Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't Give Up

My search for a new position has reached its six-week mark. I’ve spent many hours, days, nights at various networking events, behind my computer revising my resume, one-page profile, goals, ambitions. Most of my relationship-building efforts have revolved around connecting in-person, where possible, or otherwise on the phone with friends, coworkers, former employers. This has been quite fruitful in that I’ve learned about the current job market and, more pertinently, how to approach a career search after being laid off.

Never Thought I Could be Affected
Why is this pertinent? Well, though I’ve had to look for work in times past, in almost every case I was employed when a new opportunity presented itself. This is the first time I was laid off. Honestly, I was shocked, given I’ve worked various jobs continuously, part-time and full-time, since I was 12 years old. I started work for my father in his gas station in 1984 pumping gas and cleaning windows, in the days when there were Full Service gas stations. I loved work and hadn’t stopped since. That’s over 25 years of work without ever being fired or laid off! Arguable, my dad wouldn’t have fired me during the first five years of my working life. Taking those years away, I worked for 20 years without a lay off.

Thoughts like this remind me of Peter Gabriel’s song, “Don’t Give Up.” In fact, the lyrics keep playing over and over in my head like a broken record. If you’ve never heard it, you should. It’s very appropriate for our times. You can find it on YouTube here. There are a few lines that express what I’m trying to say here:

Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not upset I was laid off. I’ve just not experienced it. In fact, I’m thankful for the opportunity for a number of reasons. First, I can now better relate to the folks that’ve been laid off. I know what it means to wake up every morning knowing that my job is to drum up enough buzz or get the right contacts to find my next opportunity. I understand the anxiety as well as the need and want to remain positive. As one of my great mentors, Olivia Sethney, once told me, it’s all about “taking the high road.” There’s no need to take any of this personally, or to follow that poisonous path known as “blame.” Business circumstances and our economy dictate a change in the way we think and work. The point is we need to be creative and not give up.

Second, given my experience in the past 13 years in software development and, especially, my management experience in the last nine years, I see that I now have an opportunity to review all the work I’ve done, inventory what I liked about each role, company, philosophy and culture, then determine what my dream position and company will be.

In fact, I aim to work where I have fun, when I jump out of bed every morning, knowing full well all the challenges I’ll face putting a team together, creating a culture of positive reinforcement, encouraging calculated risk-taking that rewards lessons learned from failed experiences, and insuring a healthy, wealthy company. I want to lose myself in my work, to lose track of time, food, and all around me. There’s yet a third and subtly different opportunity here…but let’s hold that thought for a moment and consider another benefit.

Whatever May Come, And Whatever May Go, That River’s Flowing
Third, with this change in my life, I realize what really has priority: my family and friends. I love spending time with them and realize how little time I’ve spent nurturing these relationships. I’ve no regrets, mind you, but I now know that work is priority three in my life. Peter was right:

Got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That river’s flowing
That river’s flowing

That’s right. No matter what happens, no matter the circumstances, the ups and downs, life keeps going. We can fight it. We just have to learn to swim with it. This reminds me of something else about Olivia Sethney. She had a picture on her desk of a rose. There were some eloquent words along with the picture. Though I don’t remember them, I remember their context: you can look at a rose and see it for its thorns, or its beautiful petals. Life is full of events. They have only the meaning we give them.

So Many Men No-One Needs
The challenge in all of this is that there are so many folks out of work vying for the same thing. Many of them are talented. In Peter’s words:

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no-one needs

That’s the crackpot part of our current economy. Business doesn’t seem to be what it was nor does it show any signs of returning to how it was. Many of the speakers I’ve heard in the past few weeks and in the articles I’ve read, I keep seeing the same idea: companies appear to permanently flatten their management. The restructuring is not just a shifting of positions, but their elimination. This includes complete business units and functions. I admit I’m not terribly surprised. The downturn from the dot-com bomb forced many companies to restructure and optimize. Lamenting this increase in efficiency and productivity is as helpful as the riots of luddites during the industrial revolution.

Don’t Give Up
So, what can we do? Think creatively, as we’ve done many times past. This is the other opportunity I mentioned earlier. Strength of the market economy (though the means by which we get here is questionable) is that we’re encouraged to trim the proverbial fat, to eliminate the unnecessary burden that had slowed our economic and business creativity, and start something new. I’m amazed by the sheer number of people I know that’ve started new businesses in the past two months. This isn’t just in my circle. Ask people around you. Read the articles in your local paper. They continue to report on the rise of entrepreneurship, the true engine of an economy where the majority of job-creation takes place. This is where creativity rules. With a large part of the workforce pushed to start a business, I’ve no doubt we’ll begin to see new products, services, management techniques that we’ve never seen. No doubt there’ll be challenges along the way for this new breed of entrepreneurs and their ideas, but they will labor on and succeed. They…no, we’ve learned to keep moving forward.

What am I really trying to tell you? Just what Peter Gabriel wrote:

Don’t give up
Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not the only one
Don’t give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
Cause I believe there’s the a place
There’s a place where we belong

Yes there is! It’s called The New Economy.