My child has excellent attendance at Charles Dickens
I was stuck behind an ancient Dodge Caravan at a traffic light on Cedar Road. Bored, and positive that I was going to be here for at least one more cycle, I stared at the bumper sticker in front of me. There had to be a reason to put this message on that minivan. It wasn’t placed there to hide a dent or scratch. It would have taken a lot more than one bumper sticker to do that. The plainly worded unadorned vinyl wasn’t attached to the vehicle to enhance its appearance.
It must have been the message. The owner of this vehicle was proud that his/her child had excellent attendance at, presumably, an elementary school.
We have all seen the clear window stickers proclaiming a child’s attendance at a particular university. An elementary school aged child making the honor roll may generate the need for a parent to share his/her pride with the world via a bumper sticker. I can even imagine announcing perfect attendance.
This isn’t perfection. This is simply very good. Have we really given up? Are we really willing to be mired in good enough?
There was an award for perfect attendance at my elementary school. It was a prize beyond my grasp. I knew that I would miss a couple of days each school year for Jewish holidays. I also knew that a sick day or two was very possible. I didn’t ask that the rules be changed for me. I didn’t think that I, or my classmates, should receive an award if we got close. Perfection was rewarded.
Today we reward effort. We have convinced ourselves that our subjective judgments of other’s efforts can be as exactly measured as their actual achievement.
This silliness began in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I remember coming home with a report card replete with A’s, but only 2’s for effort. I was admonished for not giving my all. At one point I remarked that the report card was inaccurate. One teacher was so ineffectual that I really should have had my A for the course work and a 3 for effort in her class.
This culture of rewarding mediocrity, of applauding those who merely show up, has invaded the job-site. I just visited a longtime client. His office manager has the flu, possibly strep throat. He is wondering how many days she will miss due to this illness. His guess is three to five.
The owner of the van finally turned left, as did I. I hope to be behind the proud parents of honor roll students form Charles Dickens. I hope to see a Kent State sticker on that same car. I hope that the children of Charles Dickens Elementary aspire to more than just showing up most of the time.
“One in five American men aged 25 to 54 are unemployed”, announced Larry Summers at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He went on to put our whole economic disaster into perspective when he said that the United States is experiencing a “statistical recovery and a human recession”.
Unemployed? Under-employed? You are not alone. Is help on the way? I’m not so sure.
I’ve seen economic devastation. I lived and worked in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The steel mills closed. Downtown Youngstown was gutted. But no matter how bad it got, we all felt that neither Youngstown nor its inhabitants were doomed to failure. There was no reason to give up.
Our current economic downturn feels different.
I keep eleven names in my appointment book. This list grows daily. These are the names of people who are unemployed. These are not unskilled workers. They are not semi-skilled. They are professionals, people who have worked in their fields for twenty- plus years. Office managers. Computer specialists. An attorney. Make that twelve. I just got off the phone with a pharmacist. One guy was a territorial sales rep for the same company for over twenty-five years. These people are experienced and highly qualified. They are dying to work. They are willing to settle for less. They just want a job. They want to go back to work.
Last week I talked with a former business owner who is hoping to land a job as a $15 an hour secretary / receptionist. The combination of the housing bust and the internet killed her industry. She has no complaints. There isn’t a drop of self-pity. She simply needs a job.
I connected one of my computer specialists to a possible employer on Friday. Can I scratch him off my list? Not yet.
Many of us are defined, in part, by what we do for a living. I certainly am. Unemployed, these friends and clients are adrift. It’s not just the money, though that is certainly important. Their jobs are how they see themselves and how they contribute to the general good.
We can’t wait for Washington. We can’t wait for Columbus. How about You? Can you help someone land a job?
Two views of the same incident.
He threw himself at her. She adroitly side-stepped the falling body. There was no reason for her to be hurt trying to break his fall.
He wore his heart on his sleeve. She was armed with a machete. She aimed for his fingertips and caught him just above the elbow.
Me? I was at a nearby table, drinking coffee from Nordstrom’s, far less violently killing time.
A moment of raw emotion and honesty. I just lost my largest client. I’m in a bit of shock.
I saw it coming. This wasn’t a surprise. I have been on borrowed time for over two years. Still, I’m sitting in my office at 8:30 at night, staring at my keyboard, numb.
I have, or at least try to have, a very personal relationship with my clients. I structured this business to focus principally on small businesses and the self-employed. Most of my clients have ten employees or fewer. They need more attention. One day I am helping to design a logo, the next a compensation package. People come in to my office to talk about religion and politics. It is all very relaxed.
I was referred to a suburban business eight years ago. The company was a start-up within a larger multi-state operation. There were five employees assigned to the new company. I set up their health policy. No big deal. There are clients who may go months between calls. This wasn’t that type of group. They had questions. Lot’s of questions. And if they didn’t like the answer, they would simply re-ask the question. One of the owners was positive that Ohio regulations applied to everyone but him. That’s OK. It kept me on my toes.
Then they took off. Huge. Incredible growth. By 2007 they had over 50 employees. Now, over 100. If they were referred to me today, I wouldn’t even take them. They are too big for me. Their needs too different from the daily requests of my other clients. But, up until today, they were mine. And I worked hard to meet their every request.
But in the end I couldn’t.
Their new agent will give them employee surveys and bring people in to teach CPR. I’m not equipped to teach CPR to 125 people and I always thought those surveys were bullshit. My apologies to HR professionals everywhere.
I won’t lie. It is a big hit on my income, but I won’t miss any meals. I think the bigger shock is that it is the end of a relationship. If you have read the other posts on this blog, you know that I am no stranger to terminating relationships. None of us are. But this is different. For my female readers, no this does not end with a half gallon of chocolate ice cream and two spoons. And for my male readers, no, you don’t get fixed up.
Can you mourn the death of a business relationship? Can you find honest emotion buried inside applications and claim forms. I think so. As with so many things that have lived well and passed on, I think I will sit here for a few moments and remember the best of those times and what made me happy.
And then I will move on.