One year

One year ago today, I started my ‘blog.  Happy anniversary to me!

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“I lost my job. Now what?!?”

Before any of my friends panic, no, I didn’t actually lose my job (at least not at the time of this article); this is just what I’m using for the title.

Having said that, here’s a little background for what prompted me to write this. A few weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine. She was (understandably) flustered because her husband had lost his job.  I wanted to help them (and others) out, so I began jotting down my thoughts for this article.  Ironically, I had a Facebook “on this day” memory come up on the very same day that I started jotting down my notes for this article; it turned out that on that day four years ago, I was laid off from a job as well.

Losing your job is always a scary proposition. Very few people (that I know of) wants to be unemployed.  There’s a great deal of uncertainty.  Questions enter your mind; among others: “how long will I be out of work?”  “How will I pay the bills?”  “How will I get by?”

Having been there and done that, I empathize with people who find themselves jobless.  For those of you who find themselves in such a situation, here are some tidbits that helped me through these tough times.

  • Above everything else, control your emotions.  When you lose your job, your emotions run wild.  Most likely, you (understandably) get scared, depressed, angry, frustrated, and so on.  The worst thing you can do is lose control of yourself.  If you need to do so, find a safe way to blow off steam and keep your feelings in check.  It isn’t healthy to keep those emotions bottled up, but at the same time, it is absolutely critical that you keep your head on your shoulders.  Find a healthy way to get those feelings out of your system, but don’t let those feelings control you.
  • Keep a positive attitude.  It is very easy to get down on yourself when you lose a job.  Strangely, the last time I lost my job, I actually felt invigorated.  I looked at it as an opportunity.  It wasn’t so much that I’d lost my employment as much as I was being offered a chance to try something new.  I wrote a while back that a positive attitude can be a powerful thing.  Rather than dwelling in what was, focus on what might be.
  • Take advantage of your free time.  A friend of mine who’d lost his job at one point told me that he took advantage of his suddenly-acquired free time to spend time with his family, play golf, and do things he didn’t have time to do because he was at work.  While he did focus efforts on his job hunt, he also made it a point to balance his time between searching for a job and having fun — which brings me to another thought…
  • Looking for a job is a full-time job.  Back in the good-old “answering help wanted newspaper ad” days, quantity was quality (there might be some recruiters who disagree with me on this, but I digress).  I am, admittedly, old school, so a part of me still subscribes to this mindset.  There were job hunts where I averaged about ten applications a day.  There’s also doing your homework — researching companies and potential employers, sizing them (and yourself — again, more on that in a minute) up, getting addresses, making phone calls, polishing your resume and your cover letters, and so on.  That makes for a lot of time and effort, and it will tire you out.  Make the time for your job hunt endeavors — but don’t forget to balance your life as well.
  • Find something to hold you over.  No, flipping burgers isn’t sexy, but it’s a source of income.  Even minimum wage is better than, say, zero (and it might also be better than unemployment benefits, which, in my experience, usually pays squat).  There is no shame in taking a temp job to hold you over until you land on your feet again.
  • Get involved, and keep yourself busy.  Number one, it’ll get your mind off your situation.  Number two, it’s a chance for you to network (again, I’ll expand on that in a bit).  Number three, you might learn something new that would make you marketable.  For more thoughts on getting involved, check out my article on getting involved with user groups, as well as an article I wrote about using your skill set for speaking at conferences.
  • Be honest with yourself.  When I started getting down on myself about my job situation, I asked myself a few questions, including: “where do my strengths lie,” “what am I capable of doing,” and “what do I really want to do?”  I identified my own skill sets and my interests; this, in turn, helped me identify positions for which I was qualified, as well as developing my own professional persona that helped me with interview skills.
  • Be creative.  As part of my job search, as well as a tool for networking, I created business cards for myself.  However, these were no ordinary business cards.  I remembered a scene in Mr. Baseball where Tom Selleck’s character learned that Japanese businessmen networked by exchanging business cards.  He gave them his baseball card.  That got me thinking: “Business card…  baseball card…” and I put the two together.  The result is what you see in the picture below.
    raysbizcardpic
    My networking business card

    The picture is a souvenir photo I got on a trip to Cooperstown (they dressed you up in the uniform of your choice and took your picture with a stadium backdrop).  I took that photo and made it into the business card you see above.  The back side has my contact information, and inside (it’s a folded card) contains a mini-resume with my career information.  I always get great reactions from people when I hand these out; someone even once said to me, “if I was in a position to hire, I’d hire you right now just because of this card!”  People will remember you, and it makes a great conversation piece.

    You don’t have to come up with a baseball-business card (hey, my idea, darn it!), but by all means, tap into your creativity to get yourself noticed!

  • Network, network, network!  Did I mention that you should network?  These days, networking is probably the best way to find a job.  Someone who knows of a job opening can probably tell you about it long before the open position becomes public knowledge.  That extra time could very well be your foot in the door.
  • Take advantage of available resources.  In this day and age of communication, you have no excuse not to make use of social media.  LinkedIn is specifically designed for professionals, and many online resources (including and especially job-hunt and networking resources) ask if you have a LinkedIn account.  If you’re looking, you can’t afford not to have an account.  While Facebook isn’t specifically geared toward professional networking, it is still another resource you can tap.
  • Don’t limit yourself.  Would you consider moving or taking a job outside your geographic area?  Would you consider working from home?  What about a different line of work?  Would you work part-time, odd hours, or a contract position?  If you’re in a jobless situation, you may very well need to keep your options open.

These are just some of my thoughts regarding surviving a jobless situation.  Did I miss anything, or do you disagree with any of my thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.

Why I ‘blog (or, “Variations on a Theme by Serra”)

In my first ‘blog post, I mentioned that I had numerous reasons for starting a ‘blog.  I’d like to expand upon that here.

I should mention that this is not my first effort at writing a ‘blog.  I also had another ‘blog on Livejournal.  However, that account mostly served a purpose that’s currently (and better) served by Facebook.  (I purposely exclude links to my old Livejournal account.)  After I started my Facebook account, my Livejournal account was mostly ignored.  Once I had new reasons for starting this ‘blog (that I write about below), I decided that it was time to put my Livejournal account to bed for good.

(If you’re looking for links to my Facebook account from my ‘blog, don’t bother.  I purposely don’t include them.  My Facebook account and my ‘blog serve two different purposes, akin to separating my personal life from my work.  I do, however, have links to my LinkedIn profile; that is more outward-facing and publicly shared.)

I met James Serra at SQL Saturday #526 in Rochester.  He has an excellent ‘blog post titled “Enhance your career by blogging!”  Many of the reasons he cites are exactly the same reasons why I started this ‘blog.  He is one of the big influences that prompted me to start my ‘blog.  In this article, I take his ideas and expand upon them, using them to explain why I ‘blog.

I listen to a lot of classical music.  One of my favorite works is Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  In that piece, Rachmaninoff takes a theme written by Niccolò Paganini and creates his own spin on it by writing his variations based on that theme.  In this article, I suppose you could say that James is Paganini, and I’m Rachmaninoff.

I’m a stickler for documentation.  I have a Master’s degree in technical communication, and I have professional experience as a technical writer.  Technical writing and documentation are among the most essential, yet most underutilized and disrespected, functions within most organizations.  (I have a SQL Saturday presentation that addresses exactly this issue; additionally, I will address this topic in a future ‘blog article, but this goes outside the scope of what I’m writing about here.)  ‘Blogging provides a forum for me to document my thoughts and ideas.

I’ll start with the very first bullet point that James writes in his post:

“I can document solutions I encounter for future use.  Sort of my own personal Google”

Above all, this is probably one of the top (if not the top) reasons why I started my ‘blog.  I frequently look up online references to help me with my work.  Among some of my favorites: SQLServerCentral, 4GuysFromRolla, StackOverflow, MSDN, W3Schools, etc.  Having this information readily at hand is like having my own online library.  If you walk into someone’s office (or cubicle), you might see a bookshelf containing books related to that person’s job.  Maintaining my ‘blog serves that same purpose.

Stealing a few more of James’ bullet points:

“I enjoy sharing knowledge”

“It helps as a consultant when I can use my blog as a solution to a customer’s problem”

“I use it as a replacement for client documentation.  They want you to document a solution, a work-around, etc.  Don’t just write-up something in an email or Word doc…blog it!”

James lists these as separate bullet points, but they all have an idea in common: what I write on my ‘blog helps other people.  Not only does my ‘blog serve as a reference for myself, but what I write is helpful to others as well.  If what I write helps other people, then I’ve made a productive — and satisfying — contribution.

Moving right along . . .

“It helps me to remember the things I blog about better because I am researching it and writing it”

How often have you come up with a thought, told yourself, “I’ll remember this; no problem,” become distracted with other tasks, then completely forgot about your thought?

As I write this, I have eight (and counting) ‘blog drafts sitting in my queue.  Whenever a thought comes to me, I’ll go to my drafts and write my thoughts down.  One of my life philosophies that I’ve developed over time includes this one: if I’m thinking of something, either (1) take care of it right away, or (2) write it down.  I have a lot of ideas in my head that deserve (I think) to be heard.  A lot of my drafts are merely scratch notes or ideas for articles yet to be written.  When I was researching the tech writing/documentation presentation I mentioned earlier, I came across this quote (that I included in my presentation slides): “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”  In George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien destroys a document, then promptly tells Winston Smith, “I do not remember it.”  Documentation preserves thoughts.  If your thought isn’t written down, you risk losing it forever.

“I learn new technology by blogging about it.  The best way to learn is by teaching, especially when I don’t know enough about a topic”

One thing I learned from my experience as a technical writer is that I learn a lot about something when I write about it, sometimes to the point that I become a subject matter expert.  When you write about a particular subject, you need to learn about that subject in order to document it.  Writing about something helps you retain that information in your memory.

“To raise my personal brand”

“It’s a way for recruiters to find you”

“To prove to clients I know my stuff”

“It’s a way to become ‘known'”

While this is more a minor reason that I ‘blog, I readily admit that a part of me hopes that ‘blogging and presenting will eventually lead to bigger things.  Right now, it’s too soon to know whether or not my ‘blogging experience leads to a higher salary or significant advancements in my career.  But you never know.  Whether or not ‘blogging leads to bigger and better things remains to be seen.  We’ll see what happens down the road.

I’ll also mention something that James doesn’t talk about in his article.  One of my reasons for ‘blogging has to do with my involvement with SQL Saturday.  I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation in 2015, and have come up with additional presentations since then.  While my presentations seem to work well by themselves, I found that they could be made even more effective with additional information to supplement them.  That’s where my ‘blog comes in.  Much of what I write can be used either to support my presentations, or the material in my presentations can be used as fodder for future articles.  The ‘blog provides the vehicle that allows that to happen.

Are those enough reasons?  Maybe, by this point, I’ve inspired you to create your own ‘blog the same way that James inspired me.  Best of luck in your ‘blogging endeavor!