“I don’t know how that works”

I hadn’t eaten lunch and walked over to the local Subway to pick up a late-afternoon sub yesterday. It was around 3:30, so I figured it’d be a quick in-and-out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t or else I wouldn’t be telling you this story.

In front of me were three younger guys, all jumping between speaking Spanish and English. For some reason, it took them a lot longer to order because they were messing around and barely paying attention. I don’t think they had any idea about what or how to order, but noticed that there was a girl outside that looked like someone from The Hills. Maybe I’ve forgot about being young, but does common sensibility about hurrying up in line take that long to develop?

Just after me was an older gentlemen that started out his order with these lines: “I don’t know how this works…” Huh? I did a double-take. If you walk into a fast-food type place, don’t you get the basic concept? I listened intently as the man struggled with what type of sandwich to order (roast beef), whether he wanted it toasted (“Huh? Oh…toasted.”), what veggies he wanted (“Lettuce…tomato…that’s it.”) and what type of condiment (“Mayo…and salt and pepper!”). It was almost painful to listen to as you would think that with a giant board filled with various sandwiches would turn someone onto what they wanted. However, at least one person didn’t know how ordering a sandwich worked at a major chain.

Both scenarios illustrated that no matter how much we think we know, there’s a lot of people that have no idea what’s going on. I’m fascinated by those people: the ones that are being targeted by the FCC to convert to a digital signal in 2009…the ones that don’t understand the internet and the ones that don’t understand how Subway works.

Looking for work: a report from the front lines of life

I got one of the nicest compliments I have ever received the other day when a friend told me, “If someone like you got let go, I’m worried about myself.” It meant a lot to me, but honestly, I’m a normal guy like anyone else…I just happen to be good at a certain set of skills that don’t fall along traditional lines.

Having said that, I haven’t been overly concerned about finding the next great work adventure because I’ve always took a great deal of care in diversifying my interests. The jack of all trades analogy you hear a lot? I strive to be that guy as I feel it’s better to be good at a lot of stuff than really great at one thing…unless you’re responsible for curing cancer or something. In that case, stick with that, ok?

I’ve been successful every place I’ve gone and have rave reviews for references and people willing to go to bat for me. The only issue? Getting people to listen and finding the daylight to run toward. As you probably know, I’m looking for work in the greater Portland area. While the area houses nearly 1/4 of the state’s population has its employment advantages, the state isn’t exactly known for its diversity of industries. A mixed bag of traditional companies, banks and creative shops, there’s a underswell of smaller businesses that are intriguing but not necessarily hiring.

My early frustrations with the process:

-Where to look: The days of ‘Help Wanted’ in the newspaper have been long dead. There are now a tremendous amount of websites dedicated to providing job listings, in addition to individual company website listings. But for efficiency sake, it’s overwhelming at times because you don’t know where to start first. Luckily, I found Indeed.com, which scours a majority of these sites for your perusal. There are plenty of the ‘WORK AT HOME FOR $100K’ type ads which scream scam, but I’ve found a few gems amidst the rubble of skilled labor and hourly positions.

-The process: I’ve applied for four positions, all of which I’m definitely qualified for. But I have no idea when the respective companies are looking to make a decision, what their process is after they get my information or if they ever received it. I’ve done some follow-ups, but something new I’ve noticed on the job scene: they don’t want you to follow up. I’ve seen enough ‘Please do not call’ warnings out there, but there has got to be a better procedure out there. If I was on the other side in the desk, I’d list when they wanted to start interviewing and decision date at minimum, all with a tag that they reserve the right to change their minds. I realize companies don’t owe it to job seekers to tell them this information, but a little more public facing would be nice. I’m not a stalker…I’m just looking for a chance.

-The distance: This is merely a function of where I physically am, but it’s tough to get out there and look when ‘out there’ is 90 minutes away from where you live. This will change within the next 10 days, but I’m eager to get started to look around and turn over some rocks for opportunities. Since it’s coming on a month (!!!) since I got the news, I feel like I’ve been in neutral for way too long.

And that brings me to a simple statement: being unemployed sucks. I can see on the outside why people would think this lifestyle would be great, but it’s not. I can’t imagine anything worse. My day is waking up at 9:30 am, eating some breakfast while checking some email, scouring the job sites for new postings and then…that’s it. I repeat the job search later on in the day, but it’s a lot of sitting and thinking. I get to write a lot which is nice, but you tend to forget what it’s like to be needed somewhere….to help others with projects and to accomplish something every day.

I don’t feel worthless, but right now, I literally feel like I’m non-existent. I face a battle with motivation everyday and I understand how people just become lazy. If you resign yourself to the fact this is what your life has become, you tend to lose faith and lose hope. My apartment has become a four-room prison which is only fueling my desire to get out of here. This has been amplified by the fact I haven’t had a car all week, as it’s being prettied up after someone decided it needed a key mark down the right side. Thanks jerk.

I also had my first dance with the Unemployment Office last week, something I had never thought of until it was mentioned in passing when this all happened. It’s a humbling feeling walking into that office, seeing others in similar positions and wondering what the hell happened to get you to this low place. You realize that bad things are happening to good people all over the place and ultimately, that is what government-funded public assistance is for. Am I proud I’m going on unemployment? No, but I need a little help right now until everything gets figured out. As that first meeting wrapped up, my sole thought was to get out of this situation as quick as possible. Unfortunately, I think others in that room weren’t as motivated to do so, which is why so many have such an issue with the system.

I’ve always said that everything in life should be taken as a learning experience, no matter what it is. Whenever this macabre ride is over, I know that I’ll take some important life lessons with me that will help me not only understand myself but the plights of others that much better. The night is always darkest before the dawn and I’m going to do my best to see some starts before it breaks.

Coming Home

I moved to Manchester in June of 2001, a fresh-faced kid a year removed from college who left to chase ‘the dream’. I was 23 years old at the time and no idea what I was doing, just that I wanted to leave Maine and try something new. But a strange thing happened along the way: after I left, I really wanted to come back. I made stronger connections, met more people and saw life passing me by with my best friends 90 minutes north. I think I was asked about 10,000 times ‘When are you moving back?’ There was never a great time. Work was good, pay was great and I had built a life here in Manchester.

Then, a month ago happened and my position at work was eliminated. My cocoon was busted open and just months after considering condos, I was left with asking myself the very question so many asked me for so long. I thought long and hard about whether I should stay, but my motivation to look for work here was really, really low and there was a reason for that. My heart wasn’t in it. There was no natural place to jump to and I felt staying here would be just be putting off the inevitable.

So I’ve thought a lot about how to tell you all the following sentence. It’s been in the back of my mind since ’01 and ya know, sometimes it’s good to just come out and say it….

I’m moving back to Portland!

I am packing things up and wrapping up my business here by the end of the month, so I should back in the good graces of Maine by Labor Day. There’s no bait and switch here…this is really happening. I don’t have a job yet, but have a few prospects out there. I don’t have a place to live yet, but I’ll worry about that later. The point is that I’m coming home for good and things will never be the same again!

Expect a more formal good-bye to Manchester here in the next few weeks…grab the tissues.

Swallowing the unemployment pill

“We’re going to have to let you go.”

This is one of the worst sentences you can ever hear in your life. One day, everything is going great at work. You’re in the routine, making things happen, enjoying a steady paycheck and then just like that, your green field of grass turns brown. The sun hides behind the clouds and things become very, very cold. It’s unexpected, swift and usually with no way out. It’s being let go from your job and it sucks.

Unfortunately, I heard those very words three weeks ago. It came as a shock to me, something that ironically came when I was working late one night. I got the call to come into the boss’s office with the classic ‘You got a minute?’ Here’s some advice: if you hear that phrase, be prepared for anything…or run. When paired with ‘Hey, close the door,’ just run…run as FAR away as you can. Feign diarrhea, say your house is on fire or that your brother is giving birth. Just do anything but go in that room.

It wouldn’t be fair to say exactly what was said from either side during this discussion, but the end result was the same: I was no longer going to be enjoying a regular paycheck. Because I wasn’t fired (my position was simply eliminated), I got a nice recommendation and a severance that will get me through for a while, but at the end of the day, I am now jobless and need to find that on ramp onto whatever is next in life. Another friend of mine (in yet another ironic twist) was let go…both of us I highlighted in my last blog. Huh…that’s really, really weird. Apparently this blog is now like that tape in The Ring or something.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the seven stages of grief, a series of emotions people go through after they lose a close one. There are definitely stages involved with situations like this too.

1 – Anger: If you think highly of yourself and your skills, you’re going to be pissed…like punch someone in the face pissed. I vented and fumed about the situation for the better part of the following week. I was furious, frustrated and filled with that bad, bad feeling no one likes to have. Then, it just goes away. You talk and you talk and you talk and eventually, it all comes out in the wash. I’m not angry anymore and it feels very good to be at peace with the decision. I feel like Manny Ramirez or something.

2 – Sadness: I really liked my co-workers and was sad that I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye. I think everyone wants to go out in their own way, but alas, that obviously wasn’t the case here. You start to get complacent and gloomy for stretches, wondering where everything went wrong and maybe what you could have done differently. I loved our group and where our potential was to go as a company, so to not be able to see that to fruition killed me inside. At the risk of sounding less than manly, I was heartbroken. When you work for a small business and you believe in the message, that can happen. Part of this feeling will never go away, but for the most part, I’m ok with this now.

3 – Fear: What will I do for money? How will I pay bills? What should I do next? The economy is bad…what if I can’t find anything? What if…what if…what if? Honestly, I didn’t suffer through this like others that have mortgages, kids and other types of immediate bills but there were pangs of ‘Holy sh*t’ over the past few weeks. Thankfully, I feel I have a skill set and background that won’t have me on the sidelines that much longer. I wasn’t scared that much…just mildly concerned at times. However, I would be terrified if I had a mortgage or a family that relied on me to bring home the financial bacon.

4 – Sunshine: Day by day, conversation by conversation, the clouds start to break and the sun comes out again. You start to get things done like updating your resume and Linked In accounts, reconnecting with people you lost touch with and seeing what else is out there. When you’re in the cocoon of your current life, you don’t see or look for other opportunities that are right in front of you. Eventually, you start to breathe again and realize everything is going to be alright. Great friends, family, advice and life experience help this a lot.

After taking a mental week off to do nothing job-related (a necessity for the recently unemployed), I started climbing out of the grave. I started an email marketing blog where I continue to give the industry tips and tricks, building upon a name I had built for myself over the past 18 months. I reached out to a few magazines about freelancing and heard some encouraging news back. I looked myself in the mirror and decided on exactly what I want to be and how I want to do it. I talked, I listened and I acted.

I live by a corny old adage that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, those reasons are cold and cruel and make no sense but in time, they do. Getting told we don’t want you anymore was a hard pill to swallow but slowly, the effects of that pill have worn off and your friendly neighborhood Nason has emerged from its induced slumber.