Monday, June 28, 2010

Unemployed.



Again.

A year and a half ago, I was kicked to the curb after almost 10 years from a job I was doing spectacularly well -- and into which I was pouring 80-100 hours a week -- so that others who were in greater political favor could be spared.

I was let go a few weeks before my tiny pension was vested. A fight ensued over that. My small "victory" was bitterly Pyrrhic. I'll tell you about it someday.

I remember stopping at a Radio Shack on the way home to watch the impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich live.

Turned out, Blago and I lost our jobs on the same day.

This time around I have been remaindered from an organization that I was hired to help turn around. Which I did. Ferocious economy and all, I brought it back from deep in the weeds where it had gotten lost. Got its key numbers back up into the range of respectability. Rebuilt damaged relationships and internal discipline. Restored its good name in places where it had gotten tarnished. Hacked the kudzu off of the web site and got it looking sweet again.

In general, I made organizationally straight what had once been crooked, and while it never paid enough to cover my nut, it did slow the slide into penury while I tried to stitch together enough such gigs to keep the wolf from the castle door.

But others were in charge of the budgets, and they were not paying such careful attention, and so what was going to be a tough, lean, belt-tightening year next anyway turned into a catastrophe. It did not have to be so, but now it is, and so once more into the teeth of the Great Recession I go.

And this time around it is General Stanley McChrystal with whom I share a termination-date.

I know the ins and outs of the issues facing the labor force very well. Better than most -- from the for-public-consumption bad news delivered via Yahoo News to the heartbreaking personal accounts that show up everywhere these days (One selection from Andrew Sullivan's "The View From Your Recession" feature):

...I am a 58 year-old male, and my white hair proves it. I was laid off an executive position in a real estate company in January 2009. I directed international marketing programs and was responsible for over $200 million in transactions. But I have been unable to find work, even well below my former position. I am told that I appear too smart, too qualified. I have applied for many, many jobs - jobs I could do in my sleep.


Playing by the rules, I post and scour Monster and Career Builder to no avail, not even an interview. When I see a job that particularly fits my skills, I break the "rules" and contact the employer directly and consistently. Still, no job. The State of Florida has a service to help the unemployed. When I met with my counselor, she was shocked that with my resume I didn't have a job. As we pursued opportunities, she finally suggested that I dumb down my resume. That proved a bit difficult. I was in charge of a large development marketing operation. My former company was extremely successful (until the financial world changed and mortgages disappeared).


How do I feel? I cry. From there it is anger, then depression. As I like to say, I lost my job that January, and lost my pride by June. I have now lost hope...

to the technical and policy literature on the subject -- I am well-versed and I know that in so many ways I am a lucky guy: my situation is not in any way unique, and I am blessed to have more tools at my command and more supportive people in my corner than many millions of my fellow unemployed Americans.

I have no idea what comes next. Probably going to have to start over and re-invent my career for (Pauses to count. Shakes head in disbelief. Counts again.) the eighth time, which, to be frank, is starting to lose its charm.

Three things I am pretty sure of.

First, the topics I cover on this site are going to change a little in terms of emphasis. I have always covered  the subjects of work, organizational behavior and the root causes of (and possible cures for) middle class anomie, so expect more of that.

Second, based on my own, exhaustive-if-exotic research it is clear that absent a patron, a spouse who can carry more than their share of the weight for a long time, a clean, well-lighted place at a profitable publication, a Wingnut Welfare gig, a call from "The Daily Show" begging me to help hang onto The Funny, or a sinecure in academe, in these parlous times there is no chance that writing will ever pay the bills. Not even close.

Third, I'm done working in a strategic or planning role for people in the thrall of the latest management fad, or hustlebuck consultant, or political fantasy that -- when you strip away all the knowing winks and aromatically bovine byproduct buzzwords -- means they're making one ruinous decision after another based on magical thinking and the notion that 2+2 does not equal 4. It doesn't work in politics, government, education or business and following the Pied Pipers who tell you it does only ever leads to tears.

I'll hire on to do any of the many things I do very well, up to and including helping to mop up up the mess left over from their last, disastrous assignation with snake oil salesmen.  I'll even help chart courses out of dangerous waters and into better futures, but to do that I have to seek, speak and act on the truth, and if you don't want the truth, quit pretending that you do, and quit penalizing people who hand it to you on a silver platter.

Because 2 + 2 does equal 4.

Every single time.


UPDATE:  In a feat of pitch-perfect timing, I just returned from some intense oral surgery which I had scheduled before I knew I was going to be "at liberty".  And I'll tell you, if you ever want to take your mind off of looming disaster, may I recommend having a nice man pound away at a tooth for an hour with what strongly resembled tin snips and a coal chisel. 

Sometimes there is nothing to do but laugh.

Hydrocodone take me away... :-)

Your pal,

driftglass



29 comments:

Ichabod said...

I am self employed. Turned that way in the recession of the early eighties till now.

I've had hard and good times since, no regrets.

Yet I live week to week now, wondering if I will be able to maintain next year.

I realized when I was in my forties, that being "lucky" enough to get a job was difficult.

Today, I work harder than when I was thirty and am still going.

There is no such thing as security, doing the right thing or planning.

It either goes your way or doesn't.

Best thing to do is keep trying and never close your mind to opportunities, even if they may not be in a "career" or with an employer.

Good luck.

driftglass said...

Sound advice, Ichabod.

Christine said...

I thought I was depressed after reading Paul Krugman today, now I'm even more!! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the John Stewart gig, or anything else for that matter... keep trying!

Deborah Newell said...

Driftglass, I don't know what to say, only that I hold you my good thoughts as we all try to survive these dreadful, exceedingly bleak and miserable times. Our business has slowed to a halt, after we'd already plowed what we had in the bank into our new project, an organic and hydroponic farm powered by alternative fuels (wind and solar), once the wholesale ornamental plant business ground to a quiet halt thanks to the commercial real estate sector grinding to a far more spectacular and explosive halt in 2008. We figured, people will always need to eat. And they will. But it's taken all we've got, I'm down to the last dregs of my retirement money--my beloved's has long since evaporated--and we are crossing all functioning fingers and toes that a Clean Energy grant we recently applied for comes through. Thereafter, I don't know what we'll do. I really don't.

I never gave that much thought to what life would be like when I turned fifty--later this year, I'll do exactly that--but if I'm honest, I'll admit to a hazy, sun-soaked vision of myself sitting in my lush garden, relaxing at last as my children would be well past the diaper stage and able to make their own PB&J's; I'd be halfway through writing my novel, my car wouldn't be making weird, expensive-sounding noises--it might even be one of those snazzy electric cars!--and worrying myself sick at night would be a dim memory of what things were like when the children were little and always coming down with something.

Instead, I'm looking three months down the road to the dread date, and I can't envision anything at all--it's like trying to read a distant cluster of unlit road signs while peering through the dense fog at dawn. Or else sunset.

Our beaches offer little comfort: it's much too hot this summer--even for Florida--and the breezes seem to sputter and choke before they reach us. Besides, with every passing week, those vast clots of tar creep further southward. Seaside is ruined; our escape grounds will be next.

I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. All I have are words, and those you don't need, my friend--you've got plenty of those, and they're always so flawless and juicy and just right. But I send them anyway, so you'll know, at least, that you're not alone in this.

XXX
Deborah

(My word verification was Cello. Couldn't have picked a better accompaniment if I tried, huh?)

Batocchio said...

Sorry to hear it, and best of luck.

...if you don't want the truth, quit pretending that you do, and quit penalizing people who hand it to you on a silver platter.

Amen to that. Consultants come in to look at efficiency - the problem is usually management – but who's paying the consultants? The most diplomatic consultants can slip in a little truth, perhaps, but the organization's overall approach isn't going to change unless management actually wants it to change. They may swear up and down they want the truth, but most don't. Internally – and you covered this in your most recent podcast – the same dynamics apply. It's somewhat rare to have a boss who actually wants to know what the hell is going on. Many of the best ideas come from the ground up. Sadly, more energy goes into denial and scapegoating than into fixing the problems. (Meritocracy may still be the most revolutionary idea ever.)

But like the Watchmen line goes, you can be the "smartest guy on the cinder" yet that may be cold comfort – you got screwed, and deserve better. So good luck once again, and another small donation on the way shortly...

SteveUpNorth said...

I feel for you, Driftglass.
At 21, the unemployment rate in my home state of Michigan, specificly the upper peninsula, is catastrophic. There appear to be no jobs whatsoever, and so despite being legaly able to drink, I'm still living with my grandparents in my childhood bedroom. I cannot stress how embarassing this position is, nor how terrifying my prospects for the near future appear to me. I'm not sure what to do next, where to go, or how to do it, and find myself paralized with anxiety over it. I cannot bring myself to believe I am the only one in this position, or at least, the only one feeling this mind-numbing fear over the future.

But Driftglass, when I have to mute CNN or even MSNBC to sate my incomprehensible outrage at the things going on, I click on the bookmark to your blog, have a dark little chuckle, and nod to my laptop knowingly. I'm not alone up here in my wilderness, and you and Bluegal remind me of that.

I hope things go well for you, and no matter what, I'll keep reading as long as you keep posting. You might not feel like it sometimes, but your words truely do ease the constant fear, because even if this ship is sinking, at least I'm not the only one in a panic about it! Thanks as always, Driftglass.
-Steve up north

Ichabod said...

I read some of the other comments and it appears that the apprehension for many is real.

I lost everything, I mean everything, I had four times in my life and climbed out every time. I own a home now and have owned and lost homes in the past.

Lived in a hotel room for a year and a boat for a year.

My only drawback is age, makes me about as marketable as a black widow. :)

What is different today than the recessions of times past is technology. If 50% of America no longer worked, we could still provide enough to meet the needs of the population and export. Something that was unthinkable before.

We have to change the system. Maybe go back into time and have only one breadwinner per family (male or female) or cut back working hours and increase salaries accordingly so everyone can get his or her 20 or 30 hours in.

I do not know what the answer is. But I do not see it on the horizon.

Printing money and food stamps is not mentally or fiscally healthy.

There has to be another way, if the powers that be would ever consider another option besides filling their own pockets.

Fran said...

Driftglass - thank you for this unsparing look into your own situation and the complete and utter fuckedupness of the American workplace and ethos. I am sorry that you are in this spot, but I admire your approach to this and to life in general, based on what I know of you from this blog. (I read often, comment rarely.)

Having toiled for 28 years in the corporate world myself, I have seen many of the things you describe in this and via linked posts. I consider myself lucky to have gotten myself out just as the gate was about to come clinging down.

Today I make less than my bonus was in a year (and let me be honest, I squandered a lot of my money back in those days) but I do have the comfort and joy of being happy. Scoff if you will people, but it is true.

While I don't worry about losing my own low paying job too much, I do worry about my husband losing his job. Then we would be ruined.

So it is. A lot of bullshit out there. Few people can see it - and write about it- with the aplomb that you can.

Good wishes on this journey. (ack... and the dental work, more good wishes for that!)

gruaud said...

Dreadful sorry, DG.

I was unemployed for all of 2009. Now I work
harder for less pay and miserly benefits.

And I will eat that shit with a spoon because
the creation of the uber class and their
indentured servant class is all going according
to plan.

When they finally torpedo social security,
victory will be complete.

RoninJin said...

Very sorry to hear that man. I just survived the latest round of layoffs here. Two years without a raise, making 2/3's of what I did before I was last laid off, yet I'm lucky just to have a decent job. You sound like a very talented guy, don't give up.

Capt. Bat Guano said...

The above wonderful folks have put things so much better than I can, I just want you to know that positive vibes and what passes for prayers from a hard core agnostic are flowing your way Drifty. I to am self employed (cabinet maker/remodeler) and have no feelings of security for the future. I am by the sole nature of my genetics able to easily emigrate to Finland and am seriously thinking about it, very seriously.

darkblack said...

'Truth' - A most precious commodity indeed, subjective perceptual differences aside...And a commodity which certainly informs your writing.

Of course, it may seem somewhat trite in the Now to well-wish with intended (yet inadequately implied) sincerity a fellow pixel-lit sprite whose path in the real world might never cross mine - and with so many of my online acquaintances in the same straits, finding the time to commiserate is certainly a challenging factor - but at the risk of dabbling in a cliche, you hold my best hopes for finding a light in the darkness, D.

;>)

Esteev said...

Hey Driftglass,

I too am sorry to hear about your employment status.

Similarly to SteveFromUpNorth, I am a 27 year old male with nothing more than entry level experience who visits your site for it's insight and hilarity that helps cope with a freaky future.

About a month ago I was fired. I worked for the Catholic church. While raised Catholic, I do not practice religion of any kind -- if anything, I despise it. But, I was unemployed for a year and had to take something in my field. Anyway, they got rid of me on a technicality -- I didn't attend some nonsensical Men's Conference. Oh, and not surprisingly, the man who got me the job (a family friend) was forced out 2 weeks before, but I'm suuuure that had nothing to do with me. It really was a blessing, pun intended, because I was miserable.

Zoom to the present day and I am back doing what I did during the summer throughout college: painting, fixing, maintaining and delivering boats and I've never been happier. I was lucky enough to have kept in contact with my old boss and he was happy to bring me back.

While I have never been happier, and have a farmer's tan even George Washington Carver would be impressed with, I too am nervous about the future. While in my late-20s, living at home, working in a boat yard, I've come to realize that the world is tilted in such a way that no matter what I do I'll probably just end up painting some rich guy's boat.

WTF is up with that?

Best of luck.

Ichabod said...

You may not agree with their religion or vehicles or lifestyle, but the Amish people do not seem to be affected by this downturn.

They still use a horse and buggy and to my knowledge are pretty self sufficient.

When Wall Street implodes from gorging to much coin, do you think the Amish will care one way or the other?

They'll just jump behind their hay burner (no electricity of oil needed), step on the accelerator and away they go :)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Dude, that fucking sucks. Any organization would be lucky to have someone who thinks and writes as clearly as you.

If you are willing to entertain what may seem like an absolutely absurd--but possibly intriguing--employment possibility, shoot me an e-mail:

physioprof@gmail.com

Alyson said...

Godspeed, comrade.

Interrobang said...

I just lost my job of three and a half years on June 4th (so who do I share a termination date with?). So I'm feeling your pain acutely, Drifty. Fortunately, I qualify for unemployment and have a good recruiter who seems to be willing to bend over backwards to get me something. (I guess the way to a recruiter's heart is to get into a lucrative contract through them three days after they first find you originally.) I may also get reinstated in September, as the layoff is theoretically "temporary." We'll see.

The Canadian economy is not quite as much of a mess as the American economy is...yet. Just wait until Harper finishes G20ing us.

My word verification word is "ganiquit," which may be apropos.

deering said...

Oh, Driftglass. I am so sorry this happened to you. :( I've wondered for a long time just how long this current "the incompetent rule; the excellent get laid-off-over-nonsense" system can last in this country. And when even people who have played by the rules/gone for stable jobs are losing everything, it's impossible to know what to do. I'm going in for vocational counseling myself tomorrow. I never was much good at trades (carpentry, plumbing, car repair) and wanted to make a living at what I was good at (writing.) But what can you do when the economy is against you?

chrisanthemama said...

You're one of my daily must-reads (your visual mashups are brilliant and disturbing). Wasn't much, but I put a little bit in the tip-jar for you.

I wish I could say that things are going to get better--but someone with your verbal/visual skills has at least a fighting chance. Peace.

mark hoback said...

Perseverance, and best wishes.

Alan said...

I cannot add to the eloquent statements of empathy and support, so just let me say that I share them.

If one is white and male, the discrimination adds to the pain and humiliation of losing a job (perhaps so that your company can hire some people of the right color and gender and boost its diversity numbers).

I am almost 67 and was packaged out in a buyout in '02. My departure was not voluntary, but at least it was timely.

Unknown said...

and btw, having you suddenly show up on Virtually Speaking Sunday with Digby and Avedon Carol made my week. Please do that again!

Unknown said...

blogger looked at my initial comment and decided it was good enough to eat apparently.
What I said was that as someone in a similar situation- not identical as I jumped from the newspaper before I was pushed - let me just say "fuck these fucking fuckers." I've been searching for a job long distance for about four months now and if I'm very lucky I'll get to be the next guy who gets paid 30 K to write about how the corporation is "proud to be impacting the realities of its clients with solutions that utilize the synergies of their innovativeness and best practices"

As you so often remind me - there is a club and we are not in it.

Fuck'em, let's start our own club, sorta like the Bonus Army did.

In the words of wise man and great piano player: "Please boss, let's go. Ain't nothing but trouble for you here...We'll take the car and drive all night. We'll get drunk. We'll go fishing and stay away until she's - I mean it's gone."

No sir, I'm staying right here. Better I should splash the tip jar here than blow it on cheap hooch.

Denny Smith said...

Wow. Great post. No consolation, but:

q. 80% of "new" jobs created since 01/01/2010 are for "contract" employees (no bene's, no pension, no rights).

2. For each job opening, there are
4.77 applicants.

I think unions might make a comeback. The schadenfreude when they do will be incredible for me.
I spent 40+ years in the coporate world. Out now, and glad of it.
Someone with your unmistakeable talents will succeed.

LowerManhattanite said...

Was there Drifty in early '07. Out of a gig til' mid '08. Got the new jobbie but it pays so much less than what I was making, that I fnd myself working that many more hours to pay off the debts accrued during my unplanned sabbatical. (NYS Child Support Dept. does not fucking play, son! :( )

Also why I have almost no time to write/create like I should.

I live in fear of the reaper's scythe swingin' backward and catchin' a brother on the backswing, so again, I over-bust my ass to stay semi-indispensible.

I feel your pain sir...from the guts to the nuts. Ugh.

Stay strong, man.

Anonymous said...

As a government employee, I feel compelled to contribute to the cause of your great writing and inspiration that you contribute to the world. Take some of your tax money back through me, babeee, and keep the faith. - mac

Serving Patriot said...

Drifty,

Very, very sorry to hear this. Keep the faith, man and don't let the bastards get you down. I can completely sympathize with you and the many others in the comments on the job hunt. (Foolishly?) I'm out there too now that I'm at the end of my service. It is not easy -- definitely not as easy as "the professionals" say it is -- and unlike Versailles on the Potomac, those jobs and "improving" economy just aren't there.

Hang in there!

SP

Denny Smith said...

In reading these comments, I am, for the first time, glad I'm old.
Best of luck to all of you.

driftglass said...

Christine,
Thanks, I will.

litbrit,
I will keep you in my thoughts as well. I am firmly convinced we will get through this.


Batocchio,
I have worked with some good, conscientious consultants. I’ve even been one several times. The problem is, consultants have no stake in the organization, can always dodge responsibility for their failed ideas by blaming poor implementation (rather like “real” conservatives”) and must always be angling for their next contract (which makes inventing crises in order to solve them [Munchausen By Consulting ?)] very tempting.)


SteveUpNorth said...
Never doubt that you are not in this alone.


Ichabod,
Age is a tough one, and age discrimination is real and rampant. All previous Labor Dept calculations about jobs/training/retirement/employment-trends were predicated on the boomer generation “naturally” aging out of the workforce…which means that the next generation would have to be trained up in a hurry. All of those calculation are now trashed as the older workers are tossed aside by the million without sufficient retirement, and younger workers are brought in to replace them for a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the training and experience. resources

Fran,
Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one.


Gruaud,
We are in a genuine crisis. The way you can identify a crisis is that no one has any idea what is coming next.

RoninJin
Thanks.


Capt. Bat Guano,
You leave now you’ll miss all the fun :-)

darkblack,
Many thanks, my friend.

Esteev,
Thanks. Hang onto the “happy” as best you can.


Comrade PhysioProf,
I am almost always up for reckless schemes that are just crazy enough to work :-)


Alyson,
Thanks

Interrobang,
Good on you: having someone in your corner is not to be underestimated.

Deering,
The trades can be rewarding, and good tradespeople have been known to write beautiful prose.


Chrisanthemama,
Many thanks.

mark hoback,
I’m on it!


Alan,
Sorry for you circumstances. All I can say is that I have been and remain a strong proponent of affirmative action when all other factors are more or less equal. And that I have watched people whiz past me for all kinds of reasons, including who they were sleeping with, and what their political connections were.

Rev.Paperboy,
I’ll try. Also too, I like the Bonus Army idea. We’ll have the best damned bumper stickers evah! Also too, many thanks.


Denny Smith,
Thanks. Labor movements rise and fall based on the ability of people to look past their immediate interests and to organize for their collective, long-term gain. That part of out national DNA seems to be getting weaker every day.

LowerManhattanite,
It’s great to hear from you, my friend.
Don’t be a stranger, and remember the offer I made to you long ago is still open.


Mac,
This is me…smiling.
Thanks.


Serving Patriot,
Vets are getting creamed. It’s a fucking tragedy. You hang in there too, and one day we’ll swap lies over a couple of drinks.

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