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  • Nicholas & Elon

    Congratulations to Nicholas, who has been hired as an admissions counselor serving South Carolina, Tennessee and western North Carolina at his beloved alma mater days after graduating. He has wanted to work in admissions since he started as a tour guide at Elon in 2012. Very proud of you, son!

  • (It's Just Like) Starting Over

    I've never been much of a participant on LinkedIn, but recently decided to write the column below because of ongoing frustration with my search for a new career. You can read it here, or go to this link to see the essay and the comments it has received.

    Over the past 16 months, I’ve written almost 100,000 words, taken thousands of pictures, and worked as a consultant/part-time employee on a variety of different projects. And, after taxes, my take home pay is less than half of what it was when I had a 9-to-5 job.

    It doesn’t take a mathematician to tell you this does not add up. But it is the life of being a freelancer, someone whose work is valued but not valuable, at least in terms of what it nets for your family’s bottom line.

    At one point, I used to think that words mattered, as did proper grammar and punctuation. Almost 20 years ago, I remember having a heated discussion with one of my staff members over proper sentence structure and comma usage, and being grief stricken when my publisher asked:

    “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but do you think that anyone except you gives a s--t about the serial comma?”

    It’s times like this when I wonder if he had a point.

    I still care passionately about writing and proper grammar, and I care greatly about the people I have worked with since losing my full-time career 16+ months ago. They have, quite literally, helped bail out our family from what could have been a financially devastating situation. I have diligently tried to provide them with quality work in return.

    Meanwhile, I have searched for a new career, or a continuation of the one I worked to build over a 30-year period. While I expected it to have some twists and turns, and have tried to learn as much as I can in the process, I didn’t expect to be sitting here as a professional free agent hoping the phone would ring.

    And yet, after applying for three more jobs today, here I sit.

    ••••••

    On the business side of publishing, everything today is about reaching the niche — the primary target, the decision maker, the person with the purchasing power who can (and will) pull the trigger and keep you (the publisher of said product) safe from harm.

    I get it. The media is a business, and you can have the greatest writers and editors in the world, but that won’t matter if you can’t make the bottom line work. When it comes down to it, it’s not about the audience, or the quality of the product you are attempting to produce, but whether you make enough money to produce the next edition.

    If the 1970s, the period in which I aged from 5 to 15, was considered the “me” decade, what would you call this one? I’d call it the “selfie” decade, in which the trivial becomes news, the news as we knew it doesn’t matter, and the people who are in charge of finding said “news” are valued more for their ability to make asses out of others or themselves.

    Here’s what I find odd: In a life where nothing — and I mean nothing — seems too archane, trivial, or obscure to escape the reality show cameras and trending websites, the fact that I care about the work I do seems to draw a collective “meh” from the mass audience.

    As if a mass audience existed anymore.

    ••••••

    The reason I became a journalist and professional communicator is because I enjoy talking to people. Everyone has a story to tell, and I have been blessed to hear many people tell theirs. Some are more compelling than others, of course, but each informs us in some way, and I’ve learned a great deal from my professional colleagues and friends in addition to the people I have spoken with while taking notes on my laptop.

    All in all, it makes me wonder: Why don’t we tell stories any more? Why don’t we do a better job of listening, or taking the time to listen, to what others have to say? In part, it’s due to our oversaturated society, but it’s also due to the current state of business.

    I love the Internet, despite what it has done to the business I love (or vice versa). When something piques my curiosity, for whatever reason, I’m the first to click on the link. Perhaps I don’t read as much as I should about current affairs, in part because they are so depressing as a rule, and I’m not completely up to speed on the latest celebrity gossip that once was confined to the checkout lines in grocery stores.

    As the parent of four teens, I care about my family and doing good, interesting work that helps to financially support my family. It's a desire for a work/life balance that I didn't have in my 20s and 30s when I was climbing the professional ladder. And how can we achieve that balance if we're always holding a smartphone, tablet, or laptop in our hands?

    I wish someone — anyone — would buck the trend, avoid the resume screen out, and hire employees who do care about the trivial things in life, especially when those trivial things result in quality work. As someone who is approaching 50, I wish my relative value to a hiring manager would not be divided in half so an employer could select two 25-year-olds.

    ••••••

    Over the past year, several friends and acquaintances — all men, all around the same age as me — have been laid off. One quickly found a job, but the others have struggled to re-enter today’s workplace from the outside. After spending the last 20-30 years working toward retirement, we’re now trying to find ways to make ends meet for our families.

    The advantage to experience — and to a certain degree, age — is that you know what you’re good at, what you can and cannot do, and what sort of difference you can make. The disadvantage to experience in one field is that it does not necessarily translate into another. And while I am willing to learn new things — this dog is not that old, at least professionally — I also have to figure out a way to convince someone to take the risk that I can learn new tricks.

    Here is what I would say to any potential employer: Provide me with some direction, some clear answers to my questions, and I’ll make every effort to do you proud. Respect my work ethic and my opinions and I’ll prove that my productivity can exceed those 25 year olds. Pay me a living wage and you’ll get more than you invest.

    I guarantee you that.

  • The Status Update

    As everyone knows, 2013 sucked for our family. Although I hesitate to say anything for fear of jinxing it, this year has started out much better, at least for us.

    Of course, we still are having to deal with the challenges of parenting three teens (plus a fourth who is staying with us) as well as the random yet systematic failure of appliances (last week the kids’ toilet; this week, the dryer).

    That caveat aside, we have many reasons to be thankful. And for that I am grateful.

    I’ve spent some time this evening updating the blog and, with spring just around the corner (I hope), decided to look back on the first 2+ months of the year. Not surprisingly, given this winter, I’ve written a number of minor treatises on the weather. But there have been others, too…

    A quick recap:

    December-January

    • Dec. 31: Goodbye unlucky 13 to the 20th power. Here's hoping that things even out in 2014... Wishing the best for all of you in the coming months!

    Jan. 8 (first weather post of 2014): Damn, compared to yesterday, I'm thinking it's time to break out the shorts and flip-flops.

    Jan. 17: Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes, and especially to Jill, Ben, Emma, Kate, and Nicholas for the gifts of caring and time. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate it...

    Jan. 20: “Veep” overdub in D.C. Ben’s episode airs April 13!

    Jan. 22: Self-employment note of the day: Home is not your office when the kids are off from school, but a 24-hour IHOP will do just fine.

    Jan. 27: This month has been crazy busy, in a good way, with three photo assignments, a couple of freelance articles, and a couple of RFPs for new business. (Keep 'em coming, folks...)

    Add to that a quick 24-hour trip to New York (4 degrees is not cool, no matter what anyone says), my birthday, kids being out of school more than in, and what soon will be Jill's most hectic week of the year. And, well, whew...

    February

    Feb. 1: Having a beer with my oldest son while waiting for Jill to finish her meeting...

    Feb. 2: Incredibly sad and sorry to hear of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. A real tragedy made worse by the fact that he has three small children. 

    • Feb. 2: OK, folks, the Super Bowl is over, and we've now entered one of the dead zones of the sports season. If you're looking for something to do, go to my photo page, give me a "like," and then start some sort of competition to see which photos you and your friends like among my photos the most.

    I'm all for something like that, but I must let you know that you'll never get a large TV contract or vast amounts of wealth and riches. But, hey, if you're seeking something to do on those missing TV days, look me up. And remember, I'm always up for something that brings me new business, but that's a different story...

    Feb. 3: Received a great surprise this weekend: a two-day visit from my oldest son, Nicholas. It was so nice to have him up here with nothing on the family agenda, giving us the chance to visit, talk, and take pictures. Thanks, son!

    Feb. 3 (another weather post): From yesterday's beautiful sunrise to this?!? Yep, must be Monday.

    Feb. 3 (Daily Double): All I can say about the weather is, "Damn that groundhog."

    Feb. 10: Thought for a random Monday: Fear of success is embracing failure.

    Feb. 11: CNN (not): After hearing the forecast for this week, groundhogs across the nation went into hiding for fear of becoming extinct.

    Feb. 12: I understand that Facebook is picking "Suggested Posts" based on my profile, job status, etc., but I'm beginning to think I'm stuck in a long-ago Amway or HSN commercial. It's frightening on many, many levels.

    Feb. 16: Parenting Payback 101: Going to see Walter White while my kids see Carly Rae Jepsen and The Nanny. Only drawback is that I won't get to visit with two of my favorite “Billy” alums.

    Feb. 22: O'Hare's TSA line is the grocery store checkout from hell.

    March

    March 2: I wish I knew the things I thought I’d know by now.

    March 3: Oscar observation: Hi-def and Botox = Bad Mix

    March 3 (and again, the weather): Dear Mother Nature: Get some Depends, visit a urologist, consult with Al Gore, choke a groundhog. We don't care, honestly, as long as you stop this now.

    With all due respect... The 50 States

    March 6: Enjoyed the opportunity to judge the Excel Awards for Association Media and Publishing (#amp14) today. Had a chance to see a number of old friends and meet new ones. Great to reconnect/connect with you all!

    March 10: Installed the iOS 7.1 update and it comes as advertised: much better performance and not the fluky behavior that's been driving me crazy recently.

    March 11: We’re not even three full days in, but when can I get that hour back?

    March 14: It’s official: Emma has her license!

    March 15 (Yup, the weather): I've had enough of this full moon kind of week. And it looks like Mother Nature is going to try a Full Monty tomorrow. Grrr...

    So that’s it so far, but given that St. Patrick’s Day is coming to a close soon, I must leave you with the last word courtesy of Kate:

  • Transitions, Creation, and Evolution

    As a writer, I pride myself on transitions, leading the reader in the process from one thought to the next. As an editor, there is nothing worse than reading a story where the transitions are the equivalent of shifting from fifth to first without hitting the clutch.

    Transitions are part of life, the chapter breaks in our story. Sometimes they make sense, a natural progression. Others come all too abruptly, with little rhyme or reason.

    For the past month, I have mulled this entry over in my mind, as our family embarks on yet another in a series of never ending transitions. And every time I have sat to write it, the words just don’t seem to come.

    One reason I hesitated in starting this blog was that I didn’t know if I would have enough material to write on a regular basis, knowing full well that the fall of every year brings so much to light that I could chronicle things by the hour without a loss for words.

    There’s something about winter, however, that makes us burrow under. The post-traumatic stress disorder of the holidays is followed by the cold snap — some would say slap — that January and February bring. In our Virginia subdivision, we rarely discover our neighbors until the spring, or so it seems.

    One month ago today, “Ragtime” closed. Instead of pulling up stakes and heading home, we decided to stay with the back-and-forth commute so Ben could finish the school year in New York. It just made sense, although the wear and tear on us has only been exacerbated by work and family demands and a climate shift that has left us buried by record snowfall.

    As I posted to Facebook earlier this week, Mother Nature definitely needs some Depends.

    ••••••

    The little bullets you see above this paragraph are another form of transition. Perhaps I’m taking the easy way out this time, but a random thought crossed my mind that I’ve wanted to write about for some time, so why not do it now?

    Recently I started a blog entry titled “Creation vs. Evolution.” (No, it wasn’t my attempt to wade into that debate, although anyone who knows me — and my politics — would know which side I come down on without giving it too much thought.) But like several entries I’ve started and aborted recently, I just couldn’t get it out.

    “Creation vs. Evolution” was talking about the process of working in an art form. In this case, and this one only, I definitely come down on the creation side. There is something about making something out of nothing that always has fascinated me, whether it’s the process of reporting and writing a story, putting out a magazine, or putting on a show.

    To me, creating is the fun part; I’ve always said that rehearsal is much more fun than performance. Once the paper is put to bed, or the show is up and running, it’s time to move on to the next challenge/project/ thing.

    For the first 13 or 14 years of my career, I never stayed in one job more than 36 months. I went into each new position determined to learn as much as I could, knowing I would give it everything I could. (It’s one reason I call myself a workaholic in a 12-step program.)

    Once I mastered the task or the job, it was on to the next. For me, boredom was (and still is to large degree) the equivalent of a slow death. It represents a life without fun and interesting challenges.

    When I left newspapers in 1996, I changed careers and went into communications. It was time for a change, and the 4½ years I spent in that job definitely set me up for the position I’m in now. 

    I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we moved to Northern Virginia in 2001. I certainly didn’t think I would be at the same company almost nine years later.

    But fate, combined with some fortuitous timing, intervened. And over time, I’ve been lucky enough to move from one position to the next to the next, each one presenting me with enough challenges to keep that dreaded boredom at bay.

    Also, as I’ve gotten older, patience has slowly come to be a word I use without rolling my eyes.  Mature, I know, but I prefer to think of it as appreciating the nuance of evolution. Over time, I’ve learned that if you’re patient enough, you can watch the arc of your personal or professional life extend beyond the immediate gratification we all desire.

    As much as I love theater, I never understood how some actors could go to work and do the same thing day after day after day. It wasn’t until I saw “Ragtime” over a period of months that I realized the actors’ performances were slowly, subtly evolving into something far deeper and more satisfying. It’s a shame that the evolution can’t continue.

    ••••••

    So here we are in a state of transition again, not just for the purposes of this entry but as a family. Sadly, we won’t get to see Nicholas this weekend due to the weather that has buried the Mid-Atlantic region, making the roads treacherous from here to there and points beyond.

    Things do seem to come full circle in our little world, however. Nicholas is trying out for “South Pacific” this weekend at his school; ironically, Ben went to see his good friend in the show here in New York tonight. (See the Musical Obsessions and Circle Backs entry I wrote on this for more instances of irony.)

    And, thanks to a break in New York City’s school schedule, we do get to spend the weekend and all of next week together as a family in Virginia. I have a new employee coming into work next week, and it’s less than a month from now that Ben starts rehearsals on a show at The Kennedy Center. (Another circle back.) Things are evolving amid our transitions.

    Now that my writer’s block has ended, I pledge to return to this space more often as well. Creating a blog, I’ve discovered, was fun. The challenge, I’m learning, is how it will evolve over time.

    Stay tuned…