No, I am not talking about California. This is about a season of life. At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2015, I was officially without a full-time job. As of February 1, 2017, I started a new full-time job. In between was a world filled with stress, delight, uncertainty, love, frugalness, generosity, prayers, navel-gazing, and family.
It would be perfect to have some pithy statement that capsulizes all that occurred in this year, but I don’t. All I have is a journey, an adventure, a detour. I learned more in this year than any year in recent memory because I had to. Necessity causes men to do things they did not know they could do.
After I started my job this month, I was filled with relief. But more than that, I was filled with grief and tears. My negative feelings had been suppressed for so long because I was not alone – I support a family now. We can argue whether it is healthy or not, but as the main breadwinner of the family, I do not believe I had the freedom to express the negative emotions that coursed through my body during certain times.
Twice I had the “perfect” job lined up, only to watch the job disappear. Countless times I had no answers to my queries and applications. More than twenty noes from companies that at least wanted to talk to me.
Through all of this, I started a fractional marketing company that sustained us during all the ups and downs. SolveCMO was created for my own personal sanity, and in a classic tale of “if you build it they will come,” I was blessed with many clients that found me without a single sales call. I now have the confidence I can make it without a full-time employer. I still desire to lead and be part of a larger team, but just knowing that there is another career path is a huge boost to my mental health.
In many ways, this journey into scarcity was familiar. Multiple times in my Silicon Valley career I had times of unemployment, or, since they were all my choice, Sabbaticals. I also had lean years where I was working, but for equity and not cash. Because of this, budget living is relatively easy for me.
However, it does wear you down. Some decisions are easy, like not buying any more wine, no new clothing, and temporary repairs on homes and cars. But others are like drip torture:
- Seeing a hole in my daughter’ pants and crying because we couldn’t replace them.
- Losing a bike light and frantically searching for 30 minutes because I knew I couldn’t buy another one.
- Watching the grocery money run out with another week left in the month.
It’s good character building, but it sucks when you are in the middle of it.
Now that I am making money again, I realize that my ascetic approach to life prefers constraint rather than excess. I feel guilty anew watching the Amazon boxes fill up my recycling container, wondering if I truly need all the stuff that I have ordered. My desire to have a newer car is still strong, but mostly because I feel embarrassed when people see me get into my 2005 Matrix. The car is still running strong and with minimal maintenance, so it is hard to justify replacing it. We’ll see which voice wins once the transportation fund is topped up.
In an encouraging sign of holistic mental and physical health, I can now take a bus to work because my new office requires only one bus line and short walks on both ends. I love taking mass transit, but I have been stymied here in Nashville due to the meager infrastructure. We’ll see how often I make this happen.
What has been the most draining of all the stress is the uncertainty. I often told folks “I wish I could press the fast-forward button on my life.” As I look back now, I would have actually enjoyed the journey through the ups and downs as long as I knew the outcome. But, barring me becoming prescient in the near future, living in uncertainty is my lot in life. Many nights I would feel like I was stepping off a cliff every day, making decisions, both big and small, that risked me losing even more.
I also feel like I have learned much about myself, especially my strengths and weaknesses. My career as a generalist was easy to manage in the Silicon Valley. It is much harder in the more traditional world outside of the SV bubble. Most companies are looking for specialists, someone who has done the same job before and wants to do it for a new company. I am not a specialist. But, in an attempt to broker a truce between the specialist vs. generalist war, I did have to distill my talents into a easily communicable pitch.
I hired two career/resume consultants, one in Nashville and one connected to the Silicon Valley. Both told me I was screwed. The former said that CEOs in Nashville are threatened by people who have owned their own companies before, so pick a lane and swim in it by drastically changing my resume to reflect only marketing and product work. The latter said that I was too old. She said that people my age are just struggling to hang on to their specialty to avoid being replaced by younger, cheaper, and harder working employees. She suggested sticking to my consulting endeavor and focusing on startups.
I narrowed my goal to finding a company that values my blend of product and marketing expertise and views my breadth as an asset, not a liability. In the end, I was successful, but not without learning that these companies are rare.
My age is still a shock to me. I don’t look, feel, or act my age so I simply am in disbelief when I have to face the actual number. I just celebrated another birthday, and the number still seems like a joke or a magician’s trick. I feel that if I concentrate hard enough, I’ll see through the trick and see that I am really 35 instead of 53.
Among all the observations and discoveries of this season, I find the last one the most significant. Confidence. I believe I am talented and intelligent, but taken out of my Silicon Valley habitat, I have struggled to find people here in Nashville that are willing to bet on me. I do have great friends that have encouraged me along the way, but doubts creeped into my brain like kudzu in the summer.
I found that my shaky confidence had infiltrated all areas of my life, including my competencies in being a father, husband, small group leader, uncle and advisor. Now that I have spent three weeks employed, I find this kudzu cleared out. I walk straighter now, walking with confidence down the grocery aisles. I no longer avoid gazes or attention. I initiate conversations with strangers, hoping to learn something about them without having to admit that I am not fully employed. Freed of this male ego-based shame, I find conversations much more uplifting, the sun shining brighter, and the air smelling clearer. In short, life is good. Life was actually never bad, but confidence sure does make life sweeter.
I have no idea what lays before me, but I am thankful for this season. I am thankful for my wife and child that pulled me through. I am thankful for the faithful thoughts and prayers of my extended family and friends. And I am thankful for the God that continues to build me one season at a time.