Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“I’m On My Way. . .”

Yep, you heard right.

I'm. On. My. Way.


Well, at least I think so.

After six face-to-face interviews totaling more than sixteen hours of questions. I've been told I'm the "leading candidate" for a great job.

No, not the job I interviewed for in March. After three interviews and making it to the top two finalists, that nonprofit job went to a guy with manufacturing experience. Many executive jobs in manufacturing these days, all requiring manufacturing experience, and he just had to horn in on my field. Go figure that one out.

It's a different job.

A better job. A way, way, way better job.

A better commute.

A better company.

And, the reason, I'm being considered? Because I failed to get the other job.

Well, let's face it, if I had gotten the other job I wouldn't have even been available for this one. At the time, my friend the executive recruiter didn't even have a contract to do this search yet. But my performance in the interview for the job I failed to get landed me an interview for this one.

Is it really possible to score an awesome job by failing to get a just-OK job?

Apparently so.

…you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose.  You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. …I'm telling you—embrace it. …But do you have guts to fail? …If you don't fail… you're not even trying. …Sometimes it's the best way to figure out where you're going. Your life will never be a straight path. …Because the chances you take, the people you meet, the people you love, the faith that you have—that's what's going to define your life. …Never be discouraged. Never hold back. Give everything you've got.

And, a recent Nike commercial featuring NBA-great Michael Jordan recounts his many failures before stating, "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And, that is why I succeed."

Because I tried so many times and so long and so hard, I've failed.

Because I've failed and picked myself up to try again, I will succeed.

People who never do anything, never fail, but they never succeed either.

And, while failure can be a great learning tool in itself, sometimes it places you on a different path that turns out to be a better path—the right path.

It's not over yet.

There's still much to be done before I cross that finish line.

I'm almost terrified to hope again. But my annoying, internal voice seems to be the eternal optimist. My head is saying "Don't get your hopes up again."

My heart is saying "This is it."

I don't know which one to listen to, but maybe I should listen to both.

I don't even know how to feel.

But, maybe that's the real in real life.

I'm excited.

I'm scared.

I feel like dancing.

I feel like going back to bed with the covers over my head.

And, with all those feelings, I wait for the news that may change my life or dash my dreams.

But, in spite of those nagging thoughts, I can't help singing "Tell everybody I'm on my way. . ."

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Just for Fun: This song is just so happy that I can't help but smile when I hear it. Enjoy Phil Collins singing "I'm on My Way" from the Brother Bear movie soundtrack.

And, check out Michael Jordan's commercial.

Enjoy Denzel Washington's speech to the University of Pennsylvania's graduating class in 2011.

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Photo credits: Note: Ariel not pictured.
Untitled: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rileyalexandra/3763114296/


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me

I've hit a wall in my job search.


Hit. A. Wall.


The two-year job search is finally taking its toll.

'Bout time, you say?

Uh-huh. You're probably right.

It's been 25 months of job search and 17 months on the dole.

I'm exhausted.

I'm sick of it.

I'm really annoyed with the whole process.

After hundreds of résumé submissions and job applications—thousands if you count all those generic e-blasts sent to recruiters—and countless hours of work and networking, I've reached the end of my energy.

As we say in the South:

I'm plum tuckered out;

Worn to a frazzle;

Slap-dab sick of the whole dang thing.

The irony? I'm starting to get interviews for the first time in ages.

Two weeks ago, I had a real in-person interview—only the fourth dress-up-and-go situation since this nightmare began. Sure, I've had numerous phone interviews, but can you believe that in 25 months this was only the fourth actual look-'em-in-the-eye event?

A lot of good it did to pull on that tummy-tucking-feels-like-cast-iron-even-though-it's-spandex thingie (dare I say "girdle"?), style the hair, drive out of town for hours and stay overnight. As usual, the lucky winner is not this girl. Instead, they chose two internal candidates to move forward in the process. I've lost to more internal candidates than I would like to think about.

We interrupt this blog post for a rant:

Why, time after time, do companies, post jobs, hire recruiters, get applicants' hopes up, when all the time the person who'll wind up with the job is already sitting in the company's office at the time of the posting?

Sometimes they think they can "do better" but, c'mon, how encouraging is that to the internal candidate who ultimately gets the job?

Most of the time, it's about money. They suddenly realized they can save thousands by not paying the recruiter (And if you think I'm ticked off you should hear what these recruiters have to say! They usually only get paid if the company hires their candidates). And, internal candidates play right into their hands—they're happy for a promotion and a raise (never realizing it was probably far less than they would've given an outside candidate). Besides, companies score financially, too, when they don't have to move anyone in from out of state.

Even if they hire an external candidate for the position vacated by the recently promoted employee, they have just pushed the real opening lower down the experience ladder and salary scale.

And, yeah, I've tried to get the lower position too. The response? Over-qualified.

I get it, you cheapskates, I get it. Really, I do.

But, in the name of all that is holy, must you disrupt the lives of innocent applicants who don't know this? Must you put us through the agony of going in for a job interview that we don't have a snowball's chance in you-know-where of getting? Really, MUST YOU?

I'd rather stay home in my sweatpants than take on the anxiety of a job interview when you had no intention of really considering me anyway.

And, now we resume our regularly scheduled programming.

But, I've got another interview scheduled. The job is almost identical to my previous position in a similar type of organization.

It's local too—a thought that makes me sigh with relief.

I'm realistic about moving if it comes to that, but I prefer not to if possible. I've built a life here. My family is here. I'll do whatever I have to do, but as nice as some other parts of the country are, I can't see myself shoveling snow or battening down the hatches for a hurricane.

It's just as well because most recruiters and hiring managers seem interested only in local candidates. I found a wonderful job at a great organization last week. I deployed a unique and creative marketing scheme, and it paid off—the recruiter seemed to love me. But, the position is out-of-state, and the recruiter said the client only wanted local candidates. I understand that, but I would have been perfect for them.


I would have.

(Mini-rant alert: Could they not have included that in their job post to save me from applying for something I would never even be allowed a shot at?)

But, I've got another interview coming up—a local one, remember?

Interviews can be exciting—for about the first ten minutes after you get off the phone from setting up the appointment.

You'd think nervousness would be the next emotion, but, no. Instead the emotion is gloom that descends faster than a San Francisco fog.

It feels as if the closer the interview date comes, the closer I am to hearing that particularly painful "no" yet again:

"The client has decided to go with an internal candidate."

"We have chosen another candidate who more closely fits our needs."

"We've decided to only interview local candidates".

Or, worse yet, deafening silence.

I want to send out an email that says: "Hello, anybody out there? Is this thing on? Is there a black hole at the end of my internet connection?"

You see, each time, at the end of the interview, I feel like a single woman out on that awkward first date that ends with the dreaded words: "I'll call you."

Still, you smile as you must, give him the number and know in your gut that he will never call.

The exhaustion has been difficult enough, but now panic has emerged.

My last day of insurance coverage is April 30.

At $464 per month, it's been expensive, but manageable with my ever-dwindling savings account.

I called my insurance carrier yesterday for rates on an individual policy.

It's bad.

Really bad.

$1,224-per-month bad.

But, then it got worse:

"Now, remember on this policy, there are no co-pays," the insurance representative chirped happily. "The plan does not cover anything until you meet your $2,500 deductible."

What the heck? You mean, nearly $15,000 per year buys me nothing?

"It's really more of a catastrophic plan," she continued, ever more cheerfully.

Catastrophic is right. It's the policy that's the catastrophe!

She went on to explain that after the deductible is met then the policy will pay a whopping 70% of medical bills.

"It does cover psychiatric care and counseling," she remarked. "If you need that sort of thing."

"I don't need that now, but give me a few months on that premium, and I just might," I quipped.

After 20 years of administering employee benefit plans, doing without coverage is just not an option for me. I know the really scary things that can happen to people without coverage. I have actually known people who died because they could not afford medical care.

And no, before you bring it up, I can't get the new government health coverage either. For the next few years, you have to be totally without coverage for at least six months to be eligible. Even then, the premiums are astronomical and cover almost nothing.

Accordingly, while I was out yesterday, I spoke to the manager of the drugstore down the street about a job and left the store with a job application.

Thereafter, in anticipation of expanding my job search to those offering minimum wage, I re-did my résumé. I can't tell you how much it pained me to remove my hard-earned master's degree, ninety percent of my previous job responsibilities and all of my significant accomplishments. In it, I no longer call myself an "executive". Supervisor or manager is the most I'll admit to now.
It's not that I'm too proud for a minimum-wage job. It's an honest way to make a living. I'm happy to do almost any job. But, what many folks don't seem to understand is that once you accept a job at that level, you're hard pressed to ever move back to your previous job (and salary level) ever again.

For those minimum-wage jobs, you work awfully hard. You stand on your feet. You work overtime to make an extra buck. You come home tired. You have at least 40 fewer hours per week to devote to the search for a job such as the one you previously had.

Plus, the lower the job level, the less scheduling flexibility a worker has. How would I ever get the head cashier to understand that I needed to swap shifts so I could go on a CEO or VP interview? The reality is that I wouldn't.

How would I choose between the "sure thing"—$7.25 per hour with benefits—and the opportunity to get my career back on track?

But, soon none of those concerns will matter anymore. In six weeks time, I'll get a monthly insurance bill that exceeds my entire monthly dole income. At this point, I no longer care about salary any more as long as the job has insurance benefits.




It's really starting to hit me now.

My inner optimist rails against the oppressive weight, but there is a rising, slightly nauseating feeling that's rolling in.

This cannot be the course of my life from now on.

Or is it?

And, despite the overwhelming feeling nipping at my heels, I trudge on. Next week, I'll put on my best suit and go to that interview. I'll smile as though I don't have a care in the world. I'll exude confidence, optimism and professionalism. I'll swallow hard and fight the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Because I am totally, completely out of options.

But, I WILL get that job. I WILL.

Because I have no other choices. Because this time I have to.

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Just for Fun: This really cheered me up! Remember "Hee-Haw" the classic American TV show from the 1970s? Yeah, it was cheesy but also pretty fun. I watched this show every Saturday night when I was a little girl. Enjoy this clip from the show.

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Photo Credits: 

Note: Women pictured are not Ariel.

The Scream: Painting by Edvard Munch, painted 1893 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Musical Interlude: “These Boots Are Made for Walking”

From a February 8, 2009 cover letter. . .

Dear Sir or Madam:

Please accept my attached résumé in response to your search for . . .

Hold it! TWO YEARS???

Seriously, has it really been two years since I began my job search?

In February 2009, when I sent that first cover letter, I could barely breathe from the mental effort it took to hit the “send” button. Yet, it had to be done. It had become clear my much-loved, 12-year job would be eliminated when a new company took over. But, mentally, in looking for other employment, I felt as if I were cheating on the organization I’d given 100 percent loyalty to for so long.

At the time, I was emotionally devastated, feeling “kicked to the curb” like so much useless office debris.





Even, embarrassed as if I was the one doing wrong—which I was not.

But, things are better now.

True, it’s been a long, hard two years. There were times when I wanted to crawl under the bed covers on a rainy morning and just stay there, whining, “I give up. I just can’t do this any more.”

But, I didn’t.

I got up every day. Got out of my PJs. Put on my game face. Refused to watch daytime TV. Faced the world. Made networking calls. Improved myself with healthier eating and weight loss. Worked my contacts. Cleaned out closets. Attended meetings and community events. Did volunteer work. Developed a bare-bones budget. Developed new skills (such as website design and social media marketing). Met for coffee with anybody and everybody who had any connection anywhere no matter how small that connection. Took classes with an outplacement specialist. Reworked my résumé and reworked my résumé and then reworked my résumé. Joined a local job-search support group. Practiced interview questions. Applied for as many jobs as I could find each week. Made cold calls to companies that might have contract work for me.

Still, the economy and job market teamed up to fight me. No matter what I tried, I got . . . nothing.

But each time I got knocked down, I got up again and refined my efforts and intensified my focus.

Yes, I knew intellectually back in February 2009 it might take a long time to find a new job. But, emotionally, I didn’t think this could or would ever happen to me. Throughout high school and college and my work career, I had been the golden girl—the one who got chosen, promoted, praised. Whatever I wanted, somehow I made it happen.

Or, as my mother put it sometimes, “I’ve never seen anybody so good at pulling the rabbit out of the hat at just the right time.”

Truly, I am thankful that two years ago I did not know I’d still be doing the job hunt two years later. I’ve always been practical, but living through two long years like these turns you into a realist.

I did try to be proactive way back in February 2009 before things fell apart. I launched my search seven months before the job actually went away. My plan back then was a seamless, blissfully short transition to a new—better!—position. Why not? My life experience was that better things followed good things. I had no experience with nobody wanting me on any team for any position at any salary.

Yet, two years and hundreds of applications later, I sit in the same chair at the same desk in—thankfully!—the same house still scrolling through job listings for that still elusive full-time job that will pay the bills and offer some security.

Two years is a long time, but some things have changed for the better:

1. I’ve doo-wopped out of my “Nervous” phase. In early 2009, I worked 12+ hour days, freaked out with worry, unable to sleep, and terrified my boss would discover my job search and fire me on the spot. These day, although I haven’t morphed into some Pollyanna with no cares, I’ve made it emotionally intact through this on-the-dole journey so far and feel sure I’ll make it the rest of the way with my self confidence intact.

2. I’ve sock-hopped out of my “Teenager in Love” phase. Early on, I sent out applications and then constructed romantic scenarios in my head: Would I like this job? Were we a good match? Was there a future there? Could I forsake family and friends for a new life in Iowa or Alaska—or even the South Pole? (Yes, I actually applied for a job in Antarctica! I really did.) Today I still apply for jobs—any job, every job and in most states east of the Mississippi (and a few beyond), but I no longer daydream. I do a little research to see what the company does so that I can tailor my application to their needs. I hit the “send” button. No emotional investment. I can analyze possibilities if they call me.

the way... Pictures, Images and Photos
3. I’ve quick-stepped out of my “Wishin’ and Hopin’” phase. In the beginning, I often pinned my hopes and dreams on exciting job opportunities. I’d look at area real estate ads. I’d picture living in the new location. I’d speculate about co-workers. I’d clean out closets in anticipation of a move. I daydreamed about what it would be like not to have to spend every spare moment searching for a job. I fantasized about buying new clothes and going out to dinner. I even dared to dream of replacing that broken-down clothes dryer. But, disappointment is too great when you’re rejected after so much Springfield-esque “wishin’ and hopin’”. In December, after losing out on a job that I really, really, really wanted—like so many other “close calls,” they discarded external finalists and hired from within, saving salary and relocation expenses—I decided  opportunities have to be mentally closeted in the waiting process. The key to not letting a really long job search weigh you down emotionally is to not pin your hopes on any one opportunity.

4. I’ve strolled out of my “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” phase. I’ve learned to wait without fretting. Companies take three to 12 months to make decisions. That is today’s reality. Worry does not make it go faster. Waiting is still not my preference, but tying myself in knots while doing so is nonproductive. These day, I calmly send the application in and then network and follow-up. And, mentally, I move to the next posting the same day the application goes out.

5. I’m now doing the go-go right on into my new “These Boots Are Made for Walking” reality. I’m creating opportunities. I’ve started a business, and I have clients now—yes, real paying clients—not every week, but some weeks. (On those weeks I do work, I am not eligible for the dole check.) I’m still not ready to say too much here about my “real” business just yet, but it’s progressing.

Meanwhile, I’m reaping dollars from all that closet-cleaning effort by launching an eBay business—“Aunt Ariel’s Attic”—in addition to my regular business. I sell my own treasures as well as a few pieces from other people. Apparently this is a great way to make a few extra dollars. Who knew? Well, I didn’t! But this is fun!

Neither business venture is full-time and neither offers those much-needed health benefits right now—something I’m seriously concerned about because my COBRA insurance ends in April—but I’m optimistic. I can keep a roof over my head and food on the table in the meantime.

I never expected to be where I am today. I never could have imagined that after two years of job searching and 16 months of unemployment, I’d still see no end in sight to my on-the-dole journey. The future looks very different than I originally imagined it.

Yes, it’s true that while in job search mode, you can never really shake the “wishin’ and hopin’’” feeling entirely, but, while I’m sending out applications, I’m also keeping “these boots” walking by planning and progressing. And, one day, when I’m employed again—and I will be—my new employer will benefit by getting a far better employee and person than I was two years ago.

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Just for Fun: Enjoy Nancy Sinatra’s performance of “These Boots Are Made for Walking”. And, after you enjoy this fun retro video, click on the links above for a hidden musical surprise.

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Photo Credits:
1950s Magazine: http://media.photobucket.com/image/1950s/gbug1993/1950s_dress_debbie417x589b.jpg?o=504

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas on the Dole

This is it—the thing I thought never could happen: my second Christmas on the dole.

Last year, the whole experience was new. Instead of moping, I decided to savor that Christmas as a once-in-a-lifetime holiday month off work—something busy professionals never experience.

Enjoy every minute, I told myself. By Christmas 2010 you may be working in some far-flung locale—far removed from family and friends, maybe even having Christmas dinner alone. I determinedly decided to wring every drop of Christmas cheer out of the 2009 holiday season.

But Christmas 2009 got up-ended by illness, My body, exhausted after 11 months of unrelenting work stress that culminated in job elimination, could take no more.

Antibiotics put me on the right track for a beautiful Christmas until I sprouted golf-ball-sized lumps and the worse itching ever—an allergic reaction to the antibiotics.

No wonder I had little zest for Christmas after that. As I coughed my way through decorating the tree, I even found myself teary-eyed as I hung beautiful ornaments given to me by former co-workers.

Or, was my emotion just the reality of my then-fresh on-the-dole situation?

Unemployment was still a quirky novelty in December 2009—a sociological experiment to observe and dissect (Christmas presents had been purchased while I had a paycheck; lack of funds for gifts were not a real concern last year.)

Thankfully, I've been healthy this year. No nasty infections zapping my Christmas mood. Perhaps my wellness comes from getting adequate rest or maybe it is because I no longer mingle with germ-ridden co-workers. I haven't been sick once since last holiday's cough fest.

So, time to enjoy Christmas 2010.

But, when on the dole, what is "Santa" to do? Why joyfully give gifts of course!


My Christmas on the dole is not that different from previous years. And, no, I am not talking about buying with plastic (an absolute no-no for those of us on the dole).

Several years ago, most of my friends and I stopped exchanging gifts. Because we all had good jobs then and could buy what we wanted or needed, we decided our gift to each other would be getting together over the holidays without stressing over a gift exchange.

On the home front, some Christmases ago while we were all three still employed, my parents and I, by choice, changed our gift-giving approach. In order to participate financially in some causes we believed in during the season, we set a price limit on our gift giving to each other. We so enjoyed the challenge of finding great gifts for little money, that each year we kept cutting the amount. About six years ago it finally got down to a mere $10 per person.

Does that sound dismal and cheap? It's not, really. It's more fun than you might imagine.

Here are the rules:

  1. No more than $10 per person in actual money can be spent.
  2. You may give away anything you already own without including its value in the $10 total. (Some call this re-gifting. I call it getting Great-Grandma's cut-glass bowl decades sooner than I expected.)
  3. A "buy-one-get-one" deal at the store doesn't count as spending money if the giver actually needed the "buy-one" portion and simply gave away the "get one" part. (This works great on fancy food items.)
  4. Homemade items (candy, spiced nuts, potholders, etc.) don't have to be counted in the dollar amount, although in the spirit of the law we refrain from giving each other gifts that require buying expensive components not already on hand in order to craft the gift.
  5. Some pharmacies give away a gift card with a new prescription. (Target, for example, hands out a $10 gift card. Some stores give as much as $25.) Those gift cards can be used without being factored into the total cost.
  6. Modest gifts "purchased" with credit card reward points are allowed without the cost being included, but common sense should prevail to stay within the accepted bounds.
  7. Thrift-store shopping and garage-sale buying are encouraged but only if the item is useful or needed. No dust catchers or frou-frou just to be adding to the pile.
These days, the fun comes from our yearly contest to see who can give the most creative and appreciated gifts while spending the least money. Everybody agreed I won the year I gave my mother a gift certificate to her favorite charity thrift shop! Believe it or not, the store manager said it was the first time he'd ever been asked to do a gift certificate.

I have to admit my mother and I are pretty competitive. For instance, Mom called tonight pretending to be worried about her Christmas shopping, but we both knew she was gloating over her shrewd gift gathering: she and my father have 17 gifts wrapped and waiting for me; they purchased everything they thought I might want or need, but had only spent $20.14 total (Sometimes you can't hit it right on the button.)

I recently saw a news story about Queen Elizabeth's Christmas traditions. Surprisingly, royal family members buy small gifts to exchange. But, this year, in a cash-strapped economy, the queen will be celebrating what she calls her "credit-crunch Christmas," requesting no gifts for herself or Prince Philip. She's asked for all would-be gifts to be donated to charity instead.

Perhaps I'm not broke, I'm fashionable. I must be a trendsetter if the Queen and royals are following suit. (After all, the Queen lives off public funds herself.)

I've spent only ten dollars each, but my parents have 14 gift bags to open this year. Some bags even contain five or six items. And, there are even some expensive name-brand items among them.

This Santa has only spent twenty dollars for her entire gift-giving season!

I did make one Christmas-on-the-dole concession: not mailing Christmas cards. I dislike skipping this tradition, but postage cost me more than sixty dollars last time, and I can't justify that cost even when using stockpiled, discounted cards purchased two years ago at an after-Christmas sale. I'll be hand-delivering cards this year, which may be a nicer plan anyway since it means I'll be spending time with them, too.

The real irony?

I've celebrated a lot of past Christmases, but so far, 2010 is my favorite—yes, even rising to the top over many "perfect" childhood Christmases. Most holidays of my executive career have found me stressed out planning employee parties and desperately trying to finish some year-end work project so that I could take the actual day of the holiday off work. I remember one horrible Christmas in which I worked 90 hours in one week just to be able to take Christmas Day off. Many Christmases found me ill-tempered from fighting mall crowds to buy expensive not-well-thought-out gifts that ultimately got returned even before I could pay off the credit card bill.

And, I can't tell you how many Christmas cards have been addressed at 1 AM one stressed out night during Christmas week because I ran out of time.

But none of that for me this year.

As I looked through those Black Friday sale advertisements in the newspaper, I wondered if anyone really needed a cupcake maker or a fruit dehydrator and exactly how many sweaters, DVDs or PJs would be received before a person's closet overflowed? And, then I remembered, because of my life on the dole, I didn't have to get up at 3 AM to go to insane sales, and I'm able to drive past those long lines in the post office parking lot without a thought. Better yet, I don't have to worry about my credit card bill in January.

Like the rest of the world, I don't have a clue what 2011 holds. I don't know if I'll be working a traditional job or running my own successful business. I don't know if I'll be living in my own home or living with family. I don't even have a clue what geographic region of the country I might be in to celebrate Christmas 2011. (But, look on the bright side: I might live somewhere a white Christmas is at least a possibility—something I've never seen in my home state.) But, for now I am practicing carpe diem as I savor every moment of this delightfully, unstressed holiday season. I'm enjoying visits with family and friends. I'm keeping the reason for Christmas in my heart. And, this Christmas 2010 on the dole may be the best Christmas of all.

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Just for Fun: Don't let the Dole be the Grinch that steals your Christmas! Remember, without presents or feasts, Christmas came to Who-ville just the same.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One Year Later: Lessons Learned From My Life on the Dole

A year of living on the dole.

A year with no job.

A year of doing without.

A year of learning.

It’s been a year.

In some ways it’s been the longest year of my life. Yet, in others, it seems to have flown by.

That frenzied, harried, stressed-out working woman who stared out from my mirror has been replaced. Sure, she had lovely, expensive, salon highlights in her hair, name-brand professional clothes and a well made-up face, but those workplace trappings did little to camouflage the stress lining her face.

Now, a new woman looks out from my mirror: A woman who is unashamed of her hair streaked with grey; a woman wearing sweats (more days than not), yet fresh faced from a full night’s sleep. Yes, this woman looks years younger than the other one. This woman cannot afford expensive tubes of trendy moisturizer, but there’s something better that comes from peace and rest, and no cosmeceutical company can quite replicate that look.

Yes, it has been a year.

And, while I don’t appear to be the same woman on the outside, I’d like to think I am not the same one at heart either.

Here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned:

Life’s too short to turn yourself into a stress hairball. Ironic, considering health insurance worries that dog me. (My premiums go to $400 a month in February and if—and that’s a big if—I can get insurance at all, it will become $1,200 in June). But, job stress and unemployment stress are two different beasts. Doing-without-stuff stress is not the same as stress associated with navigating office politics, hidden agendas and interpersonal minefields. I hope I never feel that way again. I want to work—I just don’t want to let job stress consume me anymore. I think I know a lot more now about work/life balance.

Lesson learned: Even though jobs are hard to come by, I’m going to try to choose wisely next time.

Life’s not about having (or buying) stuff. I’ve spent the past two weeks cleaning out closets. Simply put, I have too much stuff. Even though I haven’t purchased any nonessential for more than a year, I still have too much stuff. Consider:  Ten half-used moisturizer tubes and 20 (or more) little hotel-type shampoo bottles. Fifty half-used lipstick tubes? Really? I don’t have enough lips to use that much in a lifetime.

And, let’s not even discuss clothes, shoes or purses. Too much. Too much. Too much.

Donating stuff to charity, trading at the used book store to earn credit for a friends’ son’s birthday gift and tossing the ratty-looking stuff is far more liberating than marching through stores grabbing up stuff.

Lesson learned: I am never going down that path of mindless consumerism again.

I’ll never have the same easy relationship with money ever again. I never was a spendthrift. Possessing some measure of frugality, I always worked to find the best deal even when buying something expensive, such as my car. (That car is now seven years old and if I got a fabulous job tomorrow, I’d still keep driving it.) Even in the old days when I overdid the eating out, at least I used coupons. But, there’s a huge difference between being frugal with a good income and paddling like a maniac to keep your head above water.

In the future, my nest egg will need to be double or triple what it is now to make me feel any measure of financial security. A huge mortgage even when I can afford it? No, I don’t think so. Every purchase will be thoroughly considered—not just the small ones. And, wastefulness? I hope it never again enters this house.

I’m not sure I’ll ever feel 100% job security again. Sure, it was incredibly naïve to feel as secure as I did in my pre-dole days, and I was probably an oddity in my generation. Experts say Gen Xers never felt job security the way Baby Boomers did, claiming they were scarred from watching their company-loyal parents get downsized in the 1980s. But, my parents weren’t downsized—Mom was self-employed and Dad worked 35 years at his government job before retirement. I never felt, or even saw, insecurity. I worked hard. I worked for a large company. I got promotion after promotion until I reached the top. I felt my job would be around forever. I was wrong. Naïveté, I will miss you.

Lesson learned: Never, never again will I believe I am so bullet-proof it can’t happen to me. 
True friendship is priceless. When you’re in an influential position and have money to socialize, it’s easy to attract new social acquaintances. But, are those folks true friends or the fair-weather variety? Worrying about whether I would lose my job, it never occurred to me to worry about losing people. While the fair-weather social acquaintances have fallen away, true friends stepped in to show me how priceless they are.

Lesson learned: Next time, I’ll figure out who the real friends are a lot sooner and I will treasure them more.
The joy of the treat is worth savoring. Whether it’s a much anticipated free haircut or a birthday dinner out with friends, everything is better when it’s a treat, a break from everyday routine. But, if it all comes a bit too easy, then nothing is special—nothing is a treat. There’s no anticipation.

I used to wonder why turn-of-the-century children got excited about a mere orange for a Christmas gift. But, in those days, oranges were rare and special—a treat meant to be savored. Not having everything your heart desires makes doing something special just that—special. There is an incredible joy that comes from savoring the moment—preserving the feeling so that it can be remembered long after the moment has passed.  

Lesson learned: I’ll never again let treats become commonplace. I’ll keep some things as special things to be savored.

Life on the dole has been challenging for me but never horrible. While some unemployed friends are down to their last $10 and others do without health insurance and home heating, I’m not missing anything critical. Admittedly, being without a clothes dryer has no appeal, and cold showers while the water heater was out was not my favorite part of this adventure. And, it’s entirely possible I’ll be paying into the distant future tiny installments on the bills for the ER, casts and physical therapy for my tumble down the stairs. Sure, income is limited, but I’m not poor or even broke.

Lesson learned: As my grandmother always said, “Remember there’s always somebody worse off than you are so just count your blessings and don’t complain.”

Money cannot buy life’s important things. It can’t buy time with Mom and Dad. It can’t replace their TLC while I was injured. It can’t buy a visit with a friend. It can’t buy a snuggle from my cat. Maybe I can’t go out to eat or to the movies with friends, but I can still visit with them in my own house or theirs. In fact, having a job used to limit severely my time with family and friends, making them complain they never saw me. Now I have time for those I love.

Lesson learned: The best things in life really are free.

I already have everything I need. I may no longer have everything I want, but I have everything I need (and then some). I have a warm home, good health, loving and supportive parents, loyal friends, healthy food and some money left in the bank. I have more than most people living on this planet. And, most importantly, I have a thankful heart.  

Lesson learned: Money is just a tool that makes life more comfortable. Don’t make it more important than it has to be.

Yes, it’s been a year.

A rough year that often felt like an emotional rollercoaster.

A year that’s left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated to begin again.

A year of lessons learned.

A year I would not trade for anything because it made me who I am today.

I have made it through the year. Yes, my life on the dole is still a work in progress. But, I like the woman I’ve become. And, I like the woman I’m still becoming.

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Photo Credits:
Friends: Source Unknown

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Break, Broke, Broken Revisited: This Time It’s Personal

“Did you hear something pop?” asked the paramedic.

“No,” I replied. “I couldn’t really hear much over the screaming.”

“Screaming?” he asked, looking all around. “Who screamed?”

“Me,” I admitted sheepishly.

These days I can’t seem to catch a break. Well, Okay, maybe this time I did. Sort of. You see, apparently appliances are not the only things that can break when times are tough financially.

Remember what I said in my August blog post, “Break, Broke, Broken”?: “Stuff may be broken, but I am not.” Well, just a month later, I almost was.

Confession time: I have a history of epic-level klutziness—the kind of stories you trot out at parties to make people laugh.

One incident involved a dark Halloween night, a winding country road, an Angus bull (2,000 pounds worth) and a totaled Toyota. The good news is, I didn’t get a scratch in the accident.

Another fiasco was a fall at the nursing home in front of no less than 100 onlookers—an event later requiring surgery and months of physical therapy. (Embarrassment trumped pain as I realized I, the young person, was on the ground being loaded onto a stretcher as the frail, elderly folks stood over me, watching solemnly.)

Thankfully, in my latest klutz attack, my foot and ankle did not get broken. Although, in all truthfulness, an actual break may have hurt less and healed faster than the torn ligaments I now have.

And, worst of all, I didn’t even get a good party story out of it. You’d think if a person has to clomp around for a month in a knee-high moonboot, it would be more interesting to relate a tall tale of being chased  by rhinos on a Serengeti safari. Or at minimum, a story of reckless Alpine snowboarding.

September 4th, the Saturday before Labor Day was beautiful in Georgia. It was the kind of late-summer weekend that leads a woman to daydreams of beautifully weeded flower beds, immaculately cleaned living quarters and super-purged closets. It was the kind of day when accomplishing that mile-long to-do list seemed possible.

But, my first thought was, I’ll quickly get the laundry chugging so it’ll have plenty of time to line-dry. (Dryer’s still broken.)

Apparently I wanted that laundry done a bit too quickly. As my mind focused far away on the to-do list, my body flew over the last step of the stairway.

It’s amazing how time slows in an accident. At some point in the endless freefall, I tossed the laundry hamper sideways, thus making room to land face down in the foyer as some woman screamed loudly very close to my ear.

My right foot lay at an odd angle beneath me as I sprawled less than a foot in front of my new water heater. (Okay, I love my new water heater, but falling down to kiss its feet is a bit much.)

Yep, klutzy is my middle name; I admit it.

As I rose carefully from the floor, I watched a big blue goose-egg emerge on the top of my foot.

This is not good, I thought, as I hobbled to the phone to call Mom and Dad (again).

“Call 911 this minute!” Mom instructed. “It’ll take us at least an hour to get there.”

“Is it gonna cost me if they come?” I asked, my on-the-dole persona flipping into instant alert.

“Just call them,” she snapped in that tone of voice only a mother is legally allowed to use—the kind of voice that instantly makes you feel 12-years old again and mentally adding the “or else” part even if she didn’t say it.

I called 911.

Five minutes later: two paramedics, two EMTs, two firefighters and three shiny red trucks arrived. Must’ve been a really slow morning in my semi-rural community, I thought.

In the middle of the chaos, neighbor Lynn burst through the front door in time to hear a trip to the ER was necessary. Still worrying about money, I actually did put six highly-trained emergency personnel on hold while calling to have my mother check the insurance plan book to see if I could afford an ambulance trip. (We have the same carrier.)

I could not.

Yes, that’s right. In the midst of total chaos and excruciating pain, my chief concern was price. I am, after all, living on the dole, and I just paid for a water heater, too.

Fortunately, Lynn stepped in to offer to give up her Saturday morning to drive me to the ER so that I could save the ambulance fee. Where would I be in this dole adventure if it were not for family and friends, I asked myself for the thousandth time?

Still, trust me on this, you do not want to have an orthopedic accident on a Saturday morning of a three-day weekend when your orthopedist won’t be back in the office until Tuesday. Let me explain the effects of this long weekend succinctly: “Ouch! Ouch! OUCH!” (for 72 hours straight in spite of heavy-duty painkillers).

Still, I did “catch a break” this time—the foot was not broken, but, I badly tore the ligaments, necessitating weeks in a cast.

Very funny, Doc. Wise cracks thrown in at no additional charge.

It’s a good thing that through my ongoing klutziness over the past 12 years, we’ve become friends or I might, in my pain and drug-fuzzed state have needed to hurt him for that one.

Oh, and just to make things interesting: Did I mention this foot in the cast is my driving foot? How am I supposed to get from Point A to Point B?


Oh, and as if driving me around like Miss Daisy is not enough, she also gets to cook my meals, scoop cat litter boxes, and push me in a wheelchair when I have a business appointment. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is when your mommy has to help you in and out of the shower? (Thankfully, at least it is a hot shower—glad I got that water heater before this happened). Meanwhile, Dad waters plants, runs errands and takes on whatever else Major Mom assigns him to do—all while remembering not to complain about the haphazard schedule now going on at his house.

It has been nearly four weeks since my fall. My foot no longer looks quite as much like a purple football with five fat sausages attached. More importantly, the pain has lessened to the point where I can now focus on other things—such as money.

Since that plunge down the stairs, my medical bills so far now total more than $2,000. Thankfully, insurance covers a big chunk of that amount. Still, I’ll have to figure out how to pay the hefty co-pays and deductibles. I’m hoping there’s no need for surgery or physical therapy, but the fact that it’s still swollen and discolored three weeks later is discouraging. That unmet annual deductible looms large, but I’m trying hard not to think of that too much.

As I consider my own situation, I wonder how people without health insurance manage? How do they pay $2,000+ for emergency medical care? And, my bills are just for a badly torn ankle and foot. What if it was some life-threatening emergency?

Right now, my insurance is somewhat reasonable, but still a stretch on my teeny-tiny dole checks. But, in April, my monthly insurance cost will skyrocket to an amount larger than my monthly dole check. 

In fact, at some point, the dole check will dry up entirely. I can only hope that the business I’m starting has taken off by then. I was making great progress on it until the fall, but a four-week setback at this point is not a good thing.

Yes, I still have financial worries but throughout my “broken” situation, whether it’s broken appliances, a broken bank account or even now my bruised-but-not-broken body, I’m learning what’s still whole in my life—my family and friends—and to be thankful for that with my whole heart.  

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Photos Courtesy of:

Cast & Crutch (not Ariel): 
X-ray (not Ariel's X-ray): http://www.flickr.com/photos/akeg/