Stories From Unemployment 3

This post is dedicated to my friend David.  I hope you realize how many friends you have in your “network.”

In Praise of Networking

Exactly one month to the day now since I was laid-off.  I had my first phone interview last week regarding a great local job with a Fortune 500 company.  The position looks like it would be a natural career progression for me.  I’ve been very careful not to let myself get my hopes up, but I can’t help being honest here:

I would love this job, I would rock in that position, and it would exceed all my job search goals: a growing company in emerging technology with better pay and benefits, and they’re located a mile closer to my house.

If I do end up getting this job, it will be because of networking.  I have to admit, I’ve never been comfortable with the term “networking” before.  I always viewed it in negative terms; I thought of it as pushing myself on others to get what I wanted, like a sleazy used car salesman.  I don’t know anyone important and I’m not good at networking anyway, I thought.

But the experiences of the past month have shown me just how wrong I’ve been concerning networking.  It’s not using others to get what you want, it’s really a two-way street.  Neighbors helping neighbors.  Friends indeed helping each other out.

The phone-interview job is a good case in point.  I wouldn’t have even considered applying for it, having been disappointed by the same company on three different occasions in the past four years.  But two friends separately encouraged me to check out the company’s job board, and this position had been posted just two days prior to my search.

One friend made some inquires and learned who the hiring manager is.  She convinced a former colleague to put in a good word for me and to give the manager my resume.  Two other friends that work for the company took my resume to the site HR group.  They even gave me advice on everything from salary ranges to places to research the job’s and company’s details.  Without their help, I never would have gotten the phone interview.

I realize now that I was too proud, and too weak, to allow others to help me.  I can do it on my own, was my unconscious motto.  I didn’t believe others would be willing to help me.  I cut myself off from experiencing true friendship.  I don’t deserve their kindness, was my underlying fear.

But as my network of friends has reached out on my behalf, something miraculous is happening: we’re all being blessed in more ways than we could have imagined.  It’s the pay-it-forward principle – you always receive more than you can give away.  They’re blessed for being a blessing.

Even me, in my current “weakened” position, am finding that I have a great deal to offer.  And as I share what I have, my optimism, my gratitude, and my faith, it’s returned to me a hundred times over.  I can’t begin to express how wonderful the lessons of this past month have been.  My real priorities have become clear.  I will never fear networking with my friends again, nor doubt how many friends we truly have in this big, wide world.

One final “networking” story:

We received an anonymous card in the mail postmarked “Zanesville, OH.”  It contained an inspirational message and $45 in cash.  It was signed, “Praying our blessing forward!  God Bless!”

Thank you my friends.  You gave me a chance to be a generous father to my children, who each had a need for part of that money.  I shared your gift with them.  It was exactly what they needed, and exactly what I needed too.

God bless you, too.

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Stories From Unemployment 2

Image titled Grand Canyon backpack by Kevindooley.  Click on image to see more of his work.

Image titled "Grand Canyon backpack" by Kevindooley. Click on image to see more of his work.

It’s now a little over three weeks since the layoff.  The past week has been very busy and challenging, but also extremely rewarding.  One of the things this experience has taught me is that the rest of your life doesn’t end just because you lose your job.

For instance, our boy scout troop has a backpacking hike planned for tomorrow.  The boys plan to hike a few miles with full packs to prepare for a longer hike in May.  I’ll be sharing the following advice with them before we set out.  This “Scoutmaster’s Minute” obviously has broader applications to searching for a new job, or any other challenge that life may give you.

A Scoutmaster’s Minute On Hiking

As you set out on this hike, you have a choice to make: where are you going to focus your attention?

The reason why you hike is to reach a desired destination.  That’s the goal.  Having a goal is a good thing.  It gives you a direction and a purpose.  Reaching a goal, especially a challenging goal, is rewarding.  When we reach our goal this afternoon, what do you think will be our rewards?

With so many obvious rewards, it’s easy to see why so many people focus their attention on the goal.

But consider this: what is a hike?  A hike is actually a series of individual steps taken one after the other over time until the desired goal is achieved.  What many people fail to recognize is each one of those steps offers its own special reward, if you allow it.

This is something you can’t be taught from a book or from someone else telling you about it.  You have to experience it for yourself to understand.

Each step is an opportunity.  No two steps are exactly the same.  Each step is necessary to reach the goal.  And each step will reward you in its own unique way if you’re paying attention.

That’s the beauty and the challenge of hiking: you can focus on the goal and receive your reward at the end, or you can focus on each step, receiving each individual reward along the way, and also attain the extra reward of the goal as an extra benefit.  The choice is yours.

So where will you focus your attention?

Consequences

“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences.” 

                         – Robert G. Ingersoll

I helped deliver the children’s message Sunday during the late service at my church.  I wore a big dog costume to help teach them about the new paper recycling container now located at our church.  I was playing the part of the Abitibi “paper retriever,” who was encouraging the kids and their parents to bring all their household papers to the church to be recycled.

The costume came complete with a full head, body, gloves and boots, making it impossible for anyone to recognize who was in the suit.  So naturally, I decided to ham it up a bit.  I did a fair amount of hurrying about, sniffing at whatever I came across, and each time the kids put a piece of paper in the recycling container, I’d explode into a tail-wagging fit of doggie happiness.  “Paper!  Paper!  Paper!”

I got a number of laughs out of the church audience, and a couple of the kids kept getting up from their seats on the stairs to wave at me, so I got the impression that my performance was well received.  One quick recollection from the event: I started out a bit too animated when we first entered the sanctuary, and I had some trouble catching my breath through the small, restricted air opening in the mask’s nose.  The lack of oxygen made my lungs burn and my head spin, causing me to mess up one of my first lines.  I was able to recover and finish the skit, but it was hot and uncomfortable in that suit.  It was a relief to take it off after our 10 minute performance.

Driving home afterwards, I couldn’t help reviewing the performance in my mind.  I thought again of how I had struggled to catch my breath inside that costume head.  “I should have said, ‘Mister Dog needs to be careful, or he’s going to hyperventillate!'”  That struck me as funny.  I smiled thinking how the audience would have reacted.  Then I thought of another funny line that would have enhanced the performance, and then another.  Oh, if only I had another chance to go back and do it again, I could do it so much better…

Thankfully, I became aware of a small, quiet feeling sounding like an alarm bell from a great distance away, just barely audible, but catching my attention none the less.  I was given the wisdom to catch myself – my mind’s review of my performance had quickly turned critical as I thought of more and more things I could have done differently.  I had done the best that I could at the time; second guessing after the fact was only serving to steal the happiness and joy from the memory of the experience.  “No more,” I resolved as I pulled into our driveway.

At this point, I needed to hurry.  My boys were playing in a soccer tournament, and I needed to eat and get ready before their last game at 1:00 PM.  I had already missed their 11:00 AM game to perform my part at church, so I did not want to be late.  I had a load of laundry to fold, and another load to wash.  The bed still needed to be made, animals needed to be tended, etc.  In my mind, I was thinking about putting off those chores as a reward for my good work in the children’s message, after all, the costume made it hot and hard to breath, and I had delivered the message and got people to laugh.  I deserved a break…

But another small, quiet feeling sounded an alarm, this time as a question: hadn’t I already received my reward?  I had enjoyed the experience of entertaining and teaching the children and their parents, that was the positive consequence of my action.  There was no “reward” after the fact.  Choosing to shirk on my chores in the present as a reward to myself for my past positive actions would have negative consequences in the future.  I realized that I’ve been on a feast & famine roller coaster ride for most of my life because I keep making this mistake about rewards.

I learned quite a while back that most of what we call God’s punishment, or wrath, is usually just the negative consequences of our own decisions.  It’s easier to blame our dissappointments and failings on a ridgid, unsympathetic Supreme Being than it is to take personal responsibility for the poor choices that we’ve made in the past.  As a further consequence, we don’t learn from our hard-earned experience.  We blame our situation on outside forces or events, deny our own responsibility, and repeat the cycle over and over again.  God doesn’t need to punish us, we can do it all on our own.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid making those poor choices to avoid those negative consequences, at first under my own strength, more recently by walking as much as possible in faith.  Thank God, I’ve seen improvement in this area of my life.  However, I now realize that I have been mistakenly pursuing rewards in my life, subconsciously keeping score and granting myself treats for my good works (by my own assessment).  In every case, my “rewards” have negative consequences: fattening snacks or hollow time wasted “resting” in front of the TV, or both.  I allow myself to believe that I deserve these rewards and I’ll somehow avoid the negative consequences associated with them.

We’ve all heard a job well done is its own reward.  I’m not sure that I entirely agree.  Sometime a job, no matter how well done, is nothing more than a lot of hard work that simply has to be endured.  However, I do believe, if we’re focused on being present to each moment in our lives, we’re able to experience the positive consequences of our choices and actions.  Having fun in front of the congregation during the children’s sermon and receiving their laughter was ultimately my “reward”.  Too bad that I didn’t enjoy it more at the time; I was too busy focusing on how I’d reward myself later on.

How about you, dear reader?  Do you believe in rewards?  Is it possible to recognize yourself for your own good efforts after the event?  Do you have any examples of positive consequence rewards?  What do you use for motivation in your life?  Is living in the present its own reward?