Saturday, October 2, 2010

Recession Lessons

'It'll be nice to take you out for sushi', I confessed to my girlfriend.
'Or bring home flowers every week...' She gives me a wry smile.

Over the last two years, after losing a job I really enjoyed but which was victim of the housing and the consequent credit crisis, my life has become an exercise in contraction as I became - just like many others, underemployed.

I am very grateful that I had clients who were appreciative of my work and kept my head above water with new projects and who paid fairly consistently.
Others have had it much worse with little or no work to keep them mentally and emotionally active and one step in front of the wolves at the door, so I'm keenly aware just how lucky I am.

But as with anyone in business in a challenging economic period, some of my clients discovered ways closer to home to spend their ever precious revenue and it became clear to me that I might need to re-enter the ranks of my culinary brothers and sisters manning the kitchens of operations all too aware that they need to work harder than ever to secure their profit line; and with little else to whittle away I saw job postings with smaller and smaller annual salaries and hourly rates.

I revamped my resume, worked at broadening my networks, worked my vendors, associates and friends for job leads. Even a recent Irish wake for a dear friend of mine became a networking event as the crowd filled with people In The Biz who I hadn't seen in years. Business cards were exchanged, meetings arranged, phone calls promised. Everyone seemed to be in the same position as I, needing work and looking for an advocate, any advocate; someone to help get past the gate keepers of the jobs we most wanted.

At home, it became essentials only, carefully planned trips to the grocer and leftovers for lunch; nothing was left to chance and when we needed it the most, money came in the nick of time to take care of what was most important next; rent, electric, car insurance, groceries.

Chess, backgammon, dominoes or card playing became a nightly ritual; ways in which to stay connected in the midst of the stress of making the next payment, the worry of how many hours of work there had been that week - the realization that such worry was taking me further and further away from those that I love; that if I wasn't careful I could, very easily, insulate myself against the world, cocooned by my stress and disconnected from those that keep me sane, and against all odds - laughing; lightened and strengthened for tomorrow's possibilities.

It's been an emotional roller coaster of questioning, gauging the marketplace, promising leads that ultimately lead nowhere; times of self reflection, getting clear about what I really wanted and thinking about what I really need; it felt to me that life and it's circumstance had provided me with an opportunity to clear the decks and get really connected about what I wanted my life to be about and tangentially what would make up my life.

So I got some real work in; some of it wasn't pretty but it was all necessary.

Now, it would seem, I'm in the running for a job that would really inspire me, will really groove me, push me and cause me to really grow - as a professional and a person. And with it comes the reality that all things really do work out for the best, even if we don't know what that looks like because had I taken a job below my skill level or experience set just to have a job then I certainly wouldn't be in the position I am today - with what looks like the possibility of having my dream job.

So what have I learned?
That a strong sense of self and faith in the process is more important than any 401K
That health, family and friends are really the only currency that matters
And that all else, may it be sushi or flowers, is negotiable and is only just icing on the cake.

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