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Picking Up the Pieces: How To Survive Job Loss
Early in May of 2009, I had a job. In fact, that job had lasted over 18 years. Although the sales job paid straight commission only -- no sale meant no income, that job was something I loved. I could do it well, and my customers enjoyed working with me; many even asked for me specifically, when contacted by the main office for a renewal appointment.
I also felt invincible in that position. After all, I was number-one salesman in the company all 18 years and heading for the crown in the 19th year. No on will ever consider getting rid of me, if I'm Number One, I thought.
Feeling on top of the world, I never backed up my sales production with a Reserves Account of savings that I considered untouchable. I knew that saving at least 10 percent of my earnings was a sound financial idea, but, though I did save money, in lean months of sales I used whatever savings I had to pay bills and travel to work. What else could I do, I thought, but I never answered my own question, because on good months I earned twice as much as my monthly bills. It seemed unimportant as long as I could do that. Besides, my home value had doubled -- there was my "nest egg" for my retirement, I thought. (More on that later.)
I couldn't have been more wrong!
When the email arrived with the message that my presence was no longer welcome, and my sales appointments had all been assigned to another person; that I was no longer authorized to represent the company that I worked for, the initial shock hit me like a ton of bricks!
Are you kidding me? Where had this decision come from? What was going on? Who had targeted me? Is this for real? -- and other quick questions rattled in my mind until the second wave of thought hit me like a tsunami: What if this is real? How am I going to pay this month's bills? And what about next month's, too?
No One To Talk To
I called the main office right away. After all, the one who ran the company, who had hired me almost two decades earlier, who had enjoyed the benefit of my many closed sales deals, was one of my closest friends. I would ask him, "What happened? What is going on?" and he would come to my rescue.
He wouldn't even take my call. Worse, a slew of emails arrived from other personnel at the company, each informing me that its sender was disconnected from me! Everyone at the office -- I live in Florida and they were in Oregon -- had been told to not speak with me or communicate in any form with me and they turned a cold shoulder to me and my wife!
Eventually, I discovered that a third party, another salesman, had sent my friend a false report about me, which purported that I had denigrated the company and a select few of its personnel. No one had the decency to inform me of the report, have me read it and ask me about the veracity of its contents. I had been tried and hung up with a noose around my neck without even a whisper!
To be fired from a long-time job without any recourse, especially considering my number-one status of sales production, was an injustice in the extreme, but it wasn't going to ever go my way, because all of the company personnel were convinced that the report was correct. Although I sued in arbitration, satisfaction never resulted, because Karma caught up with the group: the one who hired me, the company's founder, unexpectedly died of a heart attack, and the group broke up after the salesman who had falsely reported on me departed -- without doubt, he had planted other seeds that bore bad fruit.
Peter Pays Paul Syndrome
My wife and I, shaken and stirred, were left without work, and without any income. We had about $13 thousand in immediate bills due and the same amount coming in two weeks. I was also over 60 years old now... not exactly Millennial job-marketplace material.
The initial shock never wore off, but my rant cooled. I sat down with a piece of paper and assessed what we owed, what we had in cash on hand and what possible other jobs existed that I was willing to do, or could do. I had never finished college and had only worked as a salesman in straight-commission sales for 48 years. Although I wrote creatively on the side, my ledger showed few articles, and no books, sold and published.
The current picture wasn't pretty on paper. We had on hand far less cash than bills immediately due and no income source, but we did have some credit left on a handful of credit cards. We wouldn't go hungry or homeless right away but we were like the eight ball after all other balls had been pocketed: we were two lonely targets facing a number of cue balls!
To cut a long story short, the job market for someone with my skill-set was flooded with others paddling from the same boat. America's downturn in its economy had begun and, as we have all found out since, Washington wasn't going to fix that problem any time soon. (If ever, since we are still in a tailspin.)
Months went by without another reliable job. Peter was robbing Paul to pay bills and stay afloat. Pride had flown out the window when asked-for charity became an option, albeit an embarrassing one. We were humbled. Every bad decision we had ever made financially in the past flew up in our faces repeatedly and mocked us.
When we first faced the problem landed on our plate so abruptly, we gulped and turned in the second car. The lease coincidentally had run out, and we had no choice. We also found a stop-gap job, selling bed-sheet packages from street-corners. We put up folding tables and displayed our wares at busy intersections, gathering interest with makeshift, roadside signs that we held up. The temperatures were nearly freezing, but we bundled up and kept at it. At least, we would eat, even if our creditors filled our mailbox with demands we couldn't hope to meet.
I never told her, but from behind the table I watched my wife prance and sway in her made-up dance that she used to attract attention, wondering if I was ever going to be able again to wear the sole bread-winner hat in the family.
Cutting The Life Lines
We decided we had to cut the credit cards in half and close all of our accounts, leaving at least a static amount of balance owed, rather than get further in the hole with them. The idea had only come to us after we found that we could make do with one car.
We started to find other ways to chop our monthly bills down. We put on sweaters in the house, leaving our heat thermostat on a lower temperatures in winter. When summer came, we left the air-conditioning set higher and wore less clothing... or cut out the A/C altogether. Although we had figured out where we could buy groceries cheaply, heartbreak arrived more than once when power outages ruined what we had. Making lemonade out of lemons, we went days with our perishable food supply kept on ice in cooler boxes, which had in our affluent past worked for vacation trips and spontaneous picnics. My wife purchased basic sundries at the local Dollar Store. Trips to the mall were excursions into air-conditioned environments for relief from the humidity, as well as purchase-less window-shopping for entertainment.
Little by little, we got used to our routine of making do with less, all the while looking for and trying out odd ventures to produce more income. In other words, we had built a modicum of hope back into our outlook. We were eking out a modest food-money-only existence from our street sales, but our diet consisted mainly of Wolfgang Puck soups and bread and butter once or twice a day. (Aside from hot chocolates or hot coffees to keep us warm outside while selling.)
Writing: A Miracle of Redemption
My wife and I had always heard that worn phrase "Miracles do happen" but we didn't really believe it until the day I walked into a Panera Bread shop and met a new prospect for my juice business, who turned out to be a fellow writer. Dropping our pretenses -- he wasn't really interested in networking, and I wasn't really interested in selling juices for a living -- we talked about writing books. You see, he was a 30-year veteran of sports journalism, an award-winning journalist who had written and had published 12 sports books -- the last a football book that sold over 230,000 copies... without earning him a dime! (His publisher went bankrupt and the owner literally died!)
I had been wishing for years that I could turn my proclivity for creative writing into a handsome source of income. I already knew that it provided me with an endless source of inspiration and happiness. Could this author be the embodiment of my postulate? I wondered. Is he my needle-in-a-haystack miracle?
The 40's-something man sitting in front of me, I found out, had created millions in income for himself with business ventures... but he had lost it all. He had owned 23 buildings, but the downturn left him upside down with his mortgages and unable to keep his properties. Worse, he had a wife and two girls to shelter and feed. They had, only months before, been left homeless, except for one fact: their church had let them live in one room of a church-owned house until they got on their feet enough to move back to their native Florida from California. They were living hand-to-mouth but at least had been able to rent a modest home in St. Petersburg when I met him.
Put two writers together and a story line is going to come out of their conversation. Ours grew from non-fiction. He had a commission to write a baseball book but he was three years behind in writing it. He also needed a research assistant.
I leaped at the opportunity. No money was forthcoming, but we would co-write the book, hoping book sales would bring royalties. We only had to do research and write, and somehow survive long enough to get to payday.
I was excited. When I returned home that day -- thanks to the gasoline credit cards we had not cut up, carrying balances on them for the first time in our lives -- I told my wife I was going to research and write a sports book. Well, seeing a smile on my face that she had not seen for over a year, she bit her lip and agreed that I should write the book. In fact, she hugged me and told me we would make it all right... somehow.
We filled the next two years with 10-12 hour writing days, seven days a week. We cranked out the book, found the funding for printing it and made sales happen, earning us all of $6,000 in royalties apiece... about 82 cents an hour!
Still, I had a new product to market and a smattering of renewed notoriety: I had co-authored, printed and published a book with a best-selling author, who was now my best friend and mentor, glad to pay forward to me what he had learned from another when he began his illustrious career.
We were still broke, having relied on friends and family to keep us afloat as I wrote the book, but my new friend had shared enough advice about writing with me that I was encouraged enough to convince others to invest in me as a writer of my own book, which would be the biography of my late brother-in-law, Chef Tell.
We sold the book rights to a publisher upon its completion and now its release is eminent on October 1st.
Immediately upon completion of that book's draft, two (paying) clients appeared who wanted to write books with me, covering my basic monthly bills for almost a year and promising shared, residual income from book-sale royalties. One book was released as an e-book novel online; the other is in progress.
Additionally, I revised and revamped an earlier sales-training book that I had written but never sold and published it as an e-book. Having to spend months learning how to market such books at the same time as writing them, I burned the midnight oil on many nights not only on revisions and translations of the book into three other languages, but also on blog sites and Facebook pages that would build followings, which might purchase my books, like them and tell their friends. I even found an independent publisher in Italy, who published my sales book overseas.
The Jury Is Still Out
The jury is still out on the verdict of whether or not my books will sooner or later bring enough real income from book sales to cover the bills, but an online trickle of royalties began to flow last month for the first time.
The lessons we have learned -- lessons that we believe anyone can benefit from knowing and applying -- are that we CAN make any situation go right; we can survive using our wits, willingness to work and our determination, when we work as a team.
It is still possible that we could lose our home; we might have to return to selling something just to eat and, of course, we still have a mountain of debt balances we would prefer to be able to pay off... but we have never lost hope or each other and we know that we never will.
Our intention to always make the best of what we have and work our way back up into bright sunshine again is as strong as ever. This time, however, we will create a Reserves cushion that we will never fall back on!
And I will never stop researching, writing and publishing new books and stories! Who knows? We might even end up with a TV documentary or a movie deal!