Thursday, September 9, 2010

565 Days

Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today...

A Long Cold Trip.
I still can't really wrap my head around it. I still haven't figured out all the lessons from it. At times it felt like a long vacation, but more often than not, it felt like I was stuck in the movie Ground Hog Day. The same day over and over. At the start it was kind of liberating. It allowed me to experience life a little bit differently without the 9 to 5 grind. But it got old quickly and reality soon set in. And towards the end, it was suffocating. It was a long cold 565 days.

What The Hell Am I Talking About?
I'm talking about 565 days of unemployment. From January 15, 2009 through August 3, 2010, I was one of the roughly 9.6 percent or 14.6 million Americans out of work. (Although, I did do some part time work during that time frame) And for a big chunk of that, I was considered long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more). A term I could have never imagined would be used to describe me at any point in my career. I cringed every time I heard the term. I thought a college degree would insulate me from such difficulties. I thought seven years of work experience would count for something. And in the end it did, but it took 565 days of patience and persistence to rescue a job and in some ways parts of myself.

The Start of the End.
To be honest, as I sat in my former Silicon Valley office with my boss back in January of 2010 and he told me that I was being laid off, I was kind of relieved. I had known since October of 2009, when I started reading about things like the Sequoia Powerpoint Presentation of Doom, that the startup company I was working for was in trouble. Cut costs, and raise capital, became the mantra. My projects weren't making any money for the company, so I knew I'd eventually become one of the cuts. And after another two months of uncertainty, the ax finally fell on me and the people I worked closest with that January.

Mentally, I was prepared for some time off. But, little did I know how much time off I had just received.

A Reason?
I immediately took on the belief that I was being put into this position for some type of reason. And the reason’s, some bad and some good, quickly presented themselves. Because of being laid off, I was immediately able to take an important trip that otherwise would not have been possible. Sadly, My grandmother in England passed away about the same time I was laid off. Due to a lot of different circumstances, none of our family was going to be able to travel the great distances to Oxford, England to attend her service. But, within a week of being laid off and knowing that I had a clear schedule, I booked a flight to England to be there. It was an amazingly powerful trip, that found me back in England for the first time since the age of 7. And it allowed me to understand so much about my family, myself and my past. But, it also left me realizing (as cliché as it sounds) that no matter what happens in life you have to live everyday. It’s a trip I'll remember for the rest of my life. It's a trip that shaped my entire viewpoint of how I would deal with long term unemployment. If I'd been working, that trip wouldn't have been possible for me. So, I'll take that as a sign from some place. (At some point, I'm going to put that trip into writing.)

Upon my return from England, I began what would become a very long job search. I threw myself into networking and creating a million different versions of my resume. I was confident in myself and abilities, even as the stock market tumbled and terms like the “great recession” found there way into the popular consciousness.

Although, I was looking hard for a job, I was also being sure to take advantage of this time off by spending a day or two per week exploring. After all, I was living in the Bay Area, which to me remains one of the most beautiful and diverse areas I’ve every experienced. As a bonus, the sunny weather of Feb and March prevented me from getting too down about my predicament.

Continuing with my philosophy of not wanting to waste the opportunity of this time off, In March of 2009, I drove from San Jose to Peoria, AZ to spend a couple of days at Seattle Mariners spring training. Normally, I'd never of had this opportunity to take the time to do this. But, it turned out to be a great adventure that I have fond memories of.

May of 2009 was a tough month, as Tonja lost her grandmother. But, once again, my open schedule allowed me to spend a lot of time in Spokane trying to help out anyway that I could.

By the end of May of 2009, I'd had a few leads for jobs in the Bay Area, but nothing worked out. And at this point I had a vague idea that we might be moving back to Seattle later that year. So, as a result my job search began to shift to looking for Seattle jobs. But, with the bad economy, it was pretty difficult to get people to take a look at your resume if you had an out of town address. So although I continued to look for opportunities, in the back of mind, I figured I'd have better luck once we actually returned to Seattle.

And finally in August of 2009, we got back to Seattle. I was optimistic that I could quickly reconnect with old business contacts and find some strong job leads. Little did I know I was in for almost another full year of disappointment.

Worse before Better.
The bleakness of the job market in Seattle last fall and winter was a bit of a wake up call for me. Old contacts were glad to hear from me, but many of them were facing their own career uncertainty. As a result, job leads were sparse.

In addition, I continued to struggle with defining exactly what it was that I'd done in my career and how it would translate into a new position. I'd enjoyed the sports industry, but felt I'd done as much as I could do in that area of event entertainment. My experience with online marketing was great, but a little too brief for me to be considered for a similar role.

I'd go to networking meetings and introduce myself and people would give me a puzzled look when I explained my career experience. Most failed to see how I was going to translate my experience entertaining crowds of 8,000 people or creating online contests into a new job for a traditional company. Hell, I failed to see how my experiences transferred as well.

A Fear of Risk or Sour Grapes?
The reality became that I wasn't going to be able to find a traditional marketing role. Which to be honest really pissed me off.

I looked at and applied to countless marketing and event companies that touted their ability to think outside the box and push the envelope with their marketing and event planning. This seemed like a great fit for my skills. How much more outside the box can my experience be? How many people have managed a 7' tall bear on ice skates and repelled him from 60 feet in the air with fireworks attached to his arms? How many people created and executed brand building contests that pitted people riding an exercise bike in an YMCA in Buffalo, NY with someone in a health club in San Diego. Yet, when it came down to it. Rather than take a risk in this economy with someone who might bring some new ideas or processes to their team, They hired the same "agency experienced" people who bounce around from one agency to another. In the process they recycle the same ideas over and over without looking outside their industry.

I’ll digress here for a minute, but in my view, this recession has been a determinate to "creative" companies and the hiring of people with new ideas. Which I'd imagine will have some impact on their ability to innovate. In my opinion, the recession has caused companies to not have to compromise on any of the experiences that they are looking for in new employees. Companies have no reason to hire from outside their industry because they've got 20 applicants who match their job description to a T from within their same industry. As a result they're bringing in people with the exact same industry ideas. While in a good economy, with fewer applicants a company might be more likely to hire across industries, resulting in a new person bringing in new ideas and perspectives from their previous industry. From my experience working in a somewhat "creative" industry, the failure to bring in new ideas will hurt a company. End rant. And maybe this is just sour grapes on my part.

Dazed to Enthused.
During the first part of this year, I found myself as a finalist for a few positions, but eventually lost out to other candidates who’s experience “more closely matched” the job description. It left me lost. My professional background didn’t match any job description. And if that was all people were looking for I was screwed.

During March and April, I really had no idea what I was going to do. But, I pushed it all aside to focus on our wedding. But, when the the rush and excitement of the wedding cleared, I still had no ideas. I started to grasp at straws, by looking for jobs back in the sports industry, which best matched my experience. But, they were far and few between. I really was lost. I truly began to believe that I would never find another job in my career field.

And then one day or night it hit me. Beer.

I don’t know if I’d been drinking a beer when I came to this decision, but at some point I came to the conclusion that my event and marketing skills would really fit well in the beer industry. And in Seattle, beer was doing pretty well even during this recession. When I shared this epiphany with others, they didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm. I’ll admit after being out of work for over a year, looking for a job in the beer industry probably made me look desperate. But, hell I was desperate. In another few weeks, I’d consider myself lucky if I was serving beer.

But, I knew it was the right move, because for the first time during my entire job search, I got excited about the idea. So, I went about networking and contacting as many people in the industry as I could find. And at some point my enthusiasm paid off. And after a few more long weeks of networking, I quite literally stumbled across a job opportunity that was a perfect fit for my experience and my joy and knowledge of beer. After making it through three more rounds of interviews I had finally rescued a job. And not just a job, but a job in the beer industry. A job that I was genuinely excited about. A job that would tap (pun intended) into my experiences, but also allow me to expand my event and industry knowledge. I really couldn’t believe it…and still can’t.

I started my job in early August. And I really feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world right now. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a job at all, let alone a job that I’m so excited about. So, in the end it was all worth it.

What Does it Mean?
So after 565 days…I’m asking the same questions as the Double Rainbow Guy. What does it mean?

I really don’t know what it means but I’ve learned some things. To be clear, I know there are a lot of people who face far greater challenges everyday of their lives. So, as much as this was a challenge for me, I realize that on the grand scheme of things, it’s not that significant. But, I think the personal lessons learned are significant.

In addition to the things I’ve mentioned. I’ve learned to be more appreciative of each day. And the opportunities that come with each day.

And I’m not just thankful for finding a job, but thankful that I had the luxury of time. I know there are a lot of people and families who are hurting during this recession who don’t have that luxury. Despite the length of my unemployment, through a combination of preparedness, time of life luck, and frugality (3 cheers for my Honda), the financial threats were minimal. I can’t imagine trying to of gotten through this while trying to support a family or pay a mortgage. So, as much as I might have gotten down about my situation, I knew it could be much worse. It's left me wanting to try and help in some way, just not sure how yet.

Thanks to my family for their support. I think the stress wore on my mom as much as it did on me. And thanks to my friends for not treating me different through all of this, even though at times I felt a little disconnected.

And of course thank you to Tonja, for not kicking me to the street corner. ☺ We went through a lot during this period of time, including planning our wedding and getting married. My biggest regret is that we had the stress of my unemployment lagging on us during the otherwise exciting and happy time of our engagement and wedding. But, throughout my job search, Tonja was patient with me, even if there were times she was confused about my methods. (To be fair, I was confused about my methods at times.) And we’ll probably face much greater challenges during our life together, but I’m proud that we handled this one positively.

And I think that’s the number one take away from all of this. As cliché as it sounds, you’ve got to stay positive. There will be good days and bad days, but everyday is important, because we’ve only got a finite number of them. The bad days make the good days that much sweeter. And the prospect of good days make the bad days bearable. But, they all make up life. And life is pretty good.


  1. Matt -

    Your finest writing to date. Well done.

    And congratulations on the job - I can't believe what a perfect fit it is! I am looking forward to all those comp beers...


  2. Thank you. It was good therapy for me to write, even if it's not the most interesting read.

    For sure. I'm definitely enjoying the job and a few comp beers here and there. :)

  3. you are such an excellent writer, Matt. I thought it was a very interesting read, and congrats on the new job that seems like it will be a perfect fit!


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