Archive for August, 2010
“You’re fired” may not be politically correct these days (except for Donald Trump on The Apprentice). Terminating someone’s services has become more like a skill, or even a job. Seems there’s a demand for corporate downsizers like the one George Clooney played in Up In the Air. In the end, being fired/terminated/let go/laid off/downsized/given early retirement – however it’s phrased – means the same thing: you don’t have a job anymore.
Job loss in mid life is a bit like a small death – of everything you have worked for over the years. Like a death, it also affects your/your family’s lifestyle, and often leads to a trail of other losses, trials, and struggles. It changes the course of your life, your expectations, and forces you to face the fact that your best years may be behind you.
Wait. Your best years may still be ahead of you.
Don’t Hang Up! is not only my story but that of many former successful professionals who, in mid life, have been cast out of the professional world. We have had to come to terms with job loss, look for a way back in or up, struggle to make a comeback, a new start, or reinvent ourselves in a new career and lifestyle.
Read the first in this series about job loss and making a new start, which will include some excerpts from my book, Don’t Hang Up!
One – Early Retirement? Go Out With A Roar
Someone is “after” my corner office. The whispers and warnings, like damp rot, seep through the ivy-coated walls to where I sit as my colonial desk. I sense the vultures circling, waiting for the moment when they can catch me, down and unawares.
Again? Why is my office such a target? For one, its location in a quiet corner of our building. Add a landscaped patio view, forest green décor and designer colonial Mexican furniture, and size – large enough to contain a small conference table – all make it a desirable status symbol.
In my fourteen years occupying it, many people have aspired to it, and tried by fair means or more often, foul, to wrest it away from me. Foiled by me every time.
This is my second home. Here, I have celebrated successes and teetered on the verge of dismissal. This office has seen both my laughter and my private tears. It has witnessed my change from the adventurous, optimistic, dreamy eyed young executive who first inhabited it to the hardened, high-powered, stressed-out senior VP of today.
For me, this office represents an important chunk of my life.
For others, it represents status, a symbol of who they want to be in the business world.
In recent months, after we were merged – more like a takeover – with a much larger New York ad agency, our new bosses brought in Marty as manager. One of his tasks is downsizing, and he’s taken to it with a vengeance unparalleled in the agency’s fifty years. A fierce little man, he zooms around on invisible skates as he goes on his deadly way. Speedy González with a machete.
I must be on his hit list. Everyone of any importance, and some who aren’t, are on it. New York wants to revamp the place and get rid of us old-timers. Even the office boy, now middle-aged, may be walking the plank soon.
Today, I came out of my presentation victorious. Still on top of my game. A reason to celebrate. So when Marty calls me into his office, I’m pretty certain it’s to give me a clap on the back for my achievement.
He embarks on what sounds like an oft-performed speech, so smooth that it takes me several minutes to realize he’s trying to persuade me, in the nicest of terms, how it’s in my best interest to take early retirement. I hear, “Corporate takeover casualties,” and “Anyone who’s been more than ten years in the agency.”
I don’t move, not a muscle or a blink, as if my hearing is my only sense left. He’s the one who reacts to my non-reaction, gets muddled, and waffles on a bit about how I need not worry about my future.
“It shouldn’t be hard for you to find a good position,” he says. A blatant lie. At my age, once you’re out of a job, you’re out of the market. And who wants to join the bunch of middle-aged has-beens in search of work in a youth-oriented world?
“I don’t think I’ll look.”
“Have something else in mind?”
“I’ll get rid of my high heels, give away my business suits, let my hair grow down to my waist… and strangle you with my pantyhose. Then, I’ll open a restaurant.”
His flinch is barely noticeable. He recovers fast. “You should do very well. Congratulations on today’s presentation. You did a great job. You can go out with a roar.”
So someone else will inhabit my office after all.
I hope my ghost will forever haunt it.
Will you ever forget the day you were fired. Share your story about job loss and your reaction to it here.
Next: What Do You Do When the Good Times End?
Several months ago, I saw a TV interview with a couple who had lost everything they owned and were living in a hotel room. Before, they owned a mansion and a 100-foot sailboat.
The wife worked as a waitress while her husband had spent two years sending out resumés. Sounded to me like he was in denial. Unable to find suitable work for his qualifications, he refused to consider a lower-level job. He hadn’t realized that he’d turned into a loser, and the only way back up might be to start all over again.
What also struck me was the clutter – actually mounds – of possessions in their hotel room.
I could relate to them somewhat though not on the same level. I also came down from a five-bedroom home to living in a hotel room. But rather than downcast, I was overjoyed to live there. Freed from possessions, I felt liberated.
My first – and for me, traumatic – experience came after a financial collapse when I moved out of my home. I had to part with beloved possessions at rock-bottom prices in a garage sale. Twice, I moved to more modest abodes and downsized again. Then I moved from Mexico City to the U.S., and the rest of my possessions, left in a border warehouse were, I presumed, lost because I couldn’t to afford to retrieve them.
I ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with one large suitcase, a laptop, and two videos of my sons when they were kids. All my worldly belongings.
First came shock.
Then, resignation. Except for the memorabilia.
Finally, freedom. Liberated from all the “stuff” that had tied me down.
And amazement – that I didn’t miss my “stuff” at all. In my fifties, I was free to go wherever I wanted, and do what I wanted, the same as when I was young and unencumbered.
Eventually, my son recovered some of the “stuff” in the warehouse. Guess what? I didn’t want it anymore, and except for a few personal items, I gave it all away. I went to live in a hotel room where I could count my possessions: a laptop, 15 books, a boombox, 10 Cd’s, a VCR, a toaster oven (in which I made bread and a Shepherd’s Pie for 15 people), a hot plate (on which I made chiles rellenos), a microwave, a kettle, teapot, and mug, a couple of plates, cutlery, three cooking pans, a tray, a trolley cart, a bookcase, two pillows, a lamp, a printer, a recorder, tapes, framed photographs, and my clothing. Probably about 100 items.
The point is, I simplified my life, owned few possessions, but still had all I needed to be comfortable.
I now live in a one-bedroom apartment and while writing this, I realized how cluttered it has become with “stuff.” Four overcrowded bookcases – and papers everywhere. If I don’t watch out, I’ll be hidden behind stacks much as in “Hoarders.” So I’ve decided to get rid of at least one-third of everything.
On this subject, read: Redefining the Good Life about the American consumer’s obsession with shopping and possessions, and how to simplify life with less at www.Giuliettathemuse.com/blog
Her ‘Stuff’ Wasn’t Making Her Happy, So Tammy Gave It All Away about how Tammy Strobel pared down her possessions to 100 items. www.lemondrop.com/bloggers
How about “losing” some of your possessions and liberating your life?
The border shuttle bus from the U.S. is crammed with Mexican housekeepers, schoolchildren, and construction workers exuding the odors of physical labor and exhaustion.
Three men jump on and stand in the aisle. Muscular, clean-faced, with shaven heads, easily recognizable as American service men. One, older, has the bellicose eyes and stance of a soldier who’s seen too much action. Powerfully built, though more flab and gut, he lets out a huge belch.
Their voices are so loud that everyone can hear them. They’re marines on a Friday night outing to Avenida Revolución in downtown Tijuana. One, surprisingly, has a Scottish brogue, and he addresses the older man as Captain. From what they say, I gather the subordinates are accompanying the Captain for an obvious reason: he’s been drinking – heavily.
As the shuttle makes its way through jammed border traffic, the Captain blares, “Can’t wait to get my hands on some big Mexican titties and f… a couple of cunts.”
The Scottish marine says, “Captain, please, there are women and children here.”
“Who gives a f… for the shit suckin’ bitches? They don’t understand nothin’.”
As he continues in this vein, the Captain’s befuddled mind and clouded eyes fail to notice another Anglo passenger. Me. Or would it make a difference?
The woman beside me asks, “Señora, you speak English, try and calm him down.” The one in the seat behind says, “Please, he’s frightening my daughter,” and she covers the little girl’s ears.
Others turn, as if expecting me to tell him off. Because I’m Anglo? Or because most of them. dependent on hard-to-get U.S. work permits and bullied by authority figures on both sides of the border, have learned to turn the other cheek.
Why should I have to be the one to confront the Captain? I don’t want to enrage him more, and I doubt that anyone here would support me against what they must see as as a mad-as-a-rabid-dog gringo. How to reason with a big, drunken bully, frothing with booze and contempt? His men should handle him. I catch the eye of the Scottish marine and mouth, “Please do something.”
He tries. “Sir, you’re scaring the passengers. The women and children.”
The Captain glares at us. “These lousy sacks of shit? They can go f… themselves. All Mexicans are good for.”
My image of the military was forged by my naval commander father. A captain is someone to respect. Not a rowdy, foul-mouthed, offensive individual. His behavior would get him evicted from American public transportation, but not from a Mexican shuttle, though technically, we’re still on American soil.
Heat rises in my face as I fight the urge to stand up, tell him to mind his manners, and uphold the honor of his rank. Why bother? He’s not actually threatening anyone, and this ride will be over in ten minutes.
Then he mentions one particularly nauseating thing he intends to do to a Mexican puta. Something so unmentionable that I’ve never heard it uttered out loud before.
The words fly from my mouth before I can hold them back. “Captain, stop insulting Mexicans.”
He turns, his eyes filled with anger as he marks me as the one who spoke. The passengers huddle against each other or back into their seats. I’m on my own, facing this Goliath on a rampage.
“What did you fuckin’ tell me to do?” His bellow is like a challenge.
“Stop insulting Mexicans.” Armed with bravura, I tell him, “And get off the bus before we cross the border. Who wants you in Mexico?”
“Who do you think you are, the fuckin’ high-and-mighty Queen of England bitch?”
Fueled by alcohol and marine machismo, he advances on me, arm raised to punch me. I brace myself, tightening my fist. If I have to, I’ll whack him first, right in his gut.
In a blink, the two marines grab him and shuffle him up the narrow aisle towards the front.
“C’mon, Captain, let the lady be,” Scotty says.
“What lady? That dried-up old bitch,” he yells.
His men have him corralled at the end of the shuttle so rather than Mexicans, I become his verbal target. His stream of abuse falls with the impact of invisible stones crashing against me. I sit ramrod straight, not daring to contest him again, as he continues without letup until we reach downtown Tijuana.
The marines are the first off the shuttle. Several passengers say, “Gracias,” to me as I get down. The Captain staggers away with the two service men in tow.
So I’m surprised to see Scotty come back and tell me, “Sorry about the Captain. He’s not himself today. Just suffered a big personal loss.”
“He’s out of control,” I say. “I’d like his name to report him.”
“I can’t do that, ma’am. They’d have me balls for breakfast.” He pleads like a kid barely out of school. “He’s an officer and it would mean big trouble for us for not keeping him in order.”
“Isn’t it your duty?”
“I wish I could help you, ma’am, but it’s not my place.” And he hurries after the lout, his senior officer.
Next day, I ask a co-worker, a former marine, what can I do to report the captain for unseemly conduct.
“Stay out of it.” He warns. “The marines don’t like civilians getting involved when an officer’s misbehaved.”
I’d like to believe that sooner or later, the Captain will get what he deserves – lose his men’s respect and tarnish his image – but things don’t work that way, and I rather doubt it.
I do have one weapon that I could use to get back at him. As the saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Let’s see if that’s true.
What do you think?
OMG, should I lie?
I shot back, “I’m sixty. Is that a problem?”
My agent is younger than my children, and I wanted to fit in.
I considered emergency plastic surgery—a facelift? Liposuction? A chin implant?
After I calmed down, I realized I needed to be exactly where I was in life to write the book I wrote. I had panicked because, frankly, I’m shocked to be over sixty. I feel like I’m thirty-five, only smarter. For forty years I wrote and collected rejections—and I have the emotional hide of an armadillo to prove it—but I also lived.
I’ve had jobs, marriages, lovers, friends, children and grandchildren. I’ve traveled and lived in on two continents. I’ve survived divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illness, and even teenagers. And through all those heaving life experiences, I wrote and wrote without ever publishing a word.
By fifty-five I had an epic collection of rejection letters, but I couldn’t stop writing. I needed to write. At fifty-six, I finished my third novel, and I remember the surge of elation when that book caught the attention of a reputable agent who said, “This is a gold mine.” It was finally happening!
Then it didn’t.
After six houses rejected it, my book was dead and I couldn’t get another agent. One black day, I accepted that my work would never be published. It was crushing, and I spent weeks wallowing in the tragedy of my crucified ego.
On my 60th birthday, I sulked on the sofa in rumpled pajamas and ate cold pizza. Then I got angry. By following the rules, I’d given away control of my destiny, and those I gave it to shrugged and gave it back.
Fine. I’d do it myself. I’d take the humble route of self-publishing, because I thought just holding my book in my hands would be enough. I risked money, went through endless edits, and risked more money. Finally, my literary baby made its debut to a shrieking silence and a riot of apathy.
Friends and family bought a few copies, and the book languished on Amazon. That’s when I understood that it wasn’t only about holding a book but knowing that other people, even strangers, were reading it. Damn!
One night, slumped in front of the TV, watching a glitzy book launch party on Sex and the City, I got an idea.
I gambled on a do-it-yourself website, spent thousands on an Internet marketing course, and threw a virtual book launch party. It would be designed to generate a surge of sales on Amazon and catapult me onto the bestseller list. But I needed to reach 500,000 people to make a few hundred sales. I don’t know 500,000 people; I needed partners.
I brazenly asked droves of website owners to participate in my promotion. I sent letters, homemade cookies, and signed books marked on the page where those cookies appear in the novel. The cookies are called bones of the dead and so, with an aching back, I spent long days at kitchen counter, shaping bone cookies —fifteen hundred of them.
I blogged and talked up my book on message boards. I got a few Internet partners, baked more cookies, begged, pleaded, flattered, cajoled, bargained and got more partners. In the end, I had enough support to reach 500,000 people. Yes! I would hit the Amazon bestseller list.
Two days before my virtual party, my son said, “Mom, why not invite agents to your party?” Well, that would be a ballsy move indeed, but I figured I had nothing to lose. The night before the launch, I wrote personal invitations with a link to the party site to 400 agents.
By noon the next day, agents were clamoring to read my book. An editor from a major house flat out offered me a hardcover deal via e-mail. Agents asked me to overnight books to New York. Within 24 hours, I had offers from several impressive agencies—including William Morris, with whom I made an agreement at whiplash speed.
I did hit the Amazon bestseller list. Not that it mattered anymore.
It seemed all of New York was talking about The Book of Unholy Mischief, and two weeks after my virtual party, my book went to auction. Bidding was due to start at 11:00 a.m. EST, but at 8:00 a.m. my phone rang. My agent said, “Are you sitting down?” I said yes, though I wasn’t. She said, “Two book deal, Simon and Schuster.” Then I sat down.
In the following heady days, the foreign sales started. It was a global feeding frenzy. As of this writing The Book of Unholy Mischief will be published in a dozen languages.
The Book of Unholy Mischief was released in December 2008 in the United States and Canada. I went on a national book tour, then to Venice for the Italian launch, and on to London to meet my UK publisher and editor. It was every writer’s dream.
In all the excitement, I remembered a famous quote from Winston Churchill—With the sky over London littered with falling bombs and the city in rubble, the sixty-eight year old Churchill growled, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
I didn’t give up. That’s really all I did. I spent my life pursuing what I love, and every word I wrote was necessary to find my voice. And I honestly believe success is better later than earlier. Can you think of anything more depressing than peaking at the age of 25? Then what? Also, I feel profound gratitude that I probably wasn’t capable of twenty or thirty years ago. No question about it, being older makes it sweeter.
But here’s the ironic part: Now that I’m published, I see that the deepest satisfaction is in the writing itself. The greatest joy is not having other people reading my book; the greatest joy was writing it. Real success is finding something you love, and then doing it.
The Book of Unholy Mischief is a national bestseller, and my new book, The Sandalwood Tree, will be released early 2011 to an audience already waiting for it. And then I get to write another. Thankfully, I’m old enough to appreciate the hell out of that.
Read more about Elle Newmark and The Book of Unholy Mischief at www.ellenewmark.com/
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