Easy question for Halloween—if you see a broom with a crooked handle resting against a wall what immediately comes to mind?
Back in August I saw a row of beautifully crafted ones, all suitable transportation for Elvira Gulch, at a local craft fair, but having just been to an exhibit honoring the Shakers my first thought wasn't of the Wicked Witch of the West. What got my attention was how these handmade products stood out in our mass produced, made-in-China world.
The woman manning the booth had left a corporate position in sales and marketing to become a partner in a broom making business because it enabled her to combine her business skills with the crafts she had learned growing up in rural Vermont.
Entrepreneurs, small business owners and others who work for themselves enjoy the autonomy that comes with independence but know that there is a downside—feeling alone.
People in transition who are considering starting their own businesses also worry about the isolation that might come with being a freelancer or independent contractor. Maybe they’ve had enough of the sort of being-on-your-own that comes with looking for work, or maybe they feel that if they were self-employed they would miss the stimulation of working with others.
Both groups speak of the need to have someone to brainstorm or problem-solve with, or just to talk business with over coffee. They may prefer not to answer to a higher authority or deal with office politics, but they instinctively know that being challenged now and then keeps them on point and that the expertise of others, particular in business disciplines they are not strong in, can help them achieve their goals.
Long ago, I vowed never to write another column about resumes, but something a client said to me a few weeks after being laid off by the Fortune 200 company where she had worked for over fifteen years changed my mind.
"I don’t want anymore black hole resumes," she said emphatically.
For her to be able to speak with such clarity, even while recovering from the shock of being let go, was a cause for celebration. It was a huge step forward because in taking it she was rejecting the idea of another job in favor of work, as a consultant, free agent, business owner.
I am writing this on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. Because I like to finish one holiday before leaping ahead to the next, I am making this a quiet day, a space to reflect on what this annual feast, now so narrowly focused on eating and football, really means.
The actual history of Thanksgiving is far more complex, both messier and richer, than the story everyone knows about the Pilgrims inviting the Indians to dinner.
We hear very little about how the Pilgrims stole seed corn from the Nauset Indians of Cape Cod a few days after they arrived, or the fact that the land around Plymouth had already been cleared and cultivated by Pokanokets who had been wiped out by disease shortly before the newcomers arrived, or that when Native American neighbors came to help the Pilgrims they usually showed up naked!
We cheat ourselves when we settle for an oversimplified view of history because the arrival of the Mayflower in Plymouth represents a nitty-gritty struggle for survival which is as relevant today as it was for the residents of Plymouth in the 1620s.
Whenever the same question comes up more than once in a short period of time, it gets my attention, so when feedback from a program I did for an agency which helps women in transition mirrored a recent comment on my blog from a career coach who works with low income people, I accepted the invitation to re-examine my thinking.
Both comments expressed the concern that people at the lower end of the employment spectrum would not be capable of grasping and utilizing an entrepreneurial approach to work-search, nor would they be likely to benefit from it if they did. They suggested that my thinking about the entrepreneurial mindset was all very well and good for some people but not for those with very few resources and a lot going on in their lives.
After the holiday break, I was not surprised to start 2011 with a full inbox, but what has been startling is the number of emails I have received from people over 50 who have been laid off and can't find work.
For months, in some cases years, these people have carried on discouraging job-search campaigns directed toward securing the kind of work they did before "the bottom fell out" of their professional lives.
They have reached the point where they feel they "can't buy a job" and are at their wits end as to what to do next.
At first I wondered, what do I say to these people? But then I noticed that none of them mentioned doing anything to create something new.
Recently I was on my way home from a visit to a friend in Philadelphia, and after I boarded the train at 30th Street Station and settled into my seat, I noticed a man in his mid-fifties across the aisle from me.
His well-dressed, distinguished look suggested to me that he was probably a senior executive en route to an important business meeting in New York, with maybe a round or two of golf or an afternoon of sailing in Long Island Sound on the side.
From the weathered, high-quality leather briefcase beside him on the seat, he took out a thick book entitled, Best Resumes, and with a sigh I added “unemployed or afraid of becoming so” to the description of him I had been forming in my head.
A few months ago I acted on a goal I have had for a long time—to start a business book club.
Although we have only met a few times, the coming together of this like-minded group of professionals has been more delightful than I could have ever anticipated.
Instead of being limited to my own conclusions on a particular book, I now have access to the ways that others with different backgrounds and expertise take in, interpret and utilize the same information.
It’s like arriving late at night to a vacation destination you’ve only seen in brochures and waking up in the morning and opening the curtains to find a beautiful, expansive view of the world your imagination could never have fully pictured.
Nowadays Clancy's is open, but if you passed by any other time of year, you'd think it had gone out of business. And it has, except for the turnips.
When I moved here to Eastham a dozen years ago, Clancy's was a thriving farm stand. It was always manned by a member of the family with whom I enjoyed chatting, usually about the Red Sox. It was there whenever I wanted a sandwich made with tomato fresh from the vine. Trips to Clancy's were a highlight of my summer.
As the years passed, the amount of produce dwindled and the charm of interacting with the growers was replaced by a weigh-it-yourself scale and a metal box to put your money in. Yet I continued to delight in stopping by there and I treasured the connection to the past it represented.
The last few summers, the rough hewn tables, dilapidated umbrella, and faded OPEN banner have been in a pile and there hasn't seemed to be anything growing in the fields.
But right now, Clancy's has customers, lots of them. From Columbus Day through Thanksgiving they come for the turnips. They pull their cars off the highway onto the deeply rutted turnout, select the white-gold orbs from a bin, and stick their money in the slot. Gourmet magazine and the "buy local" movement have made the Eastham Turnip, long known for its light color and sweetness, famous nationwide, and Clancy's has a cash crop.
When unemployment figures are announced, the media takes up the challenge of trying to show what x% of joblessness looks like in human terms, and the images they choose are predictable—long lines of applicants trying to get into job fairs, rows of jobseekers at computers in job centers busily scanning listings.
These pictures reinforce the message that the right, indeed the only, way to find work is to apply for a job, wait for a response, and hope you get lucky.
Rarely does an alternative approach get noticed, and when it does it is treated as something new and foreign. Take for example a recent story I heard on NPR about a laid-off architect.
Instead of wasting his time standing in line somewhere, John Morefield is making his expertise visible at a booth he has set up at a farmer's market in Seattle. Sandwiched between a fish market and a store that offers locally grown honey, he sells advice to homeowners who are thinking about remodeling—for 5 cents!
He got the idea from Lucy's "5¢ Psychiatric Help" stand in Peanuts, and he is using it to do the best possible thing he can do with potential customers—engage them in conversation about problems they want to solve.