Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vacation Guilt

For the first time since before college, I didn't feel like I earned the right to take a vacation. I'm used to working my butt off to meet a deadline which always happens to be the midnight before my trip begins. Packing always occurred 10 minutes before rushing out the door 20 minutes behind schedule. The moment my plane took off I would smile to myself and get ready to recline and relax, savoring every second of my well deserved escape.

But this memorial day, I delinquently gathered my luggage and headed to a remote bay in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was the first of the 5 weddings I'll be attending this year.

Even though I live a crazy life full of cover letter writing, job board stalking, aprender EspaƱol, various networking meet-ups... because I don't have a boss and feel the stress of deadlines, I don't view myself as actually working.

Ironically, for someone who “doesn't work,” I panicked at the thought of being away from my laptop for more than one day. Since I was saving money by splitting travel costs with a bridesmaid, I was going to be gone for four.

So I scouted the place online. I left my laptop at home because they charged for wireless but had free high speed computers to use in the lobby. Weather.com predicted a beautiful forecast for my stay, so I looked up fun local routes along the lake front to exercise along. The hotel had a gym and pool to work out at should thunder clouds come rolling in. There was also a jacuzzi that I spent an hour unwinding in while watching the once sunken US Brig Niagra glide through the harbor into a brilliant sunset.

Back to the vacation guilt. Before my departure I stopped by the Queens library and checked out a few books on job hunting secrets and careers in writing. My plan was to read them on the patio by the bay. But true to unemployment form, I couldn't find the time to do anything constructive other than applying online for a position as a game show casting AP. To be fair, I really put my heart into that cover letter.

Before I knew it, the $80 I brought for the 4 days of fun was almost depleted. This is what happens when the only thing within a mile of your overpriced hotel are fishing boats. To start saving money, I walked into town and lived like a dollar menunaire. I also stopped by Subway and brought back a 5 dollar foot long to chill in my room. For the price of one hotel meal, I bought myself a days worth of good eats and was back on my spending track.

Finally the big day arrived, and when I saw my friend walk down the aisle it was all worth it. I got to hang out with some of my favorite college friends who had scattered across the nation after graduation and experienced a true Catholic mass. I only made the mistake of putting my feet up on the kneeling thing once.

While I still don't feel like I earned that vacation, I really can't look at it as being one. Even though I was away from my laptop there were still ways I cut costs and remained productive. Plus, it's good to get the occasional change of scenery from your couch to find some new inspiration.

My summer/fall is filled with bridal showers, dress fittings, engagement parties and bachelorette fiestas. I'm not going to let the recession keep me from celebrating the best days of my friends lives. I just have to cut costs elsewhere and plan ahead to make do.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wait for It....

I vowed I would never do it again - putting a tray in my hand loaded with appetizers, hoping that if I gave my 110% people would tip me 25.  But there I was, dressed in a button down black shirt as if I were in mourning for the days of a disposable income.
After you can finally say "I'm unemployed" without shame it's only a matter of time before other pride barriers begin to crumble.  Head Coordinator positions non-existent, you consider being an assistant.  An intern.  A volunteer.  As it turned out, I couldn't afford to serve the public as a volunteer, so now I'm just serving the public - one pulled BBQ slider at a time.
The event I served at was a Wall Street fund raiser for St. Judes.  It was held at Marquee, and the attendees were well dressed men who seemed to be oblivious to the economy crumbling around them.  The women were all skinny, pretty, fashionable, probably intelligent - but not enough to notice the well dressed men plotting how to hook up with them by the end of the night.  I have never been in their world before.  It was like mine with more Grey Goose.

I wish I had a sign on my back that read – laid off in December, still looking – so that I could act as a cautionary tale circulating throughout the indulgent night. But it was the sick kids of Saint Jude's that the gathering was for. Their struggles put mine to shame.

I doubt anyone would have noticed a sign though. Most of the attendees were really tall. People saw the food I balanced with a straight arm above my head rather than my up do.  However, Garrett, founding 405er/giant was also working the crowd.  REALLY working it.  He was able to schmooze face to face with the brokers, holding the tasty platters at waist height while making new contacts, even getting tipped an extra $20. I hope shorter people are at the next group I cater to so I can mingle face to face rather than mouth to kneecap. 
Since I had fun, I've looked into more ways to wait.  I got this gig by networking.  (See, those events really do work!)  Last month I met two 405ers, who, after being let go in the same week decided to attempt their dream of running a catering business together.  Since they currently aren't cooking up a storm that often, I'm looking to match their business (Uptown Comfort) with new events.

I'm also checking yet another job wanted section on Craigslist.  There are companies advertising on there that can place you at events all the time, but I am looking for less formal (under the table) arrangements. According to articles on careerbuilder and cnnmoney this is a NO. Apparently I should be focusing my search on one specific field, customizing my cover letter for each new opportunity.  But that didn't work so here I am.
I'm not sure I'm up for being a full time waitress just yet.  Even those jobs are hard to come by, especially with all the new college grads out there. It's just a good feeling to actually work now and then, to actually earn money at the end of the day rather than merely being entitled to claim it.
So... starving for some cash?  Simply starving?  Suck it up.  Button down.  Bring Tupperware.  I took home enough leftover food to feed fellow unemployed friends and gain back the weight I lost on the recession diet.  But looking on the bright side, my wallet gained some weight too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bucket List Blues

Last week I wondered when it was finally time to take on a less than stellar job opportunity. Luckily I have wise friends who have been in my situation. Veeder, recent birthday boy and fellow blogger offered some great advice on the matter:

Veeder: I don't know if I'd look at it as settling. The big thing I'd try and do is make sure you're looking long term. Even if a job sucks now in terms of pay or title or whatever, if you could possibly be in a much better place in a year or two, then it might be worth it
Me: cool, maybe I can just copy and paste that advice
Veeder: I give you permission... I wouldn't take any job just to be employed, but if it's something that you can do to ride out the bad times that keeps you in the game a little bit, then I'd go for it
Veeder: Is it too late to write a blog about my company's asinine overreaction to swine flu?
Me: you are riding the edge of that flash in the pan
Veeder: I was going to write it last night and I think even now I'll have to acknowledge that the fad has passed.

I feel Veeder's pain when it comes to having to pass things up. It seems like I'm having to abandon more and more fun plans with friends to attend networking events or work last minute gigs. My days are typically filled with free time occupied by inane to do lists concocted the night before. (Pilates, job hunt, pay credit card, motivational coffee walk, job hunt...) But the times I actually have something exciting planned, a career related activity pops up and fun has to take the back seat.

I'm still waiting for one of these networking events to yield a promising work opportunity. Am I approaching them the wrong way? Like, should I be wearing my hair in a bun and splurge for the shiny glazed business cards instead of the standard matte? Or is it my bucket list that is really holding me back from succeeding in landing a new job?

When I woke up nice and hungover after Laid Off Eve I started to compile the list of things I wanted to do before going back to working around the clock. During my December staycation I crossed off seeing a play, musical, trying out cheap local restaurants and paying the MoMa/Met/Cloisters a visit. The things that remain can't be crossed off quite as easily. I'm still not fluent in Spanish, can't use a lighting kit and have yet to ride a short-board inside the popes living room.

Like a sign-up chalkboard for a beer-pong table, the list just keeps getting longer with new goals being written over old barely erased ones. For example, I have a plan to one afternoon bike to Long Beach, watch the moon cast silver ripples over the ocean (smore in hand), wake up, surf, and bike back to Astoria. It's a challenge, but yesterday I mapped an "Islands of the East River" bike tour that's just begging to be traveled as well.

If I had a job I would have to wait till a nice weekend rolled around to challenge my Trek. Without a job, I just have to wait for a nice day.

I think these fun little goals are preventing me from 100% committing myself to the job hunt. To make matters worse, when the laid back unemployment lifestyle grows on you it's hard to shake. Your life becomes a perpetual series of days filled with whatever you choose, especially when you go weeks without any solid job leads.

Luckily for me, the last project I freelanced on turned out really well and made me fall in love with casting all over again. Being able to work out 3 hours a day is nice, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back into the grind. The list will always be there but unemployment benefits don't last forever.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Settle for Less?

The second my unemployment began my friends turned into dedicated head hunters, forwarding to me any positions they saw which remotely fit my area of expertise. My support system rocks.

The problem is (and my friends honestly acknowledge this when they send leads my way), most of these jobs are a harsh title downgrade from what I'm used to. They require my bruised ego to grab a paycheck that is slightly more than unemployment, but half of what I was used to collecting.

It's hard to settle for meager wages when most of your friends are still living a fun lifestyle supported by the jobs and salaries they have been promoted to. My unencumbered situation could be a lot worse, but at one point do I need to give in and take any job I can find?

If I do cave and accept just anything, then what has been the point of me optimistically holding out for these past 5 months? My biggest fear is that as soon as I accept a longer term job out of frustration, the perfect one will present itself and I won't be able to grab it because I'm grudgingly committed elsewhere.

I've talked about interning for free to make connections in any field that interests you. I may do that after careful thought and research. But these low paying positions come out of the blue and you have to act fast. My hesitation before accepting or even applying to these jobs has led to them all passing me by. To prevent this from happening in the future, I have created a standard cover letter (Stacey Burgay approved) to send as soon as I get word of something new. It details my experience and why I'm interested in the position:

Subj: Dejectedly Sent Cover Letter of Frustrated Unemployee

Dear Hiring Manager,

I tried to think of a witty intro to make my letter stand out from the hundreds you will be ignoring but was sidetracked by Ellen Degeneres dancing on TV. Clearly, I'm taking the time to write you because I'm interested in the opening you posted on a mainstream job board. I've been seeking an opportunity just like this, but for a better salary and higher position at a company the general public has actually heard of.

As you deliberate this placement consider the following:

I have functioned efficiently as a unit for over 5 months while the economy is failing as a whole.
I have redistributed my streamlined earning output by 2/3rds so that I don't have to trade my gold 4 cash.
I have seen 86 episodes of Lost. Previous to my severance, I had seen zero.

After seven years in the industry, I have a thorough understanding of every aspect of what your business does. My last position was eliminated due to restructuring. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I worked around the clock being the best employee that I could possibly be. I view myself as a hard working troubleshooter who thinks outside the box. I'll save you the trouble of asking this question in the future; my weakness is that I am too much of a perfectionist who sometimes doesn't know when to stop. I used Internet research skills and Microsoft Office to find your post and compose this letter, clearly demonstrating that I meet the basic qualifications you listed in your want ad. Also, I'm a ninja. I believe my roommate's cat to be a pirate.

If you are seeking a self motivated, career-committed, team playing hire who isn't a tool, then please consider what I have to offer. I look forward to speaking with you in person so I can finally justify buying the power suit I got on sale. Please don't act bored and/or offer false hope of employment if we do meet face to face. My resume isn't attached - that file paper clipped to this e-mail is actually a coupon for free KFC, courtesy of Oprah. I hope this demonstrates how dedicated I already am to helping your company stay cost effective.

Yours Truly,

Regina Phalange

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swing from the Heels

Life is all about decisions. This week I made the responsible one.

For those of you who don't know, I am a Phillies fan. I'm also addicted to attending most sporting events. This past Saturday I was looking forward to combining my two loves by watching the Phillies play my favorite rivals (the Mets) with my favorite Dans. However, I was reminded about Laid Off Camp, a networking event that promised to help teach me to reinvent my career by utilizing digital media. Having already missed a day of "work" this week to eat Shake Shack/watch the Mets loose in their own house, I gave up my free ticket to attend the educational gathering.

I caught the last hour of the nail bitingly close 10 inning game at a nearby bar as soon as camp let out. Ten seconds after the walkoff walk by Shane Victorino, my elated attitude quickly morphed into a dysphoric shroud because I wasn't burning off 5 Yuenglings by climbing a Broad Street traffic light, waving my red jersey around in celebration.

Back to responsible adult decision making though. Those serious about transitioning into a new career shouldn't pass up a good opportunity to get schooled in something new. The grown up way of thinking is to put things into perspective. I missed one regular season game in a lifetime full of many for a unique experience. The result? I met lots of interesting people and gained fresh insight on how to market myself.

I also got a wake up call. During an expert panel discussion, a CNN personality talked about "try it before you buy it" - aka working for free as a way to see if a new career is right for you. Still bitter from my "Vandalay" experience, I approached him after the panel and asked if I made the right decision by turning down an internship in an industry I had already broken into. He told me I made the wrong one, that in this economy I should do anything I can to get my good name out there. His adept reasoning was that should a paying position open up I would be the first one called. But first, I needed to swallow my pride and accept that I didn't know everything - that I still had something to learn.

While I don't think the company I turned my back on was worth working at for free, I do believe there are others out there worthy of my industrious self. What I need to do is not attempt to watch season 4 of Lost in under three days. I need to make an organized list of the companies worth slaving at and customize a cover letter for why I want to work at each one. I need to find headhunters, do more research on different writing careers and see where I could happily excel. Thanks to Laid Off Camp, I know of new ways to get my oeuvre out there while figuring this all out.

The key is to keep looking at the greater picture rather than seeking immediate gratification. What is one weekend with friends missed when another is just 7 days away? I have the rest of my life to work. And as long as I'm financially able, what is a few months of interning if it leads to a job that will last many years? Take a healthy swing at something outside your comfort zone, see where it goes.

Next up on my list of responsible things to do - get apartment insurance.