The Death of a Company

Today, two years and ten months of hard work, passion, organization, learning, training, development, trial-and-error, testing, experimenting, data entry, writing, editing, frustration, excitement, and thrill, are rendered meaningless. When the CEO and COO of Medallion Learning called me on May 5th around 10 in the morning to tell me the company was shutting down, I was managing eight courses in various stages of progress. I had roughly thirty contributors working on those eight courses. Some of those courses we had collectively only spent twenty hours on while others we had spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on. And that was just my team. There were also people on sales team and the IT team for whom work came to a grinding halt.

Within the first few hours after that call, I ran through a dozen different emotions: stoicism, panic, shock, sadness, confusion, frustration, disbelief, disappointment, and even embarrassment. But mostly I just felt sick to my stomach. Normally, when you leave a job, someone steps into your role and your projects live on. But when a company shuts down, that’s it. All the effort and man hours are just tossed aside. And jobs I’ve left before weren’t jobs I was invested in. Sure, I enjoyed much of the work I did in the past and the people I worked with, but at the end of the day, I was just a cog in a machine participating in straightforward work-for-pay transactions. Not so at Medallion Learning. Besides working with a great group of people who cultivated an environment of respect and actively solicited input from each other in all aspects of the company, I was solely responsible for establishing the publishing department from scratch. I created processes, wrote guidelines, built a team, developed best practices for scripts and designing, and personally approved every script, video, and supplemental learning aid that ended up on our platform, Calibrate. My boss trusted me 100 percent to work autonomously and make amazing courses. He supported me with whatever I asked for, but other than that, left me alone to make elearning magic. I didn’t have any money invested in the company and I wasn’t the legal owner of my work products, but those courses were mine. So my nauseated feeling didn’t have anything to do with my uncertain future but rather a deep sense of loss and uselessness knowing that everything I created was for naught.

That isn’t to say I wasn’t concerned at all about what I was going to do next. I immediately went into networking mode, contacting people who I know would like me to freelance for them and people who expressed interested in hiring me in the past and people who might know of openings they could recommend me for. Incredibly, I had a job 99 percent in the bag with 24 hours of that terrible phone call. But it was impossible to feel grateful for my personal good fortune. I felt miserable. The worst part was having to ignore contributors who weren’t aware of the news yet and having to cancel meetings without explanation until the COO was able to speak to them. I felt horribly guilty that some of them spent that first weekend in May writing assessment questions for courses that were already dead, sending me emails with questions about format and style, so eager to make their courses a reality. Meanwhile, I was in the office exporting files from project management systems, cancelling memberships and subscriptions, cleaning up our CMS, making sure project folders were well organized in case the company was able to sell the assets, putting some assets on the simplistic, commercial Udemy instead of our beautiful, intricate, responsive, and user-friendly platform, and, eventually, sending “goodbye, thanks for all your hard work, best of luck” emails. These were funeral preparations.

But then, by May 16th, an uncomfortable sunray of relief had begun to invade my emotional miasma. Every week for the last eight months I had kicked off Monday morning with an enormous to-do list that most weeks I only got a third of the way through. In December, I started getting daily headaches that eventually sent me to an optometrist because I actually thought I might have a brain tumor. Turns out, I was just staring too fixedly at the computer screen for too long each day. That’s how I work – I’m intensely focused and often don’t move or talk to anyone for hours, especially when I have a lot to do, which I always did at Medallion Learning. This terrible habit was giving me convergence excess, in which one’s eyes come together at a point closer than word or image on the paper or computer screen in front of you. And that was giving me headaches. Twice, I had some crazy Northern Lights phenomenon in my right eye, bright zig-zags that covered half my right eye in an arch and lasted 15-20 minutes, making it impossible to read or even see well. According to Internet, M.D., this was an ocular migraine, something I’ve never had in my life. I prided myself on juggling all those project and contributors, training people, answering endless emails and phone calls, and still trying to be a contributor myself, something that was increasingly impossible, but clearly the job had been affecting my health. Even though I had just reached a point with my two steady editorial contractors that I was able to lighten my workload significantly, there was still a bit of relief in having all that responsibility vanish. I still feel awful for saying that, but it’s true.

And now here we are on May 31st and at 4pm, I will set my auto-responder on my email account to send a message letting any correspondents know that Medallion Learning has ceased operation. In two weeks, I will begin an amazing new adventure at a tech company in Boulder, working with brilliant people, learning new skills that will benefit my career immensely, and enjoying company-provided perks and benefits that I haven’t had in years. But for the moment, my heart is still at Medallion Learning. At our all hands goodbye meeting last Wednesday our COO gave a lovely speech about the adventure we’ve all had together and how much he appreciated our devotion to the company. Some employees said a few words when he finished, but I couldn’t. At the first word, my voice would have cracked and I surely would have cried. I suppose I should look at this as a learning opportunity, the quintessential start-up failure experience, but for now, I prefer that it live in my mind as a beautiful dream from which I have been startled awake and now must face the day, which itself really isn’t so bad.

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