Monday, April 30, 2012

Going to the Dogs Part 1

I'm trundling along in the job search project. Today was a relative good day; Friday had me feeling low and useless. So as expected, this is an up-and-down prospect, and there will be many more ups and downs before it's all over, I'm sure.

So I'm swapping topics for today. I've already blogged (some) about my career. And my music. And now it's time to address the third leg of the milk stool that is my life.


I have always been a dog lover. I was the child who would pull Mommy's arm to the owner of a dog walking by and beg to pet him or her. And that trend continues; even now, on vacation, if I spot a dog being walked nearby, I feel compelled to stop the owner, ask if I can say hello, and squat down to scrungle an ear or get a kiss. Much to the embarrassment of my teenage daughters.

As a child, we had a dog, Dusky, a Lab mix. He came our way in an odd set of circumstances, thanks to Dad. Dad's cousin is a veterinarian who now has quite a lucrative practice in California. But back then, he was local, and he introduced our family to the joys--and trials--of dog ownership

Dad was also a dog lover, regaling us regularly with stories of a dog he had when he was younger, Trixie. I always thought Trixie was a girl; somehow, in my mind, I linked "her" with the character of Trixie in The Honeymooners (which was still in a regular rotation of reruns when I was a kid), as played by Joyce Randolph. 

But Trixie was a boy. So named, I later learned, for his ability to do "tricks."

Anyway, Dad always wanted to bring a dog into the house, but along the way, Mom resisted. 

Until the opportunity to get Dusky came along, thanks to his cousin the vet.

I don't know all the circumstances in Dusky's need for a home, whether he was part of an "oops" litter or was simply a leftover dog that needed a home.

But he came our way early one summer when I was perhaps five or six years old (so this would have been 1968 or so).

Unfortunately, Dusky didn't stay with us very long. 

First, he had medical issues. And again, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I do remember that he had an allergic reaction to a vaccination, and one of his eyes turned a milky gray. I'm not sure if he lost the sight in that eye or not; it's possible.

The other problem with Dusky is that he never quite got the idea of house-training.

And remember, in that day, crate training wasn't nearly as common as it is today (I happen to be a devoted fan of crate training, having worked through it with dogs of my own and helped other with it along the way). 

So Dusky was messy. And his medical issues proved expensive.

The final straw in Dusky's permanence in our house was his nipping. Dusky wasn't very well socialized (again, dog psychology then wasn't what it is today, and we were never quite sure of his parentage or the diligence with which his breeder attended to him). In short, he nipped. A lot. And I seemed to be the constant object of his teething. So most of my memories of Dusky are rather painful, and I'm not talking emotionally.

And these factors drew Mom's patience very short.

And so one afternoon, upon arriving home from school, Dusky had exited our happy home, taken by Mom to "...a large farm with rolling green lawns and lots of other dogs with whom he could run and play and enjoy the rest of his life."

Uh. Yeah.

But Dusky planted some seeds that took root, seeds that eventually led me to incorporate dogs into my daily life and appreciate their charms and humorous quirks.

NB: The photos below show my older brother Paul with Dusky, not me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Importance of Doing Something Important

It wasn't hard to figure out that my present job was going south (sign #1: your immediate boss says exactly three words to you in the course of an entire day: "Good Morning" [a conditioned response, no doubt, to your own "Good Morning"] and "Bye" [another conditioned response to your own "See 'ya tomorrow!"]).

So my dismissal was not a complete shock, despite being a complete disappointment. 

I had had ill feelings about my work for some time. Most of it stemming from the overwhelming evidence that what I was doing may have been important to someone else (my immediate boss, her immediate boss, and, I suppose, my colleagues and internal clients), but it didn't feel very important to me.

Underpinning this discontent was a number of factors, including the thought that I couldn't shake. That at almost 50 years old, with 20+ years' experience, I should have been further along in my professional life than I was.

For example, at 50, my father was in a very different place.

My father, who passed away in 2006, was an engineer for the U.S. Department of the Navy, a job he held for his entire career. His projects mainly centered around designing aircraft carriers. It was a perfect fit for him, as he excelled in math and science and was very left-brained.

Case in point: In August 1973, shortly after it opened, our family drove from our suburban Philadelphia home to the newly minted Walt Disney World. While there, we enjoyed the rides and parades and shows. But Dad's attention was often focused on the design elements of the layout of the park. Why, you could see him calculating, does this queue bend this way rather than that way? What was the thinking behind this ride being positioned next to that ride?

Walt Disney World became one giant puzzle for him, and although he enjoyed himself immensely, it was interesting for us to watch an engineer adrift in an environment where everything was engineered. 

At any rate, Dad's work was important. People's lives depended on it, on a daily basis.

The same was the case for my mother. Mom was an R.N. So her work was clearly important. And people's lives certainly depended on her skill, accuracy, knowledge, experience, and yes, heart.

Interestingly, Mom was an R.N. 24/7. So growing up, it was never a surprise to see her leap into action and offer medical assistance. I've seen her instantaneously toss aside her suburban motherhood role in seconds and offer medical help to supermarket shoppers who experience a sudden onset of shortness of breath. And little league players who were beaned by an errant curve ball. And car accident victims she just happened to pass on the highway.

As a writer in a marketing department, it was difficult for me to feel the same kind of passion for my work. I suppose in a roundabout way, it is possible to believe that the work mattered; after all, my family was dependent on my doing it successfully. But to think of it terms of lives on the line is a stretch.

Which may go to the point that I chose the wrong career in the first place. And believe me, at 50 years old, after a series of jobs that often left me feeling burnt out and spent, it is something I have considered. But with three kids, a wife, and a Labrador Retriever depending on me, it's tough to chuck the English Major background and move onto something else at this point.

So I shouldered on. Despite my position becoming less and less about communications and more and more about what I considered to be some really crummy tasks:

  • Transcribing meeting recordings, capturing -- by hand -- what was said and by whom, a task that literally took hours
  • Copying and binding of hundreds of pages of printed materials, again representing a huge commitment of time
  • Mail duties, including stuffing envelopes, affixing addresses, and sealing them, which, in addition to being deadly dull, was also a gigantic time-suck

Not exactly what I went to college for. In fact, these are among the very tasks I went to college to avoid.

But truthfully, even the above tasks -- as distasteful as they were -- would have been palatable had they ended with a sincere expression of gratitude from those for whom I did them.

But often, the responses comprised one of three reactions:

  1. Utter silence, meaning neither praise nor condemnation
  2. The assignation of yet another task ("Here, now do this, please...")
  3. Criticism

My sincere hope is that I can find importance in whatever position is next for me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weighing Heavily on My Mind

It's funny -- isn't it -- how work pretty much defines our days. We're up at the same time, onto those early morning things like breakfast-cooking or showering, off to the office.

  • 8:30: Check that email
  • 9:15: Pour the second cup of coffee
  • 10:45: First meeting of the day
  • 1:00: Time for lunch
Etc. Etc.

And without that structure, it's easy to feel a little lost.

To combat that, I'm trying to establish a routine and stick to it. And although it's less of an hour-by-hour schedule, it does represent some structure.

First off, my unemployment day is starting off much like my employment days did: Up and out with the dog. We've got a one-year-old Labrador Retriever, and if he's under-exercised, he can be quite a handful. So my habit was -- and is -- to get him out and walking for at least a mile or two. That way, his energy level remains controllable when he's back in the house. And we've attended to the necessary potty issues.

Second, I'm trying to maintain a more established exercise routine.

In the waning weeks of my current employment, when the stress levels just reached the stratosphere, I was becoming quite negligent in getting a daily dose of exercise, other than walking the dog.

My weight was starting to creep up. And I was getting caught in a vicious circle: More weight, less energy, less energy, fewer reserves to fight the depression that was inherent in every workday, more depression, less energy. And on and on.

Back in 2008, I underwent a radical change in my eating habit and dropped about 80 pounds. It was definitely time, as, at that age, I had no business being 253 pounds. My heart was at risk (the genes were against me, as my Dad had a heart attack at the ripe age of 53). My blood sugars were at risk (Mom had a history of diabetes). And I had developed a whopping case of sleep apnea, waking 44 times per hour, according to the sleep study I underwent.

Anyway, thanks to some diligence, the South Beach Diet, and the support of my family, those pounds were peeled off, and I vowed never to allow them to return.

Until my work situation soured.

It seems that every setback, every project gone awry, every ounce of criticism from the higher ups sent me to the snack machine for yet another bad choice. Guilt would follow. And then apathy. And then justification: I was having a sucky day, wasn't I? So I was entitled to this bag of pretzels. And a second one, if I damned well pleased.

Well the result is I've regained some of the weight I fought so hard to lose. But the good news is that it was only 15 pounds' worth. And it does seem to be dropping as I'm back to running and condition-training 5x a week.

I expect the excess flab to be but a distant memory before I re-join the ranks of the actively employed.

The one thing I'm trying to avoid in mapping out my daily schedule is an over-reliance on television to keep me occupied.

Finding a 40-hour-a-week job is a 40-hour-a-week job, so I've read. So although reruns of Match Game '74 are alluring, my intention is to resist, knuckle down, and get back on a payroll ASAP!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Form Here to Eternity

I'd love to meet the geniuses who design online forms for job applications. 

I understand that their task is a difficult one: Assemble a methodology to collect the most amount of information from the widest audience of candidates and package it so that:

  1. Some internal program can, in an automated and oh-so-efficient manner, scan the text for keywords that match the criteria for the opening, and
  2. A hiring manager or HR rep can then save time and effort by reviewing only the paperwork that represents the most likely fit.

But understanding the reasoning doesn't lessen the pain of interacting with these systems.

Step One usually presents the opportunity to upload an existing resume. Well isn't that a convenience! Most job hunters have a soft-copy resume at hand (does anyone snail-mail resumes anymore? I didn't think so), so the technology to conveniently upload it for assessment is a great first step.

*Click.* Browse. Open. Attach. Zoom.

Up in seconds. We're moving now!

But that's just Step One. We are nowhere near the promised land of Submit just yet. It's not even on the horizon.

The uploaded resume is quickly scanned, and Step Two comprises the tasks associated with verifying the results of Step One.

Initially, this is a simple matter of confirming, for example, that your first and last name have been accurately picked up. Address is good. City/state. Phone. Email. Yup. We're batting a thousand here.

Step Three is where things begin to get complex. Somewhere around Step Three, you're being asked to create a username and password.

In general, your email makes a terrific username:

  • It's readily at hand (but hey, wasn't my email recognized by Step One? So why can't it be prefilled here so that... oh never mind!)
  • You're not apt to forget it
  • It saves you the embarrassment of registering for a site using something like Desperate_and_Going_Steadily_Broke. Unless, of course, your email address is In which case, you probably want a more professionally sounding email address.

And that darned password. Must be between 8 and 30 characters. Must have a symbol. And an uppercase/lowercase distinction. Oh, and we'd like it in Sanskrit, please. But please translate it into Pig Latin first, then submit in Sanskrit.

All of this registration is to enable you to check on the status of your application and perhaps return to the site and apply for other jobs with lickety-split ease. Except that nobody really returns to corporate websites to see how it's going with that six-figure c-suite job they're angling for. If you didn't get a call, it's a pretty safe bet you've not been short-listed.

And as far as re-applying, by the time you investigate additional opportunities at the same organization (out of desperation, because we're heading further and further into that Steadily Going Broke phase), you've completely forgotten your original username and password.

So, on first visits, password validity is usually just a matter of conforming to the seemingly arbitrary rules of password-setting. 8-30 characters. One upper-case character. One symbol. Pig Latin. Then Sanskrit. Got it!

For returnees, the login process can easily become a guessing game. Okay, let's go with the email addy as a username. Bingo! We're in. Almost.

Password. Password. Hmmm. MonKeyBrain666? No, that's my work password. Studly#G1U1Y? No, that's the one to fishFINZ&&? Wrong again!

And now you're locked out.

But fear not, intrepid job applicant. We can send your password to your handy-dandy email address. Provided you can supply us with the answer to our Secret Question: How many hair follicles were on your uncle's cousin's neighbor in 1952?

The truly frustrating part of all this is twofold:

  1. The employer has you basically over a barrel. You need the job; therefore, you're willing -- eager even -- to jump all these hoops if necessary. Multiple times, in fact, if you fall victim to the dreaded session timeout demon.
  2. Things being what they are, even if you wend your way though this online labyrinth, get a phone-call interview, pass that hurdle, and get authorized for a 1:1 meeting with your prospective employer... chances are one of the first things you'll get upon arrival is a blank application -- paper version -- requesting the exact same info.
Ah technology. How it transforms our daily lives!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Look, Ma! I'm Blogging!


I'm a little unsure of where all this is headed. But here goes. After much thought, I'm blogging.

If nothing else, I certainly have the time.

It has been afforded to me courtesy of my employer, who, late last week, saw fit to show me to the door after 10+ years of service.

Like a romance gone sour, there were reasons on both sides, but they don't really matter right now, do they? As I was being dismissed, I was told verbatim: "It wasn't enough," meaning my attempts at improvement that were designed to save myself. "It wasn't enough, and you've got to go."

So I packed my desk -- is there a more humiliating task under the sun -- and exited.

It is a somewhat heavy load upon my shoulders, at present. I'm the father of three girls: one in college (19 years old), one in high school (15 years old), and one in elementary school (11 years old). Joining them as dependents is a one-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, who requires a daily allotment of kibble and exercise. One of those represents a budget item on our monthly ledger -- small, but it's there. I'll also turn 50 this coming December, which might make any future career moves of mine a little difficult, even in a good economy. In today's markets, we shall see.

But I am hopeful. On the upside is the love and support of those three daughters, and that dog, and their lovely mother, to whom I have been wedded for 24 years.

In addition, I do have some supplementary income, in addition to the coin I was making by writing, editing, PR, and marking work I was doing professionally. I am a church organist at our local Catholic parish within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a skill I picked up as a kid and have used to my advantage ever since (in a pinch, in our leaner years, a funeral fee often put some additional Christmas gifts under the tree for the kids).

So all is not completely lost.

And I do believe that God, as I perceive him to be, has my best interests at heart.

When I packed that desk to go, I brought home with me a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum, thank you Google, it's a house plant for those not horticulturally savvy) that had been given to me as thanks for a high-profile job well done (back when I was still providing a job well done, apparently).

That Peace Lily sat on a shelf at the office for years, getting larger along the way, but never blooming.

Not once.

It was leafy and green and lush, but without flower.

And when I brought it home, I absentmindedly placed it on our front porch, where it could enjoy the late-spring sunshine and warmth that were encouraging growth in my wife's other house plants.

And the very next morning, as I walked out the front door, I noticed it.

The plant had bloomed. There was a single, slipper-shaped lily stretching upward from one of the fronds.


I'll take that as a sign, thank you. I think we'll be okay...