Archive for June, 2010
The U.S. is full of bicultural and multicultural people. So I should fit right in. Actually, I have yet to find a demographic group where I do.
It’s my parents’ legacy – that funny mixture of Anglo-American-Mexican.
My Anglo-American side should predominate and on the surface, it does. However, I spent thirty eight years in Mexico, a force to be reckoned with. Also, I’ve gone back and forth between my three countries and each has left its mark, as well as the places where I lived. I spent my early childhood in a seaside village in Sussex, England – easygoing, quiet; then Mexico City – a culture shock, complete opposite to what I was used to; Milwaukee, WI – college, what fun; New York City – another culture shock but lived it up – every moment I was there; London – the Swinging Sixties; Mexico City again – just for a while but … marriage, two kids, divorce, career; Tijuana – how the hell did I end up here?; Santa Fe, New Mexico – swallows you up or spits you out; and San Diego, CA. – accidental landing.
My three countries also influenced me professionally. My advertising career began in New York, continued in London, matured in Mexico City and ended there after thirty years. Then it was what will I do next? Where will I go? Back to England? Or the U.S? Not yet. Started a business. Failed. Wrote a book. Writing took over my life. Moved to Santa Fe to nurture my muse, but a health problem took me back to Mexico, to Tijuana. Finally, I crossed the border to San Diego, to become one of America’s working poor, a sub-culture of its own.
I still live in San Diego but haven’t settled down yet.
Where will I spend the rest of my life? Each of my three countries calls out to me.
What about you? How has your cultural background influenced your life, your career?
I didn’t actually fall into a pit or was drummed out of an envied job. I was a design engineer in the aerospace industry. I won’t attempt to define what that is. Let’s just say I designed gizmos for the government.
My fall from grace was self imposed, because the industry stopped designing things. What they wanted me to do was government paperwork. Designing is just a word they like to use. We buy stuff and stick it together. It’s inefficient, ineffective, and fails a lot, but it makes money – not for you, but for the CEO. I had to leave to keep my dignity.
What I found was there were no jobs for older men. This is a young man’s/woman’s game, but we run business with rules. No one uses his head, no one judges his decisions. We only act by regulation, process descriptors, or directives. That keeps accountability at a minimum. Old guys reason. We can’t have that.
Here’s my point. I wouldn’t go back to that goofy world of business shackled by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton MBAs for all the money in the world. They simply don’t have a clue how to run a company that has human beings in it.
Starting your own business, reinventing yourself, is going to be the best choice for the future. You can’t rely on any of these large corporations. You want to be far away when they fall so as not to be hit by the debris. If I were a younger man, I would have no trouble picking up and moving forward with a truck load of ideas of how not to run a company. And that may not be in this country. That has to be useful in creating a new beginning.
If the only goal in the business model is to fill the pockets of the executive, eventually all the talent leaves and the company fails.
Job search. Need to pay overdue bills, get out of this economic sinkhole. I have excellent qualifications and experience. But … I’m not young anymore. However, I’m in better condition than when I had a challenging career, small children, neurosis, and heavy doses of stress. I still have a lot to offer and anyone should be glad to employ me.
Truthfully, I don’t want the job, not after several years working freelance. Love my freedom, fear the restrictions of office life. But my creativity won’t pay the rent. My materialistic landlady doesn’t deal in dreams and promises.
So I dress in my outdated business suit and go to interview with an old colleague. He sweeps in, overweight, self-important, obviously surprised that I’m there. So sorry, he forgot our appointment, but he’s happy to see me again – or so he says. Would I mind waiting while he attends to other business? I sit there for an hour, thinking how he must look at me as a down-and-out former friend come to ask him for work. Should have stayed away, spared myself this humiliation, but he’s my last resort.
All he can offer me at the moment – These are bad times, you know? – is a minor position. Big drop in pay, in status. He knows damn well what I can do, what I’m worth, but he still makes it sound like he’s doing me a favor. I guess he is. Giving a washed-up former professional a chance to re-enter the business world. I’ll have to work my ass off to prove myself again.
Who cares that my unfolding talent will be covered under layers of office work and salaried efforts?
We shake hands.
I started off expecting a great deal and ended up settling for anything.
I need to survive, don’t I?
The Immigration officer at Kennedy Airport was a distinguished, middle-aged man who, in the five minutes it took to admit me into the country, told me the story of his fall in the publishing world. He’d had a high-powered position until his company was acquired by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, which was when he was laid off. Unable to find another job at his former level, he had taken this one because it gave him an opportunity to advance – though not in his chosen field or to his previous career level.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” he said. Famous last words that are repeated throughout the Western world.
That happened over a decade ago. Long before the current economic crisis, midlife professionals were falling in droves, victims to an epidemic that has swept the modern world since the early eighties. Job security? A thing of the past. Blame corporate mergers, downsizing, the computer age, and a business world geared to the under-forties. The present unemployment situation has exacerbated this problem. Top and mid-level executives are more likely to feel the crunch: laid off, made redundant, let go, shunted sideways or down, or put on the fast track to early retirement.
I also fell victim to a corporate merger. It returned me to a job market where there was little/no demand for people like me. Only after many ups and downs did I learn that starting over in a lesser position, like the Immigration Officer, was not a bad thing. It put me on the way to making a comeback. I have since heard other stories of fallen professionals who have also reinvented themselves and made new starts in low level positions.
Would you be willing to sacrifice money and status to make a new career start?
I’d just come from a big success selling an ad campaign to a difficult client. So when my boss asked me to take early retirement, I didn’t react. Just sat immobile, impassive. He was disconcerted, expecting me to get angry, burst into tears, show some emotion.
My website, www.donthangupbook.com illustrates my fall from high-powered international ad executive until I was, literally, groveling on the edge of a cliff. Then, it shows a new, refreshed woman walking confidently across a bridge away from her old persona.
The message I want to convey is how job loss can become a challenge/opportunity to make a new start. In my case, handicapped by age and over qualifications, it came in the most unexpected form – as an $8.00 an hour phone interviewer, a job I took as a stopgap measure until I could find “something” better.
There, I discovered the America of the underdog: the camaraderie with former druggies and whores, paroled felons, people who needed to work two full-time jobs, suspended teachers, conspiracy theory advocates, and certified nuts. Surprisingly, I met other former professionals struggling to survive in this world we were ill prepared to enter.
As one of the army of phone research interviewers, I embarked on a nationwide tour, talking to people as diverse as firewalkers and grieving widows. I heard local gossip (who killed who in Connecticut, about contaminated water in California, which diva was a real bitch in New York), why people hang onto their guns, and the plight of some of the country’s most needy people caught in the stranglehold monopoly of the local utility company.
My book, Don’t Hang Up! to be published this fall, shows how this lowly job became my turning point.
What was the turning point in your life – the moment, experience, or discovery that changed the way you looked at life?
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