Thursday, December 22, 2011

Exits and entrances

Exits and Entrances is another way of saing that life is full of beginnings and endings. We generally compartmentalize our lives into sections – often by years or major events. In my case the first 23 years … the formative ones … were spent on the East Coast largely in various educational pursuits. The next 24 years … the growing ones … have been spent in Los Angeles applying that learning to various entrepreneurial efforts. Right after Christmas I move to St. Paul, Minnesota to begin the next phase of my life.

I exit Los Angeles conflicted. Half of my life has been spent in LA and the city is part of my DNA. Friends, extended family, colleagues and clients will be missed. I am overjoyed to enter a new city on a great adventure. I shall be serving as the Executive Director of a leading arts organization in a region that celebrates the arts and culture in a way that LA doesn’t. It’s not just a job – it’s a calling that will use my professional skills and my personal passions together. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be fulfilling and challenging…and I’m eager to make a difference.

The ten days since the offer was made and accepted have been largely filled with logistics, but I have had a chance to reflect a bit on the journey of the past three years. Laid off from an executive position in January 2009, I joined the now 26 million Americans who are out of work. For 99 weeks I benefitted from the insurance my employers had paid with an Unemployment check. Once that dried up the investments, retirement fund and savings accumulated over a lifetime sustained me. They are now long gone. I’ve lived the Great Recession and it hasn’t been pretty.

In the first year I spent about a week every month-and-a-half in Massachusetts helping my parents. My father had suffered a stroke in 2005 and was deteriorating. Having spent their nest egg on his medical care I helped transition them from their home to a shared facility where Dad could be taken care of in a Nursing Home and Mom could continue her active lifestyle in a Retirement Condo. We unraveled dozens of years of financial planning in order to accommodate Medicaid.

Once settled, the second year became about supporting their new situation. Dad passed in August 2010, the month this blog began. He would be tickled that I write each week…he wouldn’t agree with many of my political conclusions…but he’d celebrate my effort. I miss that we don’t have that interaction, given his passion for writing.

During this time I worked to sustain my faith community. Over the three year period over 25% of the time my Church was without a priest in active residence. Lots more time was spent in and out of the transitions. That left much of the day to day issues to the ‘lay leadership’ of which I was a member. This was a difficult period for my own spiritual path. I put in so much work there that I ultimately listed the volunteer position as my most recent job on my resume!

Resumes were sent out from the day after I was laid off. Over 1,000 of them. Until the past few months (where I was fortunate to have several options) there were just a handful of interviews, only one in person. I applied only to jobs that I saw myself in --- things that I said “Yea, I could do that and I’d like to do that.” So finding 1,000 of them over 3 years is pretty good – nearly 1 a day. Virtually all got a customized letter. I never heard from 99.9% of them. It saps your spirit.

The way people are hired today is different than at any other time in my life. Technology determines your match for the position – software scans and searches for key words in resumes and cover letters. Employers can list 15 requirements and if you have 14.5 of them, you’re out of the running because there is an ample pool of candidates who have all 15. Having an eclectic background as I do – a fine arts education and real world experience as an employee, volunteer and consultant in for profit, not for profit, large and small companies as a corporate executive – doesn’t fit any computerized analysis easily.

When I saw the opportunity to lead this arts organization I further customized my correspondence, reached out to colleagues in the industry to make calls on my behalf, and relentlessly researched and studied the organization so that when given the opportunity to interview I knew as much as I could. Forget the emotion of rejection and the roller coaster of excitement about each found opportunity: looking for work is hard and requires a lot of effort. Anybody who thinks it’s easy to just “go out and get a job” simply is not in tune with the realities of the changed economic environment.

Life will be different in Minnesota. I’ve already had more conversations about the weather than I have had in years! I move into the 74% in this country who are fully employed (26% are unemployed, under employed or have fallen off of the charts). My perspective will change but my politics won’t. Stay tuned…until then…I wish you a prosperous, joyous and wonderful start to 2012.

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