It’s now been over four years since the job at the Fortune 500 ended. I wrote about it here in a piece titled Over. When I read it now, even from this distance, it leaves me uneasy.
The job ended six months into a recession created by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and bank failures of 2008, a reversal which triggered a precipitous drop in the stock market, the failure of Lehman Brothers, the creation of TARP and QE and the rise of unemployment.
The news contains fewer recession stories now. Within the past month, I’ve heard of the debate in Congress about ending the exceptional unemployment insurance provisions enacted in 2009, about ending other legislation meant to mitigate the effects of the economic reversal. The counter argument is that it’s not over yet.
There were many thousands who were out of work for a year, two years, some still. Some of them are more than statistics, they’re people I know. Some of have been serially unemployed, stretches of looking for permanent, fulltime work punctuated by shorter periods as temps. To be fair, I also know some who escaped the whole miserable thing, people whose jobs continued without any hint of the difficulty so many have been unable to resolve. But there are far more I know who still live with its effects, than those who only read about it in the news.
I’m a guy whose recent life has been reshaped by the post-2008 economy. This blog is many things to me, but it is, in part, the experience of one guy with the changes in not only the economy but in making a living, coming as it has near the end of my working life. I’ve remained employed, but there have been costs, concessions, adjustments, none of which would rate so much as a blip on the national radar. But each has been keenly felt by me.
I’ve remained conscious of not allowing myself to be defined by them, but they are largely beyond my control. Aspirations, ambitions, plans and the future all look different than they used to. Of need, they all occupy a different place in the hierarchy of importance. I’ve learned to think differently. I am learning more about existing in the present moment, letting go of the past, to release my white-knuckle grip on loss, on those things whose time has passed, and won’t be coming back again, to stop grinding my teeth in an effort to reclaim them or make them over, to do life with less of everything, to realize that there probably won’t be another job with the same attributes I enjoyed at the Fortune 500, to let go of my ego’s need to validate that I was really as good at it as I think I was.
I’ve had plenty of opportunity to read passages that are reflections of my place in this moment of time:
“…the crushed souls and wrecked dreams of so many cubicle dwellers”
“And I thought about how this was not the end to my career that I had envisioned. I thought by now I’d be writing ten-thousand word takes for Esquire and Vanity Fair. That they’d be coming to me instead of me going to them. That I’d have my pick of what to write about.”
Michael Connelly, The Scarecrow, 2009
“Boomers both need and want to work longer than previous generations. But unemployment is near 10 percent, and many have lost their jobs.”
I suspect there are others like me, in their 50s or 60s, who have seen John Wells movie “The Company Men”, who understand these lines from the characters portrayed in the storyline:
“Phil is advised to tweak his résumé to omit any work reference before 1990.”
“He attends humiliating outplacement seminars…”
“He eventually takes work in a small, struggling business…”
“…he muses eloquently about the days when people made things they took satisfaction in creating“
“…he realizes that, in his words, ‘my life ended, and nobody noticed.’ “
I’ll admit to bitterness, the sour taste which comes up with each rereading of these, the poison which wants to define me, wants me to adopt it as a lifestyle, the resentment, which would be easy to embrace.
All feelings are valid, at least for a while, but I have other influences which remind me that bitterness and resentment are not a place to stand. Among the things within my control are my attitude, my reactions and how I see myself.
During these four years, life has given far more reasons for hope than bitterness. Jeni and I marked the 30th year of our marriage. She has overcome ill health, including a return of severe and chronic pain which, for a while, threatened to end her enjoyment of kayaking. But we’re still married, still keenly aware of that which drew us together in the first place, the glue that still exists, the bond that refuses to release its hold on either of us. And still kayaking.
There will be more loss, more reversals, more adversity. And there will be more love, more hope. Every day, there is still an unfolding future for us to live.
Our future was on my mind when I contacted the financial planner referred to me by my sister. I’ve been through several cycles with our investments but hit a ceiling some while ago. I needed help. We drove to the office building, presented ourselves to the receptionist in the lobby, admired the view of Puget Sound from the 14th floor, met for about 90 minutes, discussed many things, asked questions, received answers. At the end, I told him we’d talk things over when we got home and let him know. Our discussion began in the hallway waiting for the elevator and ended with our unanimous conclusion before the elevator door opened at the lobby. I wrote to him as soon as we arrived home.
I’m stunned and amazed that we could find ourselves in that meeting at all. I expected to learn that the value of our investments wouldn’t meet the threshold of his firm. Jeni and I never did one tiny bit of planning to get where we are. It seems, though, we did a few things right. The rest has been mostly luck. At no point did he look at our numbers and say “no”.
It was wonderful to have Jeni beside me. She professes to not understand money, but she does. And she’s smart. I loved the perspective she brought to the discussion, her questions, her answers to his questions, her input. She brings value. As with everything else in life, she brought substance to this that I couldn’t have brought myself.
And more than anything else, it was the expression of hope, represented by sitting in those chairs in his office, that I felt most strongly. In every way, it was an act of our conviction that, in spite of 2008 and all that has followed, we have a future, we have a life ahead. I profess no certainty of what will come, certainly not of what may result from hiring an investment guru to manage our financial affairs. But then this meeting wasn’t about outcomes. It was about acknowledgement that something neither of us knows about, neither of us can foresee, is out there, ahead, beyond what we know now, beyond certainty, a shared expression of faith, a conviction there is more to come for us, that these four years are not an ending but merely an interesting part of our journey, perhaps in preparation for something of which we do not know, maybe cannot even imagine, but which awaits nonetheless.
More will be revealed.