Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Twenty

Day 320 - Free time
I had some free time today, and it felt very different.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t had free time before, but this time it came without the hints of guilt for not looking for work.  So often, as I’d be doing anything from glass work to grocery shopping, I’d think about the fact that I could be looking for work instead of whatever I was doing in the moment.  Now I can focus on whatever it is I’m doing in the moment.
The only word I can think of to describe it is “Relief.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Nineteen

Day 319 - Making Plans
I sat down to lunch with my financial planners today.  Ed and Roberto have been very supportive of me during my tough years, and now as I begin a new chapter of employment with income, they are as eager to help me save and prepare for my future as I am.  I want to save aggressively while maintaining a balance of “living life,” and I have little doubt they’ll be able to help.  I’m determined to live within a budget moving forward, and they’re going to help me do that.
They also asked for my professional advice, which I was able to provide.  We decided to swap services - who says the barter system is dead? - and I feel like this is a good arrangement.  Once again, I am lucky to be in the spot I find myself today.
The thought of finally having my life back crosses my mind again and again; my own home, my own dishes, my own bed, my own choices....  I get to make plans again with some kind of foundation to them - not just hopes and dreams.  I am so fortunate.
I hope I never forget what this feels like.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Eighteen

Day 318 - It’s All Greek To Me
Thespians the world over are celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday this week.  His birthday is actually tomorrow, but he was the first to coin the phrase “It’s all Greek to me,” which is relevant to me today.
I had lunch with my dear friend Georgia Manos today.  A native Greek of transcendent beauty and grace, Georgia was the in charge of the bank I used when I moved to Long Beach in the spring of 2000.  I was happy to be working with the branch manager after having some serious customer service issues at my previous branch in Los Angeles, and figured she would be the right person to turn to if I ever had further customer service concerns.
She became so much more than my banker.  She became a close friend.
Georgia has been there with me during my frustrations surrounding visitation with my kids, and watched them grow; she came to my commitment ceremony with my now-ex partner, buoyed me when that relationship ended, and over again with the next one.  She has kept up with me over the years, celebrating the ups and encouraging me during the downs.  She is kind, gentle, loving, and I am better for knowing her.
50 years ago today, she stepped onto US soil for the first time, and over lunch today, she shared with me her feelings, then and now.  She has lived a complex life with simple grace, and she is nothing less than an inspiration.
She spoke to me of how I have changed since we last sat down to talk several years ago.  She spoke of my growth, of my new sense of calm, of my apparent confidence.  I am always surprised to hear that people think I’m confident - my insecurities are always just under the surface, and I am constantly aware of them - so when she mentioned it, I was again taken aback.  That this woman who inspires me would suggest the feeling might be reciprocated is an amazement to me.  I am humbled.
So today, in honor of my friend Georgia, it’s all Greek to me.  May the next 50 years be even better.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Seven Lessons From Long-Term Unemployment

Seven Lessons From Long-Term Unemployment: 
Thoughts on Networking and the End of My Search For Work
By Scott Pickard, SPHR
There is a truism that says, “The teacher learns more than his students.”  I have learned many things as a coach, consultant, trainer, support group moderator (and participant), and a job seeker, and the over-arching concept that prefaces everything else is that there are no new ideas out there, no matter how many new books and magazine articles are published.  Instead, what seems to matter most is hearing these ideas restated and repeated.  Sometimes you hear an old idea in a new way, or it registers when your mind is open differently, and something clicks.  I have learned that getting out and meeting with people is probably the most important act I could do - not only to cope with long-term unemployment, but to grow as an empathetic human being.  Reading “helpful tips” will only get me so far; interacting with others puts the ideas into practice, and from there progress is made.
There is another truism I’ve learned and presented to coaching clients and support group participants: there are as many “experts” out there as there are people willing to talk.  It doesn’t matter with whom you speak; what matters is that you speak with someone who motivates you.  My friend and mentor, Cleon Cox, says that a comment he often hears from recently employed networkers is that people began to see change in their lives once they changed themselves.  There are countless permutations of that sentiment attributed to philosophers and self-help gurus through the ages from around the world.  It reinforces the idea that there are many roads to wisdom - we simply have to be willing to do the work to get onto one of them, and persevere.
When I start my new job on Monday, I will end a period of unemployment spanning three years, two months, three weeks, and four days.  No, I didn’t count the days as the calendar kept advancing - I had to figure it out today.  (The number of days that were passing became almost meaningless after the first six months, except on the anniversaries, whose emotional effects were progressively crushing.)  I have experienced the extreme highs and lows of unemployment, which are incomprehensible to those who have not been without work for more than a few weeks or months.  Those who care about us would like us to feel better, and rarely know how to help.  They offer platitudes that make them feel better, but which do little or nothing to improve our outlook.  In fact, encouraging statements like “Your new job is just around the corner” are more likely to frustrate than ameliorate.  Still, we try to accept these sincerely-offered clichés on face value, understanding the good intentions behind them.
It is difficult to describe how one feels after losing a job, burning through the whole savings account, losing a home, and living with parents and family to survive.  For someone who has been unemployed for years, no words can adequately convey the resentment that accompanies the unpersonalized automated email that says “While we were impressed with your résumé, we are moving forward with other candidates who better match our required qualifications,” or the despair of coming in second for a job again and again.  Even worse is when we hear nothing at all - we are simply ignored.  It is dehumanizing.  
When politicians and pundits talk so cavalierly about those who have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and have “given up,” or quote unemployment numbers that are politically convenient to their own purposes, those of us in that sinking lifeboat cringe with a mixture of humiliation and utter contempt for the clueless out-of-touch politicians.  We have not given up, we simply lost our visibility.  We no longer have a voice.  And it is difficult to see our own future when the present looks so dark. 
Fortunately we have our “up” moments, too: when a recruiter contacts us, or when we get that interview.  After some time and experience, we (hopefully) learn how to moderate the height to which those “ups” take us, understanding that the higher we fly, the harder we fall if it doesn’t pan out.  And it often doesn’t; that’s a part of life.  What we have to learn is how to appreciate the “downs” to gain an understanding of the “ups.”
While I was growing up, and things weren’t coming to me the way I wanted, my mom would say to me, “All in good time.  You have your own timetable, and others have theirs.”  It was frustrating to hear this - I wanted [it] NOW - but it was an important lesson to learn.  Much more recently, she sent me a quote (paraphrased from a comment made by Michael C. Muhammad): “Everything works out right in the end; if it isn’t right, it’s not the end.”  This has been one of the most effective pieces of advice I have ever received, especially during the search for work.
Now, as I prepare to begin a job that both excites and daunts me, I begin to contemplate the lessons I’ve learned over the past three-plus years that have helped me the most.  These are the points I want to share with others who have faced the vagaries of the “Great Recession” and long-term unemployment.
Get Out of the House
I spent the first year of my job search sitting in front of my computer for hours reading online job boards, applying to as many jobs as I could, and getting depressed because “nothing is working.”  My personal life wasn’t much better, in part because I was in a dysfunctional relationship that distracted me from my true self and my own needs, and because my self worth kept bouncing along the “rock bottom” of my perceived world.  When the relationship ended (badly, I might add), I felt as if I were a total loser despite the fact that I was the one who ended it and for the right reasons.  I couldn’t possibly see at the time that asserting myself was actually the beginning of the improvement; I could only flail in the self-loathing that comes when you can’t find the door in the darkness.
At this point, I started doing things “just for me.”  I was staying with a friend in Long Beach, California who lives two blocks from the beach.  Over a period of several weeks, I continued doing my habitual job board search, and then spent a couple hours each day sitting on the sand reading beautiful fiction.  I allowed myself to escape the rigors of the “real world” and heal a bit.
Then I started networking.  I had the good fortune of learning how to network in the most networking-friendly city on the West Coast - Portland, Oregon.  Portlanders are lucky to have so many truly giving people leading so many networking groups simply to “give back” to the community.  I learned from Cleon that the key to success wasn’t in sending the application; it was that in the act of networking, we learn how to stand up with our self-esteem despite how many times we get knocked down.  His mantra of “Have Fun, Meet People, and Learn Something” really works.  We still look for opportunities; we still send out applications; and we learn and grow, and rebuild our self-worth along the way.  The search for work is more than just finding a job. 
Stay Active - Physically and Mentally
One activity I never dropped was working out at the gym.  We have all read studies that prove physical activity lowers stress and helps our body and mind cope with the pressures of life.  I now had the time to devote to the gym, so I figured I ought to take advantage of it.    I cannot say I felt better because of my time at the gym, because I have been working out for a couple decades - I can only assume it helped.  I have improved (slightly) in terms of my shape, and I often wonder if this is what has kept me from having to take advantage of free (or low cost) healthcare more than I have, since I’ve been without health insurance for two years.  I’m passionate about eating right and exercising, and I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.
Staying active also gave me opportunities to interact with others outside the job search arena.  It helped me feel somewhat “normal,” and while these excursions didn’t lead to job opportunities, they did lead me to feeling better.  I worked on my hobby of glass art, and as my instructors understood my current difficulties, they offered me ways to continue to practice my glass work almost free of charge by giving me work to do in exchange for torch and kiln time.  I was able to focus my attention on something creative and (eventually) beautiful.  It kept my mind active.  Every little bit helps.
Network, Network, Network
Meeting others with whom we share certain commonalities is crucial to surviving long-term unemployment.  I believe striking a balance between networking with unemployed people and employed individuals is key.  And it can’t all be about work.
It took me a long time to really get the hang of networking.  It’s fairly easy for me to talk to people - we all like to give out information and advice - and by participating more and more with others, both employed and unemployed, I had an opportunity to discuss what I love to do and why I love to do it.  I was reminded of the joy I feel when I’m doing what I love, and why it was important to continue looking for the right opportunities.
I met some instrumental colleagues and mentors - the aforementioned Cleon Cox, as well as Seth Miller, Dick Warn, Virginia Trombley, Jenny Sherman, Joel Conarton, and many others, each adding to my consciousness their own brand of guidance, advice and support.  Each offered me the chance to expand my network by introducing me to others.  There are a few that come to mind whom I’ve never actually met - like Andrew Grossman, a brilliant young man who is a master at social network marketing, with whom I’ve only connected online and someone I admire immensely.  Every person - without exception - that I have met through networking has enriched my life in some fashion.  That’s not hyperbole; I mean it.
The day I reached 500+ connections on LinkedIn was a good day for me - not because that made me influential or powerful, or even that I can keep in constant contact with that many individuals, but because it demonstrated to me how many people have impacted my life.  We are not alone in our search for work.  Both the employed and unemployed are helpful to us and often willing to lend a hand.  It simply felt good to see the number.
In the end, after hearing countless proclamations from newly-employed acquaintances that they would never again stop networking, I understood the value; you never know where the next conversation will take you, how it will edify you, and whom you will meet as a result.
It Is More Than a Numbers Game
Some people will tell you it’s a Numbers Game: the more people you meet, the more job applications you place, the closer you are to the eventual “yes.”  And on a certain level, I agree with this.  Action doesn’t necessarily create opportunity, but it does open us up to it.  One colleague suggests we are “only 250 people away from our next opportunity,” so the more hands you shake, the faster we get to the prize.  For many of us, though, this can be a bit simplistic; it takes more than simply meeting as many people as I can in a week to speed up the process of finding work.    
For those naturally-born “sales” people on whom rejection has no effect, I say by all means, go for it.  On the other hand, if you’re like me - someone who is looking for mutual value in every conversation - it’s not the number of people I meet that matters, but rather the quality of the interaction.  It is important to attend as many mixers and functions as possible, though my measure of success comes from meeting three or four people at that mixer and having meaningful, constructive conversations, not from collecting umpteen business cards.  I look for chances to meet outside the mixer and continue these connections; if I can’t think of a reason to sit down over coffee with the individuals standing in front of me, I’m not going to waste their time at the mixer and further hinder these networkers from finding their next opportunity.
Like so many other facets of life, it is a question of Quality vs. Quantity.  Quality wins every time.  (It is the speed of this Striving for Quality that can sometimes exasperate us.)
Keep Applying For Jobs Found Online
While we may get a small return on our investment of time, it is important to continue to apply for jobs we see posted online, and that we give this effort an appropriate percentage of our daily schedule.  It is true that roughly 80% of open positions are never posted on a job board, and a big chunk of those that appear were posted for compliance needs - the hiring manager already has someone lined up for the job, but the company policy (or law) requires a public advertisement.  Regardless, some jobs are obtained through blind application and without the help of an internal contact.  Some estimates suggest as many as 10% of all new-hires come through online applications.  
The job I start on Monday came from a blind online application; I am one of the 10%.  If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.
Give Yourself Permission
I am at times surprised at how empowering it is to allow myself some down time.  Sometimes it was the simple act of giving myself permission to take time off from the search (including the occasional weekend); sometimes it was permission to be depressed; occasionally, it was spending the money to visit someone in another city, or spend a nice day at the beach.  Whatever I could do to help the feeling of normalcy (or momentary escape) ended up benefitting me during the rest of the time spent diligently searching.  
Obviously, we cannot allow ourselves too much permission; in other words, we have to push ourselves to make progress even when we don’t feel like it.  No one else can do that for us (though some may try).  Motivation comes from within, and by giving ourselves an opportunity to rest, we can recharge our batteries and resume the search with renewed vigor and dedication.
Serve Others
One of the best things I did was take on the opportunity to moderate a job seekers networking group.  While I recognize the truth of the phrase “Doctor, heal thyself,” and admit that I, like most, find it easier to help others than to take my own advice, it was being in the service of others that I felt the most accomplished.  This pays off in several ways: I am building my network of people who trust me, and who then send me leads for jobs or other networking opportunities; I gain a sense of accomplishment by seeing those I’ve helped succeed; I am reminded that I have value, which I can then take to my next interview.  Networking alone would not have had nearly the impact I felt had I not sought opportunities to help others.
Another part of this lesson I learned from my mentors: to approach every networking opportunity with a view to first serve those whom I would meet.  The aspect of networking in Portland that first struck me was, instead of the typical “Chamber of Commerce” attitude of “Nice to meet you - what business can you bring me?” Portlanders would, by and large, say “Nice to meet you - how can I help you?”  Sure, there is the element of “Northwest Nice,” but that first impression is a lasting one.  Ultimately, by serving others, we help ourselves - a platitude that actually works.
The Not-So-Final Analysis
I don’t expect the new job to be the end of the story.  Life rarely hands us the “happily ever after” we seem to perpetually hope for.  Instead, this is probably just another change to my employment picture, and I hope to learn just as much from adapting to re-employment as I did from adapting to unemployment - maybe even more.  My hope is to be a better employee, a more empathetic hiring manager, and a more effective leader moving forward.  
And since the new job is not in Portland, I hope to take a page from the Rose City’s book and lead a job seekers support group in Southern California.  I will not stop networking; I want to continue giving back.
I am indescribably grateful to the numerous individuals who have helped me along the way.  No one succeeds alone, and I would not be able to write this today without the unfailing support of my loved ones, personal and professional.  It is my intention to continue to expand my network, and invite everyone interested to join me on this ongoing, ever-changing road to making a difference.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Seventeen

Day 317 - A Slow Descent
I spent much of the day composing my thoughts on the lessons I’ve learned over the past three years.  I’ve always suspected this would be a time of growth for me, and I have no doubt that is true.  I want to offer some kind of retrospective, and figure it will take me some time to distill all the things I’ve learned (some lessons came over and over again).  I will post these lessons as a separate entry here.
I went to the gym again today, and happened to run into the general manager toward the end of my workout; I had been wondering if he were still in charge here, and decided I’d wait to give feedback until after I’d been back for a week or so, just in case my positive impressions were misguided.  But here he was, and I gave him my initial reactions to the renovation.  He seemed pleased to see the change in my attitude, already being aware of the change in his staff.

I received a call from my soon-to-be boss, Vanessa, congratulating me and telling me how thrilled they are that I'm joining the team.  She even said, based on what I've done in the past, she is confident I have all the skills and abilities I need to do a great job.  Can it get any better than this?  She didn't have to call me today - she could have said all this when I arrived Monday morning.  But she called me today.  I am ecstatic.

I had dinner with my dear friends James and Scott in Downey.  The food was so delicious I ate far more than I should have.  Their friendship means a lot to me, and we celebrated my good news together.  What a lovely evening.
I’m starting to relax - probably for the first time in years.  I was a little concerned that the offer letter didn’t come to me within the time promised, until it arrived in my inbox at 11:40 PM.  (I imagine their email system must be to blame for that - I can't imagine Stacey would be at work that late.)  I’m going to be working again next week.
I don’t think I’ve felt this good in half a decade.  I told some networking colleagues a few weeks ago that I felt as if I were on a roller coaster, just as the car is cresting at that first big drop.  It’s the moment I like least on such a ride, as the sensation of falling fills me with sheer panic.  What’s interesting about today’s experience is that the descent was easy - slow, comfortable... comforting.  
I’m floating in for a landing.  (Is this real?  Somebody pinch me.)

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Sixteen

Day 316 - Joy
Oh. My. God.
Erik and I were in the kitchen, talking as we were getting our breakfast, when my phone rang.  The area code that came up on the caller ID was “949.”  That’s Brandman University’s area code.  Erik froze in place as I picked up the phone, saying, “Oh, God...."  

"Hello, this is Scott!”
“Hi Scott, this is Stacey at Brandman University.  How are you this morning.”
She is talking so slowly....  “I’m well, Stacey, thanks.  How are you?”
“I’m doing well, thanks.  ...I, uh... wanted to call and...”
(If she doesn’t speak faster, I’m going to....)
“...give you the good news.  We’d like to make you an offer for the Learning and Development Specialist position.”
I involuntarily began to jump up and down.  Erik had been watching me intently, gleaning what he could of the conversation from my expressions.  As my feet kept leaving the floor, his smile broadened; I think he was jumping up and down with me at one point.  At the same time, I was trying to sound calm on the phone.  When it was my turn to speak, I’d stop bouncing, take a breath, and try to speak evenly.  I was aware of my voice beginning to shake.  I was afraid I sounded like a moron.
When she said goodbye and “See you on Monday,” I turned to Erik and screamed like a girl.  He screamed right along with me.  This long, lonely road is finally coming to an end.
I immediately called my mom.  It was everything I could do to keep my composure, and when I told her the news, she started to cry.  And so did I.  I think Erik did, too.  

I sent text messages to Ignacio, to my daughters, to my family.  I posted my news on Facebook; I cannot believe the number of supportive, congratulatory comments I received today from wonderful friends and loved ones.  I am so blessed.
I spent the rest of the day floating above the world.  I went to the gym for the first time since I’ve been back.  They have expanded and totally renovated; it’s beautiful.  And what’s more, the employees are actually pleasant now.  The patrons aren’t nearly as rude as before.  It was actually a good experience.  That’s unusual for 24 Hour Fitness.  

Am I dreaming?
I did some grocery shopping.  I realized I’m not going to have to live on ramen noodles after all.  I spent a lot of time watching my emails and getting the word out about my good news.  What a difference a day makes.
Oh. My. God.  I am about to get my life back.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Fifteen

Day 315 - Confidences
I had a lovely day.  Lunch was with my friend Gina, who suggested we meet at King’s Fish House.  Every time I go there, I think of trying something new.  Then I order the fried oysters.  They are so good there that it’s difficult to order anything else.  
It was wonderful to catch up with her - it has been a little over a year since we had a good conversation.  Sometimes I feel like she’s a little sister to me, and she confides in me things I doubt she talks to others about.  She knows I’ll love her regardless, and I am confident the feeling is mutual.
Later in the day, my “faux girlfriend” Irene came down from LA, and she, Erik and I had dinner together.  It was great to catch up with her, too.  She is still in a job that, as I interpret it, doesn’t quite meet the standards of what she wants to do for a career, but she presses on.  She is a lot of fun - the three of us laugh constantly - and I enjoy her company immensely.
As I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about how humbling it is when someone confides in you about something particularly private in nature, or shares a thought that might not put them in the prettiest light.  When someone divulges sensitive information, they put themselves at your mercy, being completely vulnerable, and the trust they afford can be huge; I am honored to be held in that level of regard.  
Again tonight, I feel very fortunate.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Fourteen

Day 314 - Game Night
Speaking of friends inviting me over for Game Night, that was Ricky.  We have known each other for eight years; sometimes it seems like yesterday, and other times it feels like I’ve known him forever.  His game nights are always fun, with lots of food and fun people.  I try not to miss the event each time it comes up, and I love the way he loves life.  
This is why I am grateful for what Game Night represents: loving life.  I was invited to a joy-fest, a let’s-have-a-laugh-riot party.  You don’t see more laughter anywhere.  And I was invited to be there.
Ricky’s best friend, Brian, was there, too.  Brian went through unemployment over much of the same time as I did, and though he was re-employed awhile ago, he has been through the same struggles.  He can sympathize with me, and has helped me a lot as I’ve made it through similarly rough times.  There is something compelling about talking to someone who really understands, and I was glad to have had a moment to touch bases on some of the serious stuff.
Once again, I realize how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do. 

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Thirteen

Day 313 - The Big Day
I don’t know why I felt like today’s interview was the “big one” - I’ve had other interviews where I expected to do well, and I didn’t have any specific information about this one that would lead me to believe it would be different.  Still, I felt different.  I drove almost a thousand miles to meet with these folks.  Have I built up the hype all by myself?
The 15 minute presentation went very well.  They didn’t seem concerned at all about the amount of time passing, and I even forgot to set the stopwatch on my phone to be sure I stayed within the allotted period.  The conversation was easy and informative.  
The hour we had in the meeting room ended as another group needed it, so Vanessa, the Director, took me into her office to continue the conversation for another 30 minutes.  In the end, she told me she wanted to make the decision immediately if not sooner, and that I should hear more on Monday or Tuesday.  It was so comfortable.
When I left the building, I told whoever was listening that I was letting go - it’s out of my hands now, and I’m ready for everything to work out in my favor.  I felt good.  I had done my best.  As I drove back to Erik’s, I wondered how I would publish the news.  Would I post something on Facebook first?  Make calls?  Then the thought occurred to me to wonder what I’d do if I didn’t get the job.  I immediately shunned the idea - I wouldn’t give taht thought any time or energy.  I’m getting this job.
The rest of the day was uneventful.  I received an email from the Recruitment Manager who was out of town for a family event asking how it went.  I wondered if she knew something but wasn’t saying anything.
In all, it was a good experience.  I remain hopeful, and trusting that everything will work out right in the end.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Twelve

Day 312 - The Generosity of Friends
I got a haircut by one of my favorite stylists today in preparation for tomorrow’s interview.  I’ve known her for a decade, and her husband has been unemployed for about the same period I have.  We have shared so many stories and heartaches, and although our friendship hasn’t extended past the salon, I feel as if I’ve been able to maintain a great relationship with her even during times when I went to someone else to have my hair done.
It was good to catch up with her.  Unfortunately, her husband is still looking for work (evidently his niche is quite focused), and she’s keeping the family afloat.  There is a lot going on in her world, and yet she was willing to squeeze me into her already-full schedule to help me be ready for my interview.
She spent 45 minutes with me, and then, as we went to the front counter, told the young woman manning the register that there was no charge for this cut since she “only cleaned up over the ears.”  I was dumbfounded, humbled, and grateful all at once.  I left a cash tip for her (later thinking it wasn’t nearly enough, so I’ll give her a bigger tip when I go back), and came away feeling so good about life.  
I am so incredibly lucky to have such generous friends.  Several have made a point to invite me over for Game Night, or out to lunch or dinner; some have even paid for my meal.  I’m touched by their generosity and sincere interest in catching up, as if my news were of utmost importance.  I am so happy to be here, and looking forward to tomorrow’s interview.  I’m ready for it.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Eleven

Day 311 - Driving Fast... or Not
Stage Two: Emeryville to Long Beach
I didn’t realize just how much I had adapted to Portland living.  On my drive from the Bay Area southbound, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I was driving as fast as those around me.  Oregon drivers take a much slower pace, and with my New Year’s resolution of “No More Tickets,” I was happy that others might flush out the CHP to help me keep it.  I reminded myself that “I’m going to get there regardless,” and had a relaxed drive to Long Beach.
Again, I noticed all the road improvements; on my last trip northbound, I wondered if my car could handle all the cracked pavement and potholes.  Now most of the freeway is smooth and clear.  I’m delighted that the infrastructure funding from the federal government has made its way to Interstate 5 (at least that’s what the signs indicated).  
I made great time, too - traffic cooperated the whole way.  Even in the construction zones, we never slowed to below decent freeway speeds, and though I was exhausted when I arrived at Erik’s, I wasn’t frazzled.  It was a great drive.
We went to one of my favorite restaurants, Lola’s on 4th Street, and Erik treated.  How lucky can a guy be?  Luis, the owner, actually remembered me, though it has been a little more than a year since I was there.  I love this place.  
In all, it was a very good trip back to SoCal.  I’m taking it as a good sign.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Ten

Day 310 - Smooth Roads and Good Weather
Stage One: The Drive from Portland to Emeryville
It was a great day to drive.  The weather was perfect - sunny and not so warm as to need the air conditioner, but enough that I didn’t have to wear the sweatshirt I kept out at the ready.  I had snacks, plenty of water, and the car felt great, though a little heavy.  It was clear sailing the whole way.
When I got to the inspection station just inside the California border, the agent looked at my car and said, “I normally ask people if they’re carrying fruits or vegetables, but it doesn’t look like you have any room!”  I laughed; they’re normally pretty sullen (I imagine it must be a fairly boring job), but this guy was the exception.  I confirmed I wasn’t carrying anything disallowed, and sped on my way.
The only rain I experienced happened as I approached Mt. Shasta, and that didn’t last long - it was only enough to make me turn the wipers on for a few minutes, and then it was past.  I was struck by how much road work had been done in the year or two since I had driven this way.  CalTrans has done a great job.
My arrival into Emeryville was uneventful.  I didn’t get to see Stephanie in Walnut Creek as we had planned - he husband was ill and they were going to visit with the doctor instead.  So after letting me into the gated parking lot where my car would be safe, I walked to a great little diner with James for a delicious meal.  Aaron got home a little later, and we caught up.  As always, the accommodations were most comfortable.
It was a good travel day.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Nine

Day 309 - The Day Before
I had plenty to do today to keep my mind focused.  
I finished packing for my road trip to Southern California and the interview.  The living room became my staging area, and I wondered I’ll have to leave a few things behind; I’m not sure it will all fit into the car.
I picked Mom up from the airport from her successful trip to Tucson.  She found a home there, and showed me the photos she took of it.  I’m thrilled for her - she will be so much happier there than she has been here for a number of reasons, not the least of which she’ll be with so many of her friends, and will likely be more active.  I haven’t seen her this excited in a long time.
I met with Fred and Manuel one more time for happy hour.  If I get this job, I’ll miss this weekly “meeting.”  They have become good friends, and I really look forward to getting together.  If I end up back in Portland, I will enjoy resuming the conversation.
I finished the day packing the car.  I couldn’t believe it, but I got everything inside.  It’s full, to say the least, but I can see out the back window, and the passenger side mirror will be visible, too.  I think I’m ready.
Thinking about tomorrow, and the rest of the week....

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Eight

Day 308 - Mobiles
I had the wonderfully good fortune of working with Leah Pellegrini again today - she’s one of the instructors at Aquila Glass School who has helped me a lot over the past couple years, and today she taught me how to make a mobile.
I didn’t even try to make mine unique; when I saw her latest work, I told her, “I want to make one just like THAT!”  So we cut the glass and fused the circles last week; today was the construction.
Leah posted a quote on Facebook a couple days ago that I thought was particularly appropriate:
"The ‘mobiles,’ which are neither wholly alive nor wholly mechanical, and which always eventually return to their original form, may be likened to water grasses in the changing currents, or to the petals of the sensitive plant, or to gossamer caught in an updraft. In short, although ‘mobiles’ do not seek to imitate anything because they do not ‘seek’ any end whatever, unless it be to create scales and chords of hitherto unknown movements—they are nevertheless at once lyrical inventions, technical combinations of an almost mathematical quality, and sensitive symbols of Nature, of that profligate Nature which squanders pollen while unloosing a flight of a thousand butterflies; of that inscrutable Nature which refuses to reveal to us whether it is a blind succession of causes and effects, or the timid, hesitant, groping development of an idea." 
- Jean-Paul Sartre on Alexander Calder's Mobiles
I am absolutely delighted with the final product.  I have enjoyed mobiles since childhood, and now I’ve finally made one.  I’ll include a photo here (though I look totally goofy); I’m looking forward to finding the right spot to hang it.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Seven

Day 307 - Packing
I know, it’s a bit early still to be packing for my trip.  I can’t load the car yet, and the only suitcase that will fit in the trunk is already full and ready to go.  Still, if I don’t do something to prepare for this trip, I’ll go stir crazy.
I put as many hanging clothes into the garment bag as would fit, and slipped the rest into a couple black garbage bags with holes cut in the center-bottom to accommodate the hangers.  Since I’ll be overnighting in the Bay Area, I want them to be as invisible as possible through the windows (though I’m sure it will be obvious that the car is full of belongings).  Thank goodness I’m staying with friends who have secured off-street parking...
Packing also helped me clean my room.  I like the results of doing my chores even if I don’t care for the chores themselves.
I love a good road trip.  I’m not so keen on the anticipation before the departure.  Sometimes I wish I were leaving tomorrow, instead of three days from now.  But then, I have to do laundry....

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Six

Day 306 - Home Cooked Meals & Hot Tubs
I’m starting to get antsy.  With the drive to California coming up, I am anxious to start packing the car, concerned that I won’t be able to fit everything I want to take into it.  I can’t pack it up yet, though - I don’t leave for another four days.  (I have packed one bag, though, just to calm myself a bit.)
I was invited to dinner by some of my closest friends, Blaine and Dan, as something of a send-off.  The meal was fantastic, and Blaine and I sat in the hot tub later in the evening.  I can’t think of a nicer way to spend some time with friends like this.  I feel so fortunate.
I am reminded that the joys of life usually come through the simple gestures of good people.  Blaine and Dan are definitely good people, and I love them dearly.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Five

Day 305 - Allowing
I’ve been reading a lot about “Allowing” over the past few years, mostly from Abraham-Hicks (“The Law of Attraction”), and that by keeping our focus on what makes us feel good, we allow the good to come to us.  I was also lucky enough to sit down again today with Dick Warn (see Day 291 for more), who has been coaching me along the same idea - to let go of my own agenda and let life take me where I need to go. 
However, my day started with taking my car to the mechanic to have my rear brakes serviced.  I really didn’t want to “let go” of that much money, but it needed to be done, and I’m lucky to have found a mechanic I trust.  Henderson Automotive in Tigard is a company I would recommend to anyone - they’re honest, reasonable, and the quality of work is top notch.  So since today’s work was a necessity, I let go of that concern, too.  
At the end of the day (literally speaking), I felt good about the future; my car is ready for a long road trip, my mind is ready for a “final interview,” and my heart is ready for a new chapter in life.  Let’s see where the universe takes me.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Four

Day 304 - Catching Up
I had a busy day today.  I met with a coaching client, a networking contact, and a close friend.  All of them are friends, actually, though at different stages of the friendship, and I packed my calendar a bit in my effort to catch up with as many friends as I can before my trip to California next week.
The first meeting was with a woman I met at a birthday party who is trying to find a better job.  She asked me to help her with her resume, and I gave her some tips that I think will help her experience and skills become more visible to potential employers.  She seemed excited about the changes, and I thought about my approach to coaching: “It doesn’t matter with whom you speak; what matters is that you speak to someone who motivates you.”  I was gratified to think she was more motivated after speaking with me.  That made me feel really good.
I then met with my new friend Bill over a glass of scotch.  What a wonderful man I’ve met.  Yes, he’s a networking contact, and he’s trying to help me connect with people who might assist with my job search.  What impresses me most, though, is the depth of his character.  He has a charisma that seems based in the warmth of an honest man; his integrity is what shines through, and I’m honored to have been welcomed into his world.  It’s a milieu I really enjoy.
Then I had dinner with my dear friend Ken at an Indian restaurant in NW Portland that I’ve been wanting to try.  The food was fabulous, and the company even better.  Ken is such a gem, and I enjoy his company, our conversation, and the relaxed support and encouragement he offers.  
I am such a lucky man to have friends like this.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Three

Day 303 - Giving Back
A lot of what I’ve been doing lately in terms of networking is driven by the intention to “give back” to the community.  In this case, it is to the community of job seekers I’m trying to offer something.  I want to add value to every conversation I have, and to help others understand the numerous tips I’ve picked up along my journey.  It is a way for me to “pay it forward” and hopefully give something worthwhile.
After moderating the Breakfast Club group this morning, I was afforded the opportunity to speak at the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce Job Seekers Support Group again this afternoon.  This was my second presentation to the group, and I was honored to have been asked back.  The topic was surrounding “first impressions” and how to make a positive one by understanding the importance of appearance, body language and speech as we approach a prospective employer or networking contact.  Again, none of the ideas are new, but I hope I presented the tips in a way that will resonate with the attendees and help them feel more confident.
After we wrapped up, I received some kind words and a potential opportunity to work with a coaching client (though I won’t be able to follow through on that right away, as I prepare for a trip to Southern California for an interview).  My take-away on this, though, was in serving others, we usually gain as much or more than we’ve given.  By asking me back, the Hillsboro Chamber gave me a chance to receive, and for that I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred Two

Day 302 - Variations
Today was a variation on a theme in the sense that today’s activities were the same as I have had in the past, only with a twist.
It started with a phone screen interview.  I was delighted to be considered for a training position for a large car rental company.  It turned out that the position was very similar to my last full-time job - in fact, it sounded exactly the same.  I felt as if I could do that job blindfolded.  Yet by the end of the conversation, I didn’t feel as if I had connected with the interviewer.  What made this time different was, at the end of the conversation, I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to move forward.
Then came my Monday networking meeting.  We have a new moderator, as the wonderful woman who has been shepherding the group got a temporary job, and won’t be able to attend for awhile.  The feeling was naturally very different, though we all knew each other and followed the same general format.
My day finished with happy hour with my friends Manuel and Fred who are now co-moderators for my job seekers support group.  Except Fred was ill and couldn’t make it.  Manuel and I had a great conversation at Metrovino, a wine bar about a block from his condo in the Pearl.  Though we missed Fred’s addition to the conversation, it was great getting to know Manuel a little more.
In all, it was an interesting-yet-comfortable day.  The variations kept it fresh.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred One

Day 301 - Naps
My father used to say, “I had nothing to do today, and I only got half of it done.”  I had a day like that.
In reality, it wasn’t entirely true.  I did have my laundry to do, which I did.  I had meals to prepare, which were good (and included leftovers, so I can’t take full credit).  

Most importantly, though, my schedule was open enough that I had a chance to take a nap.  I nap regularly.  It’s healthy, and I feel better afterward.  While I’ve often thought it would be nice not to have to sleep at all - I could get so much more done - I’m glad I can nap.  Many people can’t.  And today’s nap felt so good.
Ahhhhh!  Life is good.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Three Hundred

Day 300 - Patterns
It is difficult to believe that I began this blog 300 days ago.  Has time really passed that quickly?
Today was a day without any new surprises, which was nice.  Mom took off on a trip to Tucson, and I have the place to myself.  I spent the day doing mundane stuff - errands, chores, etc. - and it was just another quiet day.  Sometimes it’s nice to have some patterns to follow; nothing unexpected or unusual to “deal” with.  Peace.
Peace is nice.

A Year of Gratitude - Day Two Hundred Ninety-nine

Day 299 - Unexpected Talent
I had coffee today with an energetic young man who presents himself as a resource to job seekers on self branding and how to create a personal marketing plan for your job search.  I have to admit a small amount of skepticism - he seems so young - what could he present that I haven’t already seen?  I’ve run across numerous blogs by recent college graduates spouting their “latest tips” and earth-shattering revelations that turn out to be the same stuff I learned a long time ago; I expected this to be a similar experience.
I’m happy to say I was completely wrong.  Allen not only understands marketing inside and out, but he has the best “Interview Kit” I have ever seen.  Think of it as a marketing kit (a folder with your organization’s collateral information - brochures, etc.) for your own personal brand, what you offer (a potential employer) and where you stand in your market.  I was blown away.
I’m glad he put me in my place (though I hope he didn’t realize I had walked in with some erroneous assumptions).  It reminded me that age, experience and other chronologically-oriented factors rarely have anything to do with talent.  It was my own re-entry into reality and I felt enriched by our conversation.