You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
Today’s post is a little bit of a departure from my regular blog entries. Although cycling is a big part of this story, the focus will not be on it. The reason for this story is quiet simple: I finally found work and it took me over a year from the day I got laid off. So this is overall a very happy story, one I am glad to share and one that begun on March 3, 2009.
I always had great pride in my intuition and I have a strong self awareness, but I never saw the layoff coming, until I stepped into my bosses office and was greeted by him and the corporate HR director. I knew immediately that something was awry and had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but even then I would have never thought that I would receive walking papers several minutes later. It hits you especially hard when you love what you do and feel a strong connection to your employer. This story is also not about smearing companies or former colleagues, actually far from it, because I still have very good relations with many of my former co-workers.
When you first hear the words:”…we decided to eliminate your position…”, you feel utter disbelieve. Come on, who in the world gets up every morning and goes to work thinking my position is worthless? While working for my former employer I had the sense that I made a contribution, an impact if you will, and all interactions with reporting levels up and down the ladder, confirmed that. So how then could I possibly be told that my position was eliminated? I have been long enough in this business to understand the economic scale of layoffs, that of course does not mean that I liked it at all, when it bit me. The conversation was short, the severance pay was fair and all that was left was going home and telling my wife: “I lost my job!”
I cannot begin to put the spectrum of emotions into words I felt driving home, but they ranged from despair to rage. I have worked all my life in the hospitality industry and spent the last 15 years in senior executive positions. With that came very good salaries, benefits, bonuses, expense accounts and industry perks. In other words, living the good life and that came to a complete stop in a blink of the eye. That first day of the layoff was nothing but a daze for my wife and I, because it was so difficult to understand what had just happened.
The next few days were a blur of activity, mostly trying to understand how the ‘system’ works, because I never was unemployed before. Over the course of the first two weeks I would quickly learn all there is about unemployment agencies, COBRA, benefit administrators, job boards, networking and job agencies. Looking back the first couple of months really were filled with an intense effort to find a replacement job, an intensity that bordered on exhaustion. The other thing I quickly had to learn was ‘how to adapt for interviews”. I have been sitting on the other side of the fence for so long, that it was not easy to go through an interview without coming across as ‘over confident’, to put it mildly. That was especially true when I sat with interviewers without any skill or preparation.
The weeks and months ticked by, and as that happened, the confidence level of finding a job within 6 months dropped. I took the job search as a full time job and devoted a minimum of 6 hours a day to the search. The rest of the day I spent on my bicycle, in hindsight, a choice which kept me fit and sane! Like almost everyone I know I started chasing jobs similar to the one I lost; the only problem they were hard to find. Looking back at my records there were only 5 that came onto the market, 4 of them were taken off without filling the position and the 5th was landed by one of my competitors.
About the 3rd month into the search, we (my wife and I) started with the “life style changes”, a fancy name for cutting back. The dish network “premium HD gold” package becomes the basic one, phone and cellular planes get reduced to basic needs, meals get planned out to economize, purchases except ‘essentials or emergency’ are cut out, cash is king – meaning if the money is not available in cash we don’t buy. Going out to restaurants, bars, movies – will have to wait.
Applications, submit resumes, interviews, sometimes second and third interviews. Down scaling my expectations of the job, and applying for jobs I know I can do only to find out over and over and over: “….sorry, you are over qualified, if I hire you today, you will be gone the next opportunity you have to get back to the income level you had before…”. Months roll by, and confidence sinks. Aside from chasing jobs I started chasing consulting opportunities. Thankfully I have a very good reputation in our community and I am able to find several short term assignments here and there. Every little bit counts. December is near, a month we always cherished in the past, usually going a bit overboard with decorating the house, the tree our once a year splurge for each other. Not so this time – a very sad day when we discussed not to do anything for each other, not even a tree. Our saving grace throughout all this time really was the fact that prior to my layoff we were virtually debt free. Yes, a mortgage, but nothing outlandish, but no credit car debt, car loans etc. Savings were there for the taking (originally meant for a vacation home) and now a security blanket.
The year changes and with it new hope, that the new year will bring opportunities, which it did. The chase is renewed with energy and hope, but only runs into the same obstacles as in the old year. A chance conversation with a friend ultimately lead to a new beginning. You see this friend is also the owner of a recruiting firm and we have known each other now well over a decade. I have used his services many times in the past to fill open positions, and of course over the past year for me in the hopes that he might have opportunities matching my background. We talked about a possible career change, which would allow for my background and relationships in the industry to be relevant. Essentially we talked about becoming a hospitality recruiter. What better way than to use my knowledge acquired while working in multi- and single unit environment for luxury hotel- and restaurant groups and translate that knowledge to identify ideal candidate and match with opportunities.
I was a bit skeptical at first because I thought that in a downturn economy companies would not hire recruiter to fill positions because of the cost. I found out the contrary is true, because most companies have scaled backed so dramatically that they no longer have the resources to sift through the incredible amount of applicants every job opening attracts. I spent the last two weeks working at the firm to verify and I am amazed at a number of things. For one, the work pace is fast and exciting, the way I like it; then there is the people contact which I love; my background a perfect match to evaluate candidate skills accurately; a casual, fun work atmosphere in the office, which is something new to me but a very welcome change. The ability to stay close to the industry that I worked in for so long; case and point, I got to rub elbows with Thomas Keller two nights ago. Yesterday I signed the employment offer with great excitement and my first ‘official’ day is tomorrow, March 22, leaving 383 days of agony behind.
Am I making the money I was used to? No, not yet, the potential is there. Did I find a job 5 miles from home and get to bike to every day? Yes, – you bet! Are we a small firm? – Yes, four us including me and we share great chemistry. Do I think I just won the lottery? – Absolutely! Did I just change career at the tender age of 52? – yup, I am now officially a ‘senior management recruiter’. Do I get to work ‘normal’ hours for the first time in my life? – Wow, yes – I do. Does that mean I will work less? – knowing me, the answer is no, but it doesn’t matter. Are my days of riding whenever I want numbered? – um, yes, they are, but I have regular weekends now, something I never had before .
A very dark cloud has finally been lifted and I look forward to the next chapter in my life….