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Saturday, May 30, 2009

You gonna eat that?

I have a new obsession as a part of our lessons from the recession and I'm not sure it's a healthy one. It's just short of dumpster diving Thank God. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Had to put that disclaimer in just in case I build to that over time.

Obviously, with the savings account dwindling, eating out is not on our list of the savings plan. Now.....we're both pretty good cooks at our house and there's no shortage of decent meals. Especially since we've seen the light on the quality of most generic foods. We can whip up a mean chicken pesto or the best cheeseburgers and homemade fries you've had at the best burger joint. The point is, we're not starving or lacking really.


There is this craving for restaurant food or at least food someone else bought and fixed. Which brings me to my new, let's call it a "hobby." Obsession is a pretty strong word and I fear my friends will stage an intervention if I go that far.

Let me give you some context. My job involves many meetings and presentations where my company or my clients pay big money to restaurants and hotels to provide sprawling displays of food. Often times I'm the speaker at these gigs so I'm not exactly an 'under the radar' part of this event.

I've been doing this job for some time and would rarely eat at those badass buffets because I was busy prepping and speaking and smoozing. However, now they've got my attention!

It started about 6 months ago in a well known Italian restaurant chain that has meeting rooms that we use frequently for marketing events. As I was wrapping up the presentation, for some reason, I looked over at how much food was left, food that we had paid big money for and I knew was going to get thrown away. Out of the blue I said, OK everyone, before you leave, grab a to- go box and take some great food to your colleagues that have manned the fort while you were here! And they did! And SO DID I!

That was the beginning. Where it all started.

I waited until everyone else had gone and the waitress said to me, do you want to take the rest. My mind started racing looking at the spread of fruit and muffins and bagels. Sure, I said.

She brought me one of those big metal catering trays and I proceeded to fill it with strawberries as big as my head and clusters of grapes that surely were from the Garden of Eden.

Then I filled a bag with bagels, muffins, sweet rolls.

I left not thinking about the clients I had served and how much business I had driven. I left excited about my fruit bounty and ready to share it with my crew at home. Gather round little ones, mama's coming home with a 'score'!

Sadly, two of the sweet rolls didn't make it home. I ate those in the car.

I brought the food in and went back into my bedroom to change. I came back and they were all gathered around the fruit bounty eating strawberries and grapes. Happy Happy Happy.

Once again, let me clarify. I buy fruit for my family. Lots of fruit. Fresh fruit. There's something special about free fruit that came from a "restaurant" (sound effect of angels singing and visual of the bright light shining down)

So, my friends, that was the beginning.

Now, I find myself scoping the buffet table before I think about the speech I'm about to give or the clients I'm going to meet. I guess its the hierarchy of needs at play.

My weirdest example of my hobby was when I had dinner with a couple of colleagues, including a new employee. This was our first meeting. We had a normal dinner and, with my new practice, I asked for the rest of mine to-go. My colleague was staying in a hotel and I was going home and she said, "would you like to take the rest of mine home too." Which means, maybe everyone is on to me. I must have that "you gonna eat that?" look and I don't even realize it. I said, "sure I'll take it." Remember the Lesson from the Recession about pride and ego. Leave em at home.

I brought home the bounty. Went in to change and came out to find my guy happily chowing down on his restaurant food. I came out, he looked up and said, Thanks for the salad. I had the moment where I had to decide if I was going to tell him the truth. I smiled and said, Hope you don't mind that was from my new colleague. I also assured him she didn't look like she had cooties or any sign of the pig flu. He hesitated mid-bite and looked at me. Just for a second. Then he smiled and said, "oh well". He's diggin' the new hobby too!

There's been other 'instances' of my 'hobby' but I'll skip to the most recent.

Last week I hosted a colleague of mine in a large event. Not just any colleague, this is a well known speaker, author, New York times best selling author, thought leader, pretty famous kind of guy. After the big event (that just had snacks) we went into a smaller room for a meeting with a top client with a table of hors d'oeuvres. Cheese, lots of cheese, good cheese, including brie, my weakness and bread, lots of bread, and these little asparagus thingies. The motherload!

I made myself an acceptable little plate to eat during the meeting. Then I tried to focus. I quickly realized that I wasn't going to have time to scoop up these top notch buffet left overs because my famous guy had to get the airport immediately following this meeting! AND I WAS HIS RIDE! My heart sunk. Here was a room full of people waiting to get autographs from the guy I get to spend the day and my career with and all I could think of was my disappointment with not bringing home the motherload. This mother was not going to score today. Sorry little asparagus you'll end up in the dumpster today. You win some bus-tub buffets and you lose some.

Just checked the schedule. I've got an event coming up in 10 days. Whew, a chance for redemption.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Swing and a Miss

This lesson from the recession goes out to all of those recruiters and hiring managers out there. Listen up, this is important.

Never forget that the job you are hiring for may be a project on your list, a check mark on your task list, I get it, you are busy. But to us, it's the means to pay the mortgage, can we afford the 11 yr old to be in band, can we afford a date night in the midst of this storm. For you a task......for us .....our life.

After months of networking two great opportunities finally started to progress. Both of them THE job not just a job. One with a large speaker manufacturer and another with a reputable company starting a green certification. These were two of the industries on my guy's hit list. Score! Two leads working in the right direction.

Both opportunities came from networking. First phone interview scheduled, check. Resume reviewed again, check.

First phone interview - done - went well.

Wait for response, wait, wait, wait.

The phone rings. We look at each other before answering. Every.... time.

Second phone interview scheduled. Exhale. Progress. Thank you God.

The day of the interview, even a phone interview, the energy in the house is palatable. Up early, on the treadmill, shower, have a good breakfast, be upbeat, be pleasant, bring your best self. You've studied the company, we've drilled on the possible questions. Ready, bring it.

Hang up the phone from interview. Call me at work to report. It went well. Exhale.

They schedule a face to face interview. Two weeks later. Two weeks feels like forever. It's been 3 weeks since the opportunity came in already. Two more weeks. It's still progress. Thank you God.

Face to face interview. Polish shoes. Should we buy new shoes? Are you going to wear that tie? Go buy a new shirt. And get a new tie while you're there. Do you want me to come with you. Call and get in for a quick haircut.

Honestly, is this an interview or prom!

We go over crazy interview stories. Make sure your car is clean in case he wants you to drive to lunch. Some people do that to see if you are neat and orderly.

Don't walk on the grass on the way in the door, one of my clients doesn't hire people that walk on the grass. (True statement, frightening)

We go over directions, at least 15 times. He leaves ridiculously early.

I call 3 times in the 3 hour ride to the interview to tell him he's great and I love him and not to forget what a rockstar he is. Who's more nervous? That's debatable.

He calls before he leaves the parking lot. Thank God because I've looked at my watch 100 times in the last 90 minutes.

He sounds great. Conversation went well. Really well. The job is way bigger than he thought but he's excited about this new division and really wants to be a part of it.

Three hour drive home. We rest easy tonight. Progress feels good.

He comes home and writes quality thank you notes that we pour over line by line.

Then we wait.

Luckily interview number two comes along quickly and provides a welcome distraction from the waiting.

Here we go again. This time my guy has been recommended from a previous client to this company. Wow! That's way better then submitting a resume on a job board.

Phone interview. Goes really well. I've not seen him this excited in awhile. He's more of a practical realist so to see him excited is really cool.

Another interview with HR. Again, we prep, plan, prioritize, pour over data, practice the answers, pray like crazy. Eight hours of prep for a 20 minute interview from a sheet of questions from a worksheet I'm guessing. Regardless, he does well. Next step.

VP of the division. Phone interview. Again, we go through the pain staking planning and prep. He calls me 10 minutes after the scheduled time for interview. I panic when I see his name come up on my phone. Did he miss it! Did they stand him up!

No, it was a 10 minute interview. The guy asks 2 questions, hears what he wants to hear and asks him to come in for the final face to face interview. The fourth interview for this position.

We're elated and a little miffed. The emotions of this roller coaster ride are exhausting and this guy only has 10 minutes to spend with someone he's bringing for a final interview?

Meanwhile, opportunity #1 hasn't responded to any follow up messages. Now you sit and guess and wonder how often you should check in to balance the "I'm interested", with "I'm a stalker" continuim. We review the interview together looking for clues of what is or isn't. Exhausted.

Opportunity #2, still progressing. All the prep, all the practice, this time with new shoes and a new tie.

Another 3 hour drive. He interviews, he calls. It went great. Now let me clarify what it means when my guy says it went great. This is a guy that can be sitting down for a fine meal in a five star restaurant and you can say, "how's your meal, honey." and he'll say, "It's ok. The steak isn't quite rare enough, and the potato would be better with some bacon, but it's good." Meanwhile I'm salivating over every bite. So, when my guy says it went great. We're talking KISS in the 70's great. The real deal.

I start dreaming of walking through Target with a Venti latte and buying something just because it's on sale, not because I need it. The good ole days. Maybe I'll get a pedicure, or a massage! What will it be like on that great day when the call comes and the smile spreads across his face in that little smirk and I hear him say, "I got it." We were this sure.

All the thank you's written, the appropriate follow up.

Two days, Five days, One week. He wakes up, it's been a week! He's frustrated. I remind him of the whirlwind of work in the life of the employed. I tell him I've had two clients have to call me twice this week because I'm so behind. I remind him that hiring this position is one of a hundred things these people need to get done. I remind him that most people are doing two people's job. I say, maybe they went on vacation right after the interview. Maybe they got hit by a bus. He's down. I'm down. Roller coaster. Exhausted.

Two weeks, almost three. Time for an intervention. Tough times call for tough measures. Not one follow up call from either place!

He sends out a message to Opportunity #2 offering to work on contract to prove himself and begin to research the territory and prepare a sales strategy. I read the email, it's good, really good. With this email he gets a response. They've put a hiring freeze on until the start of their new fiscal year.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! Could someone have called and let this guy.... this family know! Do you know how many calls from family and friends this guy has taken, did you hear yet, did you hear yet, did you hear yet?

He sends a similar message to Opportunity #1 offering to do research for the new division on a project contract basis. This one gets a response too. THE SAME THING, hiring freeze!

Now, opportunity #1 has their fiscal year ending in less than a month. We hold out hope. And we wait another month and a half. No word.

He reaches out again. They've hired the other candidate who had a little bit of stereo experience.

(hear the sound effect of air being let out of a balloon and spinning around the room)

Now, here's the lesson for you recruiters and hiring managers. Please remember that we are waiting by the phone like a 16 year old with a crush. We know you are busy. Please call us and keep us updated. If the person you interview isn't the right fit. Tell them. Tell them quickly. Tell them honestly. If the position is on hold, send an email, a text, smoke signals, keep us in the loop.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

THE Job or 'a job'

During this time of reflection and "now what do you want to be when you grow up", we had many discussions about the exciting option of switching industries and finding a career that he could really sink his teeth into. While job loss is a pain in the tush no matter how you slice it, we tried to look at the bright side of the possibilities.

There were some interesting thoughts, like turning the passion of pond building and fishing into a career. There were prototypes of fishing lures, and consulting companies for pond building, each with their own set of highs and lows.

All the while, competitors from his OLD industry ( read this with ego and disdain) were knocking on the door. In the beginning, I was a little, ok alot, cocky about it. No way was I going to let this guy get sucked into that rat hole again. Those people had chewed him up and spit him out and I was determined that he finally get to experience what I'm lucky enough to have, which is a job I really like, not just one I tolerate.

He would get offers and he'd come to me and say, "so what do you think?" I always said and really meant it, the choice was his. At one point, as the dialogue began to continue with an old competitor, I simply asked this question, "Ok, it's the first day of this new job and your alarm goes off. How will you feel? Will you jump up ready to take on the challenge with vigor and excitement? Or, will you hit the snooze and feel like you've settled and ultimately lost?"

He didn't answer. I never heard about that offer again. I guess he did really answer without saying a word.

Now remember, this is summer and the living is easy and the savings account is still big. Forecast ... optimism. Looking for a job is hard, looking for a job in this economy is harder, changing industries in this economy is brutal. It's much easier to focus your job search to a specific role within a specific industry. It's much more difficult to network when you are equipped with the all the skills and ability, the skies the limit, and wonder where the heck do you start.

We worked together and channeled his focus to areas of interest, his tag line is ....... I'm a sales professional with an engineer's mind. Pretty good, huh!

He targeted some specific industries like sustainable energy and audio/visual equipment manufacturers and tried to stir up some targeted networking.

All looked well and good and then the summer sun began to set, fall had come upon and the darker nights, led to darker days. The economy had gone from challenging to total crap and things began to look downright grim.

He had no job, and mine was getting harder. He was slipping and I was exhausted. Exhausted from trying to keep my sales and his spirits up. I remember sitting in our closet one night and just sinking to the floor and letting it rip. Tears, frustration, doubt, anger, all of it, right in the middle of a pile of dirty laundry where it belonged. I had spent months always sure things were on the right track and determined not to let him see me sweat and that night I wasn't sure of much, other than, I was tired, dog tired.

I started to question my coaching and cockiness about finding THE right job. Maybe, as a man, it was more important for him just to work, rather than do the right work. I questioned my motive and I prayed and prayed and prayed. I didn't want to be the one that led him down the wrong path. My intentions and desires for my guy were pure and true. Please God, don't let me screw this up.

We talked about it, he was getting antsy and now the offers from the old industry had subsided and there really wasn't much to talk about. Looking back, I'm glad, because there were some cold November rains that he would have jumped at any job that came along.

I went into problem solving mode, for the problem I felt like I helped to create. TIME FOR A PROJECT! When I say this most creatures in my house, including the dogs and cats, get nervous. I love a good project.

Remember where this all started with us moving into our dream house just months before he lost his job? Well, as luck would have it, we didn't finish the basement before we moved in. Now there's a project! He could wire, frame and drywall the basement! It didn't much matter that my guy had never drywalled before, he was smart, he'd figure it out!

More good news, the price of building materials are dirt cheap in a bad economy. Bingo, that's what we call a win win situation - cheap materials and free labor!

The winter of 08-09 will be remembered not as the depressing winter with no job, no no no - that will be remembered as the winter we saved a boatload of money, thousands and thousands of dollars by my smart and talented guy finishing the basement! Remember perspective that we talked about earlier? We never talked in terms of salary in those months, only talked about dollars saved.

This project bought us some time and some focus. The savings account is starting to look a little bent and broken but still glad we've held out for THE job and he didn't settle "YET" for "a job."

My good, crazy, spiritual friend sent us this during this time - I still cling to it -

God's Three Answers to Your Prayers:
1. YES!!!!!
2. Not yet...
3. I have something better in mind

Next up on Lessons from the Recession, "swing and a miss"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reach out - People dig helping

Networking, networking, networking. That's what everyone says is the only way to find a job, especially in a tough economy. We call it networking, my guy thought it felt like begging for help.

You see, my guy is fiercely independent in some ways. He's been on his own since he was in his teens and has always found ways to be successful. He clings to his independence like our 11 year old clings to his DS (old people read: gameboy). The perplexing thing about this is when he was working he was the best collaborator. His entire world was connecting the right distributors with the right end users and the right consultants. His entire career success was based on collaboration. When it came to the job search, I found him firmly rooted in front of his laptop reeking of independence.

I didn't talk of this until it became the stench of independence. Finally I said something sweet and kind like, "No job I know of has been found sitting in front of a laptop at our kitchen table." this was not one of my finer coaching moments. Sometimes I fall into the Gillian on The Biggest Loser category. This was one of those days.

I asked him to make a list of everyone he knew that could help him network. I might as well have said, line up for your root canal. At the time I didn't really know what was holding him back. I think I actually started talking slower like he just couldn't understand what I was saying or maybe all of a sudden I was speaking a different language. Finally, after a pitiful attempt at a list I said, "what's going on?" And then I looked him in the eye and tried to feel and listen.

It took more cajoling then I'll elaborate on here but finally he said "I can do this myself, I don't want to go bugging people to help me." I was a bit shocked at first because I'm the queen of networking. I softened my approach because I could tell this was really bugging him.

Once again, another one of those whacky situations when everything we know and everything that has made us successful in our career short circuits when the job goes away. It's like we're unplugged with the red light flashing and no charger cord in sight.

Finally, after a more loving approach I said, just test this out. I really think people like to help and don't see this as begging for help at all. I urged, "Go call Dave and ask him to lunch. See what he says." He begrudgingly went outside to call Dave so I didn't witness the phone call to critique his approach. (not that i would do that, wink wink)

He came back in smiling, smirking really and said, "I'm having lunch with him on Friday, are you happy?" :) I was happy. I knew it took courage to make that call. Real courage. Here's a guy that has snow skied in places that most people would have rather helicoptered down and he needed courage to call an old neighbor to ask him to lunch.

The other whacky part is, my guy really likes to help other people. His favorite activity is to go out after a big snow in his 4 wheel drive and look for people he can pull out. Clearly there's some testosterone involved in that decision too but kindness is always involved. For someone that is kind and helpful why would you question that someone would have an interest in helping you?

Once again confirmed .... job hunting sucks and the challenges make us stronger.

Over the course of a few weeks, this got easier. He would come home from lunch or the coffee shop having 'networked' and always a bit surprised at how helpful and willing people were to reach out and help.

This week I emailed a previous client that I knew for a short time, a really short time before he moved out of state. I had seen on LinkedIn that he knew someone at a company that my guy was applying at. This client, in no time, picked up the phone and called me back. He was so excited to help. He was coming up with so many ideas on how he could help. I was overwhelmed. I said, "I am so grateful for your help." He said, "Hey, this is fun. How cool will this be if something comes of it!" Darned straight, how cool will it be if something comes of it.

Even if it doesn't....

Here's my theory. Most people have jobs that aren't all that fulfilling if we're lucky enough to have a job. In the daily grind of whatever our schedules are we're all secretly or openly looking for meaning, a purpose. Knowing that we might be able to help someone charges us back up to go out and do the daily grind. Knowing that we have connected someone to something meaningful rocks, anyway you slice it. And if there's a $4 coffee involved, even better!

Recession lesson. We really are all in this together like it or not, so we might as well reach out a hand to help or reach down to grab one. Got anyone that needs a hand?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Oldie but a Goodie -

I found this post from 2005 in another one of my blogs. It speaks so much to these Lessons from the Recession that I thought I'd post it here. So much of what we have learned would have never come to be without the cruddiness (hmm, i think i made up another really good word) of job loss.

I believe - Sept 2005
What do we believe?
What do I believe?
I believe that being honest with others is a lot easier than being honest with yourself.
I believe that out of tragedy, God will prevail.
I believe that it sometimes takes a tragedy to set things right again.
I believe that in times of tragedy we find our strength, we find our fear, and we find each other.
I believe that our emotions are our best friend and our worst enemy.
I believe that most people are inherently good and we often screw each other up unintentionally.
I believe that if you watch the things you don’t like in your children, you can trace it back to what you don’t like in yourself.
I believe that understanding change is a whole lot easier than changing.
I believe that if we looked in the mirror more and at each other less, things would get a lot easier.
I believe that the more you know and the more you have, the harder it is to find the things that matter most.
I believe that our deepest pain can teach us the most if we listen to it and try to understand.
I believe that being a parent is the hardest job I’ve ever had.
I believe that marriage starts out as an art and later requires more science and a respect for both.
I believe that in the absence of purpose, the soul begins to spoil.
I believe that there is a line we cross when we finally understand that our parents don’t know everything and crossing that line frees us, changes us, and scares us.
I believe the trees are more interesting and beautiful in the winter when we can see their architecture and their soul.
I believe people are more interesting and beautiful when we can see their architecture and their soul. Unfortunately, we don’t always show it until we are in pain and vulnerable with our leaves and covering stripped away.
What do you believe?