Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Quiet Celebration

On December 21st, I quietly “celebrated” a private milestone. No congratulations were necessary. Nobody even knew. For most people it was just an ordinary Tuesday. But for me, this particular Tuesday had more relevance. On this day, I had officially been at my new job one day longer than my previous position.

In reality, it was a bittersweet milestone that brought back some ugly feelings of self-doubt from what felt like a previous life. Despite my short tenure at my last job, I learned a lifetime of valuable lessons about deceit and greed, empty promises, and unfulfilled potential. It left a lasting impression.

When I started my new job this past November, I hoped any residual cynicism from a poor experience would be buried with a clean start - that somehow the old axiom, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” would apply to me. But for weeks on the new job, I channeled my inner Cal Lightman and analyzed every situation, every closed-door meeting, and every microexpression in an attempt to avoid history from repeating itself. I couldn’t help it. Despite early praise from my supervisor and a good start on the job, I felt tainted.

For a year of my life, my confidence as a family man and father soared. At the same time, my professional life was on trial. For every cover letter, every phone screen, every interview…I was forced to constantly scrutinize every word, every action, every decision. Even after enduring a 3- month interview process and landing that job last year, every day was a test of my worthiness to receive a paycheck. On numerous occasions, my salary was thrown in my face. Even a simple dinner invite from my boss turned into an informal interview of my wife. We both left that dinner wondering what had just happened.

All the judgments over the course of a year had internally built up what felt like insurmountable doubt. Being laid off blew that doubt through the roof. Fear…is power.


I figured that as I distanced myself from a poor situation and started a new job that I would gain clarity and my fears would ease. I've been told "that time heals all wounds". However, my experiences tell me that this can’t be true. We never truly recover from deep personal loss. Even more trivial problems have lasting effects that influence future behaviors. Perhaps my self-doubt would dissipate given time, but that wasn't good enough for me. I couldn’t afford to have doubt creep into my newly rejuvenated career. Confidence is one of the most important attributes in life. I couldn't allow the previous actions of others to dictate my path.

For Christmas, my wife had all my blog entries bound into a hard cover book – a keepsake that serves as a constant reminder of our tale – one where we not only survived the toughest stretch of our lives, but we flourished and grew closer as a family. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I could ever receive.

As I read through my own words, I admired my confidence and optimism. Despite all our struggles during that time, I always knew things would get better. I knew we wouldn’t always just be treading water. I was reminded that no one has control over my own feelings. I was reminded that I "get to" have a career without sacrificing my family. I was reminded that this is a story of success - that WE made it. I've learned from my mistakes and made the right decisions. There is no reason to worry anymore.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day dealings of our lives that we just need to be reminded of the good. Too often we are clouded in fear…in doubt. I have a beautiful family and now I have a career that matters. Past mistakes don't have to define my future. They don’t even need to affect my future. I needed my own words to remind me of who I am. At the end of the day, I was chosen for this job and every day I prove why I was the right person.

Today is Tuesday. Today I am celebrating another milestone. Months after returning to work and struggling with the fallout from a past life, I stand tall and proud of whom I've become...and confident in whom I'll be.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

From Hungry Dog Heaven, A Tail for a New Year: In Memory of Mugsy

The clock strikes twelve, like it does the other 364 days a year, yet on this night, this monotonous act carries such weight. Resolutions. Promises. Plans. Dreams. A clean slate. An opportunity for change, happiness, pursuit of passions and fulfillment of goals.

For us, at Hungry Dog Heaven, the birth of a new year provides us a chance to offer love and hope to our four-legged friends struggling through the long, cold nights of winter. Those four-legged friends aching for a warm home, a big heart and the promise of security.

As Hungry Dog Heaven celebrates the ten year anniversary (!!!) of our very first batch of cookies, we want to honor those who have shared our love and compassion for animals. Friends like Missy and John, who have been tireless advocates for displaced pets, in particular those mistreated and abandoned due to the perpetual problem of breed discrimination.

Friends we have never met in person, yet have been so very fortunate to have in our canine-loving circle. In 2009, when my "brother", Chaos (a 150+ lb. Cane Corso), injured his leg and accumulated thousands of dollars of medical expenses, it was Missy that rallied a virtual community to make generous contributions to my family. Their compassion continues to remind me of the goodness of people.

On Christmas, when we were surrounded by the warmth of our family (two and four-legged alike), Missy and John were at the emergency vet making the most difficult decision a pet parent ever has to make. A day for joy and celebration, for this family, will always carry with it the memory of Mugsy's final moments and the deep sadness and emptiness that follows. We want to start the new year by honoring Mugsy, and his family.

Hungry Dog Heaven is pleased to debut the "In Memory of Mugsy" treat. Each bag has been specially priced to include a $1 dollar donation to Liberty Humane Society (serving Jersey City and Hoboken, NJ). In addition, during the month of January, Hungry Dog Heaven will donate an additional $1 per bag (plus our standard 3% charitable donation). If you would like to donate more, we've made it easy for you, too!

To read Mugsy's story, and to follow the Hungry Dog Heaven blog, click here: http://hungrydogheaven.blogspot.com/

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And The Winner Is...

Congratulations to Lesley on winning the first ever "Get To" Giveaway. The two finalists were only separated by 25 votes. Votes were cast from across the country and even in Europe, Asia, and South America!

Thank you to both of our finalists, Lesley and Jennifer, for having the courage to share your stories. We sincerely believe that 2011 will be a great year for both of you and we look forward to following up with you to see where your journey takes you.

We would also like to thank The Heldrich Hotel for their generous contribution to our "Get To" Giveway. Their philanthropic spirit of supporting the local community is admirable and we truly appreciate their generosity. Courtesy of The Heldrich Hotel, Lesley will receive a one-night stay, as well as breakfast for two the following morning at Christopher’s Restaurant and Bar.

During this holiday season and beyond, we hope that everyone "pays it forward".

Thank you to everyone who submitted entries for the "Get To" Giveaway and also to all our voters! Great things are coming in 2011. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And The Finalist Are...

Thank you to all who submitted entries for the "Get To" Giveaway. We are excited to announce our 2 finalists, Lesley and Jennifer (who is submitting on behalf of her parents Leigh and Paul). The winner will now be decided by you, our readers. The poll is located at the bottom of this post, as well as on the sidebar of our homepage. You can only cast one vote, so choose the most compelling story. The poll will stay open until 11:59pm on December 24th.

To read the submissions by Lesley and Jennifer, click here or follow the link to Meet the "Get To" Giveaway Finalists under the picture on the home page.

The "Get To" Giveaway winner will receive a one night stay generously donated by the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ, as well as an opportunity to become a biweekly contributor to our blog.

Good luck to our finalists!

--- Voting Is Closed ---


Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick Contest Q & A and DEADLINE EXTENSION!

We've received a few emails from prospective "'Get to' Giveaway" applicants and thought it might be helpful to post a quick Q & A for our readers.

Q) I'm not unemployed, but I've had a rough year. Can I apply?
A) YES! Although the focus of our blog has been on our journey through employment struggles, this contest is not limited to those in the same situation. If you've had a rough year, apply!

Q) I don't think I'm a good writer. I'm not sure I would be the right person to win the "guest blog" opportunity.
A) We recognize that not everyone likes to write and not everyone is comfortable making public of their personal issues. We, however, have found the process to be cathartic and will gladly edit and provide content suggestions for you (if you win!). However, don't let this be your deal-breaker. While we think it's a nice thing to offer and we're happy to share your story, if it's way beyond your comfort zone, we can let you slide.

Q) I just found out about this contest and don't know if I can make the deadline.
A) In the spirit of the season, we are going to extend the application deadline to NOON on Saturday, December 18th.

So... there you have it! We know it's been a rough year for so many people, let us help you forget your worries, if even only for a night!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Paying it Forward - A Contest

This has been a rough year.

But, this year also provided many moments of greatness. In January, my husband and I were the lucky recipients of a weekend of respite, thanks to the philanthropic spirit of a local establishment. We, along with 11 other couples, won the opportunity to participate in The Blue Bay Inn’s, “Hotel for the Holidays”.  For two nights, we joined others in a similar situation.  We stayed in a boutique hotel room, were treated to delicious meals from The Copper Canyon, were visited by Human Resource representatives to provide job-hunting tips to the group, relaxed to performances by local musicians and were inspired by the voices of a local children’s choir. At this time, my husband had been out of work for four months and we had no idea how long and trying the months ahead were going to be.

We also didn’t know, and couldn’t anticipate, how much my husband and I would learn about each other during this time – about our priorities, our fears, our passions. We worked well together as a team and spent a lot of time talking, and soul-searching and talking some more. We were inspired by the comments of our readers and humbled by their shared experiences. In a strange way, we found comfort in knowing we weren’t alone.

And now, almost a year later, things seem to be looking up for us. Yet, we know so many families still struggling. Although there is a lot of legitimate focus about how unemployment or underemployment contribute to the sacrifice of basics such as food, utilities, etc., we have first hand experience at understanding the stress of not having sufficient income to maintain (or advance) our quality of life. This stress limits the frequency of date nights, family adventures and opportunities to relax. When times get tough, our relationships are what help us keep it together. But, often our relationships become secondary to employment struggles. Now we have a chance to pay forward the gift we were given last season.

In the spirit of the holidays, A Life Unexpected is pleased to announce “The ‘Get to’ Giveaway”. One lucky winner of “The ‘Get to’ Giveaway” will receive:

1)      A gift certificate from The Heldrich Hotel (New Brunswick, New Jersey), good for a one night (weekend) stay at this luxurious hotel. In addition to the overnight stay, our lucky winner will also receive breakfast for two the following morning at Christopher’s Restaurant and Bar.

2)      A bi-weekly (every-other-week) guest blog spot on “A Life Unexpected”, providing an opportunity to share your perspective on your “unexpected life” for the next three months.

3)      If unemployed/underemployed, an opportunity for you to post your resume, personal/professional statement and cover letter on our blog, to increase your visibility and job prospects.

Submit your story to us via email and explain why this year has been difficult and what this opportunity could mean for you. Be creative! We welcome photo montages, videos, poems, artwork, songs, etc. Please conclude your submission with at least five reasons for which you have to be thankful, despite the difficulties you’re experiencing (think back to our “I Get to…” blog entry). 

Do you know someone who has had a rough year and could benefit from the "Get To" Giveaway? Feel free to submit on his/her behalf. In addition to your submission, please include a signed letter (from the nominee) authorizing permission to be entered in this contest.

A Life Unexpected will pick the finalists for the second round of the competition, during which our readers will have an opportunity to vote for the most compelling submission and ultimately help determine our winner!

Important dates to know:

1)      Round 1: Submissions due by 11:59pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, December 15th
2)      Round 2: Finalists will be posted by 11:59pm Eastern Time on Sunday, December 19th
3)      Voting for Round 2 will end at 11:59pm Eastern Time on December 24th. “The ‘Get to’ Giveaway” winner will be announced on Saturday, December 25th!

Send your Round 1 submissions to us at:  alifeunexpected.jtm@gmail.com 

 Good luck! 

For complete rules and regulations, visit: http://alifeunexpected-jtm.blogspot.com/p/get-to-give-away.html
or click on the "Get To" Giveaway link on our homepage.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Brave New World

It was a Monday not unlike other Mondays I’ve known. I woke up before the sun rose. I got dressed by the light of my cell phone so I didn’t disturb my sleeping wife. I had laid out my clothes the night before to avoid any potential wardrobe malfunctions. I kissed my wife goodbye and kindly reminded her to put money on the EZ Pass since we were way overdue. When you are unemployed, things like putting money on the EZ Pass just have to wait. But this day was going to be a big day.

I have been unemployed for 14 of the last 15 months. For 15 months, my life has been in a holding pattern, just trying to stay afloat. All of this…our crowded house, the start of my career, the penny-pinching…was supposed to be in my rearview mirror distantly down the road. But it’s not. I’m still here…but not for very long. On this day, I started my new job.

Traveling through traffic to get to work, I feel completely conflicted. I know that my son will wake up soon after I leave and will inevitably ask my wife, “Where’s Dad?” and this hurts my heart. I’ve been so accustomed to always just being there for him…for everything. So has he. My wife and I joke that my son goes through “Mommy and Daddy” phases, where he exhibits a preference for one of us. For the first 2 years of his life his “daddy” phases were short-lived – perhaps lasting a week or less. But, for the first time in his life, my son has been on a “daddy” phase for over a month. Perhaps he subconsciously knew I was starting a new job. Regardless, I would never want to pass up this bonding time.

During my unemployment, I was a first-hand witness to my son’s remarkable growth. At first, we struggled to get through some days (okay, maybe most days). I was happy for a 30 minute reprieve to watch Diego save the Tapir. But, we persevered. As he grew, our days and time together just weren’t long enough. At 2 ½, he expresses such complex thoughts. Instead of mimicking my words, we can have real conversations about his infinite inquiries. Most days I just can’t get enough.

And because of these things, somewhere along my journey, I deconstructed and reassembled my goals and priorities. While I once dreamed of climbing the proverbial professional ladder, I now dream of being with my family. It’s a constant balancing act. But, this time, I feel I’ve found a job that allows me to prioritize what is most important to me. The lucrative bonuses and profit-sharing are non-existent, but those “luxuries” come at cost – one in which I am not willing to accept. I’ve made that mistake in the past. I’ll trade those financial luxuries any day to spend more time with my family.

It’s true that my journey may have started with uncertainty, embarrassment, and even fear. I most certainly have avoided conversations to side step any probing questions about my employment. However, I’ve learned that a job is just a means to providing an existence. My personal wealth is defined by the moments of joy I get from my family – not by some corporate financial structure.

As I sat in traffic on the way to my new job, a lot of my previous insecurities flashed in my head. Am I good enough? Will the same thing happen again? Can I seamlessly transition? Can I balance it all? Will I have enough time with my wife and son? Of course there will be times when I will be asked to make sacrifices. Some days I may not even get to see my son and wife. However, most days I will have to sacrifice very little family time. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to have a job when so many people are still losing their jobs, or worse. I persevered…I survived. It’s bittersweet.

As a bonus, I no longer need to avoid those probing conversations about my job and identity. I now have an answer.

I am a husband.
I am a dad.
I am a man that has taken an unexpected journey and found out a lot about myself along the way. I’m embarking on a brave new world.