Career Calling

July 30, 2012

The People Who Are on Strike at Caterpillar

In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Mitchell introduces us to the people who are on strike against Caterpillar, a company that had a 67% increase in profits for the second quarter.  Mitchell takes us beyond the cliché of spoiled union workers and introduces us to real people and the struggles they are facing.  Take a few minutes to read this column.  It gives voice to people who too often are ignored by the corporate media* and too often reviled by their fellow workers.

* Yes, the Sun-Times is a corporation.  Unlike the city’s other paper, it can sometimes look at issues that affect working people and the poor.  The paper investigates issues that matter to Chicago, and it has great columnists in Eric Zorn, Mary Mitchell, Roger Ebert, and Rick Telander.  Do I like all of its writers and editorial policies?  No.  But it hits more than it misses.


Sabbath, July 29, 2012

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 1:34 am
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[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature which wanders beyond the topic of jobs and careers.]

The Agony of My Feet

Yesterday I enjoyed watching the Olympics.  Two of my favorite athletes Keri Walsh and Misty May won their first match in beach volleyball.  Team gymnastics also was fun to watch.  Even when gymnasts make a mistake, they are doing things that are almost superhuman.  I won’t pretend to understand how gymnastics is scored, but it is exciting to watch.

Today I haven’t watched one minute of the competition.  I don’t want to think about sports or competition.  This morning I took the first tennis class of my life.  It was great fun, but it confirmed several things:  I am not coordinated.  I am not a good athlete.  Worst of all, I’m in terrible shape.  We ended the class with a drill in which 3 player lined up and followed each other in returning shots. The drill went on for about 10-15 minutes.  I thought I was going to have a stroke.  Now it’s about 8 hours after the class.  I’m just sore now and a little stiff.  Tomorrow will be hell.

That said, I’m looking forward to next week’s class.  It was fun to learn what I’ve been doing wrong for many years.  Putting the lessons into practice will be another story.  My goal is to learn what I can and have some fun.  It’s a game.

Tomorrow I’ll watch the Olympics again.  Not today, my feet are too sore.

July 29, 2012

Confidence and Experience

Last week I ran into a client who had just obtained his LCSW designation (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), which will make it easier for him to get a job.  When I congratulated him, my client seemed more depressed than excited.  I asked him what was wrong.  He told me that he was hesitant to apply for new job because he didn’t have experience.

How can anyone have experience when he or she is starting a new career?  It’s impossible.  We learn by doing, by failing, and by becoming confident that we can do the job.  When I started teaching in my mid-20s, I was almost sick standing in front of a class.  That feeling lasted for a few weeks.  Then I realized that I could do the job and felt confident.  However, we can’t achieve that feeling until we face the frightening and awkward first step into something new. Similarly, when I started writing resumes 10 years ago, I followed the models of other writers.  It probably took a year before I felt like the work was mine, not a copy of another writer’s style.  Experience takes time.

I told my client that he’s ready, but he doesn’t believe it.  He won’t believe it until he convinces himself by taking the leap.  That’s how it always starts, overcoming fear and growing confident.  Experience will come over months and years.  The first step is, well, the first frightening step.  It’s hard, but there’s no other way to become a professional.

July 28, 2012

Ed and Wendy Schultz

Filed under: Commentary — claycerny @ 3:39 am
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There is no louder or more passionate voice supporting American workers and unions than radio and TV host Ed Schultz.  Ed’s been off the air for over a week, and now we’ve learned why:  His wife Wendy has ovarian cancer.

As Ed has said many times on his show, Wendy “changed his heart.”  Ed was a conservative.  Wendy ran a social service agency, I think it was a homeless shelter or food pantry.  She gave Ed a different way of looking at life and caring about people.

Now he will care for her, putting the love of his life before the cameras or the microphone.  And that’s the right thing to do.  We wouldn’t expect anything less from Big Eddie.

My thoughts and best wishes are with Wendy, Ed, and their family.  Be well.

July 25, 2012

Could You Make It on Less Than $10 an Hour?

According to an article by Travis Waldron of Think Progress, 25% of the hourly workers in the U.S. have to make do with wages that are less than $10 per hour.  Waldron documents that this kind of job is increasing.  Many of these workers are employed by very profitable corporations.

Clients always ask me about unemployment, which I admit is a problem.  However, wage stagnation and decline is a much bigger problem.  Today I met a client who works in healthcare as a medical assistant.  He has three certifications.  A year ago he was working a 40 hour week and only making $14 an hour (about $28,000 a year, not much in Chicago).  Last week he learned that his company had fallen on hard times, his hours have been cut to 28 a week and his pay cut to $12 an hour.  Hourly employees have been given no indication that the company’s owners or managers have made a similar sacrifice.  Is this the America that some call exceptional?  I’d call it embarrassing.

July 23, 2012

Sabbath, July 22, 2012

[On Sundays, this blog examines the world beyond careers in “Sabbath.”]

Children of Cain

A few days ago, I read a great profile of the conservative pundit David Frum, which was written by Mark Oppenheimer in The Nation.  It’s clear that Oppenheimer admires Frum, even if he disagrees with his politics.  At the same time, the author tries to understand his subject by contrasting him with his mother, who was one of Canada’s leading liberal politicians.  He finds the answer in an insight from another Nation writer, the great Naomi Klein, who summed up the difference between mother and son in one word: compassion.

Feeling for others.  Frum is not alone in calling for a world where people have to make it on their own (while he was collecting a $100,000 salary from the American Enterprise Institute).  Republicans and Democrats argue policies as if their sole purpose was to win an election.  Their language seldom touches on compassion or sympathy.  No one wants to give the poor a “free ride” (no that’s reserved for the super rich and corporations).  The poor need to be responsible (You know, like the bailed-out banks and automakers were).

I posted a blog yesterday about the bottom 50% of Americans who have seen their wealth decline from 3% to 1.1% over the last 30 years.  Maybe that’s not a big deal to some.  It could be argued that the poor are still poor, just a little more so.  But it’s hard not to wonder what it means – how it feels – to go from having a little to having even less.  Once upon a time, our society had a safety net, social programs to help the poor, disabled, and elderly.  More and more, that protection is going away, replaced by the simple message:  “You’re on your own.”  More to the point, we as a society are looking at our brothers and sisters and saying:  “We don’t care.”

The same people who condemn the “Me” generation of the 1960s often preach the gospel of self-reliance.  They say things like welfare makes the poor dependent.  College grants and loans make students stay in school to avoid work (jobs that don’t exist for young people today).  A few months ago I read a book called Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.  Rodriguez is a great thinker and writer, but when it comes to having sympathy for people who don’t have the advantages he did, his solution is simple:  I made it – why can’t you?

It’s disturbing how people who enjoy advantages of wealth and power – especially recently acquired wealth and power – have little sympathy for those with less.  These people often forget how their achievement was not solely their doing.  Rodriguez was lucky enough to be born to parents who put him in a good school.  His family lived in a middle class neighborhood.  It is absurd to compare his upbringing to that of a kid growing up in poor community attending a school where most of the children share a heritage of poverty, illiteracy, and violence.  A child can want to succeed.  However, her odds are minimal if she’s growing up in a gang-infested community where there are no jobs, most girls have babies in their teens, and most boys go to jail instead of college.

They need to be more responsible and make good choices.  Those words are easy to say.  They absolve us of any responsibility for our fellow human beings.  We don’t need to sacrifice for others if we can simply say, “Go get your own.”   Community means living together.  Compassion enables us to feel others’ suffering.  We have lost our sense of community and compassion.  Think about the alienated young men turned killing machines in Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado.  When we cannot feel sympathy for others, is it any wonder that we are going mad?

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel they brother? and he said, I know not.  Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

July 22, 2012

How the Bottom Half Lives

Filed under: Economics — claycerny @ 12:43 am
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Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has written a perceptive and disturbing article on wealth held by the bottom 50% of Americans.  In 1989, this group only held 3% of the nation’s wealth.  18 years later (2007) they held only 1.1%.  Clawson cautions that we focus too much on the 1% and forget the gulf of inequality in the country, especially for the very poor.  As always, her insight is brilliant – and it will find no voice in the corporate media or our political debates.

All of the experts say that consumers need to buy for the economy to improve.  If 50% of the American people have had a nearly 2/3 loss of wealth, how can they spend?  More importantly, what kind of lives can they live?  Is this American exceptionalism?


July 21, 2012

Fear in the Workplace

Writing in Common Dreams, John Buell explores how workers are afraid to confront their bosses.  Moving from the scandal at Penn State to examples from the public and private sector, Buell shows worker fear to be pervasive and well founded.  Workers who step out of line should expect to be fired.  Buell ends on a ray of hope, the Mondragon* collective in Spain and similar organizations in the U.S., where give themselves rights by owning the workplace.

* Mondragon’s tagline is “Humanity at work.”  For too many American workers, humanity at work is a very foreign concept.

July 19, 2012

Krugman on Productivity and Earnings.

Filed under: Commentary — claycerny @ 2:17 am
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Paul Krugman has posted two very disturbing blogs on wages.  In one, he demonstrates that median earnings for full-time male employees have been flat since the 1970s.  How do people compensate for inflation?  Krugman answers this question with a second graph that shows rising levels of debt from the 1980s-2010.  In his second post, Krugman contrasts a steady growth in productivity over 40 years with a flat line for hourly compensation since the 1970s.  If this graph is accurate, who benefited from the increase in productivity?  It wasn’t hourly workers.

July 18, 2012

Deflation and Motivation

Filed under: Career Management — claycerny @ 3:11 am
Tags: , ,

One of my clients recently went through three interviews with a company.  He was confident that they were going to hire him.  Every signal was positive.  Then he did not hear from the company for more than two weeks.  When he followed up, he learned that they had hired another candidate.

He called to tell me the bad news, and he added that he couldn’t find any good jobs online.  I asked him about networking.  Again, he gave a negative answers.  We talked for about five minutes, and everything he said circled back to the job he did not get.  He was grieving a loss of something he didn’t have, a fantasy.  We all do this at times. But doing so is deadly to a job search, especially in the current job market where jobs are harder to get and it takes longer to get them.

Every job search is filled with frustration.  We hear “No” again and again.  How can you keep yourself motivated in such a negative process?  First, don’t look back except to look forward.  Take what is positive from the past and learn lessons, but don’t relive what you cannot change.  Second, recognize what you have achieved.  In getting three interviews, my client proved that he was a serious candidate, the kind of person another company will want to hire.  Finally, be aware of your moods and how they impact your actions.  If you feel down and unmotivated, get yourself restarted with something simple that will have a positive result.  For example, research two companies you might want to work.  Don’t send a resume yet.  Just learn more about those companies and how you might fit their staffing needs. Count that as a success, and prepare yourself for the next challenge.

It’s natural to experience frustration and disappointment during any job search.  The real problem occurs when these minor setbacks take over your mood and outlook on the future.  Find ways to keep yourself positive and motivated. If you are having trouble motivating yourself, find a friend or a career coach who will help you while holding you accountable.  Success in never easy.  It’s impossible if you give into defeat.

Postscript:  Tim Mushey of the blog “Sell, Lead, Succeed” has a great one day program to pick up your confidence.

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