Category Archives: The Unemployment Experience

What I Learned About Leaving the Workforce Early – Some Thoughts On That

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thank you CNN

thank you CNN

I’ve realized lately that I’ve read an incredible amount about early retirement, reinvention, midlife change, and related topics to probably  write a book on the subject. OK, maybe not enough for a book, but certainly enough for a blog post.

So I write this in service of anyone reading who may be contemplating these issues and the difficult decisions they often entail.

First of all, once you leave a certain level of job early, you can’t go back. It’s like going home again, you can go to the physical place, but you can’t ever recapture the feeling you think you remember. I find it’s the same kind of thing with the working world. You’ve moved on; they’ve moved on and everything is different. It’s an important choice to leave, and not one to take lightly.

I left a high paying high esteem high stress corporate type job (public relations work) in the early aughts for more time to devote to writing and filmmaking and other creative pursuits; while having that time has been great, I didn’t truly suss out the financials, whether it be self-employment or part time work or just living on savings.

While it is possible I could survive on savings, living a very frugal existence (which I have done for some of the time since I left this aforementioned job), I’m the type to get nervous at only seeing spending with no income coming in at all. So I wanted to do something, just not what I was doing before which was overwhelming (this I realized after I survived a bout of cancer while at that job).

So one of the dirty truths I’ve learned is that nobody will hire you in the same industry you used to work in at a lower level job. You can only be hired again at the same level you were at or higher. The idea that someone with a lot of experience might want a lower pressure job just for the sake of paying the bills does not really compute with the HR types or the always upwardly -driven. And it’s even more that you “marry” your job these days than it was when I left – -management employees are tethered to the company 24/7 by all manner of digital handcuffs. So, no thanks.

So if you don’t want to get back on that rat race treadmill, new opportunities will always pay less. Sometimes really a lot less. So this it another thing I’d think long and hard about: do you really need or want to leave that job so much that you’re willing to give up the salary and the perks that come with it? You’re saying “of course I do, I just have to escape it, it’s hell.” Hell is also having absurd health care costs when you have just very basic insurance; no paid holidays or vacations, no fun gadgets the corporate budget pays for, certainly no paid-for travel, food or even coffee!

I have been greatly blessed in my life; we’re not talking about a hell of no roof over my head or no food on the table, so I’m really not complaining so much as managing expectations. But can someone tell me whatever happened to that idea of job-sharing – for instance, you “share” the job, say, of PR Director with another person; perhaps they work mornings and you work afternoons, or alternate days. You’d think in PR, which as a industry has a ton of female executives, there’d be mothers who’d want that kind of arrangement. But it seems it never took off. One person I asked told me it was around the idea of benefits, as in, who gets the healthcare. Just one more reason for national single payer, Medicare for everyone, if you ask me.

Another thing I’d mention is that age discrimination is rampant and horrible and really hard to pin down. After my last full-time job layoff at the end of 2009, I got crickets response to my resume, with its 30 years of PR experience and several more years of publishing experience. Gurus I talked to encouraged me to leave off the year of my college graduation (1980 – and that was 3 years later than if I’d gone directly after high school) but I figured when they called me in for the interview they’d figure out my age anyway. Except – there haven’t been any interviews! I’ve not been called into any interviews for full time communications jobs in the last five years. Depressing, sure. You become, in a sense, unmanageable (and I understand this now) which derives from many things – experience, age, temperament, your accumulated wisdom, etc.

So one of the gurus told me: “I think consulting is the way you should go.”

Truly, she was correct. And actually, there wasn’t much alternative. So I have become a B2B writing consultant. But this guru also said: “And then you must commit to it 3000 percent!” She was right about that, too. Passion is key if you’re going to become successfully self-employed. Not everyone is cut out for this. For most of us, clients don’t grow on trees. You need to do major marketing work to have a chance to bring in the work — so again, make sure this is something you really want to do.

Some other thoughts on early retirement/involuntary retirement: If you retire at, say, 55, that’s maybe 30 years in retirement. That’s a long time, a really long time! You really need to think long and hard about what you’re going to do with all that time. Lying around the pool or catching up on TV series is OK for a month or so, but beyond that I think most people need a purpose. In fact, I’d say you shouldn’t retire even at a traditional retirement age of 65 or 66 unless you have a plan for what you’re going to do with all that time.

I used to look down on people who were unemployed or said they couldn’t find a job, thinking they were probably doing it wrong or just plain lazy. Then it happened to me. Funny how that works, eh?

I have more pearls I hope to share in future posts.

 

 

The Stages of Grief Apply Here — to the Long Term Unemployment issue

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thus resulting in life change.

3684864264_f68ea349c8

I guess even the cops can go out of business.

I just realized they apply to this situation, there is a definite “grief” process – when you lose a job, can’t find another, resulting in major changes in the way you think.

What am I talking about?

These are Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief:

 

  • anger
  • bargaining (if only)
  • depression
  • acceptance

Nobody exactly died, not physically anyway, but certainly the old self, employed in the way I was, doing the things I did, is no more. So that really is a kind of death, isn’t it?

How these played out for me:

Denial: Although I did not deny the fact that it happened, that I was laid off, I did likely deny it’s seriousness, its implications. The last full time job layoff for me occurred in November, 2009. I do remember thinking “well, might as well take the holidays off, as no one will be hiring between now and New Year’s, anyway. . .”  I also didn’t think it too odd when my resume was not responded to, as in, not responded to at all. . .when that had never happened before. (this time, of course, it’s different: both the economy and the job market)

Anger: I can see this in two areas: 1) intense anger at the non-profit I worked for, which laid off an entire department (3 white gay men and one African-American straight woman, 3 of us over 50, all of us over 45) and the perceived age discrimination there (of course, it didn’t help that the person who laid us all off was herself gay and over 50) as well as the perceived age discrimination as the reason for the above-referenced non-response to any job I applied for.

Bargaining: I can see this most clearly as I looked at my previous jobs and some decisions I made: would I have resigned from that great tech PR job if I knew that the economy was set to implode? Of course, I would not! Why did I take long periods off between work, not even to do freelance? This was coming back to haunt me! Surely, if I’d had a more traditional working career, I’d be snatched up by now. I’d changed emphasis or industry in my 20s, in my 30s,  in my 4os, and here it was again, in my 50s. Woulda-coulda-shoulda, over and over and over. And it’s still going over and over and over (these stages are not linear or easily abandoned, it seems!)

Depression:  This has also been a long, ongoing slog. Depressed that work life as I knew it was over, depressed at frightening visions of never having an income, or a forced retirement and what that might look like. There were periods of lightness, where there’d be hope of going in a different direction or that there would be some other kind of life, then a return to depression. During this time there were a couple of real deaths in our family, which, of course, didn’t help much (but certainly put the rest of it all in perspective). In retrospect, I do see that much of this was necessary, that long night one must go through to get to that next place. So, finally,

Acceptance: The world has changed, the work world has changed, and I along with it. Now, I don’t even want what I had before, though it’s certainly not available to me if I did. The past four (four plus, now) years have changed me. I hope it’s for the better, for the depth of experience, that makes one a richer man. I am older, more ornery (if that is even possible) and have come to see the advantages of where I find myself along the work/not work/whatever spectrum. With that comes a certain resilience. We’ve (that’s the royal we) all survived thus far, there’s no reason to think it won’t continue, and that it will be an adventure.

No doubt.

And, Just Like That, It Ends (unemployment)

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Hey, I'll work for sex, too. Feet, not really but thanks.

Hey, I’ll work for sex, too. Feet, not really but thanks.

I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks, and the reason behind that is (as well as my usual procrastination issues, but beyond that) that I’ve started working. That’s right, working, on a regular basis. Like in permanent, reliable part-time, something I’ve not seen in my economic life for the last four years.

I wanted to document it as part of the posts on the blog regarding my unemployment experience, or my underemployment experience.

It’s odd, it ended as simply as it started. How did it start? A phone call to meet a boss (who is now dead, btw, not that it’s pertinent to this part of the story. But. She is. Dead.) at a coffee shop near the airport, a mere 20 0r so miles from where I was living at the time, for a meeting to discuss, well, exactly what? So it was a ruse, the only agenda for this meeting was to fire four people in our tiny communications department (so they just axed the entire department and outsourced the function – sound familiar?).

If it sounds like I’m resentful it’s because I still don’t understand why this simply could not be done with an easy phone call or an email (or even a text – do people get fired by text now? They must). No, instead, we’re going to make you suffer on the L.A. freeways, on a Friday, pointlessly, to do this horrible thing. Grrrr.

Anyway.

What happened was I’d been posting semi-regular reminders on Facebook, of all places, that I was looking for a seasonal or part-time position and one of them actually came through. Shocker, right?

So I’ll try not to say anything bad about Facebook for a few minutes. What am I doing, work-wise? Well, part-time, working 3 days a week, doing some selling, some blogsite maintenance, some communications, right here in L.A. Don’t want to be more specific than that, but indeed it looks like it could be as permanent as I’d like it to be.

Some final thoughts (for now) on the past four years of unemployment, underemployment, self-employment:

  • It really is all about networking. All of the good freelance gigs I’ve gotten as well as this permanent job came through friends or work contacts – nobody posted a wanted ad for any of these. So what everyone says, including all the advice gurus, is true.
  • I believe the world of work and of looking for work has fundamentally changed. We have not recovered much at all from the crash of 2008. I still cannot believe how hard it’s been to find a job, any kind of job, really, with 40+ years in the work force and a pretty decent resume. Kind of unbelievable, but that’s what it is.
  • Not everybody needs to have a job anymore. We can now produce everything we need with minimum workers, so many of us don’t have to actually work. We, as a society, have to figure out the economics of that. Productivity gains have all gone to the top, and are not shared with the workers. In the future, eventually, this will change, one way or the other to a more equitable footing.
  • It could all happen – the crash – again, tomorrow. I hold no illusions that things will ever go back to the way they used to be. It’s good to be resilient, and I’m glad I’m pretty good at frugality.

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more and add to the list.

 

Photo copyright by beep beep.

Ann Brenoff says just be yourself and I think she’s right

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Please talk to me.

Please talk to me.

I’ve loved Ann Brenoff’s writing before, and I really liked this more recent post. So refreshing, really, to come to accept yourself and then use that new-found strength of position in the job interview market. What a concept!

Ann suggests admitting to or owning your real age, and turning that on its head to your benefit. My own experience with Job  Hunt “boot camps” and such was that there was a huge divergence on this issue, with some people suggesting you put on the resume the years of college or your jobs in past decades, while others counseled to keep them out, as it would be the kiss of death.  So in other words, there is/was no answer to this.

I’m of the opinion that it makes more sense to leave them in. After all, you’ve worked for that experience, might as well try and use it to your benefit. And really, if the person on the other side of the desk is an ageist douche, do you want to work there anyway? I doubt it.

Which leads me to dyeing hair – not! On us men, anyway, looks absurd, it always looks fake. Think Mitt Romney: did it help? I don’t think it did. Job hunt gurus often suggest other humiliating insults to self, like losing weight, getting a new wardrobe, whitening one’s teeth, etc., which I suppose are all good things, I mean no one wants to work with a slob — but the truth is, trying to shave years off your life in the pursuit of our national fetish of youth worship, will only have slim results for the vast majority. At a certain point — I mean, you’re 60, you’re just not going to look 30, nor should you. If Cher has given up, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Brenoff says accept that the reason you’re in the interview is that they wanted someone with your experience, i.e., give them credit for reading between the lines. They’re not stupid. They figured out how old you were before you came in, and they want you in the room.

She says don’t act like a parent, but talk about experience in a way that the younger person (perhaps the one hiring you) can relate to. Young people are curious, they really are, although so many people today seem to be blase, or just trying to appear cool. I’ve personally met younger people who admit to not knowing everything. A shock, I know, as I certainly did when I was that age!

There is that communication generation gap — texting vs email vs calling — what I’m finding out is that everyone is different. In my previous PR jobs, those people just love to chat chat chat on the phone, that was always highly preferred to emailing someone. I have noticed that people under the age of 40 (give or take a few years) absolutely love to text, and I do have relationships/friendships with several people in their 20s and we never talk on the phone. Come to think of it, I may never have spoken to these people on the phone. Ever. It’s text and other online forums like Facebook messaging.

Overall, what I liked so much about Ann’s refreshing take on all this is that she’s considered the advice she got out there, in the depression that we’re still in, and came out the other side and said you know what – you’re wrong. It’s always best to be authentic (and I don’t mean that in any kind of EST-y, Forum-like way), to just be yourself. The best advice I’ve ever gotten job-hunt wise was from someone who told me to “relax and be yourself. They’re either looking for someone like you or they’re not, so your only job is to be yourself.”

And what if they’re really not looking for someone like Jim Arnold (or insert your name here)? That’s when I become the boss of me.

 

Older and Out of Work: What to do, what to do. . .

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Boomer convention. Flickr photo copyright Dr. Darm

Boomer convention. Flickr photo copyright Dr. Darm

For anyone who’s interested in the topic of unemployment – such a huge problem in our country, and truly, worldwide right now – and which will get worse with this sequester – this New York Times Room for Debate opinion section will be of interest.

Specifically, here, “experts” weigh in on the older demographic, those over 50-55 and older who still want to work and can’t find work. A number of approaches to this problem are discussed, for instance, having Baby Boomers go back and work at internships (unpaid?) and a rebuttal to that argument; a plea for a generic Baby Boomer skill upgrade;  an argument that it’s not “senior” jobs that are needed, but good jobs in general; and one other opinion that’s mostly a denial that there’s any specific problem at all with older workers, except for the issue of once having been laid off, it’s much more difficult to return to work at an older age.

As in, age discrimination! It exists; we are an ageist society in so many ways, but especially in terms of hiring. Of course, it’s officially illegal, so no one ever says they’re not hiring you ’cause you remind them of Mom or Dad or because of your gray hair you didn’t dye, they say you’re so “overqualified” or “not the right fit for us.”

For me, what was most instructive were not these solicited editorials, but readers reactions to them – if you do go to the section, be sure to read some of the comments. I’d say that personally, I agree with the opinion that internships are for kids who have no job experience. Let’s face it, after 35-40 years in the workplace, you’re not an intern. There’s that thing called transferable skills – believe me, if you’ve worked at jobs for that long a period and have kept them, you’ve got plenty of skill to offer an employer.

Another thing that’s always irritated me in the standard stereotype of the older worker is this idea that we’re not technologically sophisticated or leery of tech in the workplace. Oh, really? Who do you think it was who was at the forefront of all those changes, when all those machines were introduced, and then upgraded, over and over, into the workplace?

Somebody would show up with a PC and put it on your desk and plug it in to a network and say, “OK. Here you go!” And there was no training class. There might have been a manual; likely not. You had to show the ingenuity to figure it all out yourself, because nobody else had any ideas either. So we did that. Over and over, from word processing machines to faxes to PCs to smart phones and tablets – so please don’t tell me the older worker is afraid of innovation in the workplace.

Related story, also from the Times:

Older isn’t Better, it’s Brutal

California Economy Finally Shows Signs of Resurgence

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Mountain, palm trees and business: Villagefest in Palm Springs, CA

I was gone over the Thanksgiving holiday, visiting relatives in Milwaukee. Honestly, I had the best intentions of blogging from there, perhaps taking a few snaps of local color and making up a story. But I didn’t. It was cold and my fingers were too cold to type. That’s my excuse. I think it’s time I consider the possibility that I may actually be one of those lazy persons you see around. Or, I’ll look at it in another way – these were holidays and no one else was working, so why should I?

Guess how many times I was panhandled per day in Milwaukee? Zero, exactly zero. For the entire trip. Is that because it was freezing, or was it because Wisconsin’s economy and unemployment rate are so much better than California’s?

Back to the subject at hand, the linked post on California Resurgence from the New York Times. I’m feeling a little bit of that resurgence from the Great Recession, in that there’s been more part-time work available for me, and it looks like November 2012 is on track to be my most lucrative month since my layoff at the end of 2009. Yay!! That said, this is a part time income from a couple of different sources that’s only about 15 percent of my last full-time salary. So you might say things have changed, incredibly changed. Continue reading

“Over 50 and Out of Work” Project

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near vacant Palm Springs Mall

I had this photo of the dead Palm Springs Mall in my files, thought it appropriate enough to illustrate this post on on unemployment and underemployment, highlighting a fascinating project, the Over 50 and Out of Work stories and documentary film.

As well all know, the two candidates for president go on and on and on, sometimes talking about jobs but really not offering anything very specific, while huge parts of the population are really hurting, suffering long-lasting unemployment or underemployment. It’s chronic at both the young and the older ends of this spectrum, and these stories on this website are about people over 50 who’ve lost their livelihoods and their continuing struggles to find something new.

Think ageism or age-based discrimination doesn’t exist? Watch a few of these videos. They’re fairly addictive. What do you think?

Over 50 and Out of Work | Stories of the Great Recession.

AARP jobs information

Become Your Own Job Creator!

Huffington Post Unemployment Links/Stories portal

Is it Time to Consider Leaving Los Angeles?

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Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Jimbolaya

Los Angeles is the future

Two recent competing articles, one (the link above, from the NY Post) from L.A.’s east coast competition (well, competition for cool, anyway) seeming to finally give the city its due, at least in some areas like dining and clubbing, transit, general livability, walkability.

The problem with articles like this one is that they’re most likely written by professional travelers/food writers looking for certain things and then finding what they were looking for, they write about it. In that process, though, they ignore the rest of what’s in front of them. They see the city that they expected to see, and write about it that way. Not from the perspective of a resident, but a tourist. One with a lot of cash, too. I’m happy they found the great places to eat in such varied spots as Downtown, Venice, Hollywood and Mid-City (and I’m happy for the restaurateurs and club owners, that they’re successful, really, that is an accomplishment).

But the overall impression you get from their story/review is of a city rich, laidback and carefree – of course, Los Angeles has that Entourage-y aspect. But that’s not the norm. The norm is that it’s a very difficult city in many respects: financially, socially, employment-wise, ecologically challenged, a diverse place but not without that tension.

There’s an incredible number of homeless people in the enormous city who don’t get to patronize these establishments. And, as it is the city of the car culture, there are many people who live in their cars. I’m not sure if that means they’re homeless or not – as a car is a roof over one’s head, I guess, technically. I come across a surprising number of people sleeping in their cars on my early morning walks. It never fails to startle me.

That’s what I flashed on – the homeless, in cars or on the streets – in the part of the story where they mentioned the daily celebrity sightings downtown –  I mean, OK, really? I’m not sure what celebs they’re seeing down there (though I know “Mad Men” is shot on downtown stages) but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. So if you see an actor or two you don’t see the thousands of desperately poor around you? I’m not sure what kind of person has that lack of filter.

Which leads me to the competing story:

Continue reading

No Work, Little Work? Become Your Own Job Creator

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Job line for a new Trader Joe’s. Picture copyright 89Akurt

Become Your Own Job Creator in 10 Simple Steps

I got an email today from Donna Sweidan, who was one of my excellent instructors in a mediabistro “Job Bootcamp” online seminar I took earlier this year.

Her message contained a link to an article she’s written that just seemed to me to be some timely and so appropos for things I’ve been doing lately via my own looking for work in its various manifestations.

Also I say timely because of the current “discussion” in our national politics about those who work and those who don’t. Certainly part of that discussion hinges on the incredibly awful job landscape that exists out there. Donna says up front in her article that this new job market is so different from the one even five short years ago that those of us who expect to find jobs the old way are pretty much out of luck – the system has changed and we have to reset ourselves to find the work that does exist. Reinvention. That’s what it is.

Continue reading

We don’t need no boring resumes.

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As I’m in the process of looking for work/clients, I came across this group of unusually-designed resumes – no doubt, designed to really catch the eye of the Person Making a Decision to Interview . . . or Not. Check them out:

7 Cool Resumes We Found On Pinterest

My thoughts? I liked the one having fun with the common evolution graphic – perfect for someone fairly new to the working world, and very strong visually. The one with the red wine glass gets an “A” for effort but I have to say it’s a little much for me. Maybe it’s the red – just too much red. Although, no doubt, this would stick out in an otherwise boring pile of white papers. If nothing else, I’m sure this resume gets a look at every place Michael sends it to. Not so sure if you should include golf and tennis in your skill set. (But you sound like a fun guy!)

The one after that, “So You’re Searching for a Product Development Reader” – I’m sorry, but what a mess! This person has a sense of humor, for sure, but I don’t know where to start looking at this, and it gives me a headache.

I did like the last one, with the strong graphic of the red bar in the center, and the supporting material arranged on the sides, kind of a ladder effect. Also good when someone is fairly new to the working world, as there isn’t that much space for copy. Though I suppose, if this is a virtual resume and not actually printed on a piece of paper, the red bar can go on for as long as it needs to . . .

Any thoughts?