes passed before she noticed James in the back of the room. “Class, keep going with your paintings while I take a short break. If you get stuck help each other out. Remember, this is your creation. Make it you.”
“Is everything alright?” Sarah asked as she approached. Even though James was somewhat smiling, his eyes betrayed a worry and concern.
“Yeah, it’s been a rough day.”
Sarah put her arms around James as he told her about the new information from Jerry.
“So what did you tell him?” Sarah leaned her head back and looked Jerry in the eyes.
“Well, Jerry gave me some good advice that helped. He told me to invest in what matters most to me.”
Sarah waited for James to say more, but he seemed to be finished. “So…?”
“So can I attend your class for the rest of the week?”