A Success Story

River StonesI’ve worked for some fine people over the course of my career.  One of the best was my old manager from my past employer, Chuck Reedy.

I worked for Chuck for two years.  He was a good manager, treating everyone with dignity and respect.  He was dedicated, hard working, and pragmatic.  Unfortunately, Chuck was laid-off in November, 2007 due to a company downsizing.

It was only after Chuck was gone that I fully appreciated the quality of his leadership and character.  In the span of one month, I reported to three different managers due to firings for performance.  Chuck had done an excellent job of insulating our team from the craziness of his leaders, never once complaining or blaming them to us.  He was a class act.

I kept tabs on Chuck’s job search through his son, who continues to work at that company.  But as the weeks turned into months and then stretched beyond a year with no full-time employment, I stopped asking about him. I justified myself by reasoning that it was rude to keep asking about such a painful issue – I’d be rubbing salt in an open wound.

Now that I’m unemployed, I see things very differently.  There’s nothing like walking in someone else’s shoes for a while to give you a new perspective.

Recently, I had to phone Chuck to ask if he’d be willing to be a reference for me.  I was nervous calling him – would he be upset that I had done a poor job of staying in contact, that I hadn’t been more supportive? But the warmth in his voice put my worries to rest.  He’s still a class act.

He said that he searched for full-time work for over a year.  Twice he made it as far as the final interview, only to lose out to another candidate or a hiring freeze.  Now Chuck sees this as a blessing.

“I always wanted to have my own business, but never took the time to pursue it.  God opened that door for me, but I spent a lot of time looking at the door He had closed.”

Now Chuck is running his own contracting / handyman service.  He has several remodeling and building projects in the works.  The same qualities he demonstrated as a manager serve him well in his new business.  The work is hard, but he’s happy and fulfilled, and wakes each morning with a new sense of purpose.

Chuck told a story of a recent church study group meeting where the leader asked everyone to share what they’re thankful for from the past year.  “I’m grateful that God led me to where I belong,” Chuck said.  “I never realized I could be this happy.”

A Vision Of Two Worlds

I missed last week’s post.  I’m in danger of missing this week’s as well.  There’s so much to do…

When I was laid-off in February, I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be in unemployment.  In the last two weeks, I spent a day’s time applying for food stamps and almost two days reapplying for financial aid for our two college-aged children.  And then there’s the job search, which has settled into a frustrating daily effort.

I’m working harder now than I have in years, but with very little to show for my efforts so far.  In fact, this is the answer to the question I posed in the last post:

I’m not unemployed, I’m under-compensated.

Compensation can be corrected – that’s the good news.

Unfortunately, I can’t correct it all by myself.  That’s the crux of my challenge; my problem, my opportunity to grow.

I’ve enjoyed the extra time I’ve had at home with my family over the past two months.  Our relationships are growing stronger, and the flexibility in my schedule is a real benefit.  It’s exciting to envision all the new career paths available to me with my friends and family.  These have been mountain-top experiences.

But I still find it daunting to reach out to “weak” network connections.  When exploring potential leads not perfectly in alignment with my previous career tract, I drag my feelings of lack and self-doubt with me into the conversations.  I stack the deck against myself before I even pick up the phone.  The truth be told, sometimes I lose faith in myself and don’t even make the call, unwilling to risk possible rejection.  A valley like that can feel very deep indeed.

I’m trapped between two visions of competing worlds.  In one, we’re all connected at a deep level, sharing one spirit, brothers and sisters working together in peace and strength.  Success comes through our connections, providing an abundance that is mutually shared and beneficial.

The other world is a far darker place, dog-eat-dog, where our success comes at the expense of others.  Those others I see as my competitors at best, my enemies in my weaker moments.  I fear they hold a power over me that keeps me from fulfilling my purpose on this earth.

These two worlds are mutually exclusive.  They cannot both exist.  One is true, the other is false.  Yet I’ve experienced both over my lifetime.  And I continue to vacillate between the two, with more and more frequency.

A loving person lives in a loving world.  A hostile person lives in a hostile world.  Everyone you meet is your mirror.  — Ken Keyes Jr.

The time has now come to choose.  I made a plan in share group today with my friend Jim.  Starting today, I plan to reach out each day to at least one person that challenges my comfort.  In this way, I will test whether I can perceive the Savior that faith tells me is in each one of us. I share this plan with you so that you can hold me accountable.

May we all behold the light that others hold out for us.

Stories From Unemployment – 4

Graduation Cake Guy image by CarbonNYC.  Click image to see his entire photostream.

"Graduation Cake Guy" image by CarbonNYC. Click image to see his entire photostream.

Earlier this week, I heard a news report stating the last time the national unemployment rate was this bad was back in the early 1980’s.  I graduated from college in 1983, at the height of the Reagan recession.  I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree, and there were very few recruiters who visited our campus that year.  Consequently, I found myself at the end of my senior year saying goodbye to my friends and heading back to my parent’s home with no job prospects and no idea what to do next.

My time back home only lasted about a week before my mother was counseling me, “Douglas, I love you, but there’s nothing here for you anymore.  You need to go back to Alfred.  Get an apartment.  Get a part-time job.  Take some art course if you’d like, but keep in contact with your profession there.”

And that’s just what I did.

The Fifth Year of College

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about that extra year I spent at Alfred University.  I supported myself working at the sub shop, selling some short-run custom pottery pieces, and working as a lab assistant.  I even did some substitute teaching in my old high school during the Christmas break – the horror.

When I graduated from high school, I had a dual college prep / art major.  I decided to pursue a degree in engineering for the financial security that career offered.  You can always be a full-time engineer and a part-time artist, I figured, but it doesn’t work so well the other way around. The price of that promised security was four solid years of math, science, and technical course work that left me feeling empty in spite of my academic success.

I made it through my college years by taking every art option I could.  I even discovered a model design and mold making elective that could be counted for either art or engineering credit.  Wally Higgins, the instructor of that industrial pottery arts course, didn’t fit comfortably into either school.  His class was considered too rigid by the artists, too low-tech by the engineers.  I was drawn to him as a kindred spirit.  I even took my senior thesis under him.

When I returned for my fifth year, Wally accepted me as a lab assistant, and helped me get into a number of upper level art courses most engineering students couldn’t access.  I took advanced drawing, neon, sculpture, and glass courses.  Here at last was my opportunity to unleash my creativity.  I should have been in heaven.

Instead, I was miserable.  I judged myself a failure.  All my college friends were either working or enrolled in graduate school.  Why didn’t I work harder to find a job?  Why didn’t I apply for grad school? I allowed myself no satisfaction in my art work.  I’m an engineer, I thought.  I don’t belong in these classes.

The only accomplishments I valued were the dozens of job applications I generated over the long winter months.  But even that work was frustrating: I rarely received acknowledgement the letters had been received.  It was seven months before I got my first job interview.

The tide finally broke my way in May of 1984.  I landed two job offers, and left with great relief for my first job choice in Syracuse, happy to have the long year at Alfred finally behind me.

It took several years before I realized just how badly I had missed the opportunities of that fifth year.  I was supporting myself and doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, but my self-judgements turned a potential heaven into a hell.  No one considered me a failure but me, still that was all it took.  I cut myself off from the support and friendship that was mine for the asking.

I looked past all I had, and focused on what I felt I lacked.  I reaped the bitter harvest that I sowed.

All This Has Happened Before…

And now, twenty-five years later, I’ve been tempted to fall back into the same trap again.

I learned Friday from the hiring manager for the job I wrote about in the last post that his company just went through a down-sizing earlier that week.  They’re filling that position with an internal candidate from another division to avoid one more lay-off.

He was very kind to call me, and I felt well-treated through the whole experience, but as the weekend dragged on the stormy weather outside mirrored my internal frame of mind.  Now what do I do? I brooded.  There are other applications out, but no real prospects on the horizon.

Thankfully, the quote in my planner Monday morning helped me start to turn my thinking around:

I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow.  It is dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. — Dorothy Dix

When I stopped and took stock of all we have, instead of what I lack, I couldn’t help but feel deep gratitude, and peace, and hope.

I enjoy the support of my family and we’ve grown closer over the past month than ever before.  We’re making ends meet financially with the full family’s cooperation and a little assistance from the government.  This experience has also helped me to see how many good friends I have, far more than I would have guessed before the lay-off.

For the first time since I took that first job in Syracuse, the possibilities for my career are wide open.  I limited myself during that fifth year at Alfred by thinking of myself as an unemployed engineer.  In fact, I further limited myself by thinking of that time as my fifth year of college instead of as the first year in my career.

And the world I experienced mirrored the internal thoughts I held closest to my heart.

So, some changes are in order.  This will be the last post titled “Stories From Unemployment.”  I’m excited for what the future holds, and unwilling to carry the “unemployed” label anymore.  Any suggestions you have for new titles for this series would be appreciated, but please don’t suggest the dreaded “seeking opportunities elsewhere.”

Where will my career go – writing, consulting, free lancing, teaching, full-time employment, or some blend of each?  I don’t honestly know at this point.  I’m on a journey of discovery. But I’ll find the answer with the help of my friends and our extended network.  These relationships will show me the way.  They’re the most important asset I have on this journey.

Ultimately, our relationships are all we truly have, or need.

Mind Your Pace

It has now been a little over a week since the layoff.  300 people were let go over two days.  One of them was my friend Brad, who used to work in the IT Department.  The two of us immediately decided to form a support group.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past 9 days without Brad’s help.  It’s incredible how many things need to be done when you’re unemployed.  We’ve got each other’s back, so nothing important falls through the cracks.

Brad and I are working harder now than we have in years, we’re just not getting paid for it.  Since we were let go on Ash Wednesday, we joke about giving up being paid for our work for Lent.  Of course, all work looking for a job and no fun will make Doug and Brad crazy-psycho nuts, unsuitable for hiring.

So we agreed to go for a hike in the woods by my house this past Thursday.  We could catch up on our progress while getting some exercise and also get out from under our wives’ feet, so they could both have a break from us – a tri-fecta!

It was clear and cool as we headed up over the hill and down the trail into the Forrey Preserve.  Perfect hiking weather.  Since Brad had never hiked these woods, I led the way, choosing the trails to lead him past some of my favorite areas.

We spoke of what we had been doing the past several days, and  I told Brad how frustrated I was at the pace of my progress.  I hadn’t applied to any jobs yet.  Heck, I was just getting started updating my resume.

As we walked and talked, I discovered I needed to slow my pace a fair amount to avoid leaving Brad behind. “You’re not going to get much of a workout at this pace,” a voice nagged from the back of my mind.

So be it, I decided.  It was too nice a day and I was enjoying our time together too much to worry about whether I worked up a sweat or not.

“It sure is a nice day to be unemployed,” Brad said, as if reading my mind.  The sun shone brightly on the naked branches of the trees, their light gray tips glowing in contrast against the deep blue sky.

Brad has been a computer geek for as long as I’ve know him, but he actually went to school for anthropology, and he worked several years doing archeological field work on local Native people.  As we walked along the trails at his pace, his eyes were always scanning our surroundings.  He paused often to pick something up or to point something out, each time explaining to me what he had found.

I began to understand just how much I had missed by hurrying through the woods at my normal pace.

Brad found a “fire-cracked” stone.  He explained how the Natives didn’t have cook pots that could be heated directly on a fire.  Instead, they cooked by heating stones in the fire and then dropping them into a stew or a soup.  The thermal shock to the stone would often break it, making an edge that resembled a dull axe.

Brad found bits of stone not native to the area, carried there by others in times gone by.  He pointed out an old, shallow trench where someone had mined a small vein of coal.  He spoke of Civil War times, how Ohio had been completely strip-forested to make charcoal for the foundries in the Ohio River valley to make weapons for the Union army.  He explained how the ravines we were passing, like the rest throughout Ohio, were so much steeper than they would have been because of the ecological damage from the run-off of this deforestation.

Brad also showed me the best places to look for arrowheads when I told him I had never found one before.  “Freshly plowed fields are usually the best places to look,” he said, “but in the woods you can find them in the roots of a downed tree.”

At the top of the next hill we found a number of trees that had been blown over by a recent storm.  We wandered like little boys from root ball to root ball, scraping at the dirt, examining everything we unearthed with the solemn focus that only occurs in play.

We continued down the branching trails, my pace now matching his better as I listened to his stories, and that’s when I found it.  There where the trail curved to follow the edge of a ravine just a hundred yards up from the river, I stooped to pick up a bright-white stone nestled in a patch of moss in the middle of the path.

“That’s a piece of Flint Ridge flint that they made into a core,” Brad said.  “See the sharpened edges.  They would have used this to make flint tools like arrowheads.”

Score! I thought, but Brad was looking intently around us.

“I bet this used to be a Native campsite,” he said.  “It’s elevated, so it would have been dry.  The ravine makes it defensible, there’s water nearby, and you can see a long way in all directions.”

I had been past this spot a half-dozen times, but I had never noticed it, nor seen the flint core, in my haste.  I followed Brad into the heart of the ancient campsite, imitating him as he carefully searched under the fallen leaves and around the tree bases.  Before long, he found another flake of white flint.  Then he found a solid black flake.

“This one’s from West Virginia,” he said, handing it to me to examine.  He said another flake of dark gray flint was probably from the Coshocton, OH area.

Now that I knew how to look, I discovered several more flint pieces.  I pocketed my first piece and another large Flint Ridge flake to take home as trophies.  Brad was content to leave his finds where they had been dropped by their original Native owners.

It was the same forest I had hiked scores of times before, but it was a completely different experience, simply by slowing my pace.  I would have passed right by the treasures we found had it been up to me.

I realized in that moment that this was the answer to my job search worries as well.  I’ve been staying focused on the present, following the “flow” minute by minute, working on the top priority of the moment.  In the past week, communicating with my friend, and especially with my family, had been the biggest priority.  They needed to share their concerns and fears, and even their anger.  They needed me to listen to their ideas, to understand their viewpoint, and to share the strength I’ve been receiving with them.

In my heart, I have a sense of peace that I am fulfilling my role since the layoff.  Worry crept in only when I started comparing myself to others, or worse yet, to what I judged I should be doing based on past experience.  I never would have found the treasures in relationships I’ve experienced over the past week listening to that nagging voice in my head.  There wouldn’t have been time moving at his pace.

Yet the miracle this Saturday morning, just two days later, is I have those treasures and good progress on the job search.  There are two solid job applications out in two different fields with two tailored resumes, updated profiles on internet job boards, and a number of other potential leads in the hopper.

There’s still so much to do, but I’m happy to be experiencing the peace that comes from heeding the pace that comes from our higher Source.  My prayer is for you to share this same peace.  May you have faith in the pace He asks of you.

An Open Letter To My Wife Carol

Picture by KM Cheng, Hong Kong
Picture by KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Dear Carol,

I’ve missed you while you’ve been away visiting your twin sister this past week.  I’m glad that you’re having a good time and getting a break from the usual routines around the house.  You deserve it.
 
I’m writing to tell you how much I appreciate all that you do.  You’re right, maintaining our house is a full-time job.  And it’s a thankless job, too.  I’m sorry that I’ve been so thoughtless and ungrateful.  It’s nice to come home to a clean, organized, orderly home.  I’ve really missed that these past several days.
 
I’ve done my best to care for the pets, the house, and the yard like you do, but I have to admit that it has been a struggle for me.  While I enjoy our house and our pets, I take no great pleasure in completing all the daily, weekly, and monthly chores necessary to keep and maintain them.  Several times over the past week I’ve been overwhelmed at the thought of all the tasks left to be done.  I’ve been angry and irritable, flying off the handle at the slightest set back.  More than once, I’ve lost heart and given up, pushing off the workload to the next day.  Of course, that means even more work to do when that next day arrives.
 
I don’t understand how you can do this work each day, much less want to do it.  Housework to me has always been a necessary evil; something that you do quickly so that you can get to the “more important” activities in your life.  But as I’ve stumbled through this past week, I’ve gained a new appreciation for you and all that you do for our family.  It takes a special kind of heart to want to do the work that you do, a mother’s heart.  To willingly want to serve your family by doing all those thankless tasks necessary to maintain our home each and every day, that’s love. 
 
You give our family comfort and care.  You give me structure and stability.  I can rely on you in so many ways.  Your support at home strengthens me, encourages me, and frees me to do all that I do in this world.  Without you here, I’ve been like a ship without a rudder, tossed about in the storms of life.  I can’t claim to be a great man, but I do know that I’m nothing without you behind me.
 
I feel that I’m seeing you with new eyes.  You are a marvelous woman, special beyond my ability to describe, and I love you.  I’m anxious for your return.  When you do come home, I ask you to hold me accountable: each and every day, I need to thank you for all that you do for me and our family.  It’s because of you that this house is a home.
 
Love,
Dug