Monday, October 31, 2011

I am the 9.1% is moving!

Well, that happened quickly. The folks at Chicago Now have decided to add my series "I am the 9.1%" to their site as a permanent addition. This is a HUGE deal, and I have to thank all the people who've been reading and following along.

Moving my blog to Chicago Now will help bring my story to a larger audience, and hopefully help spread the message of positivity and personal progress to everyone who's trying to navigate the doldrums of unemployment and underemployment.

Please take a gander and start following along over there:


Friday, October 28, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Lemon Scones and Pendulums

Borrowed from
This morning, I sipped my coffee and munched on a lemon poppyseed scone while I surfed job listings. Just as I was beginning to notice that listings matching my search terms looked pretty slim, I also noticed that my mug was empty. Normally, this wouldn't be much of an issue, but I needed something to wash my mouthful of scone down. I refilled the mug, but two minutes later there was half a cup of coffee left, but no more scone...and what's the point of coffee without pastry? So I got another scone, but then ran out of coffee again and refilled the cup, and then I needed more scone...

It went on like that for a while, and I can tell you now that A) after seven cups of coffee, I can see through time, and B) scones and coffee coalesce into concrete inside your belly.

All week long, I've felt out of balance, the scone-coffee conundrum just one example. It's all related to the calendar. Last Friday was my one month unemploymentversary, which means that today is the end of the first week of my second month without a job. Knowledge of time passing takes its toll, and it gets harder to keep up the bold face and positive attitude that's fueled me this far. Faith that everything's going to work out for the best gets harder to maintain when every moment of every day is a reminder that there's money going out, but none (or, at least, not nearly enough) coming in.

Money worries are, for me, the spark that causes a firestorm of doubt, diffidence and panic. When I run into troubles paying bills, that stress eats away at me until I can't see silver linings on any clouds, money related or not. Luckily, I've been surviving with my meager savings, but I received two unexpected bills in the last week. By the math, I've figured out exactly how much shorter my survival without income will be as a result of these bills, and I don't like the new numbers.

In tandem, the weight of money worries and transitioning from weeks without a job to months without one are throwing my load out of balance. I'm starting to get critical of my methods in job hunting, my strict daily scheduling and routines. The impatient, emotional side of me is creeping out around the edges, and it's harder to contain outbursts of irritation and impulsive reactions.

For instance, in response to a contract position I applied to, which very closely matched my experience and desires in career direction, I received an email that said:
"While we do not have any positions at your level currently available, things can change at a moment's notice."
This isn't a first, but it increasingly gets under my skin. I applied for a position that I knew full well was below my previous level, but went to great lengths in the cover letter to explain my desire to redirect my career and willingness to move down the ladder a rung or two if necessary. Today, it almost made me snap, and I started drafting a response that, among other things, questioned the recruiter's literacy and suggested they may be in possession extra chromosomes. Fortunately, I never clicked "send," but it was a close call. Instead, I refilled my coffee and brewed more sconecrete.

Mentally, though, I started a downward spiral. What's going to happen? Where did I go wrong? How will I make it? What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST FIVE WEEKS??? Then something happened: the doorbell rang. It was a serviceman here to paint some of my siding that had been damaged in a storm. Watching him do his work triggered my mind into a replay of everything that I got done or contributed to getting done during this time:

  1. Patched, sanded and painted my staircase walls
  2. Patched, sanded and painted my living room walls
  3. Rearranged my living room and prepared dining room for new furniture
  4. Converted my workout room into an office
  5. Rearranged my bedroom furniture and incorporated an entertainment station
  6. Purged my closets, unused electronics, books, kitchen cabinets, liquor cabinet, bathrooms, and garage
  7. Installed new carpeting
  8. Tore up old carpeting in Gramma's new house
  9. Moved Gramma into her new house
  10. Moved Auntie C. into a nursing home
  11. Cleaned and purged Auntie C.'s house
  12. Written an entirely new 10 minutes of stand up comedy
  13. Applied to 148 highly targeted, well matched positions
  14. Interviewed for twelve positions
  15. Established a daily blog of 800-1200 words
I started to relax, and the worries subsided. That's a pretty good month in terms of productivity, if nothing else. Comparably, that's more than I've accomplished professionally in the last nine months of employment combined. Likewise, that's more than I've accomplished in my personal life in the past two years. Which again brings me back to the concept of balance. Life is a pendulum that rarely rests. It's constantly swinging, shifting focus from career growth to personal growth. The best situation is to stabilize to a point where there's no swing, the optimum equilibrium point where personal and professional are progressing in unison. But until that can be achieved, learn to accept the swings and see the benefits. 

Five weeks ago, I lost my job. Today, I'm a better person for it. I've achieved great things and great perspectives in those five weeks. There's no reason for me to think I can't continue that trend into the next five weeks. 

The serviceman finished up his painting, and I sipped my last swig of coffee, washing down my last bite of scone. And as I took a deep breath and started to feel better, my phone rang and I scheduled another interview for next Tuesday.

Who says it's hard to stay positive?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Avoiding Distraction

Borrowed from
Right now, I'm looking at a stack of stamped, sealed envelopes stuffed with checks to cover gas, electricity, sewer and water, and garbage/recycling service. Last Saturday, the checks were signed, the envelopes sealed and stamps applied. Since then, they've sat exactly where they are now and I've glanced at them at least a dozen times and thought, "Hey, I've got to mail those!"

But I get distracted. A new email comes in, the phone rings, new job notifications arrive for my LinkedIn profile, iTunes plays a song I don't like, the cat pukes on the just-folded laundry, and the envelopes approach a state of permanent accessory. Gradually, the fourteen second task of running my bills out to the mailbox is indefinitely prolonged, late fees are automatically applied, a guttural laugh slowly erupts from deep in the once-occupied-by-a-heart-but-now-devoid-of-all-but-malice thorax of a sub-comptroller in the accounts receivable department at Nicor, the cat pukes on the new area rug, and I look at the envelopes and think, "Oh yeah, I've got to mail those!"

Distraction is a monster. Insidious and ever-present, it's the hardest enemy to escape. Even just sitting down to write this blog, I've allowed myself to be interrupted eight times. That's the crux in writing a blog: it's on the Internet, which happens to be the source of every major time suck in my life. I finally managed to click the "new post" button after responding to three Facebook messages, addressing two Facebook notifications, clicking on a Stella Artois ad and falling in a deep and profound love with Audrey and the 9 Step Pouring Ritual. I mean, gosh and golly, how lovely is her draught technique? And the accent...

What the hell was I talking about? Distraction! Right. You've got to fight it, and it takes every ounce of strength in your discipline thermos to do it. I'm so weak to distraction that the simple act of adding the links in the previous paragraph caused another twelve minute lapse in finishing this post. I'm sure this played into losing my job, as my productivity wasn't anywhere near my potential. Maintaining focus on the job at hand is difficult when that job is uninteresting or in conflict with expectations. Even in a job that's a good fit, it's easy to get distracted.

I personally like to think it's not Facebook or YouTube or iTunes or cat puke that's distracting. It's the work you don't want to deal with that's distracting. The negative emotions tied to paying bills or routing drafts for approvals or submitting daily reports to your supervisor are the distraction. That's why those other things own your focus in the moment.

How can distraction be eliminated? The best way I've found is to avoid the idea of multitasking. Historically, I've been a multitasking fiend; twenty different windows open, eight tabs in Chrome, carrying on a phone conversation while responding to an email. It's something I used to pride myself on. Multitasking, though, is just a sanctioned form of distraction. "I know we've got you working on X, Y, and Z right now, but please take a look at A, B, and C immediately. Then get back to X, Y, and Z. But not before we toss γλ, and β at you just for fun."  Lately, I'm coming around to the idea that results all around are better when every ounce of attention is focused on one project at a time, and short-term deadlines throughout the day are adhered to. This not only achieves better quality on each project, but also helps to set expectations for coworkers.

Multitasking, in my opinion, has become one of the worst evils unleashed on employees by the corporate model. There's an ideal posited by business culture that a productive employee needs to consistently juggle multiple projects, be available 24/7 via email and telephone, and have an accurate answer to any work-related question instantaneously. That's a model that leads to otherwise easily avoidable errors. It seeks quantity not quality and trades efficiency for mindless yield, and what's the point in that? The pressures created by that kind of atmosphere lead to self destruction and poor oversight. Under the strain to keep all those balls in the air, be available constantly, and be ready at a moment's notice to expound upon the details and status of each project, people will fail. What's more, in my experience, the business world isn't the least bit forgiving. Mistakes are not tolerated. Do one thousand things right, and no one notices. Screw one thing up, and everyone calls for your termination. What a horrific combination for a healthy society.

Distraction isn't limited to daily duties. It happens in a macro sense, too. It's easy to get distracted from long term goals by short term successes or failures. In the past month, I've reacquainted myself with goals I set for myself years ago but abandoned through attrition in the intervening time. Some simple, some complex, but all of which I've finally been able to clarify for myself. All this "how did I get here" and "what do I want out of life" evaluation stuff hasn't just been for shits and giggles, and it's revealed to me that I let myself get off the track almost as soon as I got on. At least I've been able to backtrack to a point that now makes sense as a new starting line, and I'm off and running. No more detours, no more diversions, no more distractions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Goals, Achievement and Clarity

Borrowed from
See previous post in this series: click here

Goal setting has been a perpetual problem for me. That grasp of the long term has always eluded me. Sure, I've been more than capable of deciding on a very general goal and chasing after it, but it dawns on me now that a more organized and directed approach could serve better. More thought up front probably makes for more desirable results.

When I went to college, I never set any goals for my education. The most clear desire was to enjoy my time and get a generic diploma. It was all very abstract to me, trying to choose the rest of my life based on a few hours of coursework and an office visit with an advisor. During my four years, I never put much thought to the future and lived day to day. Eventually, I settled on a major that allowed me to take the classes I found most interesting in a very general way: public relations. The program consisted of lots of writing, which interested me, as well as emerging digital media. Instead of specializing in a specific area, I chose a broad-based education that exposed me to many different things and played to my strengths while accommodating my weaknesses.

After graduating, it didn't take long for me to realize that employers want that specialization. They want to see some kind of expertise in a specific area; work experience will eventually flesh out the generalized industry exposure. In effect, I'd gone about my college education in a very backward way, and walked out with a fancy piece of paper, but little effective preparation for the professional world. I hadn't taken the time to really explore career options and investigate the future. Instead, I spent the entire time thinking only of the assignments of the week, at best planning out through the end of the semester, never stopping to evaluate the work I was doing and the path I traveled.

To be honest, this is perhaps my greatest regret. College is such an important opportunity to find and follow a passion, and I blindly followed the first advice I was given by my academic advisor. To this day, I'm plagued by my willingness to hand over my future to the decisions of a third party. I learned many valuable things at college, and I was enriched by the experience, but I blew the real opportunity to sink my teeth into something unique.

My only goal following graduation was to find a job in public relations. Sadly, I didn't have the first clue as to what that meant, again, because I didn't take the time to grasp the big picture of the industry during my education. I'm sure this showed in every job interview, because I didn't get a single job offer. Eventually, I worked a string of data entry temp jobs and retail positions and developed a massive, crippling chip on my shoulder, and had the equivalent of a nervous breakdown at 24.

Seven years ago, I set a goal to use my college degree professionally. Up to that point, I hadn't worked a single day in my degreed field. I had, successfully I might add, established myself in ice rink management, but an alarm started going off inside my mind. It would blare through my thoughts, "You spent lots of money on a degree! Use it! USE IT!" Eventually, my ability to enjoy the rink work completely faltered because I couldn't shake that thought for even a second daily. So, just like now, I began compartmentalizing my days into blocks of time. Outside of work, everything I did was designed to advance towards the goal. And after a year of steady effort, I landed a job on the periphery of public relations: marketing and publishing.

That's the point at which I failed in follow-through. I'd taken a step towards the goal, but misidentified that step as goal achievement. Even though that job was at best a launch pad in the right direction, I convinced myself it was the destination. When I'd worked in that position long enough, I padded my resume with that experience and found another marketing position, ignoring the original goal completely. The farther I traveled away from that goal, the more obscure it became, until it no longer existed.

Reflections on who I've been, where I've gone, what I've done, and where I am now not only show how important the journey has been to my development in relation to the goal itself, but also demonstrate the powerful drain of feckless decisions. Recognizing this now is yet more motivation for me to stay on task in a long term fashion. Develop a career goal, write it down, and keep it prominently front of mind. Do all the requisite research to be sure it's the correct goal, and allow for zero distraction or alteration. Make the goal as grand, unrealistic and specific as possible. What better way to drive decisions in a way that emphasizes the importance of the journey? What better way to commit now to consistent progress?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Legacy and Dignity

Borrowed from

See previous post in this series: click here

My mother has an elderly aunt who was just moved into a nursing home. Dementia finally incapacitated her, and she could no longer live on her own. The only reason my mother is involved is because this particular aunt had no children, spent 60 years alienating herself from her family and friends, and quite literally had no one else.

This aunt (we'll call her Auntie C.) had been completely estranged from the family for nearly twenty years, mostly by her choice, but as her generation began to age and die off, my mother reached out to her from a sense of obligation. Starting in the mid-1990's, my mom would regularly take her dinner, take her out shopping and to the doctor, check in and make sure she was still breathing. Because there was no one else, my mom now holds power of attorney, and in this situation that means maintaining the estate and conscientiously dealing with health care decisions. And once the situation concludes, what remains of her aunt's estate all goes directly to distant relatives in Poland.

Power of attorney in a situation like this turns into a full time job. Earlier this year, my mom retired after 43 years of teaching. Instead of enjoying her retirement, now she must deal with this nonsense. In many ways, it's the proper epitaph for dear Auntie C. She's an unfortunate example of someone who lived a long life thriving off the miseries of others, a human engine powered by spite. Her goal at family functions was to systematically demean the achievements of everyone else in the room. There was no single unfortunate misunderstanding that led to her estrangement; past a certain point, let's say the fourth wedding she ruined, no one wanted her around and by all accounts she had no interest in being around.

Even recently, despite my mother's efforts to find any drop of sincerity left in Auntie C., she burned all of her family photos and her wedding dress in her fireplace because, "They're mine, and I can do what I want with them, and I don't want anyone having them." Photos and a wedding dress...things that have no value but sentiment, and she'd be damned if she'd allow anyone the chance to have any pleasant remembrances of her. By her own doing, we have someone who's purposely alienated everyone and everything she's ever known. Someone who's left a legacy of only anger and indignity. When she passes, not a single person will mourn. No one will be left with fond memories, no stories of Auntie C. will be passed down to new generations.

How terrifying is that to contemplate? After 94 years, she'll simply disappear. Her home will most likely be sold, demolished and redeveloped. All her artificial plants and artificial hair (she wore the same wig for as long as anyone cares to remember), untouched since 1954, will wind up in a dumpster. There will be no photos or mementos. Once the emotions about the situation pass through my mom, Auntie C. won't even be memory, as she'll be happily forgotten or filed away in the memories that never get accessed.

What the Hell does this have to do with my unemployment or career perspectives? Well, if nothing else, it's motivation to leave a mark, and not a dark one. Work towards things I believe in, and goals that improve myself, my family and the world that I touch. If 94 years of life can be so easily discarded, my short time on Earth is just as tenuous. I may not be able to control the outcomes of my choices, but I most certainly can control the intentions, and do my best to leave people better for having known me. Furthermore, I'd implore anyone else to do the same.

It just goes to show, even a long life is too short to forego passion. Working in a career you don't believe in, are indifferent to or disdainful of, just to earn is a sin that no one with an ounce of self respect should contemplate. Living for yourself, to line your pocketbook, to diversify your portfolio, will really only get you money. Living for happiness, for your family, for the people in your world and striving for ubiquitous quality in every aspect of your life will get you substance.

Can everyone work their dream job? No, of course not. Unfortunately, the world needs people to do unpleasant jobs. What anyone can do, though, is to treat their job with focus and positivity, never losing sight of the parts that are truly rewarding. Treat the people in your job and in your life with respect and care. You can achieve that which is most important: dignity.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Support Systems and Behavior

Borrowed from
See previous post in this series: click here

I've talked about how first thing after losing my job, I arranged to be the official school courier for my girlfriend's son. That established more than a routine; whether I was aware or not, I had taken the first step in tapping my support system.

If I'd been asked what my support system looked like before I got fired, I wouldn't have known what to say. Typically, I tend to bear my problems internally, and then act out aggressively towards the people in my life--my girlfriend can tell you how successful a recipe for personal satisfaction that is. 

For whatever reason, my reaction in this situation was different. Very straightforward, purely honest, reaching out to those closest to me for support. As if I was weaving a spider web, I called my girlfriend, then my two best friends, then my family, and so on. I didn't broadcast my situation, at least not at first (I didn't start blogging this until a month into it), but I made a point to reach out to the people who've consistently demonstrated their loyalty to me and dedication to our relationship. Without fail, every single person in that grouping gave me what I needed at the time: a shoulder, a voice, an ear or a laugh. The value of such quality people in my life has been immeasurable, and has contributed in no small part to my ability to stay positive and productive.

There's been so much about this experience that's been completely different than any other personal catastrophe I've endured, not least of which has been my atypical response to every moment of it. High-strung would be an accurate description throughout my life. Tightly-wound and short-fused might also apply. I implore any people close to me to go ahead and share their thoughts in the comments. This time, though, none of my responses have fallen in line with my habits of internalization, hyper-criticality, and overreaction. Something's kept me reasoned and measured. Maybe I've grown up, maybe I've learned that time and time again, the only way to make a bad situation worse is to allow immediate emotions to dictate actions. Or, for that matter, I've been reminded of the inherent good in the people I've chosen to surround myself with and that's kept me in check.

The thought did cross my mind to send elaborate floral arrangements to several of my former coworkers with some variation on the theme, "Fuck you! Sideways! With ridiculously large and pointed objects!" spelled out clearly and lit with sparklers. Fortunately, I was able to decide this was neither prudent nor wise with the help of my support network. 

Seriously, though, in the past I've made some spectacularly poor decisions in the heat of reaction. For instance, there was the way I left the first ice rink I managed. After four years, the general manager had different designs on the future of the business that conflicted with my ideas, and after several months of increasing tension, I walked in, delivered a letter of resignation blasting him and his treatment of me and the other employees, his "myopic vision," and "characterless comportment," and also distributed copies to the ownership and the rest of the management staff. On the one hand, I burned every bridge I'd built there, on the other I got to walk away feeling proud of my ten dollar words with a misguided sense of vindication. It's taken me nearly eight years to figure out the folly of what I'd done. Not only did I put my livelihood in danger (luckily, I began working at a different rink immediately), I also branded myself a maniac with my only professional contacts at the time. 

I carried my grudge against that manager for years, until very recently. It took a lot of soul searching to figure out that frankly, I was the douchebag in the scenario. Not because I had conflict with my manager, but because I didn't bother to address him professionally or appropriately throughout the months of conflict. The entire time, I stood fast to a position of I'm-right-you're-wrong, and dedicated myself to "winning." Eventually, it was solely my emotions doing the driving, and of course, they led me down the wrong path. 

Now, I don't want this misunderstood: everyone should have principles, and they should stand by them. I was right in having my vision for the business, but I was wrong in not being open to other visions, especially considering I wasn't the only person making decisions. Furthermore, it's OK to leave a job for the equivalent of irreconcilable differences. If you can't get behind what your company is doing or how your manager chooses to operate, voice your concerns professionally and exit gracefully. But don't make a huge, noxious ass of yourself in the process. It benefits no one; not you, not your manager, not the company, and the damage lasts longer than suspected. 

Righteous indignation is only one trap. Apathy is another. Quietly accepting unacceptable situations is poison. For years, I've done that, and the end result is where I'm sitting today: uncertain and unemployed. The most damage done to my mindset in the office came at the result of not being assertive enough about my career direction, and allowing the simpering condescension of coworkers to invade my mental state. It's up to me to stand up for myself, and I intend to do so more effectively from now on. Offices tend to be stocked with "type A" personalities. Something to remember: "A" is for "asshole." Anyone who proudly refers to themselves as a "type A," and insists on offering unsolicited advice and nonconstructive criticism suffers from a horrific disease that is best treated with avoidance and dismissive responses.

Why am I carrying on about my ridiculous professional failures in the past? Because the most important cog in your support system is you. Using all your experiences, mistakes, triumphs and everything in between, it's up to you to figure out appropriate responses and reactions, and the right steps to continue in a beneficial direction. A great quote to help get through those days when the office dogma is stifling and the people around you are sapping your will to go on:

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” — William Gibson

Go to next post in this series: click here

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Quality is Job Fun

(Image borrowed from
See previous post in this series: click here
I'd like to thank for listing my blog in their careers section (it's waaaaay at the bottom). I've been getting good response to this, and that's a great feather in my cap on which to end the week.

It's a Saturday, the first Saturday of this series. Saturday is leisure time for me, a day that I don't spend time on job hunting or chasing whimsies or pursuing personal projects. There are people out there who'll insist that every moment of waking life be dedicated to momentum, and every step taken should get you closer to achieving your goals. I'm not one of those people.

While I'll agree that maintaining momentum is important, I insist that there must be time allotted for leisure, even when you're down on your luck. Fun is one of the most important figures in any equation resulting in success. If you spend too much time focused on your job hunt, you'll burn out. Once the supply of jobs listings is exhausted, the only thing left to focus on is the lack of jobs, and that's a killer. That eats up all your stores of positivity, and saps away from your feelings of inspiration. No good, DO NOT WANT! Instead, turn to your hobbies and your friends to refuel those stores and good vibes.

If you've been reading along with this series, you know by now that I go to great lengths to keep my days organized into blocks, and in so doing, assign myself deadlines to help keep things on task. It's my way of making sure that my time is spent working towards quality results. Cover letters I'm proud to submit, resumes that make sense, pages of screenplay that make me laugh, blog posts that are engaging and motivational to read (hopefully). I try to apply the same quest for quality to my leisure time.

Here are my rules for any leisure activity:

  1. They must blur my focus. Whatever it is I'm doing has to pull me out of my head completely for the duration of the activity. It's got to be something that forces me out of whatever "zone" I'm in. Frisbee golf, regular golf, video games, reading a book or magazine (preferably fiction). Something that absorbs me completely. One of my favorites is tooling around in Illustrator. Some people love to play Black Ops. I love working through Illustrator tutorials. Don't judge.
  2. They should be social. I spend more than enough time on my own, with only me for company, and I'm boring and irritating company after a few days. Human interaction with people I like is one of the most efficient activities for reinvigorating my well of inspiration and positivity. One hour fishing, riding bikes or playing Mario Kart with my girlfriend's son, watching a hockey game with my best friends or having dinner with my girlfriend is enough to top off my tanks for a good long time.
    1. I feel like it's important to add a sub-topic to this bullet point. People can also be toxic. I'm very careful to quarantine myself from negativity and aggressiveness. There are lots of people out there who resent other people's success, have nothing positive to say or contribute, or only offer backhanded compliments. I used to be one of these people, until I recognized how destructive it was to me and all of the people in my life. It helps immeasurably to systematically identify these people in your life and limit your interaction with them. For me, the first step in getting away from those influences was limiting my time on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. They should be new, different and enriching. As often as possible, I try to do or learn something I've never done before. Keeps me fresh and my mind sharp, and gets me out of my comfort zone. Inhibition stands in the way of success at every turn. Uninhibited pursuit of leisure leads to uninhibited ambition (at least in my mind). Learning to get out of your comfort zone during leisure time opens you up to new experiences in other areas of your life. This isn't to say that I never repeat things; I definitely have my favorite hobbies (Frisbee Golf, cycling...), and I do them as frequently as I can. But there was a point in time when I'd never done those things before, and had to discover how much fun they were. There's only one way to find your favorite things: try them, whether you think you'll like it or not. 
That's it. That's my recipe for fun. What I'm trying to achieve here is balance. Quality leisure in response to quality productivity. Best case scenario: a 50/50 split between that two. 

Most important though, is that the end goal of everything, leisure as well as productivity, is quality. Whether it's in a job application, an illustration, a freelance job or an evening out with friends. How do you measure quality? Simple: how good do you feel about it when you're done with it? Take the time to review at the end. If you're satisfied, you've achieved quality. If you put your mind and heart into your efforts to your fullest abilities, you've achieved quality. The key to applying this measure is honesty: you've got to be completely honest with yourself in your assessments, or else you'll get comfortable with laziness and deficiency. Keep your standards high, and don't allow yourself the latitude for disappointment.

Go to next post in this series: click here

Friday, October 21, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Odd Jobs Don't Stand Still

(Image borrowed from
See previous post in this series: click here

Inevitably, during the course of a job hunt, there will be down time. There will be days, maybe even weeks during which not a single job opening will look right. Today, for instance, I searched through seven different job boards from 8:00 a.m. through 11:00 a.m., and came across a total of two jobs that fit my experience and career goals. By 11:00, though, I was merely duplicating efforts and finding the same listings I saw at 8:00. When this becomes persistent, what do you do?

For one thing, this is exactly why I give myself deadlines throughout the day. I set aside three hours a day for job searching. Three hours isn't some arbitrary number I just decided upon, either. After a few days of relentless job searching directly following my termination, I observed that by the three hour mark, any listings I was finding were repeats. I'd either already applied to them, or I'd seen them and filtered them out for fit. If this starts happening early into my three hour job hunt block of the day, I switch gears towards more unconventional means.

When the standard job boards stop working, I roll over, in order, to these methods:

  1. Go directly to the websites of companies and organizations you respect. Most modern businesses post jobs on their websites. This is a good, focused approach if you have a list of preferred employers in mind. Learn to live with disappointment, though, when their listings are thin or even empty.
  2. Troll the temp agencies. Just like most modern employers, temp agencies post openings on their websites. I'm not above resorting to data entry or warehouse work if I have to pay my mortgage while looking for something else. Go straight to the home pages of local and national temp services and start looking for something to get you by. I like Manpower, and I've had luck with them in the past.
  3. Pound the pavement. Get old fashioned, print up some resumes, and walk into local businesses you'd like to work for. This is bold, and perhaps frowned upon by some places. In fact, I've gotten yelled at for doing this and nearly chased from the premises at one office. On the flip side, I've also gotten jobs and freelance gigs this way in the past. As a matter of fact, I started my first career out of college by doing this (Zamboni Driver/Ice Rink Management). Frankly, a decade ago, this kind of approach wasn't at all strange. Anymore it's a bit risky and perhaps awkward, but like I said in a previous post: once the bottom falls out, who cares about risk? 
I also take some time to start looking for unconventional jobs. Odd jobs (there's a reason I picked that photo at the top!), as the case may be. If I'm going to resort to something outside of my field to bring in a paycheck while I wait out the economy, I may as well resort to something fun, or something no one else I know has done. The best place to find these kinds of positions is the print want ads in local, regional or commuter newspapers. Some of the more unique jobs I've found, applied to, and interviewed for out of the old fashioned want ads:
  • Tiger Groomer 
    • Unbeknownst to me, a traveling circus was headquartered not far from my home at the time. I found the ad in the commuter paper, and it had just those two words and a phone number. How do you not call that? I interviewed with Gunther, a hairy chested German, met his eight Siberian tigers, and decided that I didn't want the job after I received an offer for $250 a week during an open ended engagement in Jakarta, with the warning that, "Tigers are dangerous animals. If you stick your finger in the cage, don't expect to get it back." True story.
  • Marine Weed Harvester
    • My county has quite a few small lakes, and the Public Works department operates several weed harvesting boats throughout the summer to clear some of the more overgrown lakes and make them more boat and recreation friendly. I could've been the guy who drove the boat. This is one of those instances where my college diploma probably did more harm than good in the application process.
  • Canoe Tour Guide
    • Along with all the lakes, my county also has several miles of rivers and creeks. There's a market for canoe lessons and day tours. I honestly don't know why I didn't get this job at the time. Probably because when I was 22, I was even more arrogant than I am now, and I'm sure that showed in job interviews. Also, no one likes a fat guy in a canoe, it's just impractical.
I know that throughout this series, I've been stressing that there's no point in applying to jobs you wouldn't want or be good at. This is different. This is not a career choice, it's a job to fill your days and get you some cash flow. For me, unemployment benefits don't cut the mustard, and even a part time job would put more money in my pocket for bills. The benefit of these unconventional jobs is that they're often more fun than anything else, and they leave you time and flexibility to keep hunting for more work. Aside from that, it's entertaining.

Something else to consider in times like these is individual enterprise. Take that step into entrepreneurship if you have an idea, a concept, a product...anything. Write that screenplay or manuscript. If you "don't know how," do some research. It's not that hard to track down emails these days. Reach out to your favorite authors or directors or business people with two direct questions about how to get a project off the ground. Failing that, type "how do I launch a product," or "how do I get published" into Google, and start reading. Grab a notebook and scribble down some points, too. Why wait? Today's the day to start chasing those whimsies you've put off forever. When else will you have this kind of time at your disposal? Most important during this time is to never stand still. Stay focused, keep momentum, go forward.

In the meantime, here are some links to some podcasts and articles that have been encouraging and motivational for me:

The Joe Rogan Experience with guest Kevin Smith: I happen to be a fan of both of these guys. They're both great examples of guys who said, "This is what I'm going to do with my life," and then did exactly that extremely successfully. This particular episode is long, but there's a lot of gold speckled throughout.

The Cult of Done: Great manifesto for staying on task and moving forward.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Unemployed but Focused

See previous post in this series: click here

It took less than one week for me to get a job interview. That gave me a head of steam to push through and keep applying for jobs. After that first interview, though, it became a lesson in focused job hunting. CareerBuilder has a tool called "QuickApply" that allows users to submit the same resume to dozens of jobs at the same time. As soon as I got home after losing my job, I sat down in front of my computer and applied to every single position that had the word "marketing" in it. For someone in a freshly fired mindset, this tactic makes a lot of sense: cast a wide net, catch everything you possibly can. Unfortunately, the end result is wasted time and effort. 

After applying to, according to my CareerBuilder account, 46 jobs, I closed the laptop and started making a few phone calls, tapping into my network to see if I could find any leads that way. Within fifteen minutes, I found out that (shocker!) the job market is tight and none of my contacts had much to offer. But those 46 job applications were hard at work, and by the following Monday, I'd lined up three phone interviews and an in-person interview. Unfortunately, I didn't have the first clue about any of the positions because I'd used that stupid QuickApply tool, and couldn't quickly or easily track down each job to get the description, and so fumbled my way through the interviews.

The in-person interview was an ordeal to say the least. It was for a position with an equipment manufacturing company. While I have plenty of marketing experience, I have virtually no exposure to that business sector. I'd taken some time to research the company, their products and their industry prior to the interview, but there's only so much that can be learned in a day. Couple that with my interviewer, who was a Russian engineer with the dead-eyed stare and humorless manner of Vladimir Putin, and I was walking a tightrope for an hour and a half. At the end, I left knowing the job wasn't right for me, nor was I the right person for the job, and Vlad the Impaler had no interest in hiring me (evidenced clearly by his declaration that I'm "lazy or stupid" for not having a master's degree).

What we have here is a lesson in efficiency. Casting a wide net did indeed get me interviews, and very quickly in times of such high unemployment. But it didn't get me a job, and the interviews I did get were for jobs that I would've most likely hated and performed poorly at. And that translates into wasted time and effort. It's a classic case of taking the path of least resistance, making the easy choice for the quick fix, and a repetition of the behavior that's delivered me to my current status. I spent fifteen minutes applying to 46 jobs, which landed me four interview opportunities. That sounds impressive for fifteen minutes of effort, until you consider that I also ended up interviewing for upwards of four hours, spent two hours driving and used gas, only to find out that none of the jobs made sense for me. I'd've been better off spending that time and energy focusing my job search with pinpoint keywords, diligently reading job descriptions, and applying to the ten that sounded like a good match to my skills and goals. Heck, it's not just a matter of the time and resources squandered now, it's also the months or years put into another job leading in the wrong direction if I were to get and accept a job offer. 

Since that first week, I've worked much harder at narrowing down the jobs that are a good fit, and crafting my resume and cover letters for those positions. All of my effort has been focused on quality vs. quantity, and the results have been good. I've maintained a steady stream of interviews (at least one in-person interview a week), and only for jobs in which I'm genuinely interested and qualified to do. I'm concerned that this method may take more time to actually land a job, but that's tempered by the thought of derailing myself again by chasing down any job whether it's right or not. I should also mention that I'm not just searching for office and marketing jobs; I'm searching for less conventional jobs that I might also find rewarding. Community service positions, crew jobs, things I've always thought I should experience but have been too intimidated to investigate.

During that first week, I also took the initiative to meet with a career counselor at my local job center as a method of evaluating my career path, and developing some goals. Everyone should do this, if it's an option. For me, it was an opportunity for the obvious to slap me across the face, and sometimes people need that. It also opened my eyes to several resources I otherwise wouldn't have found. Something that's particularly interesting is O*NET Online. It's an incredibly interesting site with a wealth of information about careers, education, and guidance in goal setting. If you're even remotely quizzical about your career path, spend at least an hour on that site. It's well worth it.

Go to next post in this series: click here

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Perspectives from The Event Horizon

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In a flagrant disregard for local traffic laws, the first thing I did from my car as I drove home from my last day at the office was call my girlfriend. Not to vent, not be emotional, but to set up a routine of taking her son to school every morning. At that moment, I had to build a routine for myself; my impulse defense against sinking into quicksand.

Up to this point, I believe that simple and immediate action was the best possible response I could've had to the situation, and I'm glad it's the first thing that occurred to me. That one daily function has become a single point of reference that's kept me on task with the rest of my duties. My point of reference could've been anything else--the rapid countdown of my meager savings being spent on survival, the approaching end of health benefits, the impending rapture (rimshot!)--but somehow my brain settled in on something constructive in the face of fears. For me, that's a major triumph, because I've spent most of my life as a slave to fear.

As a high schooler, I was too afraid to do much of anything. For all four years, I was too afraid to get in trouble or suffer consequences to have any fun at all. In college, I had some glorious moments of disobedience, but honestly just repeated high school by consistently taking the path of least resistance, avoiding risk, and accomplishing very little. That fear followed me through most of my professional life. Every job I've had as an adult has been 100% more about paying the bills than any kind of satisfaction from the work. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my jobs--I have. But I've never yet done a job that fully engaged me, that was really a good fit, because I've always had this perverse fixation on the practical.

Despite several examples amongst my friends and family of people who manage to synthesize their passions into a profession, the model in my head of practicality dictated that it's not possible. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that you can be anything you choose to be, provided it fits into the corporate mold. If you want to be a writer, go into public relations or marketing, for example. Following a dream purely for the sake of the dream is vanity and folly. It's so much easier, so much less risky, to mold yourself to an existing job.

Getting fired is the kind of thing that throws that perspective into harsh relief, as that reality warps around the event horizon of a career black hole. Suddenly, the flaws in this line of thinking become quite obvious. Chasing down a paycheck, forcing my square peg into a round hole, is exposed as fraud. Eventually, doing the wrong job, suppressing career desires and goals, and ignoring what's important on a visceral level catches up. Instead of waking up and saying, "Another day of this shit," it becomes, "Another thirty years of this shit," and soon enough that's no longer an option. Maybe you get fired, maybe you have a nervous breakdown. Whatever the case, your momentum is impeded.

At that point, it's time to evaluate things. That's what I've spent a lot of energy on. Why am I here now? Is it because the economy sucks, employers treat people poorly, and shit happens? Or is it because I was in the wrong job, doing the wrong work for the wrong people, with the wrong perspective on how to have a career? By completely disregarding my dreams and passions, did I set a timer on my career self-destruct mechanism? One thing is certain: I'm not being steered by fear at the moment. Once the bottom falls out, you can't afford to be afraid, risks and consequences be damned.

One of my friends, Mary Tyler Mom, (read her blog, it's outstanding, touching, human, tragic and triumphant) has a mantra that I've been using. It might seem simple or mawkish, but it makes a difference. It keeps me positive, and steers me toward productivity: Choose Hope. It's a simple reminder that my mindset is up to me. I can decide to see the harsh realities of the world I live in, or I can decide to see the potential to move forward and improve that world.

See next post in this series: click here