Periodic musings of a former corporate executive who is between gigs.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Forgetting to Remember

Today I happened to drive past my former office. And I saw these beautiful jacaranda trees.

Wow..... I'd forgotten all about these wonderful trees! They line the street for at least a block. When they're in bloom, you feel as if you're enveloped in an cloud of puffy purple. My office used to overlook these trees and I remember peering through the window at them all the time while I was on conference calls.

It makes me a bit sad to think that this year I didn't get to enjoy the trees every day in May. In fact, I'd completely forgotten about them until I just happened to drive by. How could I completely forget something that put a smile on my face 30 days every year?

This experience caused me to realize that we can't forget to remember. Especially the good things. It seems to be human nature to think about the bad and to feel sorry for ourselves, even if we're very blessed. But it's really important to proactively remind ourselves of positive memories from the past.

So think back on your recent work experiences. What was your favorite thing? Or your favorite person? Who or what put a smile on your face? Even if you left on bad terms (although I hope not) or are still feeling down about the circumstances of your departure, there must be at least SOME positive memories from your recent work life.

Those are the ones to remember. Let go of the negativity and file the positive ones away for future retrieval. Like when you see the jacaranda trees next year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Insuring your future

You've wrapped up your last day at work. You've got the big severance check. You've figured out how much you'll need every month to cover your bills. Now what should you do?

Snatch up that new pair of Jimmy Choos you've been admiring? Test drive that new sports car you've always wanted? Or how about buying a modest pair of tickets to the Dodgers game? (Notwithstanding the fact that no one wants to watch the Dodgers this year and you could probably get killed in the parking lot).

Nope. None of the above. Here's what you should be doing ---- revisiting what you're spending on life and disability insurance.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Is there anything more boring than this? It sounds absolutely morbid. What a downer on your first weeks of freedom!

But now that you are unemployed, you will not want to be up all night worrying about what will happen to your family if you do happen to meet with some misfortune in the Dodgers' parking lot. You should tackle this now. And it's the perfect time to do so since it won't matter if you fall asleep in the middle of the day reading all those policy documents.

Let's talk about the easy one first--- life insurance. It's easy because there's rarely ambiguity about a claim. Putting aside folks like Jimmy Hoffa, you're either dead or you're not.

These days, most executives have group life insurance provided through their employer as a minimum amount of coverage. You may also have one or more policies you've purchased on your own.

The coverage you were previously receiving from your employer typically stops at the end of your employment. However, many US insurers allow departing employees to convert their coverage to an individual policy. You'll know if you have this option when you receive your exit paperwork. If you choose to convert this coverage, you'll be asked to pay premiums monthly or quarterly to continue the coverage.

But should you? When I looked into this, I discovered that the price I'd pay to convert my corporate policy was significantly higher than the price my employer was charging me. So you may be able to get comparable coverage elsewhere at a better price. Of course, this will depend on your personal circumstances and you will want to consult your financial adviser before making any final decisions. But, at a minimum, you should do some comparison shopping before you just convert the policy from your former employer.

If you don't want to face a bunch of insurance agents, at least check out your options online. Assuming you buy from a reputable company, life insurance is really a commodity and your decision shouldn't be impacted by whether the company has a pretty logo or a talking duck. For US policies, two such comparison sites recommended by Kiplinger are and

You may also find out that you're overinsured. If you're single, you should seriously consider how much life insurance you really need. Yes, it would be nice to leave a pretty sum to your nephew in Seattle if you happen to die. But if you're unemployed and cutting down on your monthly expenses, this may be a place to cut without impacting your lifestyle. After all, you won't be around to enjoy it.

Once you've conquered death, you need to deal with the more complicated topic of long term disability (LTD) coverage. But let's deal with that in a future post. After all this talk of death, I need to do something fun. Even the Dodgers game seems appealing!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Coffee, Tea and Meet

"Let's do lunch". It's the mantra of executives worldwide.

When you're unemployed, your friends will think you've got it made on the lunch front. You can have long, leisurely lunches. With a glass (or two) of wine if you want. Every day of the week! You don't have to get back to the office. And you don't have to make up a story to explain the wine to the guy in Accounting who reviews your expense report.

But I've found that these wonderfully long lunches are messing up my life.

Why, you say? How on earth could there be any harm in such a relaxing endeavor?

Here's why--- when you're unemployed, you're surprisingly busier than ever before. You're doing lots of networking to find that next job. And trying to stay in touch with your former colleagues (many of whom are reaching out to say "hey, will you tell me about any jobs you don't want that might be a good fit for me?"). There's only 5 lunches in a workweek. So if you're a halfway decent networker your lunch schedule is probably booked for weeks.

You're likely also trying to catch up on things like doctor's appointments, visiting the dentist, car maintenance, wrestling with your retirement savings, etc. And you might very well have a "honey do" list from your spouse of all the things that need to be done around the house (see my prior post re: all household chores falling to the unemployed spouse).

Unless you are a superhero, it's impossible to do all these things and still have a consistent diet of long lunches.

Instead, I've learned to embrace Coffee Meetings. A Coffee Meeting is just what it sounds like-- meeting someone at a local coffee shop to talk over a cup of java.

Coffee Meetings are efficient. A cup of coffee lasts 30 minutes at most. You can stretch it to an hour if you have two cups. There's no way it's lasting more than 90 minutes because someone will have to go to the restroom after drinking all that coffee.

Using this premise, you can do at least three Coffee Meetings a day and sometimes four if you make everyone come to a place of your choosing. Five is pushing it, though. You don't want to be so over-caffeinated that you can't sleep at night!

Here's your incentive--- "If I spend all day Wednesday meeting people at Starbucks, then I can take Friday off and go for that long bike ride." It's really that simple. It's no different than when you were working. You could easily cram Friday's work into Thursday and Monday if it meant you could take Friday off. Now you're doing the same thing but with networking meetings, visits with former colleagues, etc.

I've learned to do 3-4 Coffee Meetings a day once or twice a week. This way, I can have meaningful visits with 6-8 people per week. Then, I spend one day a week on all my other To Do items. I take one day off to play ("I've earned it!"). And I'm trying to spend that last day of the week doing some deep thinking and planning re: what I want from my future life.

That last one is tough and I can't say I don't throw it aside on occasion to go shoe shopping. But, overall, I'm trying to stick to this basic routine so I can see everyone, do all my chores and still enjoy the gift of having this time off.

Now if only Starbucks had a frequent buyer's club. I'd be able to fund my next vacation with all my points!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Asking vs. Giving

I am FINALLY back to writing this blog! Many apologies for the lapse in postings. The past month has been a crazy mix of doing my tax returns (very ugly this year), managing eldercare issues, entertaining visitors, helping a few East Coast former colleagues negotiate exit packages and a couple of unexciting trips. Hmmm.... silly me for thinking that I was going to be living a life of leisure. The past month has been anything but serene.

Busy times like these remind me that having a group of great friends, colleagues and, yes, even some acquaintances really is quite lovely. We probably don't think about it often enough, but having a network of people in your corner to advocate for you just makes everything better.

I've found that I often hesitate to use my network when I should. In fact, just today I had to ask someone for a favor. And, call me crazy, I spent a good portion of the day putting off making the call to ask. By the time I finally picked up the phone, I'd equated it in my mind to asking someone to go retrieve my coffee mug from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Coincidentally, I've also had two people ask me this week to do something for them. And I didn't blink an eye before saying yes. This got me to thinking--- why is it easier to give a favor than to ask for one?

When someone asks me for something, I rarely think about ignoring it or saying "no", even if I am wildly busy (well, unless it's my husband wanting me to stop and pick up cat food while I'm out--- you do have to draw the line somewhere). On the other hand, I often find it difficult to ask my friends and colleagues to help me. Why, I wonder? It seems that it would be easier to ask than to give since it's the giving side that has to do all the work.

Perhaps it's just human nature. Maybe we like to appear self-sufficient and not trouble others with small requests.

What is interesting is how this hesitancy to reach out impacts a job search. Research shows that most executives find new jobs through leveraging their network of friends and colleagues. Even if you receive a call from a search firm about a position, it's likely that someone you know or a friend-of-a-friend gave them your contact information. I have been keeping some stats on this lately. Of the past 10 calls I've received from search firms, 8 of them said they were reaching out to me because of referrals from someone who knew me. That's a pretty high percentage.

Similarly, I've polled three former colleagues who have landed new corporate roles in the past month. While this is obviously a very small sample size, all three told me that they owe their new position to a friend or a friend-of-a-friend.

It's easy to see where this is headed. So, I'd like to suggest the following new motto for job seekers--- "Giving is good. Asking is better."

Yes, I know it sounds terribly selfish. But if you don't make asking a priority, you'll be so busy helping every one else that you won't focus on your own search. So pick up the phone or fire up the email and ask away!

Hmmm...just had an idea that maybe I can write some sort of job search rap using this new motto. I'll have to work on that. Anyone want to help me?

Monday, March 14, 2011


Losing your job is tough. But consider all the people in Japan who are now dealing with the Superbowl of calamities--- a major earthquake, a tsunami and potential nuclear fallout all in the span of 3 days.

Or the people in Christchurch, New Zealand who also had a large earthquake in recent weeks. Or the folks in Australia who suffered through two massive floods (one larger than the size of Texas) in a matter of weeks.

These are REAL problems.

All of these affected individuals would be thrilled to only have to worry about finding another job. Instead, they are wondering how to find shelter, where they can find clean water and whether their family members are alive.

Similarly, there are many people here at home who have problems much worse than finding another job. They are sick. Perhaps even dying. They are losing their house in foreclosure. They are getting divorced. A family member has an addiction problem. And many, many other things.

Let's be thankful that all we have to do is find another job. Really. Our lives could be so much worse.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dog Walking Thoughts

It's amazing what you can learn while walking your dog.

What used to be a 10 minute mad-dash at 10 PM can now be a leisurely stroll at 11 in the morning. Believe it or not, my neighborhood looks completely different at 11 AM than it does at 10 PM. There are green trees, lots of grass and the occasional flower. And real live people who are out and about. Imagine that!

Yesterday while walking the dog, I actually met some of my neighbors. It's been EONS since I've interacted with the neighborhood. Mostly because I never was home before 8 PM on weeknights. And on weekends I was too busy running errands.

(Well, actually to be honest, it might also have been that I was inside asleep because sleeping is my #1 hobby. Ask my husband.... he will vouch for this).

But back to the story....

Now that I have the luxury of time, I'm getting to know some of my neighbors and I must say that it's been quite enjoyable. For example, we have lived next-door to a certain man for 2 years. Prior to this week, the only conversation I'd ever had with him was about our cat wandering into his house one day and making herself comfortable by sleeping on his bed. (Note: this is NOT recommended as a way to get to know your neighbors! Even I will admit that finding a strange animal sleeping on your bed when you retire at night must be a wee bit disconcerting).

This week, I had a chance to chat with him as I was walking the dog (fortunately, he likes dogs more than he likes cats). It turns out that he is a very nice person, as is his wife. Sadly, I was "too busy" to even stop and say hello in the past. In actuality, perhaps I just had my priorities wrong.

And here's the kicker..... while talking to him this week, I learned that this guy I ignored for 2 years just so happens to be a senior executive with a company at the top of my list of prospective employers. How amazing is that?

But even if he wasn't, I am just glad that I got to know my neighbor. After all, if my cat has slept with him, I really should have gotten to know him before now!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What do you do?

Not working can be tough. It's difficult not to feel sorry for yourself even if you received a nice severance package or your exit was your idea. There's just something ingrained in the American psyche about our work lives. When you're between jobs, you can feel as if you don't have anything to add to a conversation among friends.

I'm sure you've heard this old saying --- "Europeans work to live and Americans live to work". Sadly, it tends to be true. Having traveled extensively throughout Europe and other parts of the world, I have noticed that when you meet a non-American and ask "What do you do?", he or she usually replies with something along the lines of "I love to ski" or "I spend my weekends watching football matches." They will rarely divulge their job title or employers until much later in a conversation, if at all.

Americans, on the other hand, always seem to answer the "What do you do?" question with a work-related response. They say "I'm a nurse" or "I manage the XYZ department of Company 123". We don't get into discussing personal matters until after the work/career discussion occurs. My experience has been that this continues to be the case long past an initial meeting. Here in America, we always want to talk about work.

Why do we care so much about what we do from 9-5? Why is it ingrained in us to always talk about that one particular topic? Isn't there more to life than one's job? If not, shouldn't there be? And would talking about our dreams and passions make us more well-rounded?

Being between jobs is an excellent time to think about adopting a more healthy outlook on life. If you were one of those individuals who always talked about work in the past, you now have the perfect excuse to set a good example and talk about other things. Tell your friends about the guitar lessons you are taking. Or that you've recently started a garden. Or that you love to dance. These are the really enriching parts of our lives, not what we do from 9-5.

Try it. I'll bet that you both learn something new about the other person!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Himalayan Bath Salts

I'm sure you're already wondering from the title of this post whether I've gone mad and am perhaps posting on the wrong blog. You'll see where I'm headed in a minute.

About two weeks into this new state of being, I realized that I don't have suitable attire for unemployment. Like many people, the proportions of my closet seemed to be as follows:

75% Work Attire
15% Stuff that dates back to college and should have been trashed long ago
10% Suitable for daily casual wear

Since I won't be needing the work attire for awhile, I had a great idea to move all those clothes to the closet in our guest bedroom so they wouldn't be a daily reminder that I'm not going to work every day.

So, the good news is that I cleaned out my closet.

The bad news is that it then occurred to me that I really needed to buy "just a few" new things that would be suitable for trips to Starbucks, errand-running and general casual activities. Well, as you might have predicted, the end result was a big online shopping binge. Not exactly the best thing to be doing if you're unemployed.

What I've learned is that when you have unlimited time the internet is NOT your friend. Online shopping is perfect for a working mother of 3 small kids who needs to buy new socks at midnight. It is not recommended for a former executive with severance package money in the bank and all day to spend online.

Hence the Himalayan bath salts. After buying more than a few pairs of jeans and cute casual shirts that also seem reasonably professional (in case I run into anyone who might be a potential employer), I started exploring other websites. One that I landed on specialized in those fancy spa things like paraffin wax for your hands and aromatherapy oils that claim to relieve all the stress in your body.

Well, I thought, what is more stressful than unemployment? And don't I deserve to de-stress my life? Maybe I should spend some time on this site.

Hence, I am now the proud owner of 7 lbs of Himalayan bath salts. Apparently they have incredible stress relieving properties. And buying 7 lbs was only a little bit more than buying 2 pounds so it was really a bargain.

If only I wasn't so stressed out about where to store them. Clearly they don't belong in the closet, but I have yet to find the time to clean out the cabinets in the bathroom.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Job #1

As I've been "enjoying" my first month of unemployment, I've had a revelation. Which is that Job #1 should be getting myself into shape, mentally and physically, for my next job. The last thing I want to do is to start a new job while I'm still exhausted from the last one.

When I haven't been networking or taking the dog to the doggie dentist, I've spent the month lazing around watching Oprah while eating those mini-brownies. You know, the ones that you can pop in your mouth and fully digest before you realize that you've even eaten them. (Notice that I watch Oprah, not Dr. Oz. He would have told me to stop eating the brownies. But Oprah won't. See how smart I am?).

Thus, I have introduced Bootcamp For the Unemployed (BFU).

Under the terms of the BFU contract I've signed with myself, I am required to work out every day. This is harder than it looks on TV. So I've hired a personal trainer and a Pilates instructor to help. No, it's not Jennifer Aniston's trainer or Jennifer Lopez's Pilates instructor, so don't think I've gone all Hollywood-ish. This city is full of aspiring actors and actresses who will work as trainers for minimal pay because the acting work is apparently not rolling in the doors for them.

Anyway, I figure it's an investment in my future, right? I need the kick in the butt to get myself moving every day. But it is PAINFUL. No, not the physical part (although that is painful, too). It's the bit about having to do what someone else says.

You see, ex-executives don't like to give up the little remaining authority they possess. Normally I wouldn't care if someone told me that I had to do 100 crunches (well, I might care but I would probably still do them). But now everything is about maintaining control. The BFU instructor (who I sometimes mentally refer to as the BFD instructor to make me smile while she's torturing me) says "Do this 20 times". I say, "How about 10?" She says, "I think I said 20.". I pant, "Can we settle at 15?". Even though I know it's in my best interest to do as she says, I still want to barter on every point. And I've realized it's because I have no one else to negotiate with every day.

After all, do you think the cat will listen to me if I inform her that I am now in charge of the household and she must do as I say? I think not.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Staying in Touch

I think someone should seriously consider developing a course on Etiquette for Job Exits. Is Emily Post still around? Or Dear Abby? It's really an area that is ripe for the taking.

For example, when you are leaving your employer should you send an email to everyone saying "I really loved working with you" even though you didn't know the names of half of them? Is it rude to send one only to people that you REALLY know? Or what if you mean to send it to everyone but you forget someone? Will they feel ostracized?

Or how about that all time favorite--- going-away parties? Who gets invited? Should you even have one? Or, god forbid, what if no one wants to throw one for you? Does that mean that you were really a horrible boss and co-worker even though you didn't think so? How do you hold up your head in that situation? Do they think you hated them?

And how about moving all your stuff out of the office? Is it appropriate to ask the mailroom guy to help you even though you ignored him for the 10 years that he delivered your mail? Or should you just do it yourself in the dark of the night? (But then what happens if Security thinks you're stealing stuff?). It's difficult to know how to handle these things. It would be so much better if someone published rules.

Finally, there's "Staying in Touch" etiquette. Is it OK to call people at your former office once you've left? And what do you do if they call you? I've personally subscribed to the theory that I needed to "detox" for awhile, so I am trying to lay low for a period of time. And, of course, that is so much easier when you have a Blackberry that doesn't have anyone's phone numbers or email addresses in it.

But after awhile you find yourself thinking, "Oh, I must remember to tell Person X about this when I see them next week". Only you're not going to be seeing them next week because you no longer work with them.

So, after a period of time (which my former-athlete husband calls the "time out"), I think it's perfectly acceptable to reach out to those folks you worked with that you really enjoyed. Just try to keep the conversation about non-work matters. There's nothing worse than someone who has physically left but is still mentally engaged. You need to be thinking about your future life and you can only do that if you don't revisit your past every time you see former colleagues. It's healthier, too, because your blood pressure won't skyrocket.

I think you'll be surprised how much you'll learn about former colleagues as people once you don't spend all your time talking about work matters. I had no idea that one work friend just bought a new house. How could I have missed that? Probably because I wasn't focused on her as a person. A good lesson for my future relationships once I do go back to work.