Archive for June, 2011
“I am still in shock and awe at being fired.”
(This is a repost of, “Fired! Going Out with A Roar,” partly excerpted from my book, “Don’t Hang Up!”)
“You’re fired” may not be politically correct these days (except for Donald Trump on The Apprentice) but being fired/terminated/let go/laid off/downsized/given early retirement – however it’s phrased – all mean the same thing: you don’t have a job anymore.
Job loss, particularly in mid-life, can be 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 the rest of your life, your expectations, and forces you to face the fact that your best years may well be behind you.
Or 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.
This is the start of my story.
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 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 has been 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 returned from my campaign presentation to a difficult client. Victorious. Still at the 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 that my ghost will forever haunt it.
“Do not wait for your ship to come in – swim out to it.” Author Unknown
(Written late 2010)
I’m not writing much anymore. Not personal stuff or my book. Spend too much time online reading other people’s blogs or in coffee houses reading books.
Seem to have lost my zeal, my energy to write, and to rebound, and rekindle that dwindling flame.
Or perhaps I haven’t lost it.
It’s still there, waiting to be relit.
And this is just a result of the last few months of frustration and worry.
No money. No work. Nothing good happening. No hope of anything much. How do I pay my rent?
That was how I felt until I received a surprising email.
Someone I barely knew – a woman I met at Toastmasters and hadn’t seen in four years when I bumped into her a few months ago at Trader Joe’s – offered me a temporary home, her town house, until she can sell it.
Could be for three-six or even more months.
Rent free. Half my bills taken care of.
So I moved there after six years living in what I had come to call fondly, My Dump.
It was tough to move out of my neighborhood where I’d lived for ten years – probably for good. It’s near downtown San Diego, and I could walk there or to the Bay, to Balboa Park, uptown, and to the stores and movies. I had everything nearby.
The day after I moved, I got work – from November 1st through the 30th, non-stop except for a half-day off on Thanksgiving. Over another hurdle.
Two ways to look at it.
I’m living in a nice place. Temporarily. Have enough money to last me another three months. I have a great website and a blog that I haven’t added to in two months while I flood my mind with top bloggers’ advice, hints, tips, and information on how to blog. And how to turn my blog into a vehicle to sell my book, “Don’t Hang Up!” when it’s published – though God only knows how as I don’t have a sou.
My spirits are up. I’ll be getting more work. Not as much as before but enough to tide me over – if I stay here.
The other side is that I’m (technically) homeless as this temporary arrangement could end in a month or so. And I have no regular means of income.
I’m 67, and finding work at this age, and the energy, isn’t easy especially in a slow economy. I have debts. Specifically, an almost unpayable one that my son left on one of my credit cards.
You could say I’m in a rut.
So I tell myself, practice what you preach, and I preach “Don’t Hang Up!” or “Don’t Give Up!”
What is a rut except a hole that you have to get out of?
So how do I get out of my rut?
First, I can’t get stuck in it – that means I can’t let negative thoughts play their mind games with me, or hold me down.
I have a set of skills that took me to the top professionally, and helped me overcome obstacles time after time. I’ve had to make new starts in the past, like the one in 2000, which I wrote a book about.
And a lot of people believe in me, have encouraged and motivated me.
Don’t I owe it to myself and to them to get myself back on my feet again?
But…most important of all, I HAVE NO CHOICE.
It’s either sink further into my rut until it becomes a deep hole or climb out of it while I still can, and get going on making another new start.
I CHALLENGE MYSELF TO DO THIS.
And I’m asking all of you to challenge me to go with this challenge, see where it takes me. See if, at 67, I can still do it. Make making it again one of the proudest achievements in my life.
Because if I do it, that will also show others in the same/similar position that they can as well.
Will you help challenge me to challenge myself?
“We must accept life for what it actually is – a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
(This is a true story, excerpted from my, as yet unpublished, motivational memoir “Don’t Hang Up!” This piece appeared in the “Baja News” newspaper, in Commonties.com, in “On the Border” newsletter, and in this blog as “Incident on the San Diego-Tijuana Border.”)
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” Abraham Joshua Heschel
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 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.
I’d love to hear from you. How would you react in a similar situation?
I surveyed the road in front of the house where I’m staying. A long block uphill. I could do it. Make it to the top. But it proved deceptively steep and I stopped half way. Why make the effort?
So I gave up.
Defeated by my low expectations?
Or by my attitude when facing obstacles?
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson
In the last quarter of 2010 and first months of 2011, my entire lifestyle was disrupted, joggled around, went back and forth, and settled – for the time being – into one completely opposite to what I had led before. This affected both my writing and my blogging. I was unable to concentrate though I did write several never-to-be-published posts such as, “What Am I Doing in This Hole Again?”
That said, I am adapting to and even enjoying my changed circumstances. The home where I currently reside is high on a hill overlooking the ocean. It has a view that I could get lost in, of gleaming blue depths that call to me with the siren song of legend.
Yet, at the beginning, I felt imprisoned because there seemed no way out – on foot.
Where could I walk if the hill outside the house was too steep to go up?
I love to take long walks. This started after I’d been an invalid for two years. Then, I’d promised myself that if I ever walked again, I’d try to do so as often as I could. After an operation, my walks became my time to contemplate, to sort out my mind when going through a hard time, to organize my to-dos, take a break from work, get ideas for blog posts, or work out what I’d write in my next chapter or report.
I couldn’t remain stranded or car dependent. I’d have to try that hill again.
Rising to the Challenge
The next time I tried, I did reach the top. Only to find another steep hill, but a shorter one. I’d come this far and I might as well keep going. Then a long trek, still uphill, ahead. I plodded on and it turned out to be a pleasant incline. What a relief. What fulfillment.
I’d got over the worst.
Don’t expect the easy way to be easy going.
The rest of the walk was mainly downhill though filled with treacherous curves – watch out for cars or people on bikes – and little stones and pebbles. Hurrying back down, I slipped and as I landed with a thud on my hands and knees, I heard a stone roll away.
All I could do was lie there, shock and pain coursing through my body. Until I realized that any car coming along might, a) inadvertently run over me or, b) shock the driver to see a person/body lying in his/her path. So I crawled to the side where I sat until I stopped shaking and realized nothing was broken, just bruised. Then I hobbled my way back.
Beware of becoming overconfident.
As I make that now familiar walk, I think how symbolic this is of the challenges in life and how sometimes they seem too daunting to face. All we have to overcome is our fear or reluctance of that first steep hill. However, that is only a first step and we have to persevere and go up more hills. Just don’t forget the little stones or obstacles in our path that can trip us up.
Searching for new challenges
This walk is no longer enough for me. I want more hills to climb, more challenges to overcome, more distances to travel.
Perhaps this reflects the way I feel about my life at present. So far, I’ve got up that first hill and almost up the second. Still have the long part ahead but I know I can do it. And I’ll remember to watch out for the little stones along the way.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Photos: Veronica Valades
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