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.”

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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.

Success

Picture by KM Cheng, Hong Kong

How do you define success?  Are you interested in achieving success in your life?

Tuesday morning, I had an 8:00 AM appointment at the health center to get a physical.  Since I’m over 40, I need a “Class III” (full) physical each year if I plan to attend summer camp with our Boy Scout troop.  At my age, a full physical means I need to have my prostate checked (no colonoscopy yet; that indignity is still a few years off).  So there I was sitting in an empty examination room, waiting for the Nurse Practitioner to enter and begin my physical and trying to distract my mind from what was about to happen in the next few minutes.

That’s when my eyes fell on a copy of the 21 Suggestions for Success by H. Jackson Brown taped to the cabinet above the sink.  A little research revealed that this list has been spread all over the Internet, but it was a new discovery for me on that Tuesday morning.  Here’s the list in full:

21 Suggestions for Success

By H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

  1. Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.
  2. Work at something you enjoy and that’s worthy of your time and talent.
  3. Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
  4. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
  5. Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  6. Be generous.
  7. Have a grateful heart.
  8. Persistence, persistence, persistence.
  9. Discipline yourself to save money on even the most modest salary.
  10. Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
  11. Commit yourself to constant improvement.
  12. Commit yourself to quality.
  13. Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect.
  14. Be loyal.
  15. Be honest.
  16. Be a self-starter.
  17. Be decisive even if it means you’ll sometimes be wrong.
  18. Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life.
  19. Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
  20. Take good care of those you love.
  21. Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud.

Since I was in that examination room to receive a physical for the scouts, my first thought (with a certain amount of pride) was, “The Boy Scout Oath and Law cover most of these.”  My next thought came almost immediately after, “I need to share this list with my children.”  My daughter is 19 and my older son 18; both are legally adults and long for the privileges adults enjoy, but they’re both still dependent on Carol and I for their support and education.  They both have so much talent and potential, but there are so many ways to loose your way in this world.  This list would make a great road map for them through out their lives.

Still, I have a feeling they won’t be the least bit interested in this list.  They haven’t read any of the other pearls of wisdom that I’ve brought them lately.  Ultimately, I have to learn to accept that; they have to live their lives in the way that fits them best.  They need their chance to test their wings, just as we did in our youth.

So that left me to ponder the list as it applies to me.  I’ve been slowly learning that I can’t live my life by adhering to a list of rules, no matter how good they are.  That list is static, anchored in the past.  It will drag you out of living in the present, making you a prisoner to the decisions of your former self.  As I’m learning to trust myself and starting to believe that I am a good willed person, I’m developing the faith I need to live without rigid rules and principles, accepting life as it comes at me and my reactions to it in return.

 Still, remembering that there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences, it occurs to me that the list above isn’t really a list of rules to follow to achieve success, it’s actually a picture of success itself.  Ultimately, it’s not the destination that’s the goal in this life, it’s the journey itself.  The most satisfying aspect of success isn’t the part when you’ve “arrived” and everyone recognizes it, it’s actually when you’re still striving toward the goal, when you can see it but others can’t, when your intention and purpose give you the courage to dare to stretch yourself beyond your safe borders. 

The 21 Suggestions for Success looks an awful lot like success to me.