What about a buyout?

My former industry was big on offering buyouts to older editors and journalists; the year after I was laid off from a job in Halifax it seemed like half of the journalists I’d worked with there took buyouts and went on to retirement or second careers in PR. After one former colleague did a voluntary buyout — made an offer our employer couldn’t refuse — I tried the same thing, but apparently I didn’t cost them quite enough to make that an attractive proposition. My thought was that if I could get out with a nest egg I could find something better. I imagine the HR director of the day laughing at the idea of giving me money to leave, he likely knew I’d do it without being paid to soon enough. And so I did.

Anyway, my former colleague Dave Paddon has written this article on buyouts and the things you should think about before you accept one. It’s a good read.

Tell me, who are you?

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club.

You are not your job. Or if you are, then baby, you need to get a life, because as many of us have discovered to our dismay, we might be our jobs, but our jobs sure as hell aren’t us — they’ll continue long after we’re gone, with someone else sitting in the driver’s seat. That kind of relationship is not reciprocal. And you know what they say about relationships that aren’t reciprocal? They suck. And they’ll suck the life right out of you. Tyler Durden knew that for a fact.

I worked for a long time in a big city where I had no moorings, no roots, no anchor, and the one constant was my workplace. I didn’t — or at least only rarely did — love my job, but I felt immense respect for the organization and moreover, I loved that when people asked what I did, I could say “journalist,” name my employer and feel proud of both facts. I wasn’t my job, but my job was a huge part of my identity, and it took up far more real estate in my life than it should have because I worked anti-social hours (that is, while the world was out socializing I was at work), I hated the city I lived in and had no non-work friends or strong attachments there. I used to have hours-long phone calls with a friend in another city every Sunday, and the two of us would delve into the impossibility of our situations (she didn’t like where she was much either) and every so often we would stop and ask ourselves, “would this matter as much if we had actual lives?” And we were pretty sure the answer was “no.”

That’s something that’s more likely to happen to single people; those happily with spouses and families, or those who haven’t moved far away from the social networks that previously supported them in uncertain times, are less likely to lose themselves in their work. But they’re just as likely to let it become an important part of their identity, and that’s why unplanned job loss can be so world-destroying. When you’re your job and you lose your job, who are you?

I have to stop myself now, when people ask me what I do, from saying that I’m a journalist, though sometimes it still slips out (and sometimes I rationalize it by thinking that just because I’m no longer directly involved in daily news gathering doesn’t mean I’m not still a journalist in my heart), and I’ve wrestled with what to call myself. For now I’m using “writer.” Sometimes “writer-editor.”

Don’t forget to factor this in when you’re making plans for a possible layoff or job change. What will you say when you’re asked but can’t give the usual answer? Who am I if not …? This is a good exercise even if your employment is reasonably stable, to make sure that you still have an identity outside of it. Many of us, while building our careers, forgot to have lives as well.

I was just reminded of a rant a former colleague used to go on when a woman was referred to in a story on first reference as a “mother.” “Before she was a mother she was a human being, a woman with a life,” my colleague would roar across the newsroom. (My personal pet peeve is referring to a woman as mother twice in the same sentence, “The mother said she was worried about her son…” instead of “the woman” which gives her agency outside of motherhood. But I digress.)

Early settlers used to build cairns — piles of stones that would mark a route or a cache of goods. When you’re building a cairn, you need it to last so you give it a good foundation, and make sure that the rocks you place on top  of it are stable. Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” What is your Descartes statement — the thing that you know about yourself that is the foundation for everything else? Use it to start building your cairn. What is the next thing about yourself that exists unrelated to anyone else? Start adding in your other important identities — son, daughter, mother, father, husband, wife. Bowler. Lover of wine. Storyteller. Listener. Damn fine card player. It’s a way of prioritizing the important things. In a perfect world, your job — not your vocation, if the kind of work you do is important to you, but your current, changeable job — should be a little pebble at the top. If it’s not, if the thing that can be taken away from you at any moment by the vagaries of the economy is part of your foundation, then maybe it’s time to reexamine your priorities.

And if there are places where things become unstable because the rocks won’t sit together properly, or if your cairn stops short of where you think it needs to go, examine for yourself what’s missing, and consider where you might find the stones to shore it up. And if that means getting a life, so be it.


Image result for cairn



Answer me a question — or 12

New year’s resolutions — love ’em or hate ’em, they’re the go-to planning tool for many people.

Eileen Chadnick of Big Cheese Coaching, on the other hand, asks questions. We’re very much on a wavelength, it seems, when it comes to writing things down. I find it focuses my thoughts, makes them real in a way that merely thinking them does not.

Eileen’s 12 new year’s questions were published this year in the Globe and Mail and Huffington Post, and also on her website.  It’s worth it to take some time to go through them, and think about your answers.

The new year’s Tickle Trunk

New year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing (because I, like 90-something per cent of the population, don’t follow through and I think it’s bad karma to start the year feeling like a failure), but since everyone else talks about them as one year creaks to a close and a freshly-diapered baby year appears, I think about what I’d resolve if I were making a resolution, and I started thinking this year about Mr. Dressup.

My favourite part of Mr. Dressup was the Tickle Trunk. (For non-Canadians, or whatever comes after millennials, it was a Canadian children’s show on CBC featuring Mr. Dressup and two puppets, Casey and his dog Finnigan.) Mr. Dressup liked to play music and do crafts and when they were at a loss for things to do, there was always the Tickle Trunk, which had cool costumes and other things needed for imaginary adventures. Just like Mr. Dressup’s magical craft supplies, there was always just what they needed in just the right amount. (To be honest, I was a kid terminally in need of proper craft supplies so that probably impressed me more than anything.)

I had a Tickle Trunk moment a few weeks ago when I was filing something away in a file drawer that is equal parts junk and file folders filled with mystery materials. I moved a box containing an old modem and found a book called It’s Your Move, by career consultant Marge Watters. Billed as “A Guide to Career Transition and Job Search for Canadian Managers, Professionals and Executives,” the book is chock-full of career advice and comes from a far more authoritative source than I’ll ever be. My work here is pretty much done if you read it.

I laughed when I riffled through it because I’ve spent the last month looking in vain for examples of worksheets geared for adult learning for a project I proposed at work, and this book has all kinds of them.

I had no memory of the book, don’t know how or when I came by my copy, but since I have the 4th edition, published in 2012 (it doesn’t look like there was a later one), a time when I was writing for a weekly workplace issues package, it’s possible that it was sent to me for review.

It might be five years old, but from what I’ve seen of it so far, the information in it is timeless — stuff I’ve been writing about, and have planned to write about, and stuff I hadn’t thought about but am glad to have brought to my attention. You’ll likely find numerous references to the book in this blog in the future. But if you want to see more for yourself, it’s available in some stores and online at Chapters, and also at amazon.ca.

Marge’s website doesn’t look active, neither does her LinkedIn profile. But I’m going to try to get in touch with her and maybe do an interview for a future blog.

It’s not my new year’s resolution to find a job – I don’t make resolutions, remember? But since I have no guarantee that I’ll have a job after September — and since there’s a 50/50 possibility that I won’t like the job that’s available for me if there is one, I think it’s irresponsible of me not to get my ducks in a row. So I think I’m going to snuggle inside during this cold snap and start 2018 off by reading a book on how to line them up.

I wish you all the happiest — and most successful — of new years.


Making your lists — and unpacking them

At the end of 2015 I uncorked a bottle of champagne and bade good riddance to a memorably bad year. I welcomed 2016 with open arms, confident that it couldn’t be worse. At the end of 2016 I viewed the coming of the new year with relief, but was not crazy enough to tempt karma again by kicking the old one out the door. I’d learned my lesson. And now I’m wondering whether I broke a mirror a few years ago without realizing it…

Ever since I bought my house I’ve been known to grumble that I wasn’t built for home ownership. Every time something goes wrong I say it again. This fall when I had to replace my furnace and I started in on the old refrain, my brother offered a bit of perspective — listen, he said, you’ve cut down your dead trees, replaced the windows and doors, the dryer, and your furnace died, what else can go wrong? Well, I said, there’s the roof. And the rest of the appliances. And the plumbing… But really, he’s right. Barring major catastrophe, we should be good for a while at least, and maybe it’s OK to relax. A bit.

What does any of that have to do with being laid off? In a word, fear. I live in fear of the house collapsing around me, but realistically, barring catastrophe, that’s unlikely to happen. It’s more useful to think about the things that could happen, and figure out how I’ll deal with them.  So let’s extrapolate that to the workplace: if your fear is losing your job, what are you afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen?

I’m a BIG fan of making lists, I make them all the time, mostly because of my crappy memory, but also because I’m a linear enough thinker that I find a visual representation of my thoughts helpful.

So think about your worst job-loss fears, and write them down. What’s the worst that could happen? I lose my job. Now unpack that. Why is that bad? Well, there’s no income. That’s a huge and highly legitimate fear. So think about what you can do if you lose your job and have no income. What resources do you have? What do you have for the short term, what can you tap into for the long term? What can you do now to increase your resources? Can you take an extra job? Is there work you can do on the side, or more hours to pick up? Is there any way to cut down on your expenses? Anything you don’t need that you can sell to add to your nest egg? Write it all down. Make a plan. And no matter what you do, remember to pocket the money instead of spending it somewhere else.

What’s the next-worst thing that could happen? Work through every fear individually. Why you’re afraid of it, and how you’ll confront it if it happens. Make sure that your planned actions and outcomes are realistic because while setting goals is very helpful, not meeting those goals depletes your confidence, even if those goals never existed in the realm of possibility in the first place. Be firm, but don’t over-promise to yourself.

Obsessing over your fears makes you feel helpless, puts you in the victim position; having a plan and working the plan helps to give you confidence — you’re taking positive steps and creating results.

And here’s to 2018 — may it be a good year for all of us.


Project manage your job search

Everyone who starts a task and then finishes it is a project manager. Because that’s what a project manager is — a person who gets things done. Yesterday I project-managed my Christmas baking and threw in a homemade mac-and-cheese for supper. Easy peasy. I visualized the steps, completed them in the contemplated order, and was done in time to go out for a movie last night.

Of course, that list disguises the fact that I’d actually started the process on Friday, completely ruined one batch of cookies and spent the rest of the day in a black mood, but you win some, you lose some, right?

My point is that while project management is the latest buzzword in getting things done in the workplace, and there are actually courses taught in it (I’ve taken one!) and certification available, when it comes right down to it, project management is about getting things done, and a project manager is a person who knows how to do it well enough to ensure it happens regularly.

Think of a chef — before the chef even approaches the stove there’s the mise-en-place — the preparation. All the spices are measured out, all the vegetables and meat are properly cut and set out in bowls in the order of use. The object might be to cook a dish but there are 20 different steps to take to get to the stove. Are your utensils ready? Pans greased? Do you have the right bowls? Is the right-sized pot in the dishwasher or is it ready to go? Project management in this sense means working out all of the necessary steps to do a piece of work, and consider all of the things involved in those steps.

There is a science to it — and there are certainly no end of buzzwords, if you like that kind of thing — but you don’t have to be a certified project manager to project manage. You do need a certain amount of common sense and a degree of self-knowledge, though, so keep that in mind.

The first thing you do when you’re managing a project is define the goal. What do you want to achieve? Get a new job is the easy answer if you’re just going from A to B — layoff to re-employment in the same field. But what if you have a career change in mind? How do you get there? When planning the trip from A to B you also need to consider your resources and your obstacles, all the things that will help or hinder your progress. Think about your inputs — that includes the CV you had when you started your last job, but also the things you learned on your last job. What abilities do you have that you need to add to the CV? What abilities do you need for the job you want?

And then map it out. Start: Unemployed (or looking for work). End: A new job. What do you need to do to travel that distance?

  1. Update your CV. What do you need to do to update your CV? Write down the steps. Research what CVs look like these days in your industry. What do employers want to see? Where will you do the research? Online? The library? When will you do the research? Plan it out.
  2. Look for work. Where will you look? Where do job ads get published these days? Does your industry publish job ads or is it more word-of-mouth? How many cold-calls will you make per week?
  3. Apply for jobs. How are you going to apply? Online? Through a company website? Will you write and send letters? Who will proofread your CV and cover letter? How many jobs will you apply to per week?
  4. Financing your job search is important. How much cash do you have and how long will it last? How can you supplement it? Can you take a part-time job?

Draw up a calendar for what you’re going to do and when, and then hold yourself to it. If you’re veering off your established career path, project-manage what you need to do to facilitate the transition.

Once you’ve worked out what you think the steps are, start following them. You may find that Steps 2 and 4 are essentially the same thing, so cross out Step 4 and continue. Or maybe you need to do Step 6 after Step 2. Revise your plan and continue. You may have too many steps, you may have not enough. Revise and continue. The goal doesn’t change.

And when someone asks if you have experience with project management, nod. We might not all be project managers, but we all can get things done.

The longest most awful day

The first time I was laid off, I was called into my boss’s office, out of the blue, and told my job had been cut. Just mine. That was an awful day.

The second time I was laid off, everyone in the newsroom was called into a ‘town hall’ meeting in the middle of the room and we were told that most of us were losing our jobs. That was a really awful day.

But it looks like I’m going to have to refine my definition of ‘awful.’

My workplace has been undergoing a self-assessment process for three years and some of my co-workers started asking three years ago about layoffs. The answer was always layoffs if necessary, but not necessarily layoffs. But a board decision in August made layoffs in some way inevitable, and we were told then that, Board decision notwithstanding, there would in fact be layoffs. Later, we found out that the board would decide on this first round at their Nov. 24 meeting. And then the executive said that anyone affected would find out on Dec. 6.

Three years. Three months. A month. Two weeks.

We knew this day was coming. Dec. 6 comes every year. Wednesday comes every week. But this was … Imagine the tension building since August, but starting to peak around Nov. 24. Everyone in the office has been looking at each other thinking ‘Is it you?’ ‘Is it me?’ No one had information so the rumour mill — and the speculation mill — went rampant, as it does when people are afraid and have no facts. I’m astonished we didn’t invent a god and a religion in that time, the superstition had reached such a level in some quarters. The tension was beyond thick, especially with the people who were pretty sure they were on the list. It became a poison that leached out into the atmosphere, soaking into our skin. Think I’m indulging in hyperbole? One of my colleagues has strep in her eye — doctor says it’s probably stress-related. Who gets strep in their EYE? Poison, I tell you.

All day long today we read the entrails. The HR director had booked a boardroom for the afternoon, was seen entering it with boxes of tissues. Coats had been removed from the communal closet. Someone was seen looking vaguely sad. I think I can safely say very little work got done today. Even in my department where, with one thing or another, most of us felt reasonably certain we were ‘safe’ – at least for now, we spent a lot of time talking about what was happening, what might happen, weighing the probabilities. I think we all made it through the day with our jobs intact. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow who did not.

I didn’t realize how tense I’d been until I was driving home, and the usual start and stop and idiocy of other drivers was making me irrationally angry. I went to my usual drugstore to drop off a couple of prescriptions and when they told me that it would be 40 minutes before they were ready, I nearly cried. The thought of waiting 15 minutes more than usual completely defeated me. I’m not a drinker but I have a real urge to pour myself a stiff shot of something and then maybe another.  If I wasn’t sure I’d make myself sick — because my stomach is already grinding — I would. This was a fucking awful day.