Communication is my passion

Within the past few days, two experiences have made me think about my identity, my passion, my calling. One was Friday’s Social Media Breakfast meeting about entrepreneurs. They talked about passion and hard work driving people to start businesses part time when they’re already working full time, and how satisfying that was.

The second experience was a Personal Branding blog entitled Your Personal Brand is Failing You – Here’s Why. The first reason was You Aren’t Living Your Passion.

Now, I’ve seen books and heard talks where people say “do what you love and the money will follow” but I’m a practical person. I have no second source of income and I have bills to pay, and would like to be able to retire some day. The things I love are music (composing mostly), painting, wildlife photography, and writing. I have one song published but made almost no money from it. I sold one painting for $30 (tried selling them for more and no one was buying). I’ve made about $125 in six months selling my photography book, less than I spent on my current inventory. Freelance writing was a bit more lucrative, since I was making about $150/month before Eagan Patch stopped using freelance writers. I’m appalled at how low the salaries and contract rates are for writing jobs. I couldn’t live on what they pay.

As I thought about it, I realized that all the things I mentioned have a common thread – communication. All of them communicate something to the reader/listener/viewer. I am a communicator – I need to communicate. That is my passion. I wasn’t doing much communicating at my former job, which is probably why I’m happier at my present low paying contract, where I’m doing promotions that communicate something about our products.

I do have a dream – it concerns an arts complex. The past few days have convinced me that I at least need to do some research and see if there is any feasible way to do it, perhaps in conjunction with local arts groups. That would definitely be a passion – the question is, would it pay the bills?

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Part Time Employment

It’s now been 9 months since I lost my job. I’m still doing part time employment at Best Buy Mobile, but now my weekly hours are in the 28-30 range, which is helping me to make ends meet. Sadly, my freelance writing for Eagan Patch is probably at an end. They have decided to no longer use freelance workers. My story that they published Friday may be my last paid story, although I have one other that I’m going to turn in even if I don’t get paid for it. I will miss the $150/month that I’ve been getting for the writing, but mostly I will miss the feeling of satisfaction and the great people I’ve met.

There’s a chance that my job will go to 40 hours per week next fiscal year (March). There’s no promise of that, so I’m still talking to recruiters about other positions. I’m still enjoying most aspects of the job, although I could use a raise …

Today I got paid for hiking! I was in the woods taking photos of a buck, doe and fawns, and a woman came through with her dog. She asked about the photos, and as we talked I mentioned that I had published a photography book. She met me in the parking lot 20 minutes later and purchased one of my books. That made me feel really good.

I’ll also be showing some of my watercolor paintings and photographs at a show at Best Buy in early December, so I’m busy preparing for that. Maybe I’ll sell something.

This lengthy transition has definitely shown me that I can make money (well, small amounts) in many interesting ways..

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Don’t Despise the Process

I’m not by nature a real patient person. I don’t like to wait for things. When I lost my job in February I hit the ground running because I wanted the job transition process to be over as quickly as possible so I could move forward.

That hasn’t happened. It’s now been 7 months since I was downsized, and I’m still very much in job transition. However, I’m learning that the process of change isn’t something to hate and to rush through. I am learning and growing so much through this job transition.

My first learning is that I do really well in an environment where I work on projects with beginnings, ends and clear deliverables, with a duration measured in weeks, not in years. I do well with hands on work where I have creative input as well as project coordination. I do well with variety and multitasking. I’m happier at my low paying part time job than I was at my high paying permanent job, and it’s because my part time job has the qualities I just described.

I also love the freelance writing and reporting I recently started doing for Eagan Patch. I get to meet a lot of people and interview them, so it’s a good source of both networking and fellowship, and I’m using my writing and photography skills to earn money. It’s not a lot of money, but it helps.

If I can grow the amount of freelance work I’m doing, and keep the part time hours up to at least 25 hours/week, I might be OK with the much lower income because I’m feeling a level of satisfaction that I haven’t felt for awhile. There are a few permanent, traditional employment opportunities that I’m still pursuing, but after what I’ve learned about myself the past two months I’d have a hard time taking a permanent position that I wouldn’t love, just for the money.

It’s hard for me to say that I’m grateful for 5 months of unemployment and 2 months of underemployment, but I am grateful. For those who find themselves in a career transition, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity for self-discovery, and to be open to going in a new direction.

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Labor Day: Letter to Employers

Today is Labor Day, which I used to think of as a long weekend for playing at the end of summer. After going through a six month job transition, Labor Day has a lot more meaning to me. I’m addressing this to businesses who may be hiring employees.

Don’t Shun the Unemployed: To those of you who screen out resumes of the unemployed without even looking at them, you’re being incredibly shortsighted. In my 7 months of going to job transition groups and networking with the unemployed, I’ve met some real superstars who could revitalize your company, and are in no way “damaged goods.” No one will work harder for you than the person who lost a job through no fault of their own, and wants nothing more than to help you succeed.

Hire Those Over 50: Age discrimination is huge in the marketplace. Companies are getting away with it because court rulings have made it almost impossible to win an age discrimination suit, and if you dare to file one you lose the severance you need to survive in an economy where people over 50 get hired at a much lower rate than younger people.

Baby boomers overall have some characteristics that serve companies very well. We have a work ethic that is unparalleled. We have good judgement developed over the course of our professional lives. We are responsible, and loyal. Most of us realize that we may never again earn the high salaries that our experience earned us, and are willing to take less pay – we just want to work! But every day we hear we’re “overqualified” – or we hear nothing at all. If we do get interviews we often can tell by the faces of the interviewers that our age has effectively ended the interview before it starts.

We are not all just coasting until we retire. We do work hard, we can learn new things and be innovators. Give us a try – you won’t be disappointed.

Sending Jobs Offshore: I understand the pressures companies are under to be profitable, and getting cheap labor outside the US is a way to do that. I know from working for a company that moved a lot of jobs offshore, it’s not always as successful as the companies hope for, and companies are now starting to pay the price because their US customers who lost jobs due to the offshore movement cannot buy the goods and services that the companies are selling. Today’s extraordinarily high unemployment rate is having a massive effect on the overall economy and on a company’s bottom line, and to a large extent the companies did it to themselves by moving all the jobs to other countries. How about filling some jobs here?

I’m hoping that next Labor Day finds more of us actually being able to labor.

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Reinventing a Career

Since mid-July I have been working 20-25 hours per week at Best Buy Mobile. I’m actually enjoying the work more than I expected. I’m working on various marketing projects, doing project management and also writing and editing content and making sure all the legal approvals are done. Most of what I work on is interactive content, but I’ve also been involved in signs and newsletter copy for a partner event.

The money isn’t what I need. Even if it was full time, the hourly wage is much lower than what I got before. I’m trying to find ways to make up at least part of the difference in income. I’ve just received my first two freelance writing assignments for the Eagan Patch, and I’ll be trying to write 1-2 articles per week. I’m also putting together packaged offerings for WordPress Web site/blog combos and offering my services for documenting SharePoint how tos and best practices. I’m trying to revitalize my Zazzle site, and will be doing photo calendars and coasters to sell, along with some cards. I’ve sold a few of my photo books, and now have them on eBay.

I had a mini-meltdown over the past day or two, a reaction to my money concerns. I want to rush into the security of a full time job (assuming there is one out there for me) and not have to worry about money, but I think if I pull the plug too soon on this freelance thing I may regret it. If I can put aside the money woes, I’m enjoying myself more than I have for a long time.

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A “Soft Landing” and Reflections

In the job transition groups I attend they refer to getting a job as “landing.” I’ve had a “soft landing,” kind of like when you’re flying from the US to Europe and stop in Greenland for refueling. I’m not in Europe yet, but Greenland isn’t too bad 🙂

I’ve accepted a part time contract position doing Web content management. It won’t pay all the bills, but it more than covers the mortgage and it will help my severance to last a lot longer. It also feels good to be working, and I’m enjoying myself so far. I’m trying to get some freelance work or a second part time contract. I’m also still looking at full time positions, too.

I joined a LinkedIn group that has been having a spirited discussion about finding work when you’re over 50. I think it was probably the most negative, bitter discussion I’ve ever read. It made me reflect on my experience these past few months and a few things I’ve learned.

  • It’s easy to become negative, but if you let that negativity take hold it will drag you down. We’re only victims if we take on the victim role.
  • Much of what we think of as age discrimination is really about money. People in their 50s have a lot of experience, and expect to be paid for it. Many employers value our experience but don’t want to pay for it. If we are willing to take jobs below our experience, for low pay, many employers assume we will leave as soon as a higher paying job is offered – and if we’re honest with ourselves, they’re probably right. This is a challenge, but there are employers who value what we have to offer. It just may take a bit longer to find them.
  • We can help ourselves by never losing our curiosity and love of learning, and bringing enthusiasm and energy to our interviews and business meetings. We need to stay current with our industry and any new trends, even if we’re not using them at the moment. Doing this improves our chances of being hired.
  • The discussion on LinkedIn really blasted recruiters. Personally, I have found some very good and very helpful recruiters, but we need to remember that their priority is to satisfy their customers, the companies doing the hiring. We need to have reasonable expectations about what they can do for us, and build relationships with recruiters who deal with jobs in our field. They can be good partners for us if we are honest with them about what we can and can’t do, and treat them with respect.
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Benny Card and Panic Button: Promising ideas that don’t quite deliver

Not all promising ideas deliver on the promise.

When my health plan started using a Benny card, allowing me to use the card to purchase items reimbursable under my flexible spending account for health care, I thought it was a great idea that would eliminate a lot of annoying paperwork. However, I soon started getting letter after letter after letter asking for more documentation of items charged on the Benny card, sometimes many months after the charge was incurred, and it turned out to be more work dealing with it later than it would have been just submitting items for reimbursement the old fashioned way.

I was also excited when I bought my Toyota Matrix in 2004 and it had a key fob with a panic button. This seemed like a great idea if I was out at night and some creep was stalking me. However, the position of the panic button ensures that it will go off accidentally many, many times. I have never used it for personal safety, it is just an annoyance to me and to anyone else who has to hear people’s horns blasting because the owner inadvertently set off the panic alarm. I will NEVER have another one!

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Personal Branding

This isn’t the first time I’ve been laid off from a job. It happened to me twice in the late 1990s. However, this time there’s a new wrinkle – personal branding.

I know all about branding, since I’ve done marketing work, but I had to think about what my personal brand should be. I googled myself, and what came back was short articles I’ve written about cats, my painting Web site, this blog, my business blog, and some links about a gospel song I had published years ago.

So, I’ve been blogging, and tweeting, and then I tried coming up with a “tag line.” A guy I met in a networking group uses a tag line of “The Big Bald Guy.” So, what should mine be – “One Feisty Old Broad?” No, probably not a good idea:-) Since what I do is centered on Content, I thought that should be in the tag line. I tried “the content commando” but that was too militaristic and not quite what I was looking for. I tried “the content curator” but in the social media world content curation means pointing your followers to content created by others, and that’s not what I do.

The answer came while watching “So You Think You Can Dance” on TV. It occurred to me that there were similarities between what choreographers do with dance steps, music, lighting and costumes, and what content creators do with words, graphics and user interface or page design. In both cases, the most important element is the story that needs to be told, and they use technical elements, creative elements and packaging to enhance the telling of the story.

So, I am now the “Content Choreographer.” I have no idea whether that will help me get a job, or any freelance work, but maybe it will be something about me that people will remember.

My job hunting continues. I’ve been having more interviews, but so far no job offers. I’m hoping that changes soon, and I’m encouraged that it will, even though I have three strikes against me according to some I listen to – I’m a woman, I’m over 45, and I’m unemployed. I’m also a fighter, and I don’t give up, and I’m working extremely hard to get a job, so I’m hopeful that by this time next month I’ll be working.

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Over 50 and unemployed: The Journey Continues

I’m still over 50 and unemployed. It’s been just over three months now. I’ve completed my outplacement services, and have now completed a second training course, a six week course on Search Engine Optimization. I’ve just started a course on Search Engine Marketing, which will run for a few months.

After three months without an interview, other than with staffing agency people, I worked a short contract (a week and a couple of days) and during that week three companies wanted to interview me, for one permanent and two contract positions. I had to do some fancy scheduling. None of the three interviews happened that week. The interview for the permanent position moved out to this week, and I actually had it today. I think it went well, but I’m competing against an internal candidate who probably has quite an edge.

The two contract positions were both phone interviews, and neither interviewer showed up. One didn’t even bother to tell the recruiter, just said “I got busy…” For that reason and because of location, I took myself out of the running for that position. The second interview where I got blown off, the interviewer did let the recruiter know that they had the position temporarily on hold and may need to cover the need in another way. However, this was about 10 minutes before the interview, and I didn’t hear about it until I called the recruiter to tell her that they didn’t show up.

I do have an interview tomorrow for a part time contract position, and another company had me fill out an interview checklist, sort of a written interview (that was a first for me, but since I’m a writer it may have been an advantage).

I also established a freelance profile on Solvate.com. If I take the part time contract I’d like to try filling the income gap by freelance work (writing, Web design, maybe some SEO consulting). So far nothing has materialized from Solvate.com, but I’m hopeful.

It’s been very encouraging to have more solid job prospects and to start getting interviews, although the ones that fell through were disappointing. I’m continuing to go after new opportunities until I have an offer in hand and accepted.

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Filling knowledge gaps through training

My most recent position involved Web application management and Web content management inside the firewall: intranets, an internal WordPress blog, a MediaWiki installation, and SharePoint governance and site collection management. My previous positions were Marketing Communications positions, including writing and producing brochures, direct mail pieces, Web content, print ads, etc. and also trade show management and user group management.

The direction I’d like to go with my next job combines both – managing Web content outside the firewall, where I can leverage my marketing communication knowledge to use the Web site as an extension of a marketing program. The piece I was missing to do that was the whole area of using social media to spread the marketing message, and also search engine marketing (SEO, pay per click, etc.) I’ve been trying to fill that gap through training, and practicing those principals on this site, my business site, and my brother’s book site.

I just completed a three day course at Dakota County Technical College, the first offering for this course, called Certified Master of Social Media (CMSM). This course was a good overview of how companies can incorporate social media to build their brand and engage with customers – an important part of any PR or marketing program. At the end there was a certification exam, and there are plans to follow up with an online community and continuing education to dive deeper into specific areas of social media. It was also an excellent networking opportunity, and I learned about several groups where people involved in social media in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area meet to discuss issues around social media and interactive marketing.

Also through DCTC, I’m taking two online courses: Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing. All of these concepts are so interrelated now that I think this combination of training, and practicing on the sites under my control, will enable me to offer a much more “full service” offering to a company I may work for, or to companies I may consult with if I choose to take that route.

All of this training was paid for by the Dislocated worker program (see Government Assistance for Dislocated Workers for more info on services that unemployed workers should check out).

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