Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How do you value yourself?

"How you make your money is not your life."

That's one example of the wise counsel Johnna Baroso, the speaker at a career networking group I attend, offered in her talk "From Laid Off to Living: Building on Change."

Johnna has started companies. She's been an employee who's been laid off. She's written a book with the same title as her talk on Tuesday. So she knows what from the job market. Her take on lifetime employment: Let it go. It ain't coming back. If Toyota can't offer lifetime employment, it's gone forever. The way most companies handle lay-offs is similar to a bad break-up--you go from a close and mutually fruitful association to persona non grata. Not only do you lose your income and whatever identity you invest in your work, you also lose the friends who still work there.

What Johnna and other employment experts are urging companies to do in the New Economic Reality is to develop and articulate a clear lay-off policy. When HR reps sit down with new employees, they still will describe salary and benefits packages and also say, "This is the process our company has devised in the event we need to lay you off."

That is most certainly not what we want to hear as we're preparing to accept a job offer. But we're all adults here. Making such a statement means the company has thought through a way to shrink their workforces, and I would hope more humanely than the current "Up in the Air" mode. I hope progressive companies consider profits AND people and figure out how they're going to treat their employees in the best of times as well as the worse. Downsizing is never fun, but there's no need to make matters worse with the current bad break-up model. Because when businesses do start hiring, they need a workforce that in good shape psychologically and ready to work.

Until that happens, each of us is going to need to redefine the meaning of net worth. If the new reality is, as Johnna Baroso says, that how we make our money is not our life, then what we have in our bank accounts or our home's value does not determine our net worth. Over the last ten years during my time in the Land of Stay At Home Moms, I've reassessed how I value myself. I'd like to share some tips on keeping myself relevant as I did the sacred work of raising my sons. It definitely applies to job hunters or anyone who is in a life transition.

1. Invent places to go, things to do, people to meet. When I quit my editing job ten years ago to stay at home with my then two-year-old, I felt very isolated. There weren't very many women in the same station in life who had, or could, make the choice to stay at home with their kids. A neighbor suggested I check out the local Moms Club. That was great because Patrick and I had somewhere to go a couple of times a week. He could be with kids his age, and I could have adult conversation. Similarly, going to networking events gives me a reason to get up in the morning and allows me to contact people who are also seeking employment.

2. Progress, not perfection. I know people who are a lot more relaxed about reaching their goals than I am. I fall into the category of wanting what I want roughly three days ago. As a result, I feel perpetually frustrated. My advice to you other perfectionists out there: Take a deep breath. To use Johnna's advice, "Trust that there will be movement." In other words, you don't always have to be the one to make things happen. Simply cast the seeds, water them and trust that they'll grow. I take this approach in my running practice. If I set out to do my long run at a certain pace, I've found I'm setting myself for disappointment. If I instead tell myself that I want to run an hour and ten minutes and not worry about how much ground I cover in that time, I'm a lot more satisfied during and after the run.

3. Take some chances. I've found that when I do something I wouldn't ordinarily choose to do it opens up channels of possibility and creativity. A month ago a friend at church asked me if I wanted to learn to run the sound system in our 400-seat sanctuary. You can ask my family about my technical chops, and they'll start to laugh nervously. Ask me to bake a cake, feed your parrot or listen to your problems, and I'm so there. I leave the technical stuff to my husband, who's very, very good at it. But you know what? Running the sound system was so far outside my comfort zone I knew I had to say yes. I've been apprenticing with Richard for a few weeks, and I'll fly solo at the Memorial Day weekend service. At the very least, the experience might be good fodder for a blog post!

4. Care for others. My church, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Boulder, has been such a blessing for me and my family. Apart from the wonderful preaching and teaching we receive and the extended family we've found there, the many opportunities to serve are so important to feeling that we can be a resource to others. If you feel that you're not contributing and therefore not valuable, I encourage you to volunteer. Even if church is not your thing, there are so many organizations in need of volunteer labor. I can guarantee you that you will receive more than you give.

5. Care for yourself. Developing a routine of self-care is so important for people who are in transition. All the years I was at home with my kids, I made a point to get up well before they did to do my spiritual practice, a little yoga or other exercise, or some writing. I would also be showered and dressed before my kids went to school. It kept me linked, on my terms, to the workaday world. Going to networking meetings or to my new volunteer gig at the wildlife rehabilitation center is how I keep myself in a good groove as my new job and I find each other.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. In the future I plan to write about teachers and books that have helped me discover my value.

The Lure of the Blog

Remember those cocktail parties of yore when young professionals would discuss their salaries using terms like "high five figures" or "low six figures"? Though close enough to overhear, I was never anywhere close to earning those kind of salaries. Best to keep my low five figures to myself.

When I left my last editing job ten years ago to raise my kids, I occasionally picked up some writing and editing work that paid at best a couple of hundred dollars. Woo-hoo! Now I was making in the low three figures! Not exactly something to brag about at a party. That was OK. I was working at my pace on a project of my choosing, a novel, maybe even the Great American Novel, that would one day land me a lucrative book deal. My husband would be able to quit his job and get that job at Home Depot he's always wanted. In the meantime I mostly settled for bylines, clips for my portfolio, and the publisher's gratitude.

Then came the Depression Light. And not a book deal in sight--mainly because the book isn't finished. (I've never been any good at endings.) In this time of double-digit unemployment and glacial hiring, the low three figures are beginning to sound pretty good--especially if I can string several of them together. It just so happens that our oldest son is going to college in the fall, and now Mama needs to contribute more than her flexible schedule and homemade cookies. I'm looking for work, whether that means one job, a couple of jobs, odd jobs here and there. I'm making the rounds of networking groups (a shout out to LongsPeakNet!)

Until now I've resisted the Lure of the Blog. Who would want to read the navel-gazing of a middle-aged, middle American mother of two long past her edgy female writer phase? Now I figure, what have I got to lose? I can manage writing a couple of posts a week. I may even be on to something zeitgeisty. I'm hoping you'll let me know!