Like many Americans these days, I spend a considerable amount of time each day immersed in Social Media.
Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, the list sometimes seems endless.
I establish relationships, I engage in conversations, and occasionally, someone approaches me electronically and gives me an experience I never expected. I had such an experience earlier today.
My professional network had alerted me to the fact that one of my more-recent contacts was having a birthday today and I – eager as always to build a more substantial relationship in my newly-adopted hometown – shot off an extremely brief missive wishing her a happy birthday and further wishing her success in her self-described freelance career.
Her reply caught me totally off guard. It seems the freelance career had fallen short of her expectations and she missed her former full-time corporate gig.
She went on to comment that her birthday wish was one of malevolence toward her former corporate employers who cut her loose at an awkward time (she is in her mid-50’s; I am in my late 50’s,) and she was especially distressed when she started noticing people of our generation working in the drive thru windows of several local Quick Service restaurants.
I replied that I myself could certainly relate to a lot of what she was feeling and went on to confide in her that I too, had worked in the QSR industry…and very recently at that.
While I do NOT include that experience on my professional social network profile, I went on to explain that I am not ashamed of it, that I did what I did at that time to earn money because that was what my household needed: I did what I had to do.
I also went on to say that it was honest work (it was,) I was providing a needed service (I was,) and that, if the position was humble, at least I was earning SOMETHING with which to pay SOME of the bills and I felt better about myself as a result.
I went on to write:
“My store manager would regularly THANK ME FOR SHOWING UP (something the millennial underachievers seem to have a little problem with…)
“According to at least one source at CNN, one out of every SEVEN Americans will “wear the colors” (the kind with the Golden Arches on them) at some point in their careers.
“Quick service restaurants LOVE us as employees: we rarely want to work 40 hours/week and we show up early and will stay late. And when they instruct us to do a thing, WE DO IT! Whoa…..
“Also, we tend to be able to pass a pre-employment drug screen and can calculate correct change without having to rely on the computerized registers (“Dude, you can do that IN YOUR HEAD? Awesome!…”)
“Don’t get it twisted: I’m not recommending Quick Service Restaurants; but there are worse fates.
“Now Happy Birthday, dammit!!! LOL”
That last invocation was meant to express that my fellow networker shouldn’t allow herself to brood too deeply. I should have stated things more plainly. Her next reply was even more troubling. It read as follows:
“Sorry–not a crazy lady. I feel as though I am in solitary confinement. Anyone who reaches out to me gets oversharing. Sorry.”
When someone sends you a message that begins AND ends with the word “Sorry,” it’s a big red flag, especially when those two words are only separated by about 20 other words. I replied as follows:
“You’ve just hit a rough patch. Once again, I can totally relate. We came out of school with our degrees; the expectation was we would go on to a life of ever-increasing security and prosperity. Nobody could predict the advent of a privileged oligarchy, an hereditary presidency, or an economy predicated on scarcity.
“You are not oversharing, you are disappointed. And you have a lot of company, which makes it hard to find a lot of sympathy. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt (made in China, contains lead.)
“Have you looked at my profile? Closely? Read between the lines: my last long-term gig was working in a call center and my last broadcast gig was almost 20 years ago. Since then, I have grilled burgers, thrown pizzas, been a housekeeper in a casino, worked in ANOTHER call center, and now, when I’m not filling out online employment applications, I blog (mostly for my own amusement.) It doesn’t all appear on my profile, baby! LOL
“I withhold a little to preserve some shred of professional dignity. How many people would want to network with somebody whose skill sets included transitioning from breakfast to lunch menus? How many endorsements do you think I would get for that? LOL
“Come to think of it, I’ve got total strangers on completely different continents endorsing me for skill sets I’ve never even CLAIMED! Some guy in Malaysia actually endorsed me for “Leadership.” Naturally, I’m flattered, but… Really? When did you ever see me lead anything that wasn’t a Passover seder or a Labor Day Parade?
“Sure, I could get all doom and gloom about it; I won’t deny that happens, occasionally. But I pray, my wife prays, I have a fabulous 10-year-old stepdaughter and – one way or another, we intend to make our home here in (community withheld), regardless of what (community withheld) may think of our prospects.
“You have nothing to apologize for, but I think we REALLY need to get you out of the house. Maybe a walk in the park in the sun or something else cheap and buoyant. No alcohol. Go take in a mindless comedy at a SuperSaver cinema, visit a comedy club, remember, no alcohol: it’s a depressant. Maybe a little caffeine, but that’s it, just to jazz you up a bit.
“I write; you draw.
“So draw something, create something, paint, sculpt, do some calligraphy, look at type fonts, layout a page. Get active and stop ruminating. Or before you know it, you’ll be 64 and you’ll have had no fun to show for it.
“You and I, (name withheld), are total strangers to each other. But I have always had good relationships with women named “(name withheld).” No, it’s not my wife’s name but nevertheless… Pray if you want, read the Bible if you wish (I would avoid Revelation just at present…) but DISTRACT YOURSELF and start looking outward instead of inward.
“Don’t make me hunt you down and hire some guy to come to your house and throw a pie in your face. (Community withheld)’s a big enough town with enough freelance entertainers and clowns I should be able to find somebody to do it, just on spec. Don’t make me go there…
“Please take a stranger’s advice: Enjoy your birthday; fake it if you have to, before long you may succeed in fooling even yourself; meantime, remember: you are NOT alone.
“You wanna kvetch? Wait till you get to be MY age!
All of this played out in the space of just a few hours, and I didn’t leave my terminal while it was going on. Eventually, of course, I saw my wife and told her of my experience. She being the resourceful one, reminded me of an online job board that might be of some help to my networking contact. At the very least, it would give her a sense of mastery over her situation and a restoration of some element of control. I sent the link.
I have not yet heard back from my friend. I expect she’s off doing whatever she had planned to do for her birthday this year.
I hope she’s having fun… I just pray whatever it was I was trying to do worked, if only a little.
When people discuss the economy, the country, the recovery, it’s all too easy to submerge oneself in the statistics and overlook the fact that we are, at bottom, talking about people’s lives here.
A column of figures that totals out to a negative value is not merely a mathematical quantity. Down at the bottom of that column, buried under that minus sign, a lot of people are hurting and they’re scared. They don’t understand what they did wrong; they don’t understand why they personally have been singled out for punishment and, if they could find the right individual, they would offer them anything if they would just make it all go away.
Have YOU ever had to talk someone in from the ledge? Has someone talked YOU in from the ledge? What was it like? Did it work?
Did I do the right thing?