Category Archives: #Life

The label-maker job hunt

I used to think of myself as a writer. Then a journalist. And a poet. Then a storyteller. Then a marketer. Then an analyst.

I am none of things because I am all of them. Lots of us face this problem. As human beings, we naturally strive to grow. And whenever you expand your skills or start something new, people around you want to slap on the new label. They’re like headlines for work and life.

label makerNow that I’m openly searching for jobs, a lot of people ask what I’m looking for, and they want me to answer with “another agency gig” or “go to the client side” or “move into (place job title here).” But I haven’t had a lot of luck answering this question because that’s not how my brain works. My idea of job criteria just don’t fit into the shorthand.

What I want to DO and BE isn’t attached to a title or a type of company, it’s based on the impact I want to make for an organization. I want to help people. I want to create something. I want to be able to see the results of my work in action. And I want to do it with great people.

As I’ve stumbled through my twenties, I’ve ended up at some great jobs that had nothing to do with the labels I threw on myself at the time. I found them because of my skill set and my network, and I’ve jumped at those opportunities. So right now, I just think of myself as a guy with a family looking for a job. And instead of focusing on the best labels to use, I’m out talking to my network about where I can make a difference.

“The slightest trace of what you once believed”

Two weeks from today will be my last day at work, and then I’m unemployed. I’ll be packing up my life to chase a dream, once again, to a new place.

Baby and father

JPS and Bryan wearing matching shirts and facial expressions.

Some things never change. I could have written that paragraph 3 or 4 times before #Life went on hiatus (Like this). I’m still the same optimistic, earnest, faux-cynic writer I always was. But the stakes are higher now.

I’m married with a four-month old son. Bryan is at that awesome baby stage where he’s started playing with us and laughing at my antics. And while it would be easy to let the responsibility of caring for a helpless human being scare me into holding on to the safety of the job I have, the reality is that life in Chicago has become a bad habit I need to kick.

I’m spending too many hours at work. Too many hours on the train. Too much money on rent. Too much energy on trying not to become an angry person. The job and the life I had here helped me grow a lot as an individual—but it’s time to move on.

So I’ll be following my wife to our new home, which is really our old home. Back to the Quad-Cities in search of the roots we cut free from 10 years ago when we left for college. I’ll be searching for a job, searching for a home, and still trying to figure out how to leave enough money in the budget for beer.

When #Life started in 2010, I think I expected that I’d have all those things figured out by now. But I’m staring down the end of my twenties, realizing I’ve still got more questions than answers. I’m OK with that now, and I haven’t decided if that’s dangerous or exciting. Let’s find out together.

Welcome back to #Life.

How to Read a Book While Walking

While driving home from the grocery store, Jean and I spotted one of the kids who lives in our complex. He was walking his dog. While riding his bike. While reading a book.

Jean laughed, and I admitted that the kid, probably about 12 years old, reminded me of myself.

I never attempted something as bold as dog-bike reading, but when I was his age, I always had a book open. I would read at home, at school, in the car. And I certainly held a book in front of my face as I walked places, which is something I’m convinced only a child is physically capable of doing.

Cover for Ernest Cline's "Ready Player One"I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen that kid without a book. He even sits outside in the middle of winter, bundled up, flipping pages in our apartment’s playground. Once upon a time, I was that dedicated to my reading. All the way through high school, I would tear through books, often reading two or three at a time. I’ve pulled almost as many all nighters to finish a book as I have to finish a paper.

Toward the end of college, I got busier and my reading slowed down. Sometimes, it stopped altogether. I’ve tried to get back into a habit, but it doesn’t have the same sticking power it once did.

But in the last year, I’ve found a solution: Audiobooks.

I’ve read the occasional audiobook for a long time, but I really got started when I bought a copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline to listen to on the drive from Florida to Illinois. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I always have an audiobook (or three) on my phone so I can listen in the car, on a run, or sitting at my desk while Jean watches Real Housewives of *Insert Place I never want to go*. I’m glad to have picked up my own book habits, but I’ve wondered why I now prefer audiobooks, since both would be just as convenient on my 2 1/2 hour commute.

Cover for Neil Gaiman's "American Gods"Last week, it finally occurred to me. The time I’m setting aside for reading is always when I’m travelling—and I’m sharing that experience with the adventures being narrated into my ears. I realized the connection during the introduction to American Gods by Neil Gaiman when the author’s note revealed that Gaiman wrote the book while travelling (seeming to rely on travelling to write the book). And in the book, the main character is travelling. When the audiobook plays for me, the journey is shared, or at least happening concurrently. It’s a connection I never noticed until I read that author’s note.

All books, even if the events all take place in one room, are a journey—and sharing in that motion enhances the experience. I don’t have any science to back that up, but I’m sure that kid from my complex agrees. There’s a power to reading on the move, and I’m glad to see it at work in the audiobooks on my phone and the paperbacks on his handlebars.

But most of all, I’m glad to be able to read while walking again.

Joining Into My New Community

In every new place I’ve lived, I’ve found communities to join with people that became my friends, many of whom helped define the part of my life I shared with them. It started as a child in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. In college, it was the other journalists at The Maneater, our student newspaper. In Florida, I got involved with the poetry community.

These groups provided the ideals, objectives, and interests that I wanted to share with others. They were also a source of personal development and a support structure for me to rely on and contribute to.

This has always been how I moved through my life, but I started thinking more deliberately about it after reading an article about brotherhood on The Art of Manliness(though I think it applies to any fellowship, too). It drew attention to how I have defined myself in the past, and how I’ve been failing to define myself since I moved to Elk Grove Village a year ago.

Logo for Optimist InternationalSo I found my new identity. It’s not a new commitment for me, but rather a renewed involvement in an organization that’s always been on the back burner — the Optimist Club. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a service organization with the motto, “Friend of Youth.” I’ve been a member in Silvis since I was 18, though I’ve been around it since I was very young. My parents are both longtime members who are also active in the state and international organizations, and I’ve attended conferences with them many times.

But now, it’s different for me. Joining the Des Plaines Optimist Club isn’t just another thing I want to do, I want it to be my primary focus outside of work. It gives me a chance to volunteer in my community, something that’s been missing in my life for the last few years. But it also gives me a great Creed to follow, a program for self development, and a great way to meet people in my community.

It gives me a sense of belonging and the chance to feel like this place is my new home.

The Importance of Failing, or, Waking the Flailing Beast

At the beginning of April, I hadnt written a poem in six months. It’s an awful feeling, knowing that I essentially ignored a huge part of who I am, who I want to be. But ignored isn’t the right word.

On several occasions, I stared into a legal pad with my favorite pen in hand, I stared into my computer with hands hovering above home row, and I stared into the mirror with a dry erase marker — all of my favorite ways to write — without success. It came in drips and drabs sometimes, and I’d have a two-line bits that might be part of a poem someday but aren’t even worth calling fragments, but I never wrote a poem.

Often I was too distracted with planning a wedding or looking for a job or trying to start my new life in Chicago. And honestly, I also had to reckon with the fact that I had cable TV for the first time since college. But I never should have stopped writing poems, and I’m not sure why I did. I kept trying to write, but never figured out how to start again.

So I found myself coming into National Portry Month wanting to be a poet again. I always knew people chose to write a poem a day in April, and I never thought it was for me. Even I’m my most disciplined times, I couldn’t write every day. I’m far more likely to write 1-3 poems in an hour, then revisit them for a week or two of editing, and that’s a fine pace for me. At least it was.

I decided to try a poem a day on the train ride to work on April 1, and I wrote the first poem on the train home. I decided to post my poems as Notes on Facebook called “Poem a Day 2013: Poem Title.” An easy way to track myself, and a good way to share it with the poet community I left behind in Gainesville.

I had a strong first few days and then…a not so strong rest of the month. I would write a few days in a row, then not write a few days in a row. By the middle of April, I felt ridiculous labeling them “Poem a Day,” but I kept doing it anyway because I was committed to finishing in some way. Some days, I was traveling and didn’t have (or didn’t make) time to write. Others, I procrastinated with house cleaning or computer organizing. And then, I dealt with days where I stared into the screen and all that came out was fragments or incomplete sentences.

But I was writing again.

In the strictest sense of the word, I failed at my April poetry project, but I accomplished the real objective. The box score for April has 12 poems(a few of which don’t need a ton of editing), 5 fragments, and 13 one-liners for poems — a pretty good month. I’m back to work and it feels good.

As long as I keep this up, I think it’s safe to call myself a poet again.

Echoes of an Old Profession

On Monday, I reacted with the rest of the country at the tragedy unfolding in Boston. When it happened, I did what I’ve always done, the same thing journalists all across the country were doing.

I looked for the best sources of information coming out of a confusing and rapidly changing situation. I talked to my coworkers to see if they knew more. I started to wonder how to answer the questions that begin with “W.” I even took a few notes.

But I didn’t do anything with it. Because I’m not a journalist anymore.

Still, I feel like a journalist. I have a lot of journalist friends. My mind still asked journalist questions. But my hands just kept working on something else.

Of course, I wasn’t surprised to no longer be working in news, but I didn’t know what that would feel like. I’ll get used to it, but for now, I feel left out.

Cloak and Dagger

There are a lot of secrets on the job hunt. Secrets from employers. Secrets from coworkers. Secrets from Facebook friends and Twitter followers. It can be hard to talk to people normally when the first thought on your mind is this secret.

On top of that, I’m really bad at job hunting. That lack of skill left me seriously looking for a job for almost a year (and not-as-serious-as-I-liked for a few months before that.) Even after I announced my resignation in Florida and moved to Chicago with my fiance, I still felt like I had a huge secret.

Telling you to be quiet.

Secrets are not as much fun as this picture would have you believe. I bought this for my brother so he could replace his Ke$ha poster.

My secret kept me from talking about my hunt openly, and probably contributed to how poorly I hunted. It’s the reason I loaded boxes at UPS for a month, then answered phones at a doctor’s office before finally getting a career job.

That secret: I had no idea what I wanted to do. In my head, the only requirement was to live the same place as Jean. And once I accomplished that, once I got here and continued my job hunt, I told people I had a plan.

1: Get a job
2: Get a full-time job
3: Get a full-time job I wanted to have
*Steps 1 and 2 were optional.

But I still had no idea what job I wanted. Journalism was probably not the answer. If a newsroom job had come along, I’d have taken it in a minute, but the prospect of throwing myself further into a shrinking field was not as appealing as it had been when I entered college (and after every semester when I thought very hard about switching majors). Whenever students younger than I asked for advice about journalism school, I always said the same thing: If you can do anything else, anything at all, do it instead. I guess my own advice finally caught up with me.

And still I struggled, slamming resumes and cover letters at every job opening I was remotely qualified for to a constant stream of quiet rejection. It was all I knew how to do. And while I told a lot of people about my doubt, I couldn’t make it common knowledge.

Perhaps I’m paranoid, but i didn’t want a prospective employer coming across some blog post, tweet or update talking about uncertainty in my career aspirations. Or, even worse, certainty in a direction other than into their field.

But I’m a pretty open person, and secrets (of my own, at least) are not something I’m very good at. And maybe not surprisingly, my job hunt went better with employers who knew the whole story. Steps 1and 2 were accomplished. (Personal connections certainly didn’t hurt, either.)

In the end, I found my new path the same way I stumbled on copy editing as a freshman. Somebody asked, “Do you want to do this?” When the answer, unbeknownst to me, was yes.

Now I’ve started a new career in marketing, and I’m happy with my work and my location and the direction of my life. Even if I’m still not exactly sure what direction it is.

The last I saw of Gainesville

Goodbyes are peculiar. They can be casual or serious, temporary or permanent. They can be filled with emotion. They can be over-thought.

I have a friend who likes to scream “Goodbye forever!” whenever she leaves the presence of anyone. Just in case. You could die, she could die, or maybe the continent is going to split in half between the two of you. I believe in preparing for the worst, and I’ve dabbled in cynicism, but the idea seems a bit extreme.

In the other direction, I have a friend who refuses to say goodbye when you’re going to be apart for a long time. Instead, she says “See you later” as if it will be tomorrow. The first time she did it to me, I laughed at her. But when I saw her a year later, and she did it again, it was comforting.

That’s probably why I never really said goodbye to Gainesville. For 6 months to a year, I was hanging around in that city trying desperately to get out and move to Chicago without success. When it finally happened, my presence lingered. There were goodbye parties for my friends and a last hurrah at the Poetry Jam (which was a fantastic performance, if I may say so), but I don’t think I ever felt like I was leaving.

The closest I got was saying goodbye to my oldest friend in town, who had helped me get the job and who I spent my Thanksgivings and Christmases with. It was easier to come to Gainesville in the first place because my college buddy was already there. She helped me find an apartment, get into kayaking, and stay sane for the duration of my stay.

When she left my going away party, I ignored everybody else I was with to walk to her car. I think she cried. I think I might have cried, too, while I hugged her goodbye on the sidewalk. When I returned red-eyed to the party, I noticed a text message as I walked up to the bar. She was apologizing. Sorry because she was happy I was moving to be with Jean, but couldn’t help being upset that I was leaving Florida to do it. I stared at my phone while the bartender mixed my gin and tonic, wishing I could give her another hug. I told her there was nothing to apologize for and that I might be offended if she wasn’t upset. And at that moment, if I’d been sober and fully packed, I could have left Gainesville.

But I wasn’t. So I had fun the rest of my evening out on the town and said goodbye to my coworkers as they departed in turn. I’m glad I did, but none of them felt like goodbye. My presence lingered.

The next day, I finished packing and helped my roommate and his family put boxes into a moving truck. Most of my belongings were already being shipped to Chicago, and the rest were in my car. All I had in my bedroom were the bed I was going to drop at a dumpster the next morning, the kayak I didn’t want to leave attached to my car overnight, and a change of clothes. I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered down to catch the end of The Word Is Spoken poetry show. I didn’t want to perform, I guess I just wanted to keep my routine. The host offered me a turn on the stage, but I declined. I had to say goodbye to some of my friends. Again.

“How can I miss you if you don’t ever leave?” one of them asked me. I promised I’d leave first thing in the morning. But all I ever really said to Gainesville was “See you later.” And I think I might like it that way.

00:00

Here I am, living in the Chicago suburbs with Jean. It’s been a month now. More than a month. I don’t think it’s been two yet, but I could be wrong. Honestly, I’ve not been keeping track.

When I finally made it here after leaving my job in Gainesville, I stopped counting. For the last two years, and most of the four before it, there has been a running ticker in the corner of my life (much like the show 24) counting down till the next time I get to see Jean. Finally, we’re together, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Together in one apartment and putting the final touches on our impending wedding.

And it’s weird. My life has revolved around daily phone calls and bimonthly plane trips for so long that I feel like I’ve lost my direction. Jean is lucky to be in her first job out of graduate school and loving it. She has a new structure for her life. When I left Florida, I gave up the comfort of knowing what I was going to be doing with my life.

I don’t regret the decision, because I love being back in the Midwest, and I love being with Jean more. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it.

Memoir

I’m not much of a memoir fan.

I actually went through a phase when that was all I read, but after a while I got burnt out—the genre revealed itself to me as self-serving, onerous and whiny. Why waste my time reading about the woes of someone I will never know? (The irony of saying this on a blog called #Life does not escape me.)

On the other hand, maybe everyone in the world should come with their very own memoir. An instruction manual detailing everything they’ve done and overcome, everything that has shaped who they are today. Then, whenever you initiated a relationship with someone new—coworker, friend, boyfriend, etc.—you could check out the memoir and read up on his or her past. As it is, it can take years to catch up on somebody’s life and really, truly get to know them. This way, you could just put in a few good hours of reading and get all the background you need to interact with that person effectively and harmoniously. No more making assumptions based on appearances and first impressions, no more false perceptions of a person’s motivations. You would have total understanding of everyone you interact with in your daily life. Perfect understanding equals perfect harmony, right?

Logistics aside, what do you think? Total transparency: key to world peace, or destroyer of the universe?