I just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do.
That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of spare time.
About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.
A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.
If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.
I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.
It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.
In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate two years into my retirement and just in time for that anniversary I’ve been faced with a little change. Three months after I walked out of my full-time job for the last time in 2016, I began a part-time position at Automotive News in their video news department. They came to me looking for someone with many years of network TV news experience to give them a hand.
On Monday, that came to an end with a morning phone call from my boss and I wasn’t surprised since there really wasn’t much for me to do there anymore. It was fun while it lasted and I have to admit, I did feel bad to see the job end because it was a nice little glidepath between working fulltime and being totally retired. My livelihood certainly depend on this job..I planned well for retirement…but it certainly did wonders for my self-esteem and mental health. But not my diet. With the office a block from Detroit’s Eastern Market and all of its food emporiums, one never faced a work day hungry.
I posted this change on Linkedin and Twitter and the response was heartwarming, supportive but not surprising….because I’ve always had faith in my network of friends, associates, colleagues and folks I’ve been in contact with over the years. Still, I received an unbelievable number of messages and comments consoling me, promising to keep eyes and ears out for any opportunities, complimenting me on my skills and predicting I wouldn’t “be on the bench” very long. I heard from people with whom I hadn’t had any direct contact in ages but still, they were kind enough to take the time out of their days to buck me up or simply write something supportive. People who do that are quality people. They’re people who know the shoe may be on their foot one day. I hope it never happens, but if it does I will reciprocate the support.
In this world where it’s so easy to tear down people, spew negativity, and show selfishness we need to take care of each other. Even if it’s a quick line, post, text, email or..yes..a call.
No..the loss of my little part-time job was not cataclysmic at this stage in my life, but my network simply took it as an unfortunate setback in my life and these wonderful people knew I might be feeling badly and need a few kind words.
Retirement? From the fulltime rat race? Yes. But we must never retire from the fulltime effort to take care of each other.
Being semi-retired, my attendance in the office is only semi-regular. That means I can only stand..or sit..guard over my workspace semi-regularly. So I was only mildly surprised, but thoroughly disappointed when I showed up the other day after a few days away to find my chair in two pieces, on the floor with two screws sitting on my desk. No explanation until my boss happened by and I pointed to the wreckage while giving him a questioning look. He kinda laughed as he explained the person who sits across the aisle from me had a “chair emergency” while I was gone and grabbed my chair. That meant the carnage on the floor was actually her chair and not mine. My chair was under her butt.
After an embarrassed apology my chair was returned and the victim of the “chair emergency” got a spare chair from some other office.
It all got me thinking not only about how important our office furniture is to us but how it can also be used as just another form of bullshit one-upsmanship.
Cases in point.
At a former employer..a large corporation…office furniture was doled out according to your “band” or pay level. A vice president or above got a big office with a defined furniture formula of a walnut partner desk, meeting table with four chairs and a credenza for displaying photos, awards and free shit from media events.
The formula cascaded down quickly to a counter with 6 drawers and a meeting table all the way down to a cube with two file cabinets, a counter and a trash can. Actually, that’s about as much space as most anyone needs to do most jobs. When I was promoted to a glass office with 6 overhead bins and nine drawers I just dumped crap in them that I didn’t want to take home. I did use two drawers for files and another for my lunch.
One day things suddenly changed. A co-worker decided she needed to stand while she worked and got the office manager to order one of those Varidesks. Maybe you’ve seen them. You plop it on your real desk then raise or lower it to a comfortable level. Pretty cool. The cheapest one is about 400 bucks. After a few weeks it looked like Varidesks were growing wild. They started popping up all over the office. Short people, tall people, busy people, people who didn’t do 3 minutes of work a day all decided they would be more productive if they could just have the option to stand while they surfed Zappos for shoes, played Solitaire or screwed off on the boss’s dime in any number of ways. At one point I could hear at least one standee emulate Mr. Ed because she was sleeping standing up and snoring like an old nag.
I couldn’t help inquiring of the office manager while the company was spending all this money on stand-up desks when budgets were otherwise tight. She didn’t want to tell me at first but finally admitted that once the first person asked for one others became jealous that a co-worker got something new and they wanted one too…even if there was no physical reason for working standing up. In fact….it wasn’t long before some of the me-too standees realized they couldn’t stand standing and ordered high stools so they could sit at their standups. I don’t have to tell you once the first stool arrived, more were demanded because why shouldn’t they have what someone else has..even if it’s malaria.
As time went on, I noticed many of those who had stamped their feet for a standup desk caught wind of the “vari” part of the Varidesk and began using its various settings to gradually lower the desk until, after a week or so, the standup desk was simply sitting on top of the sit-at desk and the high stools were shunted into a corner and used as coat racks or just another surface to stack crap. This left the original Varidesk requestor feeling mighty lonely because she really needed to stand to help ameliorate a painful back condition. I had to ask her how she felt about the jealous copycats demanding, then abandoning their Varidesks. Well…she said. It was satisfying that as the one person who actually needed it.. she was the last one standing.
Now I work mainly from home. My wife and I each have our offices..and our own chairs. Invoking the crazy guy in the movie Stripes, we always joke with each other, “you touch my chair…I kill ya.”
How often has your temper boiled while being forced to cool your jets waiting for someone to reply to a simple question, make a deadline or serve you the sandwich you ordered 45 minutes ago? When you ask for the cause of the delay, the reply is usually some variation of “oh, I was busy.”
Busy is a loaded word. It’s loaded mainly with bullshit. Oh, it has actual definitions…which are also bullshit. Dictionary.com contains several meanings for busy:
- actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime.
- not at leisure; otherwise engaged
- officious; meddlesome; prying
- full of or characterized by activity
Let’s examine those definitions. #1 means the person is either working , or not, since you wouldn’t equate a “pastime” with work. A pastime would indicate something you’re doing for pleasure and one wouldn’t be described as “busy” doing something fun…but rather involved in an activity they were able to do because they weren’t so damned busy.
#2 is completely at odds with #1 because now busy is defined as not being at leisure, meaning you’re not involved in a pastime. So what is it? Can you be busy and not busy at the same time doing the same thing?
#3 is incomplete. The complete term is “busy BODY.” Fact is, you can be a meddlesome prick even if you’re not busy. For some, prying into others affairs is a pastime. Uh oh. Does that now make them busy or not if referring to #1 or #2?
#4 simply means you’re doing stuff. Living a life, peeling bananas, catching up on Stormy Daniels films. Does that mean you’re busy, or simply not stationary. Indeed, some folks might argue being stationary is their way of keeping busy.
When someone responds to my second or third inquiry as to why they haven’t responded sooner with “oh I was busy,” I know they’re making it up. Maybe they were, in fact, involved in a pastime…that pastime being too freakin’ lazy to follow through. Maybe they were too busy just blowing you off because they’re immature or arrogant. Perhaps they were engaged in a questionable activity that would get them fired, but use the catchall “busy” to cover up that activity with a word that actually means nothing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally sympathetic to those who at time can be buried under a growing number of tasks and deadlines, but that’s no excuse for being unresponsive. Grow up, prioritize your activities, perhaps send someone further down the list an acknowledgment you received the inquiry and will respond in line with any deadlines that may have been set. If none have been set, ask for a reasonable time frame for completion. But watch out. Often, those pleading they’re busy just want you to come through on your end faster than necessary just so they can get the project off their calendars…and then they can get busy…with their pastimes.
So when you tell me you’re too busy to reply, to respond I know what you’re really busy doing. It’s what a bull does when it squats in the field. I’ll bypass the stink and move on to greener and cleaner pastures.
Back in 5th grade I was cast as the Cowardly Lion in our class’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Not because I was a coward, but because I was brave enough to attempt belting out “If I Only Had the Nerve” in an auditorium packed with my judgmental peers and their parents, who secretly hoped my voice would crack or I’d fall off the stage and smash the piano. Yeah..that’s me in the photo below. First schnook on the right in the first row. Mane made of yarn..tail cobbled together by my Boy Scout brother with rope. The basic outfit was a set of pajamas in my dresser the same color as a bald lion.
Yes, it took some balls, and maybe a dash of rashness, to get up and do that, and the experience stuck with me, because I built my career on a simple willingness to try something new, never fearing failure, because you have nothing to lose by giving something a shot.
Without being too self-serving, most every job that represented some major move for me came as a result of looking for opportunities to grow and succeed. I auditioned for a weekend weather job at a Tucson TV station, never having done a weathercast in my life. Got the job. Took a job producing television newscasts having never produced a newscast, because, what the hell, I could get a six-grand raise. First show? Reagan gets shot. Trial by fire! Yes! It led to getting hired as one of the first producers to launch CNN’s second network, CNN2, now HLN. Oh…took a reporting job at a newspaper having never worked at a newspaper, and was hired to start Chrysler’s first blog, but I’d never blogged. It morphed into a senior management position over the course of almost 11 years.
You get the idea. What I’m leading to is I read all these stories and posts about how to handle job interviews..both as a candidate and as a manager. Oh, there are boilerplate questions such as greatest challenges, strengths, weaknesses, blah, blah. What I never see are questions regarding one’s courage. How willing are you to try something new, break from the mold, take risks, stand up to those who would attempt to drag you into doing the same damn thing, the same damn way.
Those who can convince me they’re fearless…not careless…are the kinds of folks I want on my team. I was blessed with a team at Fiat Chrysler that never once in the ten years we were together said “no” to at least trying a new idea. Some worked, some didn’t but we learned from every experience, sometimes using that knowledge to create something better. Yes, despite significant pushback from some, we brought then-emerging digital communications techniques to the department.
By the same token, if you’re a job candidate, when it’s your turn to ask questions, quiz the interviewer as to the company’s courage..how open it is to new ideas. You don’t want to work somewhere that still believes the best way to communicate is by fax.
How often are we hard-pressed to succeed and put forth new ideas when others attempted to thwart our efforts through their own cowardice and jealousy? Indeed, over the years at many different workplaces, one no doubt encountered co-workers and managers who haven’t had a new idea since deciding to go from white to rye for their daily tuna sandwich.
Cowards are death to any organization that thrives on moving forward, on fostering creativity and bolstering worker morale. Cowards are useless wastes of space and resources and should be swept from the payroll immediately. They will only hold you back and piss you off.
You wanna work for me? Have the skills, experience and work habits the job requires and the courage to challenge every pre-conception and past practice to take the type of chances that will make us winners…together.
Think about it. If the Cowardly Lion was too scared to join Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road to meet Oz, he might never have found the nerve he had in him all along.
After another successful trip to our nearby Ikea store, it’s occurred to me foolishness like the federal government shutdown and other such obstacles could easily be avoided by following adopting the Swedish furniture chain’s model. The main feature being, its instructions for assembling Ikea furniture use no words, and one must concede, words are what stand in the way of progress.
Imagine, by following simple wordless instructions, proper use of the (included) hex wrench and fasteners and a little patience, all sorts of legislation could be cobbled together with time left over to enjoy a plate of tasty Swedish meatballs.
Eliminating words, and by extension, conversation and testy debate, cuts right to the chase. The only goal is completing the project with a minimum of wasted time and effort, and, yes, words… whether it be legislation, treaties, or screwing the taxpayers.
The Ikea model is entirely transferrable to the business place by instructing both management and labor on the otherwise indecipherable intricacies of navigating corporate culture.
The beauty of Ikea’s simply drawn instruction sheets is they leave no room for interpretation or improvisation. Step 2 just ain’t gonna work without completing Step 1 exactly. The requirement to adhere to such a cut and dry process would surely relieve members of Congress of the need to espouse their moronic prejudices on the way to preventing sensible action.
You may notice Ikea does toss a lifeline to those who find following illustrations just too challenging…by including one last drawing advising the terminally perplexed to actually call someone for help. I would imagine the person on the other end of the line would be a Swede with a Scandinavian’s penchant for never uttering more than 1.3 words at a time.
Perplexed customer: “Ikea, I can’t figure out how to put together my bookcase. Help!”
Ikea Swede: “Surrre you can. Goodbye.”
That’s just the kind of assistance members of Congress could use..a Government Swede who refuses to allow them to kick their responsibilities down the road.
Perplexed Member of Congress: “Government Swede..I’m having trouble with Step 4 in the Preventing a Government Shutdown instructions.”
Government Swede: “Just stop talking. Goodbye.”
As one who always practices what I preach, I’ve installed the Ikea Way here at home. Indeed, when I first suggested it, my family approached it with enthusiasm..quickly drawing an Ikea-like instruction sheet, guiding me through the three steps… of pulling my head out of my butt…and not a word was spoken! Try it!
One thing, among many, an employee hates to hear is the boss saying, “go ahead, take as much time as you need to recover. We’ll get along just fine.” At face value it seems like the boss is being really considerate, and probably is. But honestly, who wants to be told the company won’t come to a screeching halt without them.
I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist and newsrooms are perpetually short-staffed, which means calling in sick does not win the “take your time, get better,” reaction from the boss. It generally sparks “if you’re not dead, you’re well enough to cover your assignment.” That’s not technically wrong. In fact, three days after undergoing removal of a malignancy in my right shoulder, with a drainage bag and tube sticking out of my flesh, I never mentioned it to the CNN national desk and I covered my story. All I had to do was hide my apparatus, and a few blood spots, under my blazer when recording my standup on a bobbing speed boat and no one was the wiser. At CNN, as at many other companies, the whole idiotic hero thing is part of the culture.
When I made the switch to PR at a large multinational car company, things were markedly different. I was now one of a global workforce of roughly 45,000, showing up each day to the corporate Xanadu, along with 12,000 other contributors to the cause.
As I trundled from the parking deck to the employee entrance of the massive complex, I blended in with the mob swiping their badges in order to make the revolving doors turn, giving them entree’ to their workspaces.
Each day for my 10 years and 29 days at the company I would have the same two thoughts: Would anyone care/notice if I didn’t show up? What the hell do all these other people do and would anyone care/notice if any of them were absent? Sure, it takes a lot of people to run and operate a giant company, but honestly, does it take that many? I wasn’t being arrogant. I was simply wondering how many of us would be considered superfluous and not, sorry, “core.”
It hit home to me early in my run when I noticed a of employees who grabbed coffees from the fancy java stand in the complex and just stood around in the common area, sipped and bullshitted for what seemed like an excessive amount of time. Like two hours. Obviously, they’re not being missed, so why are they being granted paychecks? In newsrooms, you never have time to waste and if you attempt to waste any, a thorough ass-chewing from an editor can be expected. Early in my TV career, my no-nonsense assignment editor would bark at lollygagging reporters, “hey! you gonna turn a story or just sit there and yank your tuna?” I assure you, tuna yanking was at a minimum in that newsroom.
When the bad times came in 2008-2009 and GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, suddenly thousands of workers were given cardboard boxes and told to get lost. You never knew when your time was up until you got a box and brusque brush off. Over and over again I told my team, “Make yourself indispensable. Make the company understand what it would be losing if you were gone.” We constantly marketed our accomplishments and abilities to the higher ups so they fully comprehended our value and the strategy worked. We presented hard documentation and third-party endorsements. I did have to lay off one of my nine team members, but a couple of years later, when things settled down I was able to hire him back. Other teams were not as lucky. In fact, some were simply eliminated.
I’ve always found that abiding by my job description is a pretty fast track to obsolescence. Finding ways to take the basic premise of your position then using a recipe combining one-part skills and large dollops of guile, salesmanship and imagination not only makes the work day more fun and rewarding, but generally surprises and delights your employer and results in as much job security as can be hoped for.
No, I don’t want to be that person I see walking through the revolving door, wondering if their absence would make any difference at all in my company’s success. Sure, no one’s irreplaceable, but there are kickass employees who are, indispensable. And if you’re not indispensable, you’ll likely be dispensed with.