How to Heal

TRexDuckyI don’t make my living doing marketing anymore. I work for a small software company in the Silicone Prairie. I have made my way into another niche market. Instead of pipe organ building, I now work with people in heavy truck salvage and food production. It’s one job, two product lines. I’m doing what I thought I’d never do again, what I thought I’d never want to do again. But, it’s different this time.

Bye-bye Lily Pad

I spent a couple of years convalescing from my awful work environment in the used textbook wholesale industry. It took two full years to stop wincing every time I saw someone walk by my desk. I was afraid I’d never be able to work in an office environment again. But, my marketing job allowed me some freedoms that helped me heal my sense of being an oarsman on a slave ship. That sounds hyperbolic, but that old job took parts of my soul that I am still trying to recover. It’s going to be a slow process.

I landed safely on a lily pad. Financially, it was difficult. I kept hoping for a sale to supplement my income. That sale never came, the company changed hands, and I was offered a cut in pay. That was my signal to leave. It just about crushed me. I had stayed long enough to invest some identity in the company and the job I was doing. Few people knew what I did in my old job, but lots of people knew what I did while I was on my lily pad. It was a good fit for my skills and personality. They simply couldn’t pay me enough to live on, so I leapt.

The Healing Place, 2

I’ve landed in a good place. I have gone back to technology. I am among my geek people again. I have a sense of stability. I can pay my bills. I have health insurance through my employer. I get to work with kind, smart people, who work together as a team. We have lunches together. People bring their dogs to work. I spent less than $10.00 on gas last month.

I’ve also had the chance to pull on the threads of my old, soul-sucking job. I’ve been given a clear image of what was job and what was work environment. I am grateful. I occassionally wince, but not as often. I was battered. I was thrown away. I was picked off the garbage pile and given an experience completely different. I leapt. I ended up in a similar and better place. That is what healing is. T. S. Eliot put it right in his Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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How to Get Fired: Part 4

I was fired a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter if you call it fired, laid off, down sized, or asked to resign. It still feels like being fired. Recently most of my friends from my old job were laid off. Some were given a few months to finish out their jobs, others were escorted out of the building immediately. These next few articles are for them, and for me, and possibly for you. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve learned through my experience. I’ve come out the other side. It wasn’t luck, it was a process. I’m pretty extroverted, so some of what I did might strike fear in your heart. Use what you can. I’m not you.

Time to Quit?

In my own story, I stayed too long. I had enough money and reasonable benefits, so I felt I had something to lose by leaving. What was happening to me, however, was boiled frog syndrome. The company I worked for gradually became less of a family business and more of a salt mine. Much of this happened after the company became publicly traded. At that point there was an incentive to please the stock holders and consistently increase profits. One of my training classes was centered around the concept of EBITDA. Interestingly enough, I found this Forbes article on EBITDA while I was looking for a link. I remember thinking during this class, that the easiest way to meet EBITDA was to reduce the cost of staffing. When I mentioned that, my instructor became noticeably distressed. She left the company within a few months of that class. Looking back, I think she had a perspective I didn’t at the time.

So many of these things happened gradually, but here is a list (there were so many to choose from) of warnings:

  • Every employee was brought into a meeting and given a copy of Who Moved my Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.
  • Often and with very little warning, the manager would reconfigure the desk assignments of employees.
  • The company no longer matched 401K contributions.
  • The company no longer covered any cost associated with education outside of the company.
  • The company no longer offered bonuses.
  • Raises were nominal.
  • The company filed bankruptcy.
  • Employees were called into mandatory, after-hours meetings with the CEO, and given a list of questions that were not allowed to ask.
  • One manager, clearly demoted into her new position, was removed from her office. She was placed in a cubical which looked onto her former office. That office stood empty for months.
  • Employees were frequently given more duties without financial compensation.
  • Training changed from formal classes to notes written by programmers.
  • When the company emerged from bankruptcy, work conditions and pay did not improve.

Leave Before you Feel Trapped

If your intuition is telling you things are going to get worse at work, they probably are. While profits keep a company in business, good employees keep a company moving forward. If you beat the oarsmen enough, they won’t be physically able to row, and your ship will drift with the currents. Keep your oarsmen fed and rested, and they will help move your ship across an ocean.

Unfortunately, low workplace morale doesn’t just damage employee productivity, it damages people. It’s easy to lose sight of your worth in hostile work environments. This can send workers into downward spirals of one bad job experience after another. A good career counselor can help you recognize your strengths, and restore your faith in yourself. Don’t let yourself get boiled. Jump out, while there’s still time.


References:
Boiled frog syndrome
Career and Life Options
EBITDA definition
Forbes article on EBITDA
Who Moved my Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson.

How to Get Fired: Part 3

I was fired a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter if you call it fired, laid off, down sized, or asked to resign. It still feels like being fired. Recently most of my friends from my old job were laid off. Some were given a few months to finish out their jobs, others were escorted out of the building immediately. These next few articles are for them, and for me, and possibly for you. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve learned through my experience. I’ve come out the other side. It wasn’t luck, it was a process. I’m pretty extroverted, so some of what I did might strike fear in your heart. Use what you can. I’m not you.

The Personal Reboot

I needed a personal reboot when I shed my old job. I had taken on so many “survival skills,” I had lost sight of my own worth. I hold a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, not a traditionally lucrative degree program. Many of my classmates wondered how I became such a tech. It was survival, pure and simple. Learning some of these skills gave me a sense of accomplishment while others felt a little like punishment. My former job was stressful, fast-paced, and heavy on triage training (learning what you have to learn while you’re troubleshooting an issue). That “do or die” environment forced me to develop very good troubleshooting skills. It also caused me to burn out.

My reboot involved critically looking at my skill set and job experience. I treated them as an occupational buffet. I had worked a lot of jobs out of necessity, and a few because they sounded interesting. Those work experiences yielded a varied list of skills. I ended up with three separate resumes, all with completely different skill sets — technology, writing-marketing, and music. I had very little to lose, so I picked the resume that appealed the most to me, and started networking.

One Step Back, Three Steps Forward

I ended up with a marketing job at a small company. If I look at it in terms of salary, it was a step back. If I look at it in every other way, it was leaps forward. I have honed my marketing skills. I have created content, built a social media campaign, created print ads for international publications, and done video editing. I was able to delve deeply into aspects of marketing that wouldn’t have been available to me in a larger company. Plus, I work with some of the kindest people I know. Win!

I know my path might not be the one for you, but consider it. Burn out can kill your spirit and weaken your body. My burn-out lifestyle was much more expensive than the way I’m living now. If you need a personal reboot, take one before you develop a serious illness, before your relationships fall apart, before you just can’t get out of bed anymore. Take it, because you don’t have to be shackled by your survival skills.

Set Your Own Buffet

Now, sit down with your list of skills and work experiences. Divide them into three groups:

  1. I LOVE using these!
  2. I feel comfortable using these.
  3. The thought of using these makes me physically ill.

Concentrate on the first two groups. What kind of a living could you make from those skills and experiences? Does using these skills mean you need to work for an unconventional company? Do you need to be an entrepreneur? Sit with these ideas for a while. Write them down. Talk through them with a transitional career counselor, your family, your friends. Your next job might simply act as a bridge to your new life. Let yourself take the step.


References:
Career and Life Options

How to Get Fired: Part 2

I was fired a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter if you call it fired, laid off, down sized, or asked to resign. It still feels like being fired. Recently most of my friends from my old job were laid off. Some were given a few months to finish out their jobs, others were escorted out of the building immediately. These next few articles are for them, and for me, and possibly for you. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve learned through my experience. I’ve come out the other side. It wasn’t luck, it was a process. I’m pretty extroverted, so some of what I did might strike fear in your heart. Use what you can. I’m not you.

Who Are You?

As strange as it sounds, if you are unemployed, you are now in the marketing field. Your primary job is to market yourself to potential employers. The first step is to find your brand, your identity. This is where the introverts shout, “But I just want a job!” Let’s start painlessly with what you can do.

You have skills you don’t recognize as “skills.” If you are in a tech field, list all the operating systems you can use and your skill levels. Do you work primarily on a Windows platform? Do you use it simply to get into software, or do you troubleshoot and configure hardware, software, and network settings? It doesn’t matter if you were paid to do this, or if you have a Linux box in your basement. List the skills. Then list your software, even if it’s old software, especially if it’s obscure. List all your programming languages, even if they’re not the hot ones. List everything and get it on LinkedIn. Put the stuff you enjoy doing most at the top of your list (you can drag and drop skills). Get them on your resume.

Once you see your skills in front of you, look at the list in terms of what you enjoy doing. If you can setup a printer remotely, but it fills you with dread, shift your identity, your brand, away from that skill. We have all picked up what I like to call “survival skills.” These are things you do, because you have to. It’s okay to leave these skills behind, or to use them in a different context.

Where do You Want to Be?

When I worked with Cindy Kaliff at Career and Life Options, she asked me to make a list of companies I thought would be good places to work. Do that now. You’ve already heard things through the grapevine or in the news. Use your intuition. If you’ve always wanted to work for Google, put Google on your list. If you’ve heard good things about TalentPlus, put that company on your list. Think big. Think small. Just think anything is possible. And remember companies like Apple have a number of remote employees. Dreaming big doesn’t always mean selling your house and moving to a different part of the world.

Once you have your list, start paying attention to the people in your personal network. You might be surprised to see you have some sort of connection to a company. If you do, start up a conversation. Ask them what they like and dislike about being there. Ask if they have any jobs opening up. If a door seems to close, you will probably find you either didn’t want to be there, or the opportunity will come later. Sometimes you have to go through the healing process of letting go of your old job, before the perfect opportunity presents itself.

Find Your Tribe

No one is in this alone. If you are one of many who were laid off at the same time, this is the time to work together to find new work. You will all benefit from meeting on a regular basis, looking at each other’s skill sets, resumes, brands. You might be competing for similar jobs, but a group can make you feel accountable for your job search.

If you’re going this alone, start exploring some professional groups in your area. Get to know people in your field. Chat them up. Where do they work? Do they like it there? Get in there and mingle. Get yourself known in a good way. People find the best jobs through networking. Look at these gatherings as fun. Never get drunk, if there’s alcohol. Don’t bad mouth your former employer. But let yourself enjoy the company of other professionals.


References:
Apple
Career and Life Options
Google
LinkedIn
No, Your Brand isn’t just your Logo
TalentPlus

How to Get Fired: Part 1

I was fired a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter if you call it fired, laid off, down sized, or asked to resign. It still feels like being fired. Recently most of my friends from my old job were laid off. Some were given a few months to finish out their jobs, others were escorted out of the building immediately. These next few articles are for them, and for me, and possibly for you. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve learned through my experience. I’ve come out the other side. It wasn’t luck, it was a process. I’m pretty extroverted, so some of what I did might strike fear in your heart. Use what you can. I’m not you.

You Haven’t Lost Everything

When you’re fired, you lose a job. It’s not your occupation. It’s certainly not your career. But, you are going to miss things and people related to that job. You might miss the structure, the people you saw in the hall, the location. You will grieve these losses. Let yourself feel that loss. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, hopeless, set adrift, relieved, giddy, free, anxious, hopeful, tired, wired… I felt all of those at various points. I also slept a lot. It’s all part of it.

I worked as a support representative for a national company. It was stressful work helping stressed workers. Many of the same people called in regularly, so we all got to know who we were supporting. In fact, if I see a comment from a former client on Facebook, I hear their voice immediately. Before I left, my regular callers would get emotional on the phone. I heard a lot of them say, “So and So gave their notice today. They said they’re taking a month off before they start looking for another job. No, they don’t know if they can do it financially, but they’re so burned out. I’m about ready to walk out too.” It was obvious I needed time to collect myself, before I started my job search. If you have any means of doing that, give yourself some time.

Call It a Sabbatical

I had some money saved up. If you don’t already have money saved outside of retirement, I encourage you to start saving. It’s an investment in freedom. I did some math and decided I could afford to be unemployed for 3 months. I decided to call it a sabbatical. Since I had worked for nine years in a poured-concrete building, without windows, near a state penitentiary, I spent my first day of freedom outside. I made plans to picnic with three friends. That was an important step in my recovery.

My life was completely unstructured for a month and a half. I slept when I was tired. I ate when I was hungry. I got out in nature. I also spent a great deal of time in silence. That might have been a reaction to my phone-centric job. Honestly, I still have problems carrying on phone conversations, and I hate to answer the phone when it rings. It’s been two years. I don’t know if that will ever change.

The point is, I took time to let myself heal. A different friend was fired right before she was going to leave on a European vacation. It was important for her to take that trip. It made life feel less dark, more manageable. It’s so tempting to try to push through and do “the right thing.” There is no right way to do this. And if you’ve found yourself in a downward spiral of one bad job experience after another, it’s important for you to take a step back to gain perspective. Money is important, but so is your health.

Find a Guide

Before I lost my job, I started working with a transitional career counselor. She was a life saver. I’ll share some of what she taught me in future posts. Her greatest gift was restoring my faith in myself. A good counselor helps you evaluate your strengths, gives you perspective on your work history, and helps you develop strategies. I’ll leave you with one more thing. Your job is simply the work you do for pay. Your occupation is how you classify the work you are trained to do. Your career is basically the sum of your life experiences: your job history, education, volunteer activities, even your hobbies. Losing a job can be a blip on your life’s radar. It can also be an opportunity to explore and expand your career.


References:
Career and Life Options
Future Focus: Postsecondary Pathways

Don’t Let your Website Drive away Traffic

I’m making SEO (Search Engine Optimization) changes to the Bedient website. These are minor adjustments, like adding alt tags to photos and entering meta data. Monkey work aside, I’m noticing things on other websites. Here’s a short list.

Data Mining too Soon

I have encountered websites (usually for a small company launched on WordPress) with screens asking for my e-mail information before I see any content. I leave these right away. On a subtle level, it tells me they only care about what I can do for them and that is probably reflected in their service. On a more practical level, those pop-ups might prevent me from getting to their content. This seems to happen most often to me on Twitter. I rarely check Twitter on anything but my phone (iPhone 5). My phone does not allow me to change the size of these pop-up screens. I have gone so far as to contact the companies and explain the problem. One changed their website in response, one did not. The latter lost my business immediately.

Incompatibility Across Platforms

We could have avoided the situation above simply by looking at the website on different devices. If you post links to your site in social media, your site needs to be compatible with mobile devices. If you are a small business owner, throw a party where friends bring their mobile devices (phones and tablets). Make a game out of finding the bug in your website. You can even give a small gift to the people with the hardest devices to interface. Take notes and make changes. Check the site for useability on Mac, Windows, and Linux (if you have a tech site). Check it in Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and even Opera. You will lose your audience if people cannot access content, or your forms don’t work. Treat your website like a resource for your clients. Flashy scripts are only cool if they don’t interfere with your web traffic.

Regular Maintenance

If you publish prices on your site, update them when they change. Make sure your links still work. If you write a blog, keep writing as regularly as you are able. Your website is a resource. Many people (myself included) will check a website before they walk into a store or call a company. If the information is outdated, or the site looks like it was created in 1998, I will assume the service or product is substandard. It doesn’t matter if that’s fair, it’s simply the nature of business. Getting back to SEO, regular maintenance tells search engines that this is a current site. That raises your rating in search results.

Fill in all the Content

A friend sent me a message a while back. She had been looking for leads and stumbled on a website for a marketing company. In the About Us section it read, “Lorem ipsum…” This was a marketing company that hadn’t bothered to replace the default text in at least one of their sections. Unfortunately, that is an advertisement. It clearly states the company doesn’t finish projects and has no eye for detail. The average person doesn’t care about back story. They won’t assume you had a huge client with a looming deadline. They care that you chose not to do something very simple with your own website.

Simple strategies work the best. Beautiful photos and well-written content always win me over. Useful information that I can find in one or two clicks is king. I’ll gladly send you my e-mail address if you offer something I can use. But make it an option at the bottom of your engaging content, don’t make my data the price of admission.

Try Not to Act Surprised

2014-11-09 13.30.45
I spent last weekend in LA. This was not your typical, go to Disney, happen to see a B-level celebrity at Starbucks trip. This was business with a bunch of pleasure thrown in. The weather was great. I stayed with friends. I rented a car so I could get where I needed to go in my own time. And I spent some of my time attending the Taxi Road Rally, an annual songwriting conference.

Nearly everything exceeded my expectations. Each morning, I enjoyed coffee in a beautiful garden. I easily moved through traffic. I even got a private tour of Disney Hall and their pipe organ. I met some great new people and learned some valuable things about the music industry. I even found a beautiful scarf on sale in a drug store. I felt completed charmed.

On Sunday, I sat with new friends on a deck in Laurel Canyon. The view was stunning (see the photo above), and the conversation hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been standing in my own way. I have been limiting myself for years. The midwest and plains states are filled with talented people who are taught to never be a bother. All the time I was trying not to inconvenience anyone, I was inadvertently limiting my own potential.

“Ask and ye shall receive,” is one of the most paraphrased Bible verses (Matthew 7:7-8). How did I miss that? Over the years, my desire not to impose left me never really asking for what I wanted. You could say I wasted a lot of time waiting for someone to offer me something they had no idea I could use. I became good at identifying what I didn’t want, but that’s not the same thing as naming your desires. “Sometimes just saying it out loud is enough,” was one of the bricks lobbed at me on that deck. I wasn’t avoiding putting someone else out. I was giving away my own power.

Then I caught myself sounding surprised. Humility is a wonderful trait, but it almost sounds ungrateful to someone who gives you something from their heart. Here’s the way it should go. Someone asks you what you want. You tell them. They give it to you. You thank them. Our big world wonders what we want most from it. It’s impolite not to answer. What I learned, just last weekend, is receiving life’s gifts and being grateful isn’t selfish. It isn’t the same as grabbing food out of someone else’s mouth. I will work on asking for the things I want. The biggest challenge might be to not act surprised when I get them.