Spoons, fear, and darkness

Day 184 of being laid off.

I have never understood spoons as much as I have this past week.

I’ve survived a lot in my life (yes, even with privilege, I have had to endure some shit). I have struggled plenty, more than you know because I’m not inclined to ask for help (see Lydia Temoshok’s theory of the C-type personality here: https://www.healingcancer.info/ebook/lydia-temoshok). But I have learned a bit over the past few months…not the least of which is that “holding it in” is a BadThing™.

I am NOT good at being vulnerable but I also realize that it might help someone for me to talk about darkness and fear.

I have spent the past 2 days in total meltdown. Vacillating between feelings of abject fear and complete worthlessness, I cried for 2 days. I cried till I ran out of tears. My eyes are still sore today; my emotions raw. My chest aches (not in a heart-problem way, don’t worry). I am angry and frustrated and terrified and panicky…and hopeless.

My brain has little recordings of friends tucked away, telling me to breathe fresh air, get some sunshine, meditate, or whatever kind of “do something that won’t cost money” kind of thing I can muster. You think I don’t listen to you, but I do. In fact, there are times that your voices are the things that drive me. So I went to the health club (I’m fortunate to receive a scholarship into a cancer care program at a local health club) for a meditation class followed by a chair yoga (harder than you think!) class.

It was a shakra meditation and while Lin was guiding us through the shakra colors, all I could muster was solar plexis yellow, throat blue, and crown violet. Everything else was black. I fully understand what the black means – it’s depression. Tears streamed but I managed to stay with the meditation through the end.

I was rolling up my mat and drying my tear-soaked face, when she came over and just held me. Tight. This tiny lady, half my size at most, was so strong. She held me while I cried. She whispered that the quiet of meditation can bring up all sorts of emotions, that everything is fluid, that nothing is permanent, that darkness passes, and that there will be sun again.

And she told me she would hold me as long as I needed to be held. Normally this would have made me super uncomfortable. But I gave in and let someone else support me.

Truth be told, it may have been the most important hug I have ever had. I am grateful that I had one spoon left to get my ass over there. The experience didn’t solve anything. It didn’t take away the post-radiation pain I still have. It didn’t rewrite my resume or get me a job or an interview. It didn’t solve my financial crisis. It didn’t take away any of the things that have built up over the past 6 months.

But what she did for me, in those 5 minutes, was give me a respite from the suffering. She gave me some time to be taken care of. She helped bring me out of a very dark place. All those bad feelings are still there, but she replenished some of my spoons.

I know i have a lot to be grateful for. But sometimes that’s just not enough. And being told to be grateful just makes me feel smaller and invalidates my feelings. Then that sets off the whole cycle of hopelessness and worthlessness all over again.

So here’s my wisdom and advice.

Check on your strong, silent friends. They won’t tell you when they’re hurting.

When someone you care about is out of spoons, consider a (consensual) hug instead of a lecture or advice.

Answer their text or their call.

Let them express it their way.

Listen to them and hold them up – replenish their spoons.

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I’m Baaackkkk!

I’ve been quiet here for a few months. I’m more than a little aware of how long it’s been since I last wrote anything. See, I just could not bring myself to write. I was afraid of how I would be perceived, I was afraid of how it would affect my job prospects, I was just plain afraid.

But, seeing as how I have spent gobs of money on resume rewrites, on AI tools, and on coaching yet I still have yet to get even a screening call (I’ve been out of work since August 8, 2023) from any of my applications, I figure I have nothing to lose from sharing my 2023 Q4 adventure. (Is that anger and frustration you hear? Yes, yes it is). So this is my catch-you-up post. Not gonna have anything very insightful or mind-bending today, I’ll save that for other posts.

I won’t go into all the sordid details of my last few months because they’re elsewhere on the intarwebs (I have a Caring Bridge site if you’re interested in details – please donate to them, they do good work), but I’ll give you the high level update. Also, I’m sharing this because others have shared their journeys, and they helped me. I can only hope that my posting this might save someone else.

On September 13, 2023 I went for my yearly mammogram (if you don’t have yearly checkups on all your important parts, you really should). I have had to go for a second ultrasound screening every year for the past – at least – 15 years. It’s just how my body is designed. This time I went in and the doctor saw something suspicious. Not my usual cyst, but something else that came and went depending on how she held the tool. She recommended a biopsy for the next week.

Still assuming it was all going to be just another exercise in poking and prodding, I went for the biopsy. I wasn’t worried. What could possibly go wrong? She sounded unsure of what she saw so that had to work out in my favor, right?

On October 5 I got the call that I had been diagnosed with Estrogen Positive Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. That is a LOT of big scary words that mean a cancerous tumor broke through the wall of a lobe in my breast and that the tumor is fed by estrogen. Still scary sounding, right? The explanation I got after the definition was this: I had a very very small (.5cm) tumor in my left breast at 12:00 that was extremely slow growing and fed by estrogen. The summary statement was “if you have to have a breast cancer, this is the kind to get – it is easily curable.”

While I should have been put at east by that (and I guess I was a little) I still hung up the phone feeling numb…a feeling that lasted for weeks, btw.

Treatment protocol was designed like this: lumpectomy (and a single sentinel lymph node test) on November 3, 19 radiation treatments beginning December 14, and a daily estrogen-blocker beginning January 25 and lasting 5 years. I would be cancer-free after surgery (assuming the margins were clear and the lymph node came back clean – which they both did). The radiation is a preventative to recurrence, as is the estrogen blocker.

Today (January 11, 2024) I rang the gong to mark the completion of my radiation treatment. Side effects will last another couple of weeks (they’re on a 2-3 week delayed accumulation cycle) but I am effectively done.

While all this was going on, I was still applying to jobs. I was still the caregiver for my mother outside of her M-F 9-5 caregiver. I still have a dog who needs me. I hosted my visiting children and grandchildren (such great medicine!). I hosted 17 for Thanksgiving (ok, I catered a bunch of it but still cooked and baked a bunch). I read LinkedIn daily and commented for reach where possible. I signed up for and took classes in: PMP, SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager, Six Sigma Green Belt, Tableau Desktop, and ITIL. I’m studying for the certification exams (finding this a little difficult…the brain is a bit overcharged). I applied and was accepted into the Integrated Cancer Care Program and a local health club (which means I have a workout and self-care structure to follow now). I’ve reworked my budget because unemployment isn’t enough to cover my basic expenses and I’ve run through my severance.

Life is hard right now. I’ve had a lot of privilege and I took it for granted. I forgot how bad things could be. I forgot what life was like that summer I lived on, basically, a loaf of bread and a jar of jelly. I forgot the fear that gripped me when I left my marriage with no job and no money and three kids…I was sure I’d be living in a box. I never thought I’d be facing this kind of fear again. But here we are.

But, for today, I am in a good mental place. I am cancer free and that is no small thing. And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. I’ll be back to writing…I suspect I’ll have some major feels over the next few weeks.

Hug your people, tell them you love them. Reach out to your seemingly strong friends, they won’t tell you when they’re not ok. Ask for what you need. Be kind, you don’t know what the other person is going through.

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Financial Clarity

I was thinking about all the things that have happened in 2023. I’m not ready to share them all here…yet…but I will at some point.

Suffice it to say that 2023 has been a terrible year. H1 was fine. H2 can go suck it.

I’ve been going through training thanks to a wonderful program that President Obama put in place in 2014. It’s called the WIOA program and, basically, it’s a federally-funded job retraining program for displaced workers. If you’re unemployed or you know someone who’s unemployed, Google it. I applied for the program and was eligible for a substantial amount of scholarship money to be used at approved training providers.

So I’ve been going to training since the beginning of November. I have completed 1.75 classes so far. I’ve passed my SAFe POPM certification and I have just another week or two in my PMP class; I’ll take that test shortly thereafter. And then there will be Tableau, Business Analytics, ITIL 4, AWS, and something else that I can’t recall at this moment. All in all, I’m doing whatever I can to boost my resume JUST TO GET IT SEEN!

I’ve been out of work for 117 days now and have yet to get even one initial interview. I’ve paid a ton of money, that I don’t really have, to resume writers and that hasn’t helped either. I’m running at a deficit every month. I sure can’t do that much longer.

I’m living on a mere $2k/month from unemployment and THAT, my friends, is not sustainable. In fact, it is less than what it takes to cover mortgage, health insurance, property taxes, car insurance, electric, gas. Consider what is not in that list. I know I have. What’s not in that list comes from what little savings I have available.

And tonight, as I was going over my budget to prepare for 2024, it all hit me pretty hard. I knew how bad the situation was, but I guess I felt like I had some cushion so I didn’t worry about it too much. Plus, I had bigger things to deal with (I’ll share those at some point but not today). But today I could focus on money and, well, reality hit me like a baseball bat to the face.

I’m feeling pretty low tonight. I don’t know how much longer I can go without work. I know there are people living in their cars…or worse. I understand that even as bad as it is here, I have it better than many. I get that. This is not a competition. It’s just where I’m at tonight.

Keep good thoughts for me an for all my unemployed compatriots. Continue to speak truth to power. Don’t forget why so many of us are in this position. It’s not our fault. a

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A Difference of Opinion

This is probably a post better suited for LinkedIn, but I like keeping my thoughts here in one place. Probably my way of keeping a bit of control over my public presence…just a small bit. And with the state of my job hunt, any control is helpful.

First, The Feelings

I feel definitely not in control of my life. Not that I’m “out of control,” but more that I can’t make things happen that I need to happen. I can’t move forward with my continuing education until others get around to giving me permission. I’m not getting any interviews. I’m waiting for the results of some health tests. My allergies are clogging up my right ear and nothing will fix it but time (it happens for about 6 weeks twice a year – delightful). I can’t seem to get a resume that works in spite of paying $$ for someone to write it in a way that gets past the ATS (and I’m pissed).

All The Experts

The last time I looked for a job I paid someone a hefty amount of money to redo my resume. What I got back was super-impressive. I mean, it had ALL the words in it. It looked beautiful with all the boxed-in items and heavy lines between sections and such. And you know how many interviews I got with it? Zero. A big fat zero. The job I got was not because of my resume, but because of networking. Someone I knew inside the company approached me with a job that matched beautifully. In other words, networking.

So this time I knew I needed to fix that disaster of a resume, if for no other reason than I needed to add the last job to it. Also, I needed to fix the format. And the words (I didn’t know what 70% of the phrases on my resume even meant!). And the skills. And the organization. Gosh, what the hell did I pay for?

This time, I got a recommendation from a talent recruiter for a service. It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was still a cash outlay. i was to get a resume “template”, a cover letter, and a LinkedIn zhuzh. And the woman I met with repeatedly told me how her resume template would be done in a way that would beat the ATS systems. And their “ATS checker” gave me 100% on all my resumes. And checking them against job descriptions also garnered me 100% match.

So why have I gotten zero traction on any of my resumes? I dunno honestly. What I do know is that I feel like I’ve spent a lot of money on resumes that haven’t done squat.

Did I Learn My Lesson?

No, not really. But sort of. After a slew of “no’s” and being ignored, I realized that I’m floundering. I’m lost as to what the right thing to do is. I don’t know how to get some human to read my stuff and take me seriously.

I don’t typically like to mix business and friendships – too often it leads to hard feelings along the way. I treasure the friends I have. Good friends are hard to come by, y’know? But he told me about his business in a way that I don’t believe can mess up our friendship. No money is transacted unless I get a job. That’s actually a brilliant way to work. That way we both have an interest in getting me landed somewhere great.

The Frustration

Every fiber of my being says I need to have all the right keywords to beat these ATS systems. But friend is saying I don’t. Who to believe? Everyone has their own opinion on how to write a resume/cover letter. Everyone is an expert. But who is an expert in a process that is so prone to opinion and gut, a process that employers are trying to streamline by using AI instead of people?

The key, it seems, is finding someone inside the company to champion for you, rather than applying online along with 3500 other desperate people. Maybe. So far that hasn’t worked very well for me either.

I get his point. But I’ve seen this in action. I would bring in someone’s resume who was truly suited to a job and they would still get refused because their resume was still run through an ATS and lacked the phrases and keywords.

This is why I never did cold calling. I’m so bad at it.

I don’t know what the right answer is. I know that what I’ve been doing isn’t working so something needs to change. We changed my resume to something more classic, rather than trying to game the AI system. And I’ll change up the actual application process and try to find someone to bring in my resume directly instead of applying online.

Changing the way I approach a company is as good a change as any I suppose. I’ll give it a few months to see if I can even get a first interview. I feel like if I can get the first one, I am talented and knowledgable and delightful enough to keep moving forward.

I guess we’ll see. It’s been 44 days and I’m bored. I need to get back to work.

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Lessons from LinkedIn

I worked very hard in and on my business when the kids were young. Too hard. Yes, of course I regret how much time I spent running my business. Yes I sometimes wished that I had someone at home to pick up the parenting and housework chores like my male colleagues had. Yes, too, that hard work gave my kids a decent life. And, really, that was the point. I worked hard so they could have what they needed – a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and clothes on their backs – and much of what they wanted. Everything else was a bonus. But it doesn’t mean I feel guiltless.

And because I was responsible for everything in the business, I was too often distracted. I didn’t have a business partner to share the load. Everything was my job and I was where the buck stopped. Customers depended on me to keep their businesses running and employees depended on me to provide them a paycheck and guidance and mentoring. And I worked that way until I went to work for someone else.

It was exhausting. I learned that those 80-hour weeks are toxic and stressful.

I had employees. I paid them generously. I gave them time off when they needed it. I only had to fire one person and it was because they weren’t doing their job. I never let someone go for the purpose of increasing my profits – in fact I took a pay cut at one point to make sure my employee at the time could continue working for me.

Not My Decision

Working for someone else is a different animal. Make no mistake – I was thrilled to be able to go to work for someone else, where my knowledge was valued, where I was respected, where my experience was trusted, and where my time away from work was protected. I would not have closed down my business and taken that job had that not been made very clear to me during the interview process. And so my stress level dropped dramatically.

Until I got laid off. No, until HR transitioned to a new organization that was barely recognizable. That was a few months before the layoff.

I understand that startup growth works one way and at some point strategies need to change. I get that. It would be great if organizations that claim the “family” moniker would be straight up and open with their employees. Explain that things are rough and let them know that you’ll have to be trimming some edges. Give them a freakin’ chance to find something else and lighten your load. Give them a chance to move to another job without having to deal with the stress of unemployment. Give them some respect.

I realized that bad times were headed our way when we went from a 4-point evaluation system to a 5-point evaluation system. It seems like a tiny thing if you’re not tuned in. After all, what’s 1 point? Here’s the difference – in a four point system you’re either learning, meeting, excelling, or ready for the next great thing. With a 5-point system it takes much more effort to reach the next great thing. Not that effort isn’t good – it is. But when the goalpost is moved, when the reward is pushed further away…..

With a 5-point system, you are meeting expectations at a 3 instead of a 4. You are two levels away from advancement or a raise instead of just 1. Put another way, you can be doing amazing work at a 4 in a 4-point scale. But in a 5-pointer, you have to be doing your promotion’s level of work in order to get that 5 rating (even though that work is outside your jd and your pay range).

Let’s look at this numerically. On a 4-point scale, if your review is a 4 (doing everything in your jd really well), you’ve got a 100% review. But on a 5-point scale, that same 4 is now only a mere 80%. The only way to move up, is to do someone else’s work – work that is outside of your job description; work that is (quite literally) above your pay grade.

And when you combine a change in the “grading” system with new leadership, you can plainly see that HR is driving the money train. Remember, HR’s purpose is to protect the company and find ways to have people do more work without having to pay them more. It is never to work for the benefit of the employee.

Regarding reviews, let me just say this: two reviews ago, I was happy with my review. Last time, I wasn’t. I’m not so obtuse as to not know how well I’m performing. I was absolutely doing more than my review “number” showed. In all my adult life I have never overestimated the quality of my work or service – me being me, more often I underestimate the quality or value of my work.

Just Sour Grapes?

I suppose it’s possible that I’m just feeling sour grapes at the layoff at the moment. It’s also possible that I’m feeling down because I can’t get past the stupid ATS even though I paid for resume help that was supposed to get me through the ATS. Or, maybe my eyes are just open more.

And, possibly, I shouldn’t even be publishing this. But I am who I am and today I’m feeling rather surly.

What I see in LinkedIn

I am doing a LOT of reading about jobs and employers and resume writing and job hunting, of course. Things are not good “out there.” Too many employees are unhappy – employed but unhappy (ok, that’s not new). People are realizing that work is not life. I’ve learned that an employer pays me for 40 hours of my week, the rest is my time and I should guard that “my time” ferociously – ESPECIALLY if they’re not paying me to do more.

There is one resume writer/coach (Robynn Storey) who I follow on LinkedIn who has all the right ideas, but is speaking to the wrong segment. She writes things like:

“It’s enough to just do your job. Nothing more, nothing less”

“Take your lunch break. Take those vacation days. Work your 9 to 5. Shut off your computer when your day is over. It’s okay to say NO to extra work without extra pay. Take a sick day when you are sick. Plan that vacation.”

But she’s speaking to the wrong people! Employees and job hunters already understand this.

I wonder what exactly she expects job hunters to do with that knowledge. I may ask her. Heck, I’ll probably tag her.

She’s really smart – she should be speaking with employers. She should be consulting with their HR departments to put the Human back in HR.

And she is, of course, right. I loved my job. My team loved me. My cross-functional teams loved me. The WIT group loved me. The Generative AI team loved me. I showed up to meetups after hours even though it wasn’t even remotely part of my job. I was asked to mentor not 1, but 2 women this cycle – people who are just average aren’t asked to do that. I could go on and on.

When push came to shove, laying off myself and my 6 colleagues was a function of some HR magic formula. It certainly wasn’t the choice of any of my compatriots and, in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe my manager thought any of us on our team should be let go.

The sad thing is that I was so happy there that I lost sight of the fact that employers don’t care how much you do or how much you work. Or maybe I just really wanted to believe that it was be different where I was, that this company was special; not like the others I read about. I didn’t want to believe that they have no emotional ties to keeping you employed. Truth is, they’re not in the business to make the world a better place for people, they’re in the business of making money. Us employees…we are a means to that end.

It all feels grossly unfair and dishonorable. Maybe I’m just lashing out. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

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