Monthly Archives: April 2010

Laid low by a volcano

Who would of thunk that a volcano could put the kibosh on hundreds of thousands of travel plans? Terrorists, maybe, but a volcano?

I was diligently wrapping up my obligations prior to a family vacation in Paris that was scheduled to depart the following day, oblivious to what was going on in the outside world, when my husband emailed me a link to a French newspaper. My French doesn’t even qualify as rudimentary but there was no mistaking the headline which, loosely translated, said, ‘you are about to be severely disappointed.’

We watched anxiously as flights were canceled and airports closed. But our Friday afternoon flight to Paris, via Philadelphia, was still showing an on-time departure. We were already packed so when the time came to go to the airport we figured we might as well; maybe we’d be able to fly in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary. At the check-in counter the less-than-gracious US Airways employee informed us that yes, the flight was still scheduled and no, she couldn’t advise us as to the best course of action; we could check in or not, it was no skin off her nose. We had an hour or so to decide.

“What happens to our luggage if we check in now, and then the flight’s canceled?” we asked.

“You try to get it back,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Since most of my underwear was in my suitcase, and it would be inconvenient to be without it for an unspecified amount of time, I suggested we not check in quite yet, but instead go have lunch and see if anything definitive transpired in the next hour.

Just as we finished ordering, we got an automated message that our flight had been canceled. I waved the waiter back and ordered a drink.

We were, of course, extremely disappointed that our trip had been canceled, but we knew right away that we were luckier than many. From an inconvenience perspective we suffered not one whit. We were grounded, but we were on home turf with all our underwear. One friend from the UK was stuck here while her valiant husband wrangled their two young daughters on his own for an extra week. Another friend was stuck in Germany while his wife tried to hold onto her sanity as a single parent here. Another friend in the UK had a scaled down wedding party because her European friends were unable to travel, and another wedding was canceled altogether. Those are just a few of the stories that I’ve heard from people I know. Imagine how many other plans were ruined, and lives disrupted, by that pesky natural phenomenon.

I’m sorry that my daughter’s school vacation did not work out as planned; that she didn’t get to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or visit Versailles, or practice her French. But we got to participate in a moment in history that will not soon be forgotten.

C’est la vie.


Networking is not a dirty word

[This post was written before the start of our ill-fated vacation so my readers wouldn’t miss a week while I was away. More on that another time.]

Last week I said I’d write a bit more about networking, so as promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) that’s where I’ll start. Lots of people find the thought of networking distasteful, but that just indicates that they don’t really understand how it works. Whenever I hear someone say, “I can’t network; I’m not good at it,” I point out that they network every day.

In computer parlance, a network is a collection of computers that can communicate with each other. If we apply that to people, your network comprises the people you communicate with, co-workers, classmates, family, friends, even the cashiers you see every week at Trader Joe’s.

If your letter carrier sees you sitting on your front lawn and says, “Beautiful day. Hey, I love your earrings,” and you reply, “Thanks my friend’s sister made them,” you’re networking. You may not have your letter carrier over for drinks but she might just remember your earrings and ask you for the name of the designer someday. It’s true you don’t benefit directly from that interaction but networking is about all of those little interactions that connect us to others. Somewhere in your network, someone else is having a casual conversation that will benefit you.

When it’s time to look for a job, you need to use the network you already have to expand it further. Now when your letter carrier comes by and says, “Beautiful day,” you can reply, “Yes, but I’d rather not have the time to enjoy it. Know anyone who needs a crack marketing director?” I guarantee the letter carrier will take the time to express her sympathy (because after all, it’s a beautiful day and she’s in no rush, she’s a letter carrier) giving you the opening to say, “ACME Software looks like a great company? Do you by any chance know anyone who works there?”

If you don’t know where you might like to work, or even if you want to go back to doing what you were doing, you might consider hiring a life/career coach. Even before I was laid off, I knew that I needed someone to help me figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up; someone who was not a therapist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of therapy (and we can talk about that some other time) but this was less a case of “how did my family of origin influence my behavior” than “how do I change my situation?”

I started seeing (well, I never actually saw her, we talked on the phone) Rosie Reardon. She has a website, if you want to learn more about her but I’ll share a little here for those of you who are interested. Working with Rosie was a bit like having my own personal self-help book; her advice was accessible and actionable. She helped me realize how much I was, or could be, in control, so I wouldn’t feel as if I was at the mercy of the powers that be. I learned a lot from Rosie and graduated from our sessions with a degree of self-confidence and drive that had been in scant supply. I’ll miss my conversations with Rosie, but I decided it was time to free her up for one of you.

First you cry

A classmate from elementary school (you’ve got to love Facebook) just pinged me to say that he’d been laid off, and knowing that I had gone through that recently as well, wondered if I had any advice for him. I decided to use this week’s post to answer him.

Sadly, as a high tech marketing person, I have become something of an expert at being laid off. As a matter of fact, I’ve been laid off twice by the same company, and let me tell you, I don’t care how much they beg, I am never going back there. You know what they say, ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, what the hell was I thinking?’

The first thing to do after you’ve been laid off is to have a good cry. If you’d rather yell and scream, that’s okay too. The point here is that it hurts to be let go, even if you saw it coming. It hurts like being dumped, or having your best friend move away, or losing a pet. It’s one of those gaping wounds that no one can see, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Give yourself as much time as you need to mourn your loss, but not so much that you have to switch to the next season’s wardrobe.

When you’re ready to start looking you need to get your resume in order. It’s an onerous project and no one likes to do it, but you’ve got to. As much as possible, recast everything you’ve done in quantifiable terms. Take credit for anything you had a hand in; everyone else does. For instance, if the development team you managed built a product that earned the company $10 million – claim it as your success. This sort of self-aggrandizement may not come easily to you, particularly if you’re not a sales or marketing person, but believe me, you’ve got to do it.

The next step is to network. The step after that is to network. And yes, you guessed it, the step after that is to network some more. The upside to being out of work these days is that there’s social networking. Look how it’s working for my friend from sixth grade! is the place to be if you want to connect with the business world. LinkedIn has monetized the game, Six Degrees of Separation. From there you can see who you know who knows someone at the company you’re interested in. And the only way you’re going to break into that company is to have someone introduce you. You can answer ads on Monster and HotJobs but if that’s your strategy for finding a job, you’re going nowhere fast. By all means, look at what’s available on the job boards, but then go to LinkedIn and try to find a connection that can carry your resume to the hiring manager.

I’m going to make this my first two-part blog post. Next week I’ll talk more about how to network, and also share my thoughts on hiring a life coach. I’ll leave you with this thought, we live in a time when there is no stigma attached to losing your job; it happens to the best of us. And there’s an army of sympathetic folks waiting to help. All you have to do is ask.

Sometimes fat is good

Passover and Easter were earlier than usual this spring but like clockwork colleges all over the country sent out their admission’s decision letters right on time. This annual rite of spring doesn’t affect my house this year, we have four years to go, but it’s easy to get caught up in the drama when you know someone whose child has been wrestling them to be first at the mailbox for the past week.

I remember my own experience like it was yesterday (and in my case this yesterday was over thirty years ago). I know firsthand that the failures and triumphs of admission’s week will trail these seniors for the rest of their lives (or until they’ve completed twenty years of therapy). I was a lack-luster high school student (as you may recall from last week’s post, Memory lane is a lonely road) and my father despaired of me getting in anywhere respectable. While my friends were grudgingly adding UMass as a “safety school” just in case there was an act of G-d and they didn’t get into the more prestigious universities, my dad was strongly advising me not to waste his money applying to anywhere other than UMass. I ignored him and applied to half a dozen or more schools, none of which was UMass.

I knew from all the seniors that had come before me that a thin envelope was not even worth opening since it signaled defeat; you wanted the fat ones. On April 9th, my father’s birthday, I got my first envelope, and it was fat. I’m sure I was happy that I was now assured a college education, but that paled next to the pleasure I took in waving that big, fat letter in my dad’s face and saying, “So there!”

The real victory that week was that I was accepted by a school that had rejected my straight-A, over-achieving, older sister. (In deference to her, since I’m sure this must still be a painful memory, being bested by her academically inferior little sister, I won’t name the school here but do email me if you’re curious.)

At the gym today, my neighbor on the next elliptical was shaking her head over the fact that her daughter had gotten into Oberlin, but not Tufts, but that her daughter’s friend had gotten into Tufts and not Oberlin. We agreed that there must be a capricious element to the whole process that no amount of extra-curricular activities could defend against. That knowledge, however, does nothing to take the sting out of receiving a thin envelope from the school you have your heart set on.

Even though I know it’s long past time for me to define myself by which colleges I was accepted by, I won’t be giving that up anytime soon. My other sister, also a straight-A, over-achiever, tells me that there’s no way we’d get into those colleges today. I say that’s the opinion of someone who didn’t have to buck the odds in the first place.