At the end of this week I will head out to Cape Cod for a week with my family. A journey of sorts. I seem to be surrounded by journeys lately, not just my own, but that of family and friends as well. It’s not a theme I mind, especially since I find just the idea of taking a journey exciting. Not all the journeys we take are by choice, but as I packed the books I want to read, my favorite t-shirts, shorts and sandals, I thought about the choices every journey, chosen or not, does give you. What do you bring with you, and what do you leave behind? Just like you choose books or clothes for each journey, you also choose the friendships, the lessons learned, the attitude and the gratitude you take with you. With every worn, comfortable t-shirt I packed I thought about the must-haves I try to bring on every journey: A positive attitude, the courage not to turn back just because I may not know where I am going (yet) or how I’m even going to get there, attentiveness to the details around me along the way, a willingness to learn and give, and an appreciation for every person along the way who imparts something valuable into my life. I thought too about the fact that journeys aren’t always about physically going somewhere, but rather experiencing a change, reacting to, or making your own shift to the norm in your life.
Eight months ago I embarked on the job search journey, as have a number of my friends and relatives, some by choice, some not. During that time, my son also graduated from high school and is readying for his journey to college, and a few of my good friends have moved away , one to pursue her dream of becoming a novelist. All journeys. In fact, I’ll bet that when you ask most people what have been the big journeys in their lives, they’ll tell you about things that don’t involve physically traveling: Getting married, raising children, trying out a new career, getting through heartbreak or falling in love. All journeys.
I think my love of journeys is why I am so drawn to writing. Stories (fiction and non-fiction) all take you on a journey, whether it be to another time, another person’s life or another place. And when you’re the writer, you get to choose the destination. I think it’s also why I am drawn to photographing paths. It looks like a journey waiting to be taken. So, as I journey out to Cape Cod and watch the sand begin to make its appearance along the side of the road as we near the shore (the sign I always excitedly watched for as a kid in the backseat of my parents’ car), I will think of journeys that are yet to be taken….the going, the coming and everywhere in between, and what I pack to accompany me – the comforting favorites with room left for exciting new things in my life!
A few nights ago, while sitting on my front porch in the early evening, I heard one of the two sounds of a summer night that I love most. It made me think of a scene (which also takes place in the evening) from one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, in which George Bailey asks his Uncle Billy, “You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?” Uncle Billy, a simple-minded joker, replied, “Uh-huh. Breakfast is served. Lunch is served. Dinner…” and here George cuts him off with the answer, “No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.” What I heard that night was the distant whistle of a train, and there was something about hearing it on a summer night that made it even better. I don’t live where I hear anchor chains, and although I am close enough to an airport to hear plane motors, they don’t have the same effect on me as the train whistle. Maybe it’s that summer is a season of slowing down, relaxing on a front porch with a glass of cold lemonade (hear that ice clinking in the glass?), or on vacation away from the hustle and bustle of reality. You tend to move slower when it gets hot, and when you slow down, you notice more. I hear plane motors year round, but it’s only in the quiet of a summer night that I’ll catch the sound of a train whistle. A train whistle sounds old-fashioned to me, and I tend to favor anything old-fashioned. There’s an understated grace to the sound of a train whistle, especially when it’s off in the distance. Some nights, if it’s quiet enough, I can hear the click-clack of the train traveling along the track. I’m not a big fan of flying, not because of fear, but because I like to see where I am traveling through. When I hear that train whistle on summer nights, I imagine myself on it, traveling through the countryside watching the changes in landscape and absorbing the character of all the towns, big and small, that you pass through. That summer whistle reminds me too of the letters my grandfather wrote to me years ago when he traveled across country by train. I felt like I was in the seat next to him as I read about the cast of characters he met along each leg of the journey, and the breathtaking scenery as they wove through mountain passes that only the train could travel.
Those memories of my grandfather bring me to my other favorite summer night sound: A baseball game on a transistor radio. Talk about old-fashioned! When I was a kid, I used to spend a week every summer at my grandparents’ house in a rural area. The only sound at night, aside from the crickets, was my grandfather’s transistor radio propped up on the headboard of his bed as he fell asleep to the sounds of a baseball game. My grandfather, being from Rhode Island, was a die-hard Red Sox fan, but I don’t think it really mattered who was playing. He loved baseball and I think he just loved the sounds of the game. Not seeing the game, but relying instead on the sounds of the crowd, the inflections in the announcers’ voices when a play excited them, and sometimes even hearing the bat hit the ball made it all more vivid to me. Sometimes I would lie and say a nightmare had scared me, just so I could lay in my grandfather’s bed and listen to the game with him. “Alright, Marie (his nickname for me), c’mon.” was all he would say. I would lie there with my hands behind my head, just like him, and listen in the dark. When I would hear the soft sounds of his snoring a while later, that was my cue to head back downstairs. Years later, when my grandfather had long since passed away and my husband and I moved into the house we live in now, I was reminded of that sweet summer sound when through our bedroom window drifted the sounds of a baseball game being broadcast on the radio. It seems that we had a neighbor who was a baseball referee and would listen to the games in his backyard at night. When one of my other neighbors complained to me about it the next day, my response was “Oh, I hope there’s a game tonight because I love that sound!”
There are many other summer sounds that I like, but these two are the ones that gently usher in the summer night in a way that leaves a smile on my face, ignites excitement for travels yet to be had, and stirs up comforting childhood memories. I hope you enjoy whatever sounds this summer that do the same for you!
It was a journal entry in a rant of frustration over my job search that lead me to write this particular blog . By the end of the entry, I had written my way out of frustration and into encouragement. I find that happens a lot when you journal. My thought was, if I can keep writing myself out of frustration, maybe I can write postcards of encouragement to help someone else.
Originally the title of this article was “Postcards From the Edge of Unemployment“. Then it struck me – it feels far more encouraging to think of it as being on the edge of employment. It makes me feel like I’m almost there. For me, the job search has a different spin on it than many of my fellow job searchers because I left my previous job by choice. No downsizing, just me deciding that what had become a very unbalanced lifestyle needed to change. Fortunately, I accomplished it on very good terms with my employer (and you know what they say….you’re always remembered most by your last act). Unfortunately, I also accomplished it when the job market was the worst in my lifetime. It’s tough to feel justified bemoaning the job search challenge when you put yourself there. I couldn’t control the factors that lead to my decision, but I absolutely could control what I did to address it. Ultimately that decision was mine. That realization is my first postcard of encouragement: Owning the after effects of a decision is the really important part. And by owning I don’t mean just making, but owning its consequences. Making a decision is not the hard part. It’s owning what the decision brings that takes the real work. The episode of Seinfeld when Jerry explained to the car rental agent that “See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.” comes to mind! All joking aside, he’s right. Even if you didn’t make the decision to be unemployed, you can own what you do with the after effects of the decision. And like holding the reservation, that’s the really important part.
If you’re in the job search, then you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say what gets tested most in this process is anything attached to the word “self”. Worth, confidence, direction…you name it, if you can attach it to “self”, it gets tested. You don’t always know (and most times you never do) why you didn’t get an interview, a call back after an interview, or a job offer after multiple interviews. So you wonder. And you start going back through everything connected to “self”. Sometimes, I think it’s the constant putting yourself out there for approval, that exposed feeling, that tests “self” most. Other times, it’s the lack of professional courtesy when you are at your most vulnerable that brings the test. There’s a special place in my customer loyalty and future recommendations for those companies that let me know they appreciate my time and interest in applying for a position with them, and who follow up with me after an interview, regardless of whether I’m the candidate of their choice or not. For those that don’t, I’ll offer up some free PR advice (and this goes for both the interviewer and interviewee) : In business, treat everyone like the customer you don’t have, but would like to. I know from first-hand experience, and experiences related to me by fellow job-seekers, how rejected that can make you feel. Here’s another postcard of encouragement: It’s not rejection when you’re not offered the job, it’s redirection. There is a better way for you to go. It’s not going the wrong direction that keeps anyone from reaching their destination. It’s not being willing to redirect themselves. The redirection that tests all things “self” can be a strengthening tool, for as a Native American quote states, “The only way to pass the test is to take the test.” Encouragement postcard number three: Be kind. Offer every ounce of help you can to anyone else in the same boat. The best thing you can do when the job search has you down is to do something to help someone else. Write a recommendation, pass along a job notice, or just offer words of support. Whoever you do it for is someone who is enduring the same “self” testing circumstances as you, and offering a leg up puts someone in a position to then turn around and offer you a hand . And it just plain feels good.
The fourth postcard of encouragement I’m sending you is this: Keep your oars in the water. You don’t have to always be rowing, but you’re much more likely to row if your oars are in the water. In other words, keep showing up. Keep doing the work, even if you don’t know if it’s the right work. Do something. I believe that just the act of doing the work makes you more of a magnet to opportunity, even if it’s not the work itself that brings it. One of my favorite quotes is by Andre Gide, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” One doesn’t discover them without keeping the oars in the water either. So whether you were pushed off shore or launched the boat yourself, I hope you take comfort in the thought that there is a new land out there for you to discover. Just keep rowing. Invite others into the boat to help you, and be willing to help others row theirs. And you will get to where you can send postcards from the land of opportunity!