Detoxification in the time of doldrums; or, Waiting to be led

Last week was quicksand, each day deeper into dullness by struggling to get out of it. This week–slowly, slowly–I’m crawling out of the hole.

I’m not any closer to getting paid–not yet. I’m trying to approach that problem from the other side. I’m thinking about how I want to spend my time first.

This upcoming week will be my first unpaid week since going to Strasbourg in summer 2006. Before that? Hmm. I think I’ve had some form of constant employment–from different jobs, though I patched them together quite snugly–since the summer after high school, summer 1999 (except for a break in fall 2001 when I was on crutches).

I don’t need income now. Before being laid off I was saving money to quit that job and embark on an Evil Plan. I have the luxury of being able to plant my feet and think. However, when it comes to the money question, for good or for ill, I’ve found that this is like planting my feet in a rushing stream. There is a persistent force pushing me to restore the money flow immediately–as if bowing to that force hadn’t landed me where I was, floating downstream on a raft of dollars and a steadily worsening case of process-induced brain atrophy. (Down, bile, down.)

My engineering background also haunts me. I have been trained rigorously in the art of calculus, meaning that I can optimize variables–in this case, optimizing net worth over time–as naturally as some people drum their fingers. I don’t think about it; I do it.

And then there are the little social pressures. “So where do you work?” “Nowhere, actually.” “Ah. I’m sorry. [eyes begin to glaze]

All of these things are self-perceptions. All of these things are self-perceptions. All of these things are self-perceptions.

This is my new, temporary mantra that I will repeat until I believe it.

These first two weeks out of work have been a period of detoxification: detox from work culture (including detox from the daily corporate propaganda that insisted on telling us what culture we were supposed to have [1]); detox from easy money; detox from having an externally defined schedule; etc.

That was the first phase: work detox. I expected that. I had felt it for months. The body had been rejecting the toxins, but not as fast as I was ingesting them.

The second phase was unexpected: home detox. Where did those toxins come from? Ah, right, I was producing those, and I had to manually detox from those: getting rid of several bags of the glass and plastic for recycling; donating bags of unused clothing to Salvation Army; getting rid of “archival” materials that I had kept from university; returning things that I had borrowed and not returned; selling unused things on eBay and Amazon and Craigslist; returning the cable modem to Comcast [2]; getting some delayed car maintenance done; and so on.

I had been moving and storing many things that were not providing any nourishment. I purged them–some of them. I feel better now. This was, at long last, an accomplishment.

* * * * *

I purged during the first half of the week and then, on Thursday, I loaded the car. If only there was a Wal-Mart for disposing of a variety of things just like there is a Wal-Mart for acquiring them–but there isn’t, so I had to make stops in Lowell, Tewksbury, Reading, Wilmington, and Woburn.

I ran all of these errands on Thursday because I had signed up for the “third-party career management service” that was offered as part of our severance package. It was free, so why not? Thursday was the introductory day, and Thursday will be my only day in that service.

Buckle up. The ride gets a little condescending from this point on.

Sitting in that conference room was strange. There I was with thirty other laid-off Raytheon employees–thirty people that were just begging to be led somewhere. In the mirrors of the career management funhouse, we former employees became “candidates” that had to think like “consultants,” companies were “targeted organizations,” and being laid off was to be known only as a “transition.”

It was creepy.

I believe that some people need to find work soon. Families and mortgages must be fed on a regular schedule.

I believe that some people might not have the confidence or savvy to find a job after getting laid off, and that this service would be helpful to them.

I believe that this process-based career service is probably developed on some sort of statistical analysis of what works–that is, where finding employment, any employment, is defined as success.

For me? No thanks.

I might be confused and unsure about What’s Next, but I see it as a stage on the journey. This is what years and years of hiking and traveling have done to me, for good or for ill. I don’t need to be anywhere in particular in my career by age thirty or forty any more than I needed to do the Top Ten Hikes in Southern California or wherever as decided by this or that travel service. I think there is an exceeding amount of creepiness inherent in allowing someone else to define where you should go.

Sure, consult the list for ideas, but by all means deviate immediately. Yes, go see Inspiration Point on the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from the comfort of your car with all of the other checklist tourists. It is an inspiring view. But please get out and take the trail toward Washburn Meadow or Sevenmile Hole, somewhere off the pavement and away from the bell curve of statistically significant tourism. Initially it’s an anxious feeling, not knowing what you’re supposed to look at–then, eventually, comes the moment when the entire journey weighs more than the sum of its destinations.

But what the hell? If you take my advice, you deserve what happens to you.

 


 

  1. Memo to executive team: you can’t create a culture. With apologies to John Lennon, culture is what your employees do while you’re busy making other plans. [back to text]
  2. I’ll accept only partial responsibility for this one. Comcast’s customer service system is not designed to be friendly to customers calling with an area code that is not native to the service area. That is, I, with my Virginia-area mobile phone number but living in Massachusetts, would be repeatedly routed to the Virginia, get forwarded to the Massachusetts service, then automatically routed back to Virginia, and so on. [back to text]

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