On January 15, 2009 – I tipped the scales at 181 pounds and was employed as a vice-president (one of many) at the mid-size financial services tech firm that had employed me ever since those last innocent weeks that bid a fond adieu to Summer 2001 and a grim hello to 9/11.
On July 15, 2009 – I weigh 147 pounds (give or take a handful depending upon the hour of day and the weight of my weakness for Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats) and am no longer employed by anyone.
For the first time in my life, I find myself in complete control of my will power.
For the second time in less than a decade, I find my life spiraling out of control at the mere mercy of executive decision and an ever changing business climate.
Obviously the two major life alterations that I’ve experienced this year aren’t tethered by anything other than complete random happenstance. I didn’t drop a few lbs and then find myself off the grid with the company unable to locate their newfound waif. But it’s hard, resting in my skin and feverishly angling to turn the lights out on my angst-ridden thoughts when shuttering the home for the evening, to not feel as if the weight of the world has suddenly doubled.
Make no mistake – losing the weight has been a great thing. Finding myself jobless – not so much. I’m sure that goes without saying. Hey, my company wasn’t employing me to cure rocket science. Now… the charm and sassy wit that made me their very own Joy Behar. Well – you just can’t put a price on that cache.
It’s just that sitting here at the very epicenter of the year, with these two major life alterations signifying my great “accomplishments” for the Year 2009, it’s hard not to tie the two together.
The year began with such hope. Just after we turned the page on a pretty great ’08, which saw a star born in Andi’s essay of Maria Von Trapp at the midpoint and then my own typecast turn as the rabid Aide Warren in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I looked to 2009 and decided that I needed another goal to ward off the mid-winter funk that typically badgers my brain pan sometime ’round February.
Having taken that Nestea plunge into the warm and welcoming waters of Facebook, the winter months flew by with reckless abandon as it seemed a day didn’t go by that I was finding myself visited upon by another Ghost from Ed Humphries’ Past. And, in most cases, the gulf of time dried up and the years melted as I got reacquainted with old friends and found that a decade could fly by and feel like it hadn’t been a day. Very quickly the pleasantries were dispensed in favor of heart-warming jaw sessions. I caught up quickly on the lives and times of some really great people and got working on the more important business of carrying on with the present – of enjoying the moment with these new found lost friends.
As quickly as the memories materialized, the pictures popped.
There’s nothing funnier than catching site of your own “two decades young” cabeza sporting a makeshift attempt to pinpoint your pompadour’s zip code at 90210. Of course, in 1990, Brandon Walsh had a fleet of stylists. All I had was Supercuts and an industrial-sized tube of Dep. It could be worse. I could swear my high school buddy Buzz and his neatly coiffed curls were angling to ape Ian Zeiring’s Steve.
Anyway, I looked forward to each day’s waltz through memory lane all the while hoping that the same Facebook fascist regime that kept me from posting a video scored to The Weather Girls would also prohibit the inevitable “streaking” shots (errr, tasteful erotic exercise poses) from seeing the light of day. Hey – I was young. Needed the money.
Now, I’m gonna’ get all chick on ya’. I’d chalk it up to midlife crisis but at the old age of 37, I think I passed that about two decades ago. As I perused these pics and laughed my ass off at the attire I chose to tackle the world in (seriously, did I really find fluorescent orange Daisy Dukes butch enough to corral chicas in), one incontrovertible fact bitch-slapped me. Damn’t it. I was thin once. When did I get all Alec Baldwin?
So, I decided then and there to finally take a stand and apply some semblance of will power to my daily existence. I wasn’t going to go all crazy and latch onto a fad diet but I thought there was enough I was doing wrong that I could right… and in that course of action, I could set sail for a slimmer me. (If that isn’t a Jenny Craig slogan already, I guarantee it will be by the end of the week).
My marching orders were simple. For starters – I would actually darken the doorway of the local Y that I’ve been paying dues to for the last 4 years and make a point of actually exercising on a frequent basis. I figured 3-4 sessions per week ought to make for a marked improvement over my usual 0-1. (3-4 was my goal. I’ve actually been exercising 6-7 days per week).
In addition, while I loathe diets, I found there were some easy alterations I could make. My Achilles Heel – SNACKS!!! And while I couldn’t jettison them from my daily bread, I would make them healthier. Instead of that mid-afternoon excursion to the company store for a pile of cookies or a Kit-Kat and coffee, I’d nosh on an apple or banana.
The same went for my coffee. I had been frequenting Dunkin’ Donuts easily 4 or 5 times a week for the last 10 years and in addition to my Medium Regular (which I noticed was made by combining one part coffee with 8 parts cream and sugar), I would often tell the clerk to toss me a Glazed Donut. Of course, when guilt and my expanding girth got the best of me, I would toss her a curve ball and tell her to skip the donut and just make it 5 munchkins – as if the five tethered together by that sugary sweet paste they’re shelaqued in wouldn’t add up to the same Killer Calorie Count.
So, gone went Dunkin’ Donuts. While I can count on one hand, the number of sugar free coffees I’ve had from them since January, I can proudly claim that I’ve been donut free all year. This means, I’m due to finish digesting the final donut I devoured sometime ’round July 2011.
Anyway, the dietary deductions coupled with regular exercise (mainly cardio with some light lifting) have brought me from 180-ish to the late-140’s/early 150’s in 6 months time. More importantly – I went from a snug 36/relaxed 38 waist band to a comfortable 34. Two pant sizes down ain’t half bad, right? And it is a helluva’ long way away from Manorexia.
Of course, I’m one of those types who “don’t believe the hype”. People keep telling me that they can see the results but when I spy the man in the mirror, I still see the same jovial fat guy. In fact, if it weren’t for the pant size reduction which provides irrefutable proof (assuming Keebler’s workforce layoffs hasn’t prompted their elves to seek out my slacks in the dead of night and work their mojo on my cargos just to keep busy), I wouldn’t believe I’d dropped a pound. That said, the evidence greets me daily so eventually I’ll have to buy into the theory.
Regardless, I feel like I still look the same so maybe I’m the walking, talking equivalent of those Russian Dolls. You know the ones where you lift the top only to find a slightly smaller version inside. It’s like I’ve shed a couple outer coats but kept the same physique. We work long enough at this and eventually we’ll hit my creamy middle.
Anyway, it’s not my nougat that’s the issue these days. With the loss of a damn good job (when measured by its ability to sustain 4 human and 2 canine lives fairly comfortably), I’ve definitely felt the shot across my bow – aimed squarely at the ego. And it’s a stupid feeling to have. After all, my elimination came at the ass end of a six-month stretch of job reductions that literally tore us asunder. We lost a lot of good people in a short period of time. That’s what happens when you toil in the financial industry. When that bear sets in, he doesn’t just raid the picnic baskets. He goes straight for the happy campers.
I’d been fortunate to ride out an ever escalating series of deep cuts. The first group is always tough but usually composed of people who were sort of skating by. The second cut, you feel it as deeply as those we let go. These are valued friends and colleagues whose absence will be felt. By the third cut, we’re talking earthquake in the Pacific with a tsunami due by noontime. Devastating!!!
And, yet, I lived to tell my tale each time.
But I knew the end was nigh. See, my client had already provided us with notice that they were leaving. We had an end date in mind and I knew that through the termination of their contract, I’d be locked in to the job, running the conversion project and helping usher them out with the same level of care and professionalism as if they were just waltzing through our door. But – I knew that on the back end of that, after we had gone through a number of reductions, there wasn’t much waiting for me. And nobody is going to pay somebody a ton of scratch to do nothing but sit around and scratch all day.
And it’s as simple as that. I wasn’t let go for personal or professional reasons. I was on the greatest of terms with everyone I worked with and had built close ties with a number of our clients, not just my direct contacts. And news of my parting was bittersweet, all around, I think. This was purely business necessity.
So, I know without a shadow of a doubt that if there was work to be done, I’d still be there. But knowing that doesn’t do enough to ward off the nagging notion that I was cut for the 2nd time in my career. Hell, the financial world isn’t even my dream destination – I fell into it when I needed something to enable me to vault from the nest and crash with my compadres post-college. One year at that first job and then I’d mosey on to something more rewarding. That was the mission statement, anyway.
That’s when things got Lost and JJ Abrams’ trademarked “Whoosh” kicks in. Next thing you know, it’s 15 years later and you’re autographing your e-mail signature with the VP designation.
So it may not have been my great love, but I genuinely liked what I was doing and I really liked the people I worked with. And that was what hit hardest after I sifted through my various contingency plans for making sure my kids still had dental check-ups. I have no doubt that I am absolutely the right candidate for any job out there (well, any in my wheelhouse) and I think a number of companies would be glad to have me. That’s not hubris. Normally, I’m very humble but when it comes to work, I feel like I toss on that hat with aplomb and really give whatever job it is, rock solid effort and dedication.
I’m the right guy for the job, provided there is a job to be had. And that’s the gray matter that so many of us displaced find ourselves pondering.
So, now the two roads loom before me.
On one hand, I have the opportunity to reinvent. To steal from Quantum Leap and make right what once went wrong. Find a career that really calls to me.
A job is a task.
A career is a life.
When you find yourself looking forward to another day in the proverbial “salt mines”, then you know you’ve found your true calling. That’s why National Geographic photographers never bitch that they have to wake up early the next day to take photos of mating Macaws on Kilimanjaro. Besides, there’s always the oft-chance they’ll run across co-ed naked pygmy wrestling.
On the other hand, that clock is ticking. I’ve got some time, thanks to my exit package, to look but it’s not infinite. And I know that when the buzzer rings, there’s no overtime. And if I’m not able to pull out the game winning touchdown, the angry crowd will start with the goal posts and eventually tear down my entire stadium. And what lies beyond that are dark pastures that I dare not tread upon.
So, I sit here in flux. I would love to chase my passion but I’ve got to be responsible too. I just hope that I don’t have to settle. That I can find something that really gives me a charge and makes waking each day a pleasant notion.
As I stare down the remains of this day – and all those hazy days of uncertainty that stretch through the remainder of this beguiling summer, I realize that I need a new goal. The weight’s been shed. It’s time to eliminate all this subtraction and layer in some building blocks.
The first order of business is to find the job and hopefully not just any job. The first time I was laid off (2001), I benefited through a sizable leap in pay. As my beautiful, supportive and incredibly patient wife Andi encourages, maybe this time I’ll find a job that I truly enjoy (provided it lets us keep a similar quality of life).
So that’s the main goal.
But, in the last few days, I’ve reached an epiphany. Five completely unrelated people – with me as the only common denominator – on different days in different places offered up the same marching orders.
“You really ought to write a book.”
It’s a great idea scuttled by one small but significant fact. I’m not so sure I can write to save my life. Now, I’m not a complete dolt and know that I’ve got a good gig on this blog where I lay bare the dusty cupboards of my mind and let y’all in on my innermost thoughts – but a lot of this is stream of consciousness babble. Writing a book takes a calculated plan, a deft handle on the craft of writing and (shudder)… research.
And it takes an idea that someone out there might be interested in following your breadcrumbs through to its final destination.
And that’s the part the freezes me solid. I’ve got a number of ideas in mind but no solid plan. I think I write best when I write from the hip. When I just let the thoughts flow from fingers to keyboard. It’s akin to those great midnight conversations we all have with our closest friends. The ones that begin on one solid topic (say – that smokin’ hot barista at Starbucks) and then duck, dodge and wail the night away, chasing every runaway tangent down every rabbit hole before the dawn breaks and you hope against all hope that one of you was secretly wired and will be able to provide a transcript of the night’s proceedings (with express written consent, of course).
Anyway, those are the conversations worth capturing and I think I’ve targeted my writing style to try and replicate that sensation. It would be impossible to match the dizzying high that great conversation injects, but that’s the goal anyway. Steal a little of that lightning.
And that’s where I shudder when facing down a book. Because in addition to a fully fleshed out idea, I also need to reign myself in. And that takes discipline. And these days – I aim to misbehave.
At the very least, I need to pay attention to Morgan Freeman’s sage advice to Andy Dufresne in Shawshank. Get busy living or get busy writing. Something like that, anyway.
Wait a minute. Now that I think of it, that may have been Jenna Jamieson who coined the phrase, in which case replace “writing” with “writhing”.
In any case, I’m shrinking in a number of ways and I really feel I need to go the opposite direction.
I need to grow.