Saturday, April 30, 2011

Workin' it out (...83)

12 mile run in Boston

Today I added the "Daily Mile" widget to my blog.  Once I joined, it's a simple click and the widget appears.  What a fun way to track my miles!

Since this blog is about finding satisfying work, I think it makes sense to take note of the things I firmly sink my teeth into on a regular basis.  My training is the first thing that comes to mind.  I'm a happy person if I can fit in a weekly swim, bike and run workout.  I'm even more delighted if I can train with friends and see cool sites.  An example:  This morning a 12 mile run with a friend took us through Boston, along the harbor, and back into the city.  It was a windy, arduous workout.  And invigorating!

Several things draw me to train: the health benefits, the fun of competition, and my friends.  But I think what stands out most is the experience of continuously improving on my fitness and skill.  In regards to training, slowly and steadily learning to master my sport is the only carrot I need. 

Can I find this type of experience in my next job?  I want to be in a workplace environment where my efforts are encouraged and my development as an employee is connected to the success of the company.  Too few times have I felt this was the case.  More often, I've been given the impression that sticking to the routine was valued more than trying to improve the routine.  It's the kind of experience that makes me want to go for a run.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Taking care of Royal Busyness (...84)

Over the last week I became distracted by all the Royal Wedding business.  Last night while eating dinner I was channel flipping between “E,” “20/20” and another news show to see all the pomp and circumstance planned for today’s ceremony.  I taped the morning shows covering the live wedding and watched them at 9am for 3 hours.  It was perfect entertainment while I took care of business for the day.  Here’s what that covered:

Waiting for two plumbers to replace a pipe from which the entire building’s water supply was flowing freely into the basement out of a 6-inch hole.  This sounds worse than it turned out to be. 

 Clearing out and rearranging the shelves in my condo to make a space for my new printer and other supplies.  It's the start of a small at home office.  It won't look like a page from Real Simple with the ubiquitous magnetic containers of paper clips and tacks hanging on the mall. This will be more like a den of supplies I can pull out during the day and hide away at night.

Printing and filling out my COBRA application.  As interesting as it sounds.

Baking another loaf of bread (the 4th since I’ve been laid off).  The smell, the taste, and the bread-baking process are soooooooo pleasing to me.  And a soothing way to counteract laptop fatigue and hunger pangs.

After these little missions were complete, I took a walk in the sun to soak up desperately needed Vitamin D.  It was an unusually warm, 70 degree, gorgeous April day that made being laid off a little more tolerable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Good Company (...85)

 "Ketzel Uprooted" is a blog by a former NPR correspondent, Ketzel Levine, who was laid off in December, 2008 while doing a series about the impact of layoffs, "American Moxie."  As a journalist, she is adept at telling her story and I enjoy knowing her perspective.  Her early posts are comforting to somebody new to the layoff scene because she admits shared feelings.  Here's an excerpt from her first entry:
"All right, bullshit aside, Ketzel Uprooted is my newly created blog, my first step towards reasserting my right to take up space despite having been taken off the air. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not bitter. OK, so maybe I feel a little betrayed. But when the company you love finds itself operating at a 23 million dollar deficit, come on, something's got to give.  But damn it, not my self-esteem."
I especially like that Ketzel is a former NPR employee.  I relate to her feeling of being let down by a longtime employer while also understanding its budget constraints.  I was laid off from WGBH, the public television station in Boston which has been cutting wages and staff since 2009.  A recent article, "Dead Air," in Boston Magazine discusses WGBH's financial challenges, its battle with the local union over contract negotiations, and its strained relationship with the city over it's tax exempt status.  The article is full of accusations about the station and it's president, but it's nothing that hasn't been written in other recent articles around Boston.  It did, however, remind me of how many of my former colleagues and I have felt for a while about the atmosphere at WGBH:  depressed.  Even when working on exciting projects, the office scene felt grim.  Empty offices and cubicles were a reminder of missing staff members.

In recent days I've emailed with several other WGBH employees who were laid off this year and last year.  Now that I'm one of the missing staff members, I felt the need to reach out and hear how fellow WGBH-ers addressed the challenges of a layoff.  Like Ketzel writes in her blog, "If you want to swap stories or strategies or just need a shoulder to cry on...I'm...grateful for the company." 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

1 Mental Health Day is Good, 2 is Better (...86 days)

Paris lunch, April 2010
Today I worked out, bought a printer (a requirement for this layoff period), Spring cleaned my condo (part, not all), looked for deals on an iphone attachment I need, and ate lunch with a jolly, dashingly handsome Irishman, my friend Alan. 

Alan and I had lunch at Petit Robert, a French cafe in the South End, alfresco style.  It was a gorgeous April afternoon!  We gladly sat outside reminiscing about our three week vacation in Paris last year where we sipped cappuccinos and gawked at impressively stylish Parisians.  We didn't mean to take a 3 week vacation (it sounds so luxurious doesn't it!).  We planned for 1 week but got "ashed-in" along with some other friends when Iceland's Volcano erupted.  Those weeks were similar to how I'm feeling right now, in layoff land:  I'm uncertain of how long I'll be stuck here and of how much I can relax and enjoy my myself.

Luckily, when I'm out with a friend enjoying a meal, it's hard not to pretend my new gig is being "a lady who lunches."  I get out from under my laptop, put on some nice duds, and head out to a restaurant.  Gratefully, I've had invitations from good friends to meet for lunch during their work break up my "work" day.  When I'm on my way to meet a friend, I kinda feel like one of those women about town that I see all dressed up but with seemingly no obligations.  Where do they work? What do they do?  How do they have time to enjoy the weather, strolling down Newbury street?  I don't really want to do that with my free time, but I do think about what their lives might be like being able to choose their work, unconcerned about income.

I'd love to have more free time than I did with my job, as I think everybody does.  But, want I want most is to find a job that I can sink my teeth into and for which I have enduring energy.  I have that with all my personal projects:  I'm diligent, undistracted, and prolific.  Challenges are compelling, not burdensome.  And the only reward I need is my own satisfaction.  Of course, I'm not a "lady who lunches" and all that it implies.  I need to earn money to make personal projects possible. However, this blog is the Ruskin Project, to find work that I can put my heart into.  So, I need to find work that combines my interests and an income.  And that's what I plan to do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pillow Talk (...87 days)

For about two weeks now, my sister has been talking to me about trying to find the right indoor/outdoor pillows for her deck.  Today she asked me if I’d go to a local outlet center to shop for them with her.  This activity seemed well suited to my tired brain.  After spending most of the day yesterday with my laptop, making phone calls, and planning for “worst case scenarios,” I took my sis up on her invitation.  Most of today was still spent on layoff-related work, but it felt good to walk away from my computer in the evening and take a break from planning for disaster!  Plus, helping my sister shop for pillows was fun and simple, and it reminded me that every day doesn't need to be about not having a job.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Before and After (...88 days)

After a great one-hour run in the rain (lovely, not nasty rain), a cup of coffee, and some leftover Easter chocolate, I sat down to do some work.  It was the morning, so I was feeling energetic and optimistic about making a final decision on which health care option to choose.  This is in place of using my employer offered plan through COBRA.  The Massachusetts Health Connector website is surprisingly easy to navigate.  Eligibility requirements, available options, and the application process are clear.  But the options are dismal.  Any plans offering equivalent coverage to my current BCBS and dental plan cost nearly as much as COBRA ($635.58/month!).  If I choose a plan with a reduced monthly cost, the coverage is reduced as well.  It’s sickening to think about the choices I have to make with respect to my health. And, it makes the health care debate feel much more personal than it has prior to now.

Today, after assessing the options and potential costs, I’ve made some progress and narrowed my options to just two.  But it was not without penalty.  My energy from this morning has been sucked right out.  I probably look a lot less like the happy couple on the MAHC website, than I look like Edward and Bella from the Twilight series:  dark, surly, brooding.

Soon I’ll post the resources I’ve found or been given that have helped determine an alternate health care option to COBRA.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Necessary Losses and New Beginnings (...89 days)

Today is Easter Sunday, a day that signifies the end of the forty-day fasting period, Lent.  Among other things, of course.  I like the Easter holiday celebration.  Easter Mass is joyful, there's hearty food for brunch, colorful flowers, colorful outfits, egg-dying, baskets of chocolate, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire...

Ironically, I feel like my fasting period is just beginning.  I get that this sounds cliche, but I'm not referring to reducing my expenses.  I'm thinking about the period of time I'm facing, without a job, to examine my next step.  It's making me intensely focused on what I want to be do for work and how to do it.  Intense focus and meditation is partially the purpose of a fast because when you're doing "without" your thoughts tend to turn inward.

I found great comfort in today's Easter Mass homily.  At St. Cecelia's Parish in Boston, Father Unni, a priest who seems like he's right out of Southie, (who I adore, who is authentic and funny, and who I wish all my friends could hear preach) talked about loss and new beginnings.  I can't relay his entire sermon here (not because I have limited space to write, but because I was 30 minutes late to mass), but I have to share the two ideas on which his homily was based.  The ideas are simple and Father Unni gave his sources:

"Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow"
-The title of a book by Judith Viorst


"All beginnings are hard."
-A translation of Hebrew often referred to in Rabbinic literature, according to Rabbi Arthur Segal.

What I took from this is pretty straightforward:  The loss I'm undergoing now is necessary to make way for the growth I need to experience.  It is often tough, weather it's a job or something else you've been holding on to, to let go.  And beginnings are hard.  The first steps are often uncertain until we do a lot of self reflection.  Appropriate message for Easter.  Also appropriate for me and probably for many others who are making life adjustments.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My New Office (...90 days)

No, not a new job yet.  THIS is my new office: the dining room.  Sometimes the living room.  Sometimes my favorite coffee shop, True Grounds.  And these are pictures of my classic (as of a week) blogger face.  It's also my post-yoga-not-yet-showered-researching-health-care-options-on-a-saturday-afternoon-into-the-evening face.  Check out the dri fit athletic shirt topped off with a pashmina.  I'm thinking I look...comfortable.  And smelly.  Check out the nearly finished pot of coffee.  I may be under hydrated.  And also check out how much this is not like any of those glossy fashionista blog photos showing a gal wearing stylish apparel and polished makeup.  My bum hurts from sitting too long and I need food and a break.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy cow, it's been a week! (...91 days)

My belt is tightening.  I don't mean I'm spending less.  I am, but it's normal for me to spend consciously.  Yesterday, for example, I was like a PI in the spice isle at Stop & Shop, scrutinizing the cost of McCormick's Rosemary and the Spice Islands brand (McCormick's was the winner).  What I mean is literally my belt is tightening.  The stress of this last week has caused me to shed 3 lbs.  Even though I feel somewhat calm about being laid off, under the surface it's nonstop on my mind.

I know at some point I will be used to my new routine.  The practical matters of being laid off (insurance changes, retirement plan, unemployment application) will have been addressed.  It won't feel unexpected to have my whole day to myself.  And I'll have settled into a targeted job search.  But right now, the layoff is on my mind.  Nonstop.  I'm eating whole foods.  The last three evenings I've even had ice cream for dessert, topped with a scoop of cereal.  It's perfect comfort food!  But still, I've shrunk just a little bit.  And I think it must be the stress I feel.  I hope that shrinks too so I can be energetic about the job hunt ahead.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

6 outta 10 (...92 days)

I'm reading articles everyday about other people's layoff experiences.  Stuff that looks good I'll list here.  The stories people share range from comforting and inspiring to shocking and sad.  This one is just plain funny:  "10 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Was Just Laid Off."  So far, I've heard 6 out of 10 of 'em!  #1, #4, #6, #7, #8, and #10.  I especially like #1:  "Are you Freaked out?"  The accompanying picture is a riot:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Groupons, and Coupons, and Gifts! Oh my! (...93 days)

If you're into being thrifty and you're on a reduced budget, check out the online coupon marketplace.  It's huge!  And there are head-spinning deals.  In addition to Groupon, you can find dailydeals through LivingSocial and BuyWithMe.  I'd like to hear about any other reputable online discounters, so let me know what you know.  I just created the page “My Coupon Market” to log my current coupons and gift certificates.  I purchased some of these deals and others were gifts.  All can be used guilt-free!  It’s a nice little treasure chest of pre-paid luxuries I have during this layoff phase.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Facts of Life (...94 days)

Starting on day one of being laid off I started receiving emails from colleagues.  They all express kind thoughts and offer to be a resource on the job search front.  I'm grateful that so many people have reached out to me through calls, emails, and text messages.  It's feels good to be checked in on me by people I respect and care about.   It's very thoughtful of them and I feel lucky to have a good network of people to rely on.

What I didn't expect in these emails, calls, and texts, or at least not quite so much of, was the level of shock and anger communicated to me about my layoff.  I was surprised, but not completely shocked.  We were already working with a reduced staff.  My department alone was down 2 people.  Elsewhere in the company whole departments were nearly shutdown.  It seemed possible any one of us could be the next to be let go.  I think the anger people are feeling is not so much about my personal situation but at the larger situation, in the company and in the nation.  The state of the economy, the healthcare debate, and the recent federal budget negotiations are making most people nervous.  And the closer to home it feels, the more fear and anger people begin to feel.

Financial security and healthcare is serious stuff!!  It defines our quality of life to a large extent.  And it's depressing to think about the lack of it.  My healthcare and dental plans will soon be continued via COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).  It will cost me $635.58 a month if I elect to enroll. While employed I payed $160 a month.  This is a remarkable change in my monthly expenses.  I can get by for a while paying for COBRA, but what if I were like one of my many former colleagues with a family?  For my same BCBS Network Blue and Dental plans, family coverage under cobra would cost $1533.97!  No wonder my former colleagues are expressing outrage.  They're terrified this burden will be imposed on them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Layoff Talk (...95 days)

Coffee Talk Layoff Talk with Linda Richman  Lisa O’Malley: Welcome to Layoff Talk I'm your host Mary. On this show we talk about layoffs, Bahston, pahties, and the red sahx, you know no big whoop just Layoff Talk.

Since being laid off three days ago, I’ve heard nothing but others’ talk about being laid off.  Among my group of family and friends I know at least 9 people who have been laid off at some point in their careers.  I think this used to be the worst thing that ever happened in people’s careers, but now it seems commonplace.  In fact, most people I talk to don’t act shocked.  Friends are concerned and offer to be a resource, but they view it as more of an opportunity than a burden.  Their positive layoff experiences are encouraging to me.

“Studies show that most people who have gotten laid off, move on to other opportunities and report (after one year) that they are happy it happened and that they have found themselves in a much more fulfilling work situation.”

That’s wicked good news!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dreams (...96 days)

I think the trauma of losing my job is sinking in.  Last night I had a dream that three people were standing around me, like seamstresses or tailors, measuring my arms and legs.  I was calm while looking at them on all sides.  One person would hold up an arm and another would measure the circumference.  Then they measured the next arm.  Then do the same with my legs.  “We’ll put you to sleep so you won’t feel anything,” one said to me.  I didn’t react and I didn’t fight as it sunk in what they were planning to do to me.  I just stood there listening as they said they would need to cut off my limbs.   

This dream is obviously about losing my job.  Suddenly my life is less stable because my income and healthcare have been taken away. It wasn’t in my control and I can’t do anything to change it.  At night I’m not sleeping well as I felt the weight of this situation.  During the day I feel pretty good.  In fact, sometimes I want to cheer about losing my job.  I feel moments of ecstasy and intense relief because it feels like I’ve been given freedom from a tiring obligation.  I’m thrilled to have some paid time off and a chance to work on my own projects.  It’s almost as if this is a dream!  But at night I lay awake worried.  I’ve cried a few times, overcome with worry about the cost of COBRA, how to reduce my expenses, how to address my retirement plan, and how I will earn money again. 

I am so uncertain what the months ahead will bring.  Maybe I’ll feel more and more weighed down by the lack of stability.  What if I start watching Ellen and eating tubs of Breyers for breakfast?  More likely, I hope, I’ll use this time well and find myself in a happier situation.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend One (...97 days)

It's a holiday weekend in Massachusetts because Monday is Patriots Day.  Usually this is a great opportunity to fit in more of the things I enjoy, like bake this whole wheat molasses bread:

Of course I have lots of time for everything now!  Including LOTS of time to think about being laid off and how to tackle the next steps I need to take.  But for a few days, I think I need to do a little bit of anything I enjoy while I contemplate this big change.  This morning I met my friend Mark for a 2 hour run around the city.  There was a biting wind, but it was beautiful, crisp, and sunny out.  The legs felt good!  I came home to eat this egg-pepper-gouda-deliciousness atop my homemade bread:

And the rest of the day...I'm doing whatever the heck I want, folks.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I should panic now. (...98 days)

I was laid off yesterday from a job I'd been at for over ten years.  Called in, sat down, told the bad news, and that was that.  I should panic now.  I should sob and scream and be flooded with anxiety, anger, shock, and sadness.  But I'm not feeling any of these things yet.  Instead, I feel like how I look in the picture above.  This is a pre-Ironman race photo that my Dad took in 2005 and I think it captures my state of mind today:  nervous and unsure but ready for a monster challenge.

I should feel unnerved for all of the following reasons:
1)  In 98 days I'll stop receiving severance pay.
2)  I have a mortgage.
3)  The things I enjoy might become unaffordable: trips, classes, home improvement, triathlon racing, buying delicious fancy cheeses and wine, beautiful fabrics to sew with, indulgent dinners out, my gym membership...
4)  My familiar routine is going to change dramatically.
5)  I have to look for a job.  I have no idea what I want to do next and none of my passions or talents scream "moneymaker." (My mind is awhirl with all the self-exploratory reading ahead...Myers Briggs, the Parachute book, Dan Pink's "Drive," "Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow," and so many others...) 
6)  I'm disposable.  At times I felt important at my job, but I'm not needed anymore.  It doesn't make me feel better that I'm one of many who've been let go, that the budget has shrunk, or that I've been unhappy there for a very very long time.

But I'm sort of excited and feeling kind of lucky because:
1)  Being laid off means I have severance while I figure out the next step.
2)  I have renters who pay my mortgage.  I don't have mouths to feed.  I like living frugally.
3)  There's more time to enjoy my hobbies and projects...albeit affordably.
4)  My old routine made me feel bad: alive on the weekends, a drone during the week.  No longer!
5)  This is a chance to find work that invigorates me.  I can test out my interests and explore my passions.

I'm not all rose-colored glasses and ignorance is bliss.  I'm reasonably aware that this will be a terrifying, challenging, uncomfortably self-questioning, possibly shame-inducing situation.  The next 98 days will be monstrously tough for sure.  Sometimes.  But I'm not panicky yet.