It has rained, quite literally, all day here at the beach. A steady stream of gulf moisture sweeping over the peninsula has worked tirelessly to dampen my mood today, but met with only limited success. While it’s still gray and chilly, it looks as if the rain has pushed slowly to the south, and we may be out of the worst of it. Not that we didn’t need the rain. It’s been very dry the past couple of months, and this all-day rain will certainly help in that regard. Still, it looks like a rainy night in Orlando and Daytona Beach.
It’s opening night at The Comedy Zone for Improv Effect tonight. Standups ant 8:00 … and we go on at 9:00. It’ll be good to play on that stage again. I hope if you’re local you’ll come out tonight or on another Tuesday to see a show. Information is posted on The Comedy Zone website.
And, I had an article published today in Folio Weekly. Anne Schindler had asked several folks to write about being unemployed in today’s economy. Since Folio doesn’t publish an online edition, I thought I’d re-post mine here, now that the article’s on the racks. But grab a copy anyway to see how others are coping. And there’s always a challenging crossword puzzle …
I recently heard those words that every working person dreads. “We’ve eliminated your position. It’s nothing personal, not a reflection on your performance, just a business decision.”
After that, the entire conversation was pretty much a blur. I might as well have been talking to a Charlie Brown adult. No real words, just a sad, wah-wah trombone.
In this economy, with bank mergers and a raft of corporate bailouts and shrinking profit margins and a roller-coaster stock market, it’s a conversation that’s being had with thousands and thousands of people just like me. Middle aged, mid-career, mid-mortgage, kid in college, payments, etc, etc, etc.
So, having just turned 50 in August 2008, I am faced with the prospect discovering what’s next.
I am that rare person that came out of college and has worked continuously in the same field my entire career. I’ve been a disc jockey, a radio feature producer, radio air talent, syndicated program producer and host, internet content producer, radio reporter, radio news director, radio station manager, television host … all in the same business, on an upward path. I honestly never considered that I might not be in broadcasting. It’s what I love, and it’s what I know best. I also know that, if I approach this correctly, there are (hopefully) many, many other opportunities available, but it means I may have to re-invent myself along the way.
That’s a daunting challenge. We are all creatures of comfort and habit. As much as we might say we want change, when it’s staring us in the face, it’s scary. When it’s thrust on us from out in left field, it can be one of two things: Abjectly terrifying or a liberating opportunity. And how we who are faced with this choice meet it will determine how we come out on the other side.
It has been my experience so far that losing one’s job is something like losing a loved one. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance all have come into play, and I don’t think I’m through any one of those stages completely yet. I’m allowing myself short bursts of each, and staying busy. There’s the resume to update, and these days, a generic resume pretty much will not do. It becomes a marketing document that needs to be tailored to the person who looks at it. The advice that I’ve gotten, though, is that it’s not your introduction. It’s a closer. By the time you’re handing someone a resume, it should be to reinforce a decision that’s pretty much already made.
And there’s the networking. Forgive me that buzzword, but there is no other to replace it. I determined early on that I could curl up in a fetal position on my bed and cry “woe is me”, or I could get out, show the world my face, let people know I’m not toxic, and that I’m ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.
So the question becomes “Ok … was fun. What’s next?” In some ways, it doesn’t help that everyone who already knows me associates me with Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville. What I was defined who I was, in part because no one, including me, knew any different. But in other ways, it’s very helpful. Everyone who knows me and discovers I am no longer a part of that organization expresses disbelief. I never knew I had so many fans until I was no longer in the business, and I’ve heard a lot of “Let me know if there’s ANYTHING I can do”, and “Things happen for a reason”. I’m hoping that the reason is a darn good one.
Nobody gets into Public Broadcasting expecting to make a big pile of money, though a notable few … and if you’re an NPR fan you probably know who they are … manage. Most of us who come to public broadcasting do so because of its mission. There’s something else to be working for … a reason other than a paycheck to suit up and hit the field every day. I always felt best coming out of a studio knowing that we’d made a difference. That no matter what the issue, be it the river or the mortgage crisis or the city’s murder rate … or an interview with the Mayor, the Governor, or Archbishop Tutu, it was always my hope that the audience came away with something valuable and knew more than they did before they tuned in. I’d done just such a program explaining proposed state constitutional amendments the night before I was given the bad news. I think it only compounded my disbelief.
Now, nearly two months later, I finally find myself believing that this is going to be OK. While there haven’t been any solid offers yet, I’ve talked to enough people to know that there will be something, the trick is determining exactly what that is going to be.
I don’t know that it will require a complete re-invention of myself. When I look back at my career in broadcasting, and the skills I’ve acquired, it’s obvious that they will translate into a lot of things. Perhaps the most valuable is the ability to get up in front of an audience and just talk without dissolving into a flop sweat. While public speaking is one of the things a majority of people fear the most, it just seems natural to me. Not that I don’t approach it with a few butterflies pretty much every time. But between my time in front of a camera or behind a microphone, I know that if I’m properly prepared I’ll be just fine. And the training I got performing improv comedy has given me the confidence to stand up in front of an audience sometimes with nothing and make … something. Preparation and confidence are always great tools to have, whether you’re moderating a roundtable discussion on live television, or sitting in an interview with someone who could possibly give you a job. Johnny Carson said he was nervous every night before he stepped out from behind that curtain. That’s not such a bad thing, but the confidence to step out makes all the difference.
Still, I know times are difficult. December might not be the best time to be looking for a new career. I want to be optimistic and confident … and yet realistic. We’ve had to cut back a bit. It’ll be a skinny Christmas no matter what, for more than just the fact that I’m not working right now. The good news is I was given enough of a copper parachute that I can last through the holidays, but January’s going to be crunch time.
I’ve been told this is the perfect time in my life for me to change careers. I’m not so sure about that. I loved broadcasting. I loved being on the radio and on television, though I had resisted the latter for years. But as I’ve constantly told people throughout this process, I’m sincerely open to any possibility. I know that there is something in the great “out there” that I will find equally rewarding. That knowledge allows me to sleep at night.
I should mention, too, that I’m committed to staying in Jacksonville, specifically at the beach, even though that does somewhat limit my options. I’ve adopted this as my home, and much of what was my home has followed me here. My wife doesn’t want to live anywhere else, and my youngest sister’s family and my mom have both recently moved here. Not to mention that I told myself years ago that if I could live near the beach and keep a roof over my head and food on the table, that’s where I wanted to be. That whole roof-and-food thing is in some jeopardy at the moment, but I’m confident that I’ll be able make that happen. It was no lesser poet than Jimmy Buffett wrote: “I ate the last mango in Paris, took the last plane out of Saigon. Took the first fast boat to China, and there’s still so much to be done”.
Update: Here’s the short version of my audition reel, just in case you’d like to see it.
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