Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rewriting Titanic: “I’m the King of the World”

Remember Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio's character, in Titanic? Who can forget his iconic scene on the bow of the ship when he yells into the wind, "I'm the King of the World!"?

Now, I understand how Jack felt.

Why? Because big changes are happening rapidly in my life on the dole and rescue may be at hand. I'm ready to yell into the wind myself.

(Or, worst-case scenario, I might just be like Jack—some poor schmuck without a clue of how things end. But, I really, really, really don't think so.)

It has been pretty evident for the last 10 months, that my unemployment situation has the potential to turn into my own personal Titanic. The dole won't last forever and in spite of my all-out efforts, no lifesaving job offer is being tossed my way.

But, sometimes, when life throws a big, towering iceberg into your path, you have to trust yourself. Instead of sitting in a deck chair trusting that the S.O.S. signals will bring rescue, you take a leap of faith over the side of that sinking ship. Sure, flinging yourself into uncharted, unknown territory is full of trepidation, but passivity never saved anybody. It's better to jump clear of the disaster if you can and increase your chances of survival than to wait around to be sucked under by the behemoth on its way to the bottom of the sea.

Admittedly, you pray on the way overboard that your construction efforts have paid off; somewhere in the churning darkness below bobs that sturdy little lifeboat you've been quietly hammering away on.

Because, what we have here in this economy's big upheaval is a whole new paradigm. The old answers and solutions no longer work. There is no terra firma in sight. And, unless you take matters into your own hands, there never will be.

Let's rewind the past two months and let me tell you what I've been up to and why. While you've been reading blog posts about Mom's, Dad's and my friend's perspective about my life on the dole, I came to a decision. A tough decision, but a decision I feel great about.

But, first, a little background on the job search:

In February and early March, I experienced a tiny flurry of activity from recruiters and hiring companies, but all that activity led nowhere. Afterwards, all responses to my résumé and my networking activities totally screeched to a halt.


No activity whatsoever.

Not so much as one phone call.

I wanted to tap my modem and ask "Hello? Is this thing on? Is anybody out there?"

Still, I kept the faith by sending out résumés and networking, and I continued to attend a job-search group, meeting weekly with more than 100 highly-qualified job seekers like myself. I asked around. Everybody's experience was similar. While mid-level manufacturing candidates snagged a few jobs—mostly after being unemployed for a year or more—executives and management applicants had slammed into a job-search iceberg. The tallest and most massive one jarred the HR executives.

Everybody seemed to be in the same boat. (Titanic, anyone?)

Consider these stories:

I contacted my friend, Nina (remember, my well-connected HR executive friend?). Same story. No job. Trust me, if she's not getting a job with her experience, talent, personality and connections, nobody is getting a job.

I had lunch with my smart, talented, connected school friend, an out-of-work CEO. Same song, second verse.

A third desperate friend with four children and an unemployed wife found his formerly lucrative corporate career and his impressive talent could not even snag him a minimum-wage job.

I noticed an odd new trend. Yes, there were HR jobs, but all were for entry- and mid-level HR positions. Hundreds of job posts flooded the job boards: all for lower-level jobs at one-third to one-half my old salary. There were even a number of posts for unpaid HR internships.

What's this?

It appeared the executive management job market—HR or otherwise—was sinking fast.

Not one to let pride stand in the way, I immediately applied for any and all available jobs. Still, nary a nibble. Maybe application screeners figure I'll abandon ship when the economy improves. Or, maybe they look at my previous salary (a required field on many job applications), and it scares them away. Further, those jobs don't come with relocation packages and, at the proffered pay rates, I cannot afford to sell my home at a loss and move cross-country to any higher-cost-of-living area.

Meaning—at those rates, I can apply only for jobs in my area—but those remain few and far between. On any given week, I actually learn about (maybe) five HR jobs at any level in my area.

Then grim news from my professional association: there are 7,300 Georgia members who have registered their job searches with the association.


And, that doesn't include Georgia HR professionals searching without registering with the association and those from other states willing to come to Georgia for work

There are 7,300+ vying for those lower-lever three to five jobs I see each week?

You don't have to be a Vegas bookie to see those are stinkin' odds, and the jobseeker is on the wrong side of the winning hand.

Then, out of nowhere: a more chilling pattern among my job-seeking friends: Those with 10 or more years of experience rarely get phone calls, losing out to less-experienced candidates.

Reality: Employers don't want those of us who might be expensive.

Then, the final iceberg crashed violently into my job search, whiplashing me into undeniable reality: I saw articles—three in a single week—about companies no longer considering unemployed applicants. Apparently, companies don't care if an applicant has been unemployed a year, six months, a week or 15 minutes—we unemployeds are "damaged goods."

The band may be playing merrily and the deck chairs arranged in perfect order, but the outcome is now clear: my job search ship is not going to make it to safe harbor.

Will I ever work again?

Will my job search last years instead of months?

What happens when my savings runs out?

As if the job market isn't depressing enough, the tiny dole checks that keep us "undesirables" afloat each week may soon be torpedoed as well. Every time Congress debates the issue, more lawmakers get testier about unemployment benefits. Now, Congress has extended the benefits until November. Ironically, benefits are set to expire again at election time.

Reality check: no job, no prospects and little hope those tiny dole checks will continue for the promised time periods.

I realize there are many things I cannot change right now:

I cannot change this rotten economy.

I cannot improve this job market.

I cannot make a hiring company realize my worth.

And, neither can my job-seeking friends.

And then I had my personal Invictus
moment: There is much I cannot change, but I'm still "the master of my fate: the captain of my soul." I will no longer sit quietly in the deck chair trusting in the rules and waiting for an unknown somebody to rescue me.

I'm ready to do now what it takes to rescue myself.

Comments made to me before I left my previous job began to bob about in my mind:

"Why don't you start a business and hire us to work for you?" a co-worker suggested.

"I think you should start your own business," a business associate told me.

"When you get ready to start your own company, send me your business cards and I'll share them with my clients," another business associate offered.

"No, no," I replied each time it was suggested. "I need a 'real' job with benefits. I cannot let myself get distracted by thoughts of my own business. I need a regular full-time job."

Sure, I briefly thought about the self-employment possibility. It actually was Plan E on my list of options. I met with a CPA. I explored the possibilities. I networked with friends who own businesses. But, I wasn't serious about the idea, because I thought I couldn't afford to be.

It's not as if I am naïve about what goes into being a business owner. My parents have had their own businesses—three of them. I saw that for them it was an incredible amount of hard work and frequent stress. It's just not the easiest way to earn a living.

But, I've thought about it off and on for the last 20 years. I even took a entrepreneurial class in graduate school, but I put the dream behind me because—at that time—I didn't yet have the necessary business experience. It was an idea to save for the future.

I launched my traditional career. I had a good job with a great paycheck and benefits. You don't quit a good job to start your own business.



Right, you don't quit a job to start your own business.

But, what if the job quits you?

I realized it's now or never.

I made the decision. I will start my own business. That is the modern-day equivalent of my grandparents' Depression-era strategies.

What will it be?

How will I make it on my own?

Is there any way I can help my job-seeking friends at the same time?

Will it end in wild success or be a catastrophic disaster like Jack Dawson's Titanic experience?

I have no idea. I just know I'm committed to the idea and ready to make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen. Preparing for this in the last few weeks, I've worked harder than I've ever worked in my life while constructing my secret rescue vehicle. I have yet to receive a paycheck. But, thus far, I'm loving every minute.

This plan could indeed turn out to be my lifeboat—the one I'm building with my own two hands.

And, that's why, unlike poor, doomed Jack who never saw reality coming, I actually could turn out to be "King of the world." 

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Just for Fun: Revisit Titanic's "King of the World" moment:

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And for More Fun:

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Photo credits:

Titanic Survivors:


Anonymous said...

Ariel, Thank you for sharing some very private feelings with the world. Been there done that, and know exactly what you have been going through. And, I hope you find out "what you want to be when you grow up!" At age 70, two years ago, with the economy being rather shaky andbeing a wife, mother, great-great grandmother, I decided it was time for me to do what I "wanted to be when I grew up!" I became a co-inventor, and CEO of a company and was scared to death, asking myself, "what are you thinking?" Two years later, my dear, I can say with all honesty, my prayers have been answered, and with His help, know that I know, I made the right decision to bring to others a tool they can clean out their gutters with and stay safely on the ground. If you have time, come visit with me at and see how "dreams do come true" when you have faith, hope, and charity within your heart. Yes, Ariel, there really is a God! Here is proof...He still answers prayers and gives the desires of our heart. Blessings over you, your life, and happiness and success in all you do. "Granny's Stimulus Package"

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