Friday, October 22, 2010

3 Essential Steps to Reinventing Yourself

          If you find yourself without work, without prospects for finding work, and pissed off enough about your situation to wonder if you ever want to work again, then you need to become something that you have not been before. In modern parlance you need to reinvent yourself. Let’s face it. We’re all in a pickle. Many of the jobs that have been lost because of the recent and continuing Great Recession (better described as a greed and folly induced financial debacle) are not coming back. Why would they? They didn’t make any sense when they were here. Now that they are gone everyone is perfectly aware that they weren’t needed. The economy is not about making jobs. The economy is about allocating resources in the most efficient way possible. If this means that labor is most efficiently applied in China, then so be it.
          No one knows how to create jobs in the U.S. Not the Democrats. Not the Republicans. Not the liberals. Not the conservatives. They all think they know who to blame, but none of them have any real, good, workable ideas about creating jobs. If you are waiting for that to happen, then you are going to be screwed. You need to take responsibility for your own financial future. You need to do something now to make sure that you have something meaningful to do that will feed your family and keep a roof over their heads. I don’t say this because I think you need to be motivated. I say this because you are the only sumbitch in the world that knows how to do that just now. If you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for you.
          Here’s what I think you need to do.

  1. Figure out what it is/was that is making you miserable. 
    •  You have a right to try to be happy. There’s no guarantee that you will be, but the Founding Fathers sought to guarantee your right to pursue it. At a minimum this means getting rid of the stuff that is an impediment to your happiness. For me it was always working for fools and charlatans. I hated that. I never minded working. Work can and should be fulfilling, but when you work for people who do not understand or appreciate what you do and who seem bent at every turn on undermining whatever value you bring to the table, then it’s time to move on to something else. 
    • If I’m going to be happy, I need to quit working for dumb-asses, philanderers, liars, cheats, thieving bastards and scalawags. I need to be my own dumb-ass. I need to work for me. If you’re like me, then you need to be your own dumb-ass too.
    • If you don’t mind working for someone else maybe it’s the work itself that you don’t like. Change it. Maybe it’s the customers. That happens. We dealt with a lot of customers in the yacht business that had more money than sense. They usually came with an over-developed sense of entitlement. They felt empowered to walk out on the plant floor and personally direct the craftsmen who were building their boats for them. They would regularly make design changes without consulting the engineers or the sales group. They burned up huge gobs of production time massaging their egos—so much so that we had a saying that if it weren’t for the damn customers we could get some work done. If you can’t stand the exposure you’re getting to the customer base of your business, you need to look for your satisfaction elsewhere. 
    • Take some time trying to figure all this out. Sometimes you’ll think that one thing is making you crazy when it’s actually something else altogether. Find out what is standing in the way of your achieving some measure of job satisfaction and excise it from your life. Get rid of it.
  2. Figure out what it is you do that makes you happy.
    • This is not as easy as it seems because it’s not enough to just find something that makes you happy. It also has to make other people happy. You have to be able to monetize it. It has to be something for which you can reasonably expect to get paid…or, at a minimum, it has to be something that you can connect to something for which you can get paid.
    • In the depths of depression occasioned by my own long term unemployment, the only thing I really enjoyed doing was sleeping. I could sleep all day long, and still be tired enough to go to bed when the day was done. So not only did I enjoy sleep—I was exceedingly good at it. Trouble was I just couldn’t think of a way to get paid for sleeping. Nor could I connect sleeping to anything for which I could reasonable expect to be paid. I had to give up on the idea of monetizing sleep, and move down the list to consider my next favorite thing. For me it is something creative.
    • I like writing. I especially like writing funny anecdotes and fictional stories that shed some light on the small universal truths of life as I know it. I like photography. I like taking pictures of things that interest me. I like exploring unique and unusual angles on mundane things. I also like drawing, especially cartoons. I like the way that you can convey emotions and emphasize a particular point of view with just a few lines in a cartoon face. All three of these things, writing, photography, and cartooning, can be monetized—eventually, hopefully, by me. What I mean is that there are people getting paid very well to do each of those things. Each, by itself, is capable of providing a nice living. 
    • These things are all different from the sleep I mentioned earlier. Taking a nap when I am depressed does not make me feel better. I don’t wake up refreshed and ready to face a challenge. I am instead just as tired as I was before the nap. That is why I could sleep all day and still be tired when it was time to go to bed. I may have been good at it, but I wasn’t getting energized by my proclivity for it. 
    • Writing, photography and cartooning are different. These creative pursuits charge me up. When I write a particularly lucid piece of exposition or some sparkly dialogue that makes my characters come alive on the page, when I snap a bunch of pictures and upload them to my computer to find that I have made some really compelling images, or when I turn a doodle into a drawing that is engaging and evocative, I feel great. 
    • What's more, I lose track of time when I'm engaged in doing these things. I may go for hours, working with intensity and purpose, and when I quit I feel better than I did when I started. This is how I want my working life to be. I don’t care about the money. Sure, I need to make a certain amount to live on, and sure, it would be nice to get rich doing something cool, but the fact is rich people pay good money trying to feel as good as I feel doing these three things that don’t really cost me very much to do. What do I need to be rich for if all my joy comes from doing my work? I don’t. It’s as simple as that.
    • I know what my bliss is. It took me a while to work it out, and you could argue that I knew what I liked doing a long time ago. Now I have a certainty about it though that I didn’t have before. Do whatever it takes to find yours.
  3. Once you’ve found your bliss, get good at it.
    • Here is where No. 1 (get rid of the things that are making you miserable) and No. 2 (find your bliss) come together. This part may take some time. It won’t be easy, but if you’ve truly found what it is that makes you happy and fulfilled, you’ll enjoy all the hard work. What you won’t enjoy is all the other stuff you’re going to have to do to keep body and soul together until you are good enough at your bliss to make a living at it. In other words you may find that you have to continue to toil at the place that’s making you miserable until you’re good enough at the blissful thing to get paid for it. 
    • If you can afford to just quit and take up something new, I say go for it. Most of us aren’t in that happy boat, although I think that many of us may be closer than we think. If your family is depending on you to put groceries in the fridge and gas in the mini-van, you need to figure out how to discharge your obligations while you develop your new skills. This is a sad fact of life. You need a plan to keep the sad fact from spoiling the burgeoning bliss.
    • This is the part I did wrong for years and years. I’ve known forever that I wanted to write. I’ve also known that I had a talent for it. I’m not Faulkner, but much of what I’ve written for public consumption has been well received. The first short story I ever submitted was published. I got a check for $15 for it from a little literary quarterly. If you’ve ever talked to anyone in the business of writing/publishing, you will know that this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. Writers spend years trying to get published. 
    • Do I think this makes me some kind of literary phenomenon? No—not at all. I know I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but I also realize that I’m good enough to make writing work for me. Now maybe you’re not very good at whatever it is you want to do. This is true of me and cartooning. I'm not terrible, but It will take me a lot of work to get where I need to be. If it was the only thing I had going for me, it would be worth it, but it's not. I'm way better at writing than I am at cartooning. To me, that means I need to focus on the writing.
    • What's true of me and cartooning is true of a lot of people and writing. I heard just today at a writer's conference that 83% of adults in the U.S. think they would like to write a novel. They think they want to be writers, and thinking that is part of their problem. They want to be writers, but they don’t want to write. If you really want to write, you’ll be good enough at it to pursue it. I know this because writing is a really hard thing to do. Writing is a bitch. It is painful. It is frightening. It is frustrating. But, when it’s going well, it hurts so good you can’t imagine doing anything else. 
    • This is how you know that you’re on the right track: when doing the thing is the best part of being the person who does the thing. If the best part is something else, you’ve got it wrong. If you’re doing the thing to get rich, or to get famous, or to get dates, or to have people buy you drinks at the local bar, then you’re doomed to a life of unhappiness. You need to want to do the thing, whatever it is. If you truly want to do the thing, the hard work required to get good enough at the thing to make all that other stuff happen won’t be so bad. You can manage it. You have to manage it—no matter how hard and impossible it seems at the outset. Whatever it takes to get good at the thing you love is going to be way easier than working a lifetime at something that makes you miserable. You don’t have to trust me on this. You already know it’s true. So get busy.
    • Writing is something I know that I can squeeze until it pays. I haven’t done a very good job of squeezing it so far though. I got a slow start because I didn't have a plan, and because I didn't have a plan I got squeezed instead by my miserable jobs and my miserable circumstances. I wasn’t pursuing my bliss like I should’ve been—with focus and purpose. I was trying to be an accountant and a businessman first while I dabbled in writing. I was waiting for something good to happen on the writing front while I made the pursuit of misery my full time avocation. I had it backwards. I spun myself into a rut.
    • I’d still be doing it if I hadn’t been fired. Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. I hate the bastards who railroaded me out of a lucrative situation, but I owe them my heartfelt thanks for being the venal, stupid, egotistical louts they are. They set me free of all my excuses. They liberated me from my misery to embrace my art. If you don't have your own venal, stupid, egotistical louts to set you free, then you need to do it yourself. Don't wait for them like I did. Even if your louts are way better than my louts, you just can't depend on them to do the right thing by you. If you're miserable you need to get the source of you misery out of your life. Make a plan, and get on with it. The sooner the better.
    • Some resources to help you on your way:
      • What's Next - create the life you want - advice, inspiration, self-assessment tools, links, blogs from those that are doing it, all excellent stuff.
      • Brainwashed - Seven Ways to Reinvent Yourself - by Seth Godin, author of many books including his latest, Lynchpin, and creator of SQUIDOO - creative, inspiring, philosophical, visually stimulating...or go directly to - books, blog, free stuff. This guy is brilliant.
      • Escaping the 9 to 5 - Maren Kate, Forbes #4 woman entrepreneur to follow on Twitter, blogs and podcasts her way through ways to shed the daily grind - kind of reinvention lite, but lots of ideas to think about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 318 – More Recruiter Craziness

Apparently I've learned to draw an expression that approximates eroded self-worth and an underdeveloped sense of entitlement. Nothing like experience to inform one's art.

          I got some more craziness from the recruiting profession this week. Is it that they are so overwhelmed by bad circumstances that they can’t rise to the occasion? Times may be difficult, but I just don’t understand what is going on that makes it impossible for recruiters to just follow up on what they say they’re going to do. The nature of what they do hasn’t changed at all. There may not be enough jobs to place everyone who is looking, but the drill from the recruitment standpoint is still the same: match a qualified candidate to an available job.
          I got a call on Thursday evening from a recruiter in Tampa. I was out riding my bicycle with my wife at the time. We’re on a diet together and trying to throw regular exercise into our regimen. If I succeed in losing a few pounds, at least I’ll have reduced the gross weight of the total unemployed. It may be my only contribution. Anyway the recruiter thought my skill set matched up nicely with a controller position opening up in the Tampa area. A sporting goods manufacturer is expanding and opening a new facility there. This was a new position—a rarity in the current economic climate and a welcome one.
          I was glad to have picked up my cell phone on the way out the door. I stopped the bike under some trees so I could talk to the recruiter without sounding breathless. She wanted to know if I was okay with relocating to Tampa. I am, of course. My kids and grandkids are over there. I told her so. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe the grandkids date me, although anyone who can add and subtract can tell my approximate age from my résumé.
          We set up a time for an in-depth phone interview. She was to call me back Monday morning at 8:00. I had a good feeling. Something in the tone of her voice, the flow of conversation, the pace of our exchange made me feel confident that I was finally on the road to gainful employment.
I spent the next three days going over in my mind how I would respond to the likely questions. The usual questions I already know how to answer. It’s the new ones that are problematic for me—the questions that get at the core of my severely eroded sense of self worth—the ones about what I’ve been doing with myself in my long idleness—the naturally implied question under the veneer of sympathy that accompanies long-term unemployment—‘what’s wrong with you?’
I needn’t have worried as it turned out. No one called at 8:00 on Monday. No one called in the a.m. and no one called in the p.m. No one called on Tuesday either. I gave them a day to have got the date wrong in their calendar. I’m always ready to extend the benefit of the doubt. What else have I got to do?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reap where You Did Not Sow

Gopher Tortoise... carries his stuff with him wherever he goes, but still must leave his shell behind when he passes on to that Great Pond in the sky.
          Reflecting on one of Mom’s most often quoted Scriptures, the parable of the talents mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that my problem with most of the liars, fools and charlatans I have worked for is that they reap (or attempt to) where they have not sown. It is the same problem that I have with Dr. Joe Vitale and the proponents of the law of attraction, as well as with predatory investors, predatory lenders, multi-level marketing schemers, prosperity evangelists, grifters, and a slew of derivatives traders in the securities markets. They all want to reap where they have not sown. They all want something for nothing. None of them are in the business of creating value, but this does not dissuade them from the attempt to get high returns from the rest of us.
Since this is the lament of the unfaithful servant in the Gospel, I’ve been forced to re-examine the passage for a deeper enlightenment that has thus far eluded me. I’m okay classifying Henry, Ivan and the others as “gathering where [they] did not scatter seed,” but I don’t really want to classify myself as unfaithful. I have always tried to keep the faith, even when doing so seemed counterproductive to the furtherance of my own aims. I have always, in my work, sought to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of stakeholders, and to accomplish this I have often worked at cross purposes with my bosses. I have not, in effect, returned the talents I received plus an equal number that I did not receive, and I have not been invited, therefore, to “enter into the joy of my master[s].”
This is more than a little disconcerting to me. I don’t want to be the faithless servant, but it would seem that I have become him in spite of my adherence to good faith and good purpose. Should I have behaved differently? I honestly don’t know. I could have gotten a different result by being more self-interested, but then I would also be closer to the ranks of those who reap what they did not sow—not a place I ever want to go except by happy accident.
After a little reflection, I realized that the disconnect in my understanding of the parable was that, while the landowner in this instructive little story may stand in for God, God does not stand in for Henry or Ivan or Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein or Dick Fuld any other venal, self-serving, godless fool bent on harvesting more than his due in real life, up to and including Bernie Madoff. In real life there are those who create value and those who do not. For the non-creators, the business of life is a zero sum game. Whatever a non-creator gets must come from someone else. Whatever comes from someone else, to the degree that value was not given for it, is stolen.

The Beatific Vision. Gold not required.
This is one of my favorite jokes. I would happily credit it if I knew from whence it came.
A man was worried that he would have to leave his accumulated wealth behind when he died. He felt that he had worked hard all his life, been honest and forthright in all his dealings, and made charitable provision for those less fortunate than himself. He felt justified, therefore, in wanting to take some of his fortune with him into the afterlife.
Making this argument, he petitioned his parish priest for a dispensation of sorts to enable him to enjoy his riches in heaven. The priest was naturally reluctant to promise the man something so far beyond his own pay grade, but the man persisted so the priest took the matter up with his bishop, and the bishop, in turn, took the matter up with the Pope.
The Pope, after much prayer and meditation, granted the man’s request with one caveat. The man could bring as much wealth with him to the pearly gates as he could stuff into one regular sized satchel, but no more.
Buoyed by this decision, the man immediately bought a leather satchel and converted as much of his holdings into gold bullion as would fit into it. Then he made arrangements to be buried with his treasure and waited to die. Presumably he continued to live his life as he had before, only with the added comfort that he was, in spite of all platitudes to the contrary, going to be able to ‘pass through the eye of the needle’ with the fruits of his labors intact.
One day the man died, as all of us must, and came before the gates of Heaven where he was met by St. Peter himself. St. Peter noticed the leather satchel at the man’s feet.
“I’m sorry,” St. Peter said to the man, “but you’re not allowed to bring that in here.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” the man replied, “I have permission from the Pope to bring it—one satchel only, but it’s mine to keep.”
St. Peter stroked his beard a bit, and consulted his records. “Okay,” he said at last, “but I’m going to have to inspect the contents before I let you pass.”
“Of course,” said the man, opening the satchel for St. Peter to peer inside.
St. Peter looked at the gold bricks, then at the man, then at the gold, then at the man. His face wrinkled with puzzlement.
“You brought paving?” he asked.