When you tell people you live on Cape Cod, they often tell you you're lucky, and for three-fourths of the year, they're right.
What they don't know—and you do, after you've lived here long enough to experience a few Aprils when the daffodils seem to shiver in the cold rain and the forsythia refuses to bloom—that there is no spring. Or, to be more precise, what little of it there is comes so late that it imperceptibly merges with summer!
I'm more dismayed by the sunless days and lack of color this year than I have been in the past, and I think it's because of the bleakness of the economic landscape.
The truth is, both here on the outer Cape where I live and in the business world we all occupy, things look pretty brown right now. You have to be very attentive to notice that the willow branches have a slight yellow tinge against the gray, gloomy sky, just as you have to look carefully to see any glimmer of hope in these dark economic times.
As we were leaving, one of the guests turned to me and said, " hope I don't have to use your services!" I felt as if someone had just thrown a bucket of ice water on me. It was the first time I had ever had anyone talk about dreading the prospect of coming to see me as a client. I have always viewed what I do as helping people to enrich their lives, and it had never occurred to me that someone would see it as inseparable from the painful possibility of losing their job.
But these are not ordinary times, and the woman who made the remark works in an industry which is shrinking. She is dealing not only with anxiety over a lost livelihood, but also a life's work she had dreamed of following ever since she was a child. Who could blame her for thinking of me a bit like the undertaker?
It's important for me to get out of the office on a regular basis and talk with groups of people who, in the neat language of business jargon, are part of a statistic called "job churn," the movement of people in and out of the labor market. Right now, churn—which suggests violent splashing—is making us all feel like we're traveling on very rough seas and producing a lot of queasiness.
Although I regularly see individual clients in career transition who often feel as if they are in a small boat in an ocean of uncertainty, I find being in the company of a group of people who have given up an evening or Saturday morning to attend one of my presentations a very different experience.
It is more like riding the subway or a bus rather than driving my own car. When I use mass transit, I'm just another passenger sharing a journey with others from one stop to another. It's no longer the other drivers and me in our separate vehicles en route to different destinations. We're all in it together, which is exactly how it feels when I step into a library meeting room, community center or church hall and start to talk informally with people who have come to hear me speak. And, just like the subway, I never know who will sit down next to me or how my world will expand as a result.
Such was the case a few weeks ago when I met an attractive middle-aged woman at one of my seminars who claimed she already knew me.
Judging from conversations I’m having these days with loved ones of those who have suddenly found themselves unemployed, or fear that they might be, there are a lot of people entering 2009 with concerns about another person’s employment status.
While we all recognize that it’s difficult being the one out there looking for work, we sometimes forget that it is also emotionally challenging for the spouse or the parent of that person.
You want very much to be supportive, to be wholeheartedly there for your husband, wife or child, but at the same time you are grappling with your own fears. Keeping your anxiety from overcoming the goal of providing support and encouragement to the work-seeker is a tricky business.
I've been thinking a lot about the Pilgrims lately, and not because as I write this it's a few days after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving represents abundance, yet my thoughts concerning these first New England immigrants have been more about scarcity and how they dealt with it.
Coming to the New World was always a risky venture for them, and to make matters worse, when they arrived, they were not where they expected to be, the mouth of the Hudson River, where the weather was more temperate and soil more fertile.
You need only step into Provincetown Harbor in November, where they waded ashore for the first time, or stand for few moments in the winter wind off Plymouth Bay to imagine their dismay at the miscalculation that had brought them there.
Despite the fact that he had misgivings about the Pilgrims at first (he thought they were kooks), Christopher Jones, skipper of the Mayflower, had come to respect his pious passengers, so much so that he delayed his departure as long as he could.
But on April 5, 1621, almost six months after it arrived, the Mayflower sailed for England, There is a local cafe which has a painting of this moment hanging on the wall. It shows the citizens of the newly founded colony of Plymouth watching the Mayflower leave, taking with it any possibility of going back to the life they had previously known. From now on, they would be alone in a world full of uncertainty and peril, which also offered, if they persevered, the possibility of creating a better life.
In response to growing concerns about financial survival, the news media is full of information about ways to save money, conserve energy, etc., but very little is being said about people's biggest worry—secure employment!
Work, either through job-employment or self-employment, is the levee that protects us, and as long as it holds, we can weather the storm of uncertainty. But what if the traditional approaches to sustaining and finding work can't stand up to the current surge of events?
Hard times require more vigilance in taking care of your professional future—or as I said to one of my clients recently, "Being wishy-washy or needy isn't going to cut it!"
If you're a regular reader of this newsletter, you may be as tired of hearing about my book as you are of the presidential campaign. I've been coming at you with it for longer than the election has dominated the news, starting in January, 2007, when I devoted this newsletter to presenting one chapter a month. But take heart—once more, and I am moving on.
I had no idea when I started down this path how much it would require of me. I actually thought that when I wrote the last word of the manuscript my part would be done, when in fact the actual creation of the book had just begun.
Thanks to the patience of my publisher and editor, I learned enough about the nuts and bolts of book design and production to make informed decisions about a host of things I'd never thought about—typefaces, headings, page layout, illustration placement, etc.
It was so amazing to me that, even though I've always been an avid reader, I never thought about how a book was put together. I knew of course when I didn't feel welcomed by a book, but beyond a vague idea that maybe the type was too small or the page too crowded, I would not have been able to articulate why.
It's pretty clear to most baby boomers that they will be creating, either by choice or circumstances, a very different kind of retirement from their parents, for whom it simply meant, stop working.
Retirement was first quantified in 1935, when the Social Security Administration gave it the number, 65. At the time, the average lifespan was 68, so it made sense to spend the relatively few years you had left exclusively focused on leisure.
Since then, however, life expectancy has expanded by almost 30 years, adding what some call a "third age" to the lives of those of us fortunate enough to benefit from longevity.
The question is, what do we do with it? And what do we call it?
Exactly what the new retirement will look like is as obscure as some of the new "re" words—rehire, rewire, renew—that have been coined in the attempt to move away from the old word (whose syllable "tire" connotes being too worn out to work).
There are many advantages to living on Cape Cod, especially in August when the weather is glorious and the North Atlantic is finally warm enough that you can ride the waves on a boogie board without succumbing to hypothermia.
You learn to live with it, and if you can get beyond grumbling about the traffic, you can begin to understand how much it means to people to be here for a week or two and how much you take living here for granted. Then it begins to dawn on you that it might be possible to live your life during what local businesses call the 106 day sprint between Memorial Day and Labor Day more as if you, too, are on vacation.
There's also the disadvantage the comes from living and working in a vacation community—sitting in front of a computer knowing you're surrounded by hordes of happy tourists who are freely enjoying the sun and surf while you are working!
When tea became trendy, I gave in and, with a sigh, supplemented my grandmother's depression glass dishes with a few pieces from the new array of tea service paraphernalia available in gift shops.
When yoga started to become an "in thing," promoted in slick videos and shops such as the one near my home called "Om Depot" (I'm not kidding), I winced, but continued to do the Salutation to the Sun in my living room every morning.
But I draw the line at cupcakes.
"The rest of your life is an eight o'clock class," a colleague of mine likes to say to the new graduates he counsels. It's a delightful metaphor, but I think that makes it sound too easy. It suggests that, in your professional future, just signing up and showing up will be enough.
As you've no doubt learned during the last four years, it's possible to take a course, pass it, even get a good grade in it, without being fully engaged. This behavior will not work for you in today's workplace. Anyone who takes a passive stance puts their job status at risk.
Back in the days when recruitment out of college led to a progressive career track with the same company (IBM, GE, AT&T, etc.) it was valid, but in the competitive, global marketplace you are entering today, it is not.
My husband and I were taking Amtrak to Virginia, and in Trenton, a stylishly dressed mature woman boarded the train and took the seat behind us. She dozed until Wilmington in an erect posture with her back against the window. Then she awoke and called her son.
I know this because it's impossible not to overhear a cell phone conversation on a train, and because her opening remark, intended to capture her son's full attention, also got mine.
"God invented cell phones," she said, "so that mothers could call their sons to see if they will be picking them up at the station or if they will be left on the curb like a discarded piece of luggage."
I immediately envisioned a middle-aged attorney or executive cringing in his office. Now I know this was speculation, but given the birthday gift bag on the seat beside her, and her highly organized manner, it was hard to believe that there had been no prior conversations about her arrival and the logistics connected with it. Yet the intensity of her tone made it clear she did not trust the arrangements would be carried out.