There is life after a layoff

doctor-is-inIt has been a week.

A number of my friends and former colleagues were laid off. Some saw it coming, but I think many didn’t.

And just like that, it felt like old times. Having an open door, (OK, a phone, texting and Facebook) being the sounding board, fielding lots of questions. Why? Who? When? How?

In the end, when a layoff happens to you, all that really matters is What.

Having been there not once, but three times – twice in the last few years – it’s hard not to feel their pain. And surprisingly, at first it was hard not to relive my own.

Thankfully, getting to the other side does happen. It takes time, healing, rest, resetting and, most importantly, getting back up and dusting ourselves off.

Also in there somewhere , but absolutely necessary, is re-prioritizing. Values change, focus changes and, eventually, we learn how to negotiate back into our lives the prerequisite margin we need to live life fully – preferably more fully than before.

Ultimately, though, we have to be there for each other. Not only would I never wish a layoff on someone the way they happen these days. I wouldn’t wish on anyone to go through it alone.

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Can’t we all just get along?

Rodney King caricature. He speaks into a mic

A little throwback in light of the week’s events in the U.S. Painful then, painful now. No more. Image Cass Anaya via Creative Commons.

Real dreams never die

leap-of-faith

So there’s this thing. I’ve had it for quite sometime.

It’s a dream that I – we – started as an experiment. A product to see if there was a market for it. A business started out of a felt need.

Question was, did anyone else feel the need like we did?

No market research existed for our target market. Heck, even today there is great debate over market findings.

But we did it. We dove into the “experiment,” knowing we could be throwing money in a black hole, likely with no return.

We were wrong.

We did break even. It took three or four years, but it happened. Our experiment had worked, better than we could have imagined.

So why didn’t we keep going? Right about then, one of us ran out of time, the other out of money. We kind of got stuck. For an experiment, though, it wasn’t bad.

Still, it was hard to shutter the business. Looking back, we were going against the grain – way against the grain. Market awareness wasn’t yet there. We couldn’t get shelf space where we needed it. Besides, there were no distribution channels – yet.

Now, nearly 20 years later, all that has changed. Funny thing is, the market is still there. In fact, it’s bigger – much bigger. Could the demand still follow?

I think it’s time to see if there’s still life in that dream. I’ve been exploring how to revive it, and I think it can be done.

We’ll have to wedge it back in via the margins – the way most small businesses start. And we may have to bootstrap it – again.

It was successful before in a less promising environment. It could be successful now, right?

There’s only one way to find out.

I could’ve sworn there was no haystack there this morning

Field under a cloudy sky

Photo by OeilDeNuit

When it rains, it pours.

Such is the life of the freelancer. When not thinking about revenue streams several months out, they’re slamming project on top of project, usually to make up for possible gaps and often at the expense of personal margin and quality of life.

It comes with the territory.

After spending the last two-to-three years in that mode, I sense something’s about to happen that will force a significant choice – one that favors quality of life and doesn’t look anything like what I would have expected at this point.

Today, a whole lot of work-like “needles” piled up, almost in real time. Tonight, I’m sorting through the resulting haystack, in search of one or two “keepers” and some peace of mind.

I love how scary things often end up being good things. But for the moment, I’m still on the scary part.

It’s a red-flag kind of day

Today is one of those days that puts Coloradans on edge. It will be first of many this year.

It’s not our first Red Flag Warning (high fire danger) day, though I think it’s the second day with humidity <5%. One thing is for sure: the gusts have whipped up tonight. And my lips feel like paper.

While we’re adjusting quickly to the drier weather – following a wet winter, even – this early need to water everything has got us scratching our heads, licking our lips and crossing our fingers.

In fact, this fire just flared up today, one county west of here (in a rural mountain town). Thankfully, evacuations have lifted, though containment data is unknown (containment means the firefighters have been able to hold a line of the fire at least 24 hours).

I find myself praying for the right moisture at the right time and that we (residents and our many visitors) will be wise enough to:

  • Completely put out campfires in public parks and forests (if they’re even allowed);
  • Properly and responsibly dispose of cigarette butts; and
  • Refrain from burning leaves or trash on windy days, etc.

Sounds like common sense, but every year, we are amazed. We can’t be careful enough.

Most lives spared, but not their homes
640px-Waldo_fire_approaching_Mountain_Shadows_2

The west side of Colorado Springs. “Waldo fire approaching Mountain Shadows 2” by ttcosprings. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thankfully, casualties were minimal in the last two Colorado fires, but nearly 1000 families were displaced for at least a year, if not longer. Some still are figuring out how to rebuild.

The Waldo Canyon Fire scar stares drivers in the face as we sit, facing west at traffic lights. The Black Forest Fire scar, across the highway to the northeast, is Waldo’s quiet counterpart.

And both are part of us now.

The obstacle is the path
I love the Zen proverb quoted by fellow #YourTurnChallenge blogger Patrick Smith, that the obstacle is the path. Challenge, adversity, any kind of obstacle, really – they not only build character in us; they build beauty and identity.

The weather the last few years has been crazy nearly everywhere. I guess it’s our turn to brace ourselves for the season ahead, pray for the best and prepare for the worst – including the resulting beauty.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.