A Year and a Day

I was asked by a couple of friends to repost this. Happy to oblige. I felt better after reading it again. 2011 has been a hell of a good year.

My book is in progress. It will be about this experience, a year that at some moments I thought would drive me to madness. It will be a winner if I can allow my readers to ride on my words, to share the emotions and the steps it took to reinvent and keep moving ahead.

We are in a very troubling time in America. While we are making tremendous strides in  creating a culture of respect for people of color, LGBT communities and so much more, we are also devolving into the most unequal democracy on the planet- a dichotomy of the 1% and the 99%, the haves and have-nots.

If you lose your job this week, you are right to be very afraid. But you can make a grand comeback; you can keep going, keep living. You have no choice but to try.

On February 22, 2010, I lost my job.

My 34-year career was evaporated in a mere 18 seconds. His words were so few, devoid of even a shred of sympathy or compassion that they are impossible to forget.

“We’re making a change. It is what it is.”

It was so stunningly to-the-point that even the HR director was a bit taken aback. At least in Up in the Air, George Clooney told the departed a quick story.

“Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. There’s a packet in front of you. I want you to take some time and review it. All the answers you’re looking for are inside those pages. The sooner you trust the process, the sooner the next step of your life will unveil itself.”

On February 23, 2011, I was offered a new job, and this week, I accepted that offer.

Over the past 366 days I had to make a decision; try to remain in the industry I had devoted literally my entire life to, or take the road less traveled. I thought about my former employer and the industry as a whole. It was a bleak economic time, and many decent people were finding themselves unemployed. The future for this industry is uncertain at best, as it continues a contraction that is precedent-setting. The decision was made: Reinvent.

Over the preceding 366 days:

I lost a job.

I lost my healthcare.

I lost my home to the real estate bust.

I was denied unemployment by the Republic of California because of a glitch on one piece of paper. I never received a penny.

I applied for 411 jobs online. Not one response.

My former employer withheld my severance for weeks, for no reason other than “they forgot”.

One afternoon, I was sitting in the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco with a friend, watching A Single Man. A regrettable choice of film, as this powerful, amazing and completely depressing movie was not the spirit-lifter I probably should have watched. There was no one else but us in the theater. We kept our phones on. About halfway through the film, mine rang. It was a hiring manager for a winery. We set up a time to talk later. I knew I wasn’t going to get the position. I had no experience in the wine industry, and a zillion winery marketing people were unemployed. It was over before it started.

The movie ended, the credits rolled, and I leaned into my friend and unleashed a waterfall of agony. She held me and rocked me like a baby, this inconsolable, broken, lost man.

There was one day I had 6 cents in my checking account.

An insurance company denied my application because I had a hernia in 1974.  I wish I was kidding.

I had the most vivid nightmare I could possibly imagine. I dreamed I had died in a plane crash.

It seemed that everything that could go wrong, did.

Here’s what else happened over this year and a day: I reinvented myself, top to bottom. I reinvented my career, I tackled personal issues. I shed people in my life that were not good for me. I patched up by shattered heart, and spackled my facade to not just look , but to be… more authentic. I questioned everything.

I decided to do it all at once.

I traveled, spent time with family and friends, kept on the move, doing my work. I wrote about it all.

There is a man who is a key player in this tale. I’ll call him Mr. Syracuse.

One day, sitting with him and another good friend at a bar, I moaned about my lot in life, telling him about the 411 jobs, zero callbacks. He said, “Be in my office Monday morning.”

Mr. Syracuse allowed me to do some work for him for a while, in a business that I had never worked in before. Something happened after that experience – good things started happening. This simple act of kindness this man had extended to me made some of the inertia disappear. After I left his company, I got a consulting job. I did some freelance work. I was doing things to learn that ultimately, that I should not do them. I experimented, ad-libbed, and performed extemporaneous jobs and tasks. Some were not glamorous or thrilling, but they were necessary to keep afloat and build the empire I thought I could. Mr. Syracuse had started the ball rolling, and I will never forget it.

I told him the other night, “You know, I blame you for all the good things that are happening!”

He said, “I might have started it. You finished it.”

In these past 366 days I started a company. I secured a monthly retainer for 2011 with a media group to vlog for them. My voice is now heard on one of the top radio stations in America.

And this week, I signed the contract to a full-time position with a local university. I get to learn, read, play with websites, write syllabi, and interface with instructors on course outlines. I get to learn and get paid for it.

I took a hike up Mt. Diablo this morning to watch the sun rise. A cinematic moment, yes- I like to mark moments with something memorable. I watched the sun rise, and I sipped a coffee, and looked down on my beloved Bay Area- this hotbed of the creative class, this place so beautiful and yet so tough; you have to want to be here, “they” don’t make it easy.

You have to be relentless. You have to play the odds. 411 no’s, each moving you closer to the YES.  You have to stay the course you’ve charted, with all of the potholes and roadblocks and you have to understand that it’s going to be a freaking mess.

You have to clean up your messes. Because it is difficult, that’s the reason you should do it. Because it scares you, that’s why you need to try.

On this day, nothing is as it was. Everything has changed.

I’ll be moving soon, to a new home. I’ll have room to breathe, a place to call mine again. I have a new career path, education. I have fun little projects and little jobs to keep me completely, totally, busy.

This day, I got my life back, but it’s a whole new version of it. It took a year and a day, and it was pure hell, but I made it to The Other Side.

This is the end of this particular story, but it’s really just the beginning. I made it to the starting line, with a little help from people who I will always be grateful to.

You can do this in your life. Believe that you can. Ask people to help you, for you cannot go it alone. Question everything. Look ahead, not in your rear view mirror. Trust your gut.

Reinvent yourself. I’m cheering you on.

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