Category Archives: Business

December 31, 2009

A title of some yet-to-be-written work popped into my head last night: “Mourning the death of the artist within.”  It’s ironic that I would have such a thought at the end of the year in which I received my second Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

But despite the honor and my excitement about the project I will be paid to pursue because of it, I feel a little part of me dimming.  I have spent the past year trying to redefine myself and my capabilities in an ongoing attempt to make this blog moot and to shed “Pink-Slipped Girl” from my identity.  (I don’t know what I would change my Twitter name to, though.)  In the process, I have accepted assignments from business publications and begun a monthly column in a life and leisure magazine.  I have jazzed up my LinkedIn profile, taken classes in internet marketing and website design, redesigned my business cards and promoted myself at networking events as a do-it-all woman who can crunch your numbers just as well as she can write television commercials for you.  I have created an e-newsletter for one non-profit, written grants for two others and written one for myself.  I have received advice from seasoned business professionals on valuing my time and skills, pricing my services at their worth and dealing with clients who don’t pay.  I have proven my ability to stay focused and productive while working independently, I have met strenuous conflicting deadlines and I have been rejected from countless full-time positions that asked for any or all of the very skills or experiences I have just listed.

I’ve had one copywriting assignment for the whole year, four if you count the assignments I completed as part of the application for a job for which I was interviewed for over two hours but didn’t get.  Dialogue for scenes that may or may not eventually become full-length plays still runs through my head routinely, and sometimes it’s original enough for me to write it down, but to turn such words into a radio or television commercial seems like an assignment so far from my life that it’s almost as if I never held the job from which I was laid off.

I don’t bemoan the work that I was given in 2009.  I’m grateful for every byline, and the corresponding checks have helped the unemployment insurance continue past the point at which I had calculated it would expire.  Also, I can’t underestimate the potential value of every connection I make in the professional world by writing the business stories.

But I am more exhausted than I remember being at the end of 2008, and the more leads I follow, the fewer hours I spend in creative output.  This blog may be the best example.  Started in January as a cathartic tool to prove that I can write, blog and play alongside everyone else is this crowded internet space at least once a week, it has lied dormant for over one month, the longest I’ve ever gone without updating it.

In part, I blame my own boredom with the subject matter.  When things start to get old, it’s hard to revive them, and I’ve known marriages that were shorter than my employment hiatus has been.  But I also blame the break from the blog and the general feeling of creative famine on the constant hustle of always pursuing the next opportunity and on the burden of always having to say yes.

To never be sure when your state is going to go bankrupt and send out IOUs, to never know if the job sites you check most frequently will have anything you can tolerate posted, to never know which assignment or connection will be the one that changes your life is to be bound to an incessant hamster wheel whose speed changes but whose destination doesn’t.

Not that it’s impossible for business and creativity to coexist.  Every ad agency owner I know was in the creative department when s/he struck out on her/his own.  But eventually they all hired a creative department to be creative while they ran the business.  Since I haven’t been the creative being hired, I’ve had to do all the running.

I admit there’s a great sense of accomplishment in DIY employment, and I don’t miss the drama inherent in working in a place where there are other people around.  I just miss clocking out at 5:30 p.m. and remaining downtown for a nearby rehearsal at 7:00.  I miss having a work load that allowed enough time in the day for script ideas to interrupt the “real” work for 15 minutes or so.  I miss the ability to be so unconcerned about where clients/checks might come from the next year that I could spend all of December writing and revising in creative overdrive.

And so explains my Twitter updates from December 29th.  If freelance journalist, independent contractor or grant writer is to be my title for an even more extended period of time, where does the playwright go?  Does she flee to a grad school in a snowy land free from distractions and full of stages for two years?  Does she choose a low-residency MFA that promises to show her how to integrate creative writing into her daily life?  Or does she devote all of her energy to the hustle to make the sporadic work so steady that she can stop herself and others from living life laid off?

The year 2010 will tell.

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Filed under Arts and Culture, Business, Lifestyles, Me in other media, Unemployment

“You spent how much on bonuses and jets while your company was sinking?!” or “So THAT’S why I’m now living life laid off!”

by Mariam Williams

When a total of about 30,000 jobs were cut from various companies on Monday, my mother and I started wondering, are all these companies really as bad off as they say they are? Even before that number increased to over 100,000 by week’s end, we began to suspect something more sinister at work, that some of these companies are using the economy as an excuse to freeze wages for people they don’t want to pay; to conveniently drop some expenses; and maybe even to unload a few trouble makers here and there. While these companies may indeed be laying off workers in order to save money, they might not be doing it to keep their companies from completely going under. They may be getting rid of people just to see if they can still function without them and never have to open those positions again, thereby saving millions of dollars and justifying nearly $20 billion in bonuses as the company sinks. Wait, “saving” isn’t the right word for what they’re trying to do. Adding is it – adding to the bottom line.

That, of course, is a CEO’s job. I asked my best friend, my own personal triple masters degree and double PhD-having, business-owning, entrepreneurial guru and human encyclopedia, if he thought all of these companies were truly in dire straights. He said, and I paraphrase, “This is the problem with how the Republicans think. They believe that American workers will be saved by giving businesses money. But a good CEO doesn’t care about his workers. When I own a business, I’m in it for one reason only: to make money. That’s what a good CEO is supposed to be focused on. If he stops to consider how every financial decision he makes will affect his workers, he’s not cut out to be a CEO. Now no one likes to fire people, and you know when I had to lay off just four people, I was devastated. [Side bar: It’s true; I talked to my friend right before he sent out termination letters. It was almost as depressing as being laid off myself.] But a CEO’s responsibility is to himself and his shareholders. That’s why giving money to corporations won’t trickle down to benefit the workers.”

The CEO has a job to do, and as much as the nice ones would like to have it be so, that job is not to take care of the lower-level workers. I expressed to my mom a wish that there were some sort of federal mandate on just how much money a company had to be losing before layoffs became necessary. Only when a company is doing something illegal does it make every budget, every quarter, every year. Profit loss is part of business. It’s one of the ways you learn what not to do. But when profits are down one, two, even ten percent? In a multi-billion-dollar company, that’s equal to a number of zeros no one wants to think about, but it’s far from bankruptcy. So it should be far from layoffs too, right?

Well, maybe it would be, but there are these people called shareholders, this thing called free enterprise, and this other thing called greed. Not entrepreneurial spirit. Not I became a shareholder to grow my money, so yes, I want a profit, but I understand that the stock market is about long-term gains, and so I don’t worry too much when a company has a bad quarter or even four of them. Not I deserve a huge check with bonuses because everything about this company has been my idea and I take responsibility whether it succeeds or fails. Not I ain’t mad at cha – get yours because you worked hard and the boss should make way more than everybody else because being a CEO takes the kind of balls that not everyone has. Not that. Just greed. The former allows you to see a larger picture, to ride out the storm, and to see the success of those you were privileged to be able to hire as measurements of your success. The latter leads you to spend federal bailout money on a new corporate jet or on your usual seven-figure bonus instead of on small business owners who are laying off workers because you won’t extend a line of credit for payroll. The former considers and mandates layoffs only as a last resort, after reevaluating their own business model to ensure survival. The latter jumps on to the layoff bandwagon for convenience, then overworks and underpays those who remain.

I told my best friend that most of the people making the decision to layoff thousands of their employees have probably never even seen them. He agreed; they were probably just a number, as I’m sure I was. The CEO who signed off on my pink slip had seen me twice in the 14 months I was there under his ownership. He knew me by my job title (which was incorrectly stated in my severance letter), my age (you can’t make it look like age discrimination), and my salary. Still, I may not have been laid off because of greed. I believe the corporate executives of my former employer were ambitious, perhaps overly so considering just how good the financial prospects looked when they purchased the company. If something looks too good to be true, it’s probably about to come to an end. They made budgets based on several years of our salespeople kicking the competition’s butt, and they expected to keep that pace. Then the economy fell apart, and those trying to keep their businesses afloat – and keep their employees – cut their advertising budget first. Since those in broadcasting don’t spend too much money to advertise themselves, they had to make some cuts in other places.  I truly believe they had done all that they could do.

So no, greed doesn’t come to mind in my own case. But that sinister question remains …

Do all these companies really need to make that many people live their lives laid off?

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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