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Monday, October 26, 2020

12 Down, A Few More To Go


Tuesday, October 27th is the 12th anniversary of this blog's creation.  You can see the first post, way back in 2008, HERE.  Since then, the blog stats tell me that:

  • 2062 is the number of published posts
  • 112 is the number of draft posts
  • 7,000 is about the average number of page-views I get per month
I'd give you the total number of page views, but the counter wasn't working correctly for the first two years (it was something I did...and I end up re-setting it), but I suspect it's about a million page views.

In all that time I do think the quality of my writing has improved...practice will do that...even if the quantity of my posts has decreased.  Speaking of quality, some of this stuff I wrote I just can't re-read, as it would honestly be too painful.  That noted, I normally don't take postings down, except when there may be a career consideration for me.  What's in the 112 draft postings is a collection of half-baked ideas and things that, as previously noted, might have upset a potential employer at the moment interviews or such were going on.  I suspect that I could probably re-publish about two-thirds of those draft postings, but that would probably be too much work for too little benefit. 

The above is, well, pretty darn boring to everyone except for me.  But what the heck, it is the blog-o-versary after all.

Probably the more interesting story here is how my life has changed over the past 12 years.  If anything, and in retrospect, one of the things that this blog does is captures little slices of my life.  While a lot of what's written here isn't necessarily about me, it's certainly reflective of me and where I was at that particular time when it wrote it.  In 12 years my life has changed pretty dramatically.  I'd like to tell you that am dramatically happier now, but that wouldn't be entirely true; yes, many of the aspects of my life are dramatically better now, but yet some of the things that drive me haven't changed all that much.  If anything I now understand some of those drivers a bit better.  Actually translating that understanding into action is harder though than it sounds, so let's just say that over the past 12 years "I have met the enemy and he is me".

Going back to the future.

In 2008 it felt as if I could barely breathe, as it felt like there were so many things that I was trying to balance all at the same time.  In a way, having so much going on in 2008 created a kind of mental pathway around having to deal with some fundamental problems in my life.  It seems though that some things in life can not be denied forever, and for all intents and purposes, my world imploded around this time in 2010.  "Dark" does not give this time in my life justice.  Yet though, what happened then was necessary.  Even just writing this brings back unhappy feelings into my head.  Gee, thanks blog.

The aftermath of 2010 was a kind of re-orientation of my life.  Make that a messy and sometimes painful re-orientation of my life.  And now I get to look back and see just how much progress has been made since 2008.  In complete honestly, in October 2008 I could never have imagined my life in October 2020.

One of the truisms of life is that things really do happen at the right time, but unfortunately we only get to see...and understand...and feel...that in retrospect.  At no time in my 56.5 years of this Earth is that more true for me than right now.  Number 1 on that list of "things happening at the right time" is my wife, Ms. Rivers.  I wish I could just make up my own word to describe her and what's she done in and for my life (if I did, it would be some big German/Russian/Klingon sounding thing), but I am barely functional in existing English words; adding to the language is too big of a stretch for my abilities.  What I can say is this:  In many ways, she is my hero.  Like most heroes, she has managed to be there just at the nick of time for me, often saving the day and giving me just what I need.  Her heroic powers include a level of calm that is nothing short of awe-inspiring and she also has an almost magical ability to see the good in me, even when I am completely and utterly oblivious to it myself.  Simply put, she believes in more than I do.  She also made me a part of her extended family, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Looking backward at recent history until now, it seems that maybe now I have found a place of relative stability.  Well as stable as life gets in the middle of a pandemic.  Anyway, looking at the next 8 to 10 years to come, what I see is the opportunity to tackle what represents a kind of "final frontier" of my life, a set of learned behaviors and responses that have never served me well, other than power some survival instincts that have out-worn their likely usefulness.  Cryptic enough for you?  How about this:  I now have the opportunity...the time...the breath...the attention...to seek answers to some very fundamental questions about how that "space between my ears" processes the world and drives my actions.  I can work on simply becoming happier.  

As I said, a lot has changed.

Whatever the future holds, I'll no doubt continue to chronicle little pieces of it here.  As always, I do it by and for myself, as this has always been my one truly selfish indulgence over the past 12 years.  And I welcome anyone else who wants to come along on the road (as noted above, to a kind of Shambala*) with me.


(*) Click HERE to find a definition of "Shambala".

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Squirrels Don't Walk In Straight Lines


This isn't a posting about squirrels, although I may get around to that one day.  Instead, file this under "random observation".

October has not always been kind to me, a fact that is noted several times over the past 12 years.  Given that fact, one would think that October 2020 would be particularly horrible.  Or, to paraphrase my sister-in-law, "when does the locust plague start?".  But yet here I am, and so far October has been okay to me.  I started a new job that seems to combine all of what I have been looking for over the past few years:  An organization that does good for the world, a position where I can make a difference, autonomy, and a supportive and enlightened leadership team.  Part of me wants to tread cautiously here, as I don't want to somehow create bad juju for myself.

"When it's good, it's bad"

A trusted advisor (and everyone should have a trusted advisor or three in their life) has told me repeatedly that I am wired for a particular response of "when it's good, it's bad".  This is a shorthand description for someone who grew up always having to look out for the next shoe to drop.  I know, that still kind of nebulous, but outbursts of anger were not an uncommon occurrence in my childhood.  Not by me, mind you.  When that happens, well, you tend to focus less on the "what's good" and more on the "I have to get ready for the next bad".  This isn't all bad by the way; I learned, for example, to develop some very good observational skills.  Trust me though when I say that this is not a good way to run your life, and I have no doubt that decades of heightened anxiety over subconsciously waiting for the bad to inevitably happen probably has taken its toll in a lot of ways.  So be it.  None of us can ever change the past, but we can always learn from it.

So here I am, and maybe, just maybe, as I tiptoe into changing some mental stimulus-response wiring, when it's good it really is good.

There is, by the way, plenty of good to go around.  In addition to a new professional gig, I have a healthy family, adult children that I am exceptionally proud of, a nice place to live, and a spouse that loves me for who I am.  And cats.  I have cats.

Here's to all of us learning, growing, and re-wiring, no matter how old (or young) we find ourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

189 Days...

 ...is the span of time between leaving my last job and my hopefully last first day at work.  

By way of background, "leaving" sounds a bit like I just left the office and just decided not to come back.  That wasn't the case.  What is the case is that I, like far too many, had my employment negatively effected by COVID-19.  In fact, I think my last departure was as hard on my former VP as it was on me.  Anyway, in the real world things happen, and it's less important to dwell on the past and more important to focus on the here and now.

I am, by the way, going to dwell a bit on the past regardless.  Well, at least selectively.

When I think about my 189 days, a few things come to mind.  Let's start with bare-knuckled emotions.

Frustrating

Anxious

Disheartening

Did I mention Frustrating yet?

(at times) Anger

Disappointment

Apprehensive

I'll note that in the bowels on this blog, years ago, I mentioned before that I am the world's worst unemployed person.  The past 189 days proved that to be true time and time again.  There were some bright spots over those days, including some important house projects getting completed (re-doing our front porch, installing an outside outlet, a ton of landscaping, re-organizing our garage, building some new storage, etc.).  Those were good, but they were not enough.  While I really enjoy working outdoors, it's best as a way for me to get my mind off of other things, not be the primary focus of my mind.  This is in keeping with my almost constant need for stimulation.  

So why all the negativity, as noted above?

The job search process normally tends to be a terrible experience.  Add in millions of new folks looking for work and the inherent disruption of no close contact and you get something of a perfect storm of stink.  It was so bad that I honestly have no desire to go through it again.  Ever again.  Generalizations aside, there are a few very specific things that really make the process of finding a new job pretty terrible, such as when you seem to have a good rapport with a recruiter but then they basically go silent, without any explanation, and stop replying to your messages or returning your calls.  As someone working (again) in Human Resources, I view that as being something that's just not right, and to the extent I have any authority over recruiting, it will never happen under my watch.  Mind you, I don't think that every applicant needs to be acknowledged (the recent college graduate applying for that recently available CFO position, for example), but if someone meets the stated qualifications of a position, they deserve some kind of communication.

* * * * *

I'll digress even further here to relay an actual experience of mine that I consider to be just about the worst of the 189 days:

  • An HR/Learning & Development position was posted by a technology company on a major job board
  • I met all of the stated qualifications
  • I submitted my resume and completed an exhaustive on-line application
  • I received a communication that the company would like me to complete a series of online assessments
  • I think to myself "that's a good sign", and "sure...how long could it possibly take?"
Regarding that last bullet, the answer was 3.5 hours.  The online assessments took three and a half hours of my time.  That, however, was not to be the punchline:

  • I completed all of the exhaustive assessments, covering problem-solving, HR practices, etc.
  • After feeling accomplished at having gone through the process, I gladly hit the final send button
  • I was greeted with a message that basically said...
"Thanks.  We'll let you know if we want to proceed."

What that actually meant was that I spent 3.5 hours and I had no way of following up on the status of my application.  No recruiter to contact.  No company email.  Not even a rejection email.  Just radio silence if I wasn't selected.  That was (and is) both horrible and disrespectful.  Part of me wanted to somehow bill them for the time.  Nothing like asking someone to go above and beyond but yet not having the courtesy to at least tell them "no".  This particular company bills itself as being very selective in who they hire, which is all well and good, but I sincerely hope that they treat their existing employees far, far better than how they treat their employment candidates.

* * * * *

Another example from my 189 days is what I'll call "the sales pitch".  It works something like this:

  • I, like many others, noted on my LinkedIn profile that I was "looking for opportunities".
  • I would get a very friendly message and connection request from another professional.
  • The conversation would start with a lot of sympathy for my plight and plenty of questions about my background and how my search was going.
  • After a few days, the sales pitch would always come.
The "sales pitch" inevitably had to do with either a sales position or a franchise opportunity.  Mind you there is nothing in my LinkedIn profile that actually gave any indication that I was interested in sales or franchise opportunities.  For the record, I have nothing against either career avenue.  What I do have a problem with is the insincerity on display to myself (and countless others) that was really nothing more than a lead-in gimmick. 

In addition to the standard "sales pitch", I also experienced two variations:

  • The Handoff - This is when you get a message from an executive who contacts you (per above), says nice things about your background, and then tells you that he's going to forward your name to his spouse/partner/etc. who may have an opening for you.  There may even be a check-in where this individual follows up with you to see if their spouse/partner/etc. has gotten back to you yet (they haven't...yet...but that's part of the plan I suspect).  You do hear from the spouse/partner/etc. after a few weeks and after an exchange of pleasantries, they talk to you about their company.  Feeling a bit suspicious and wondering why you aren't hearing any specifics about the job opportunity itself, you start to ask detailed questions, discovering that they are looking for...wait for it...salespeople.  
  • The Helping Hand - This is when you get an out-of-the-blue message from someone working for a well-known company saying they know how hard the job market is and that they'd like to forward your name to a recruiter they know.  You don't hear from the recruiter, but you do hear from the original person, who pledges to follow-up with their recruiter friend.  Eventually, the follow-up conversations steer towards the financial services product they want to sell you.  In my particular instance, the "kicker" was the fact that the last follow-up message I got from this individual made two very big mistakes.  The first?  Never refer to me by just by my last name ("Albert, this is...") in a voicemail message.  The second?  At least try to remember some of what I told you in prior conversations.
These experiences were (and are for others on an on-going basis) disheartening.  If you are trying to recruit salespeople or sell a franchise opportunity, please be upfront about it.  Feigning concern as a lead-in to a pitch is just a terrible thing to do in times like this.

* * * * *

Hopefully, by now the picture of just how jarring this process has been for me has been painted.  As someone who values control, this was one of the most out of my control periods in my life.  What I could control was the process by which I looked for a job, and I did my best to be disciplined about the whole thing.  That attempt at a disciplined approach resulted in my making 72 different employment applications.  The breakdown by the source of the lead is as follows:


The sometimes brutal realities of a 2020 job search noted, there were plenty of positives to my 189 days, none the least of which is how my job search ended.  To really explain that, I need to go back to the year 1999.  It was in later 1999 when I decided that my career needed something of a change.  I was successful at what I was doing as a Customer Service Team manager, but the work itself just didn't seem to be all that important to me.  Working for a large company, I was able to find another role, in Human Resources, managing a Training and Development team.  Fast forward a few years from then and I basically decided that this (Human Resources) was going to be where I "hung my hat" for the rest of my professional life.  That kind of commitment sounds nice, but in reality, it was less a visionary statement and more a kind of messy battle plan that took years to bear any fruit.

This is the part where I am supposed to have the pithy statement about the power of perseverance, but I'm not going to do that, as there were many times when I wondered just what in the heck I was actually doing.  What looks like in hindsight a "well-orchestrated plan" was actually neither well-orchestrated nor much of a plan.  Instead, I just tried to string things together with what I had to work with, plus a lot of work.      

Anyway, the messiness of the past duly noted, I've landed in a place where my imagination years ago though I should be.  Like most things in my life though, the path between the past and future wasn't exactly a straight line.  Maybe one day I will truly appreciate that fact.

My "not exactly a straight line" career progression couldn't have happened without people who supported me, in big ways and in small.  Every check-in and every word of encouragement meant more to me than I can adequately describe.  So too did every job lead, as regardless of whether or not it panned out it was still a vote of confidence in me.  My biggest cheerleader was my wife, Ms. Rivers, who also benefitted during my 189 days via the frequent runs to Dunkin Donuts for a small iced coffee with two cream and one Splenda as well as the twice a week lunch of (the famous but frozen) Victory Pig pizza.  I'll miss both myself by the way.

So now I've come to the end of this posting.  I am supposed to say, I think, that this is not an end but "is a beginning".  All well and good, but the reality is there always was "a beginning" in play anyway.  Maybe a smarter or more insightful person might seek some kind of deeper meaning in all of this; as for me, I'm just relieved.  And I'll leave it at that.


(*) For the truly (or mildly) curious, you can always check out my LinkedIn profile for more about the professional me.