Detroit is a very unforgiving place during a downturn in the auto industry. And this is no downturn. This is the end - and maybe the beginning of a very different industry. Actually I saw this coming when I was at Chrysler during the Iacocca turnaround. I had prepared a speech on the future of the global auto industry for Chris Steffen. You bet, I got out of Dodge.
Clearly with the blood on the walls, sensible professionals are trying to flee Detroit. On August 28th in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Jeffrey McCracken and JoAnn S. Lubin have a whopper of an article "Managers See Leaving Ford As a Better Idea." Long story short: Yeah, folks want out but few other industries want them. Or if the auto industry somewhere has an opening it doesn't regard favorably a candidate who stayed too long at one company.
So, what to do about this? I didn't have to do anything when I left Detroit because I left at the right time. It was easy to get a good job in a whole 'nother industry - computers. But, I had to do plenty when speechwriting tanked because of the compound effects of a global recession and Enron circa 2000. After I stayed in denial too long I realized I had to create a new way of making a good living. Fortunately, I didn't realize that the whole enchilada would take so long.
Now, just as my new way of making a living - lots of marketing communications with a little executive communications thrown in - is coming together, Seth Godin explains in his 2006 book "small is the new big" that it you can't speed up the process. He adds: There might not be homeruns for a while, maybe never.
If only I had known that reality I wouldn't have beaten myself up for the slow but steady progress I was making. In addition, I wouldn't have compulsively apologized to anyone who was financially secure for being the loser I was.
But the good news is that all that time of magical thinking I was in reality enough to keep a steady stream of revenue going. How I did that is called survival jobs. Most folks who were once up there on the food chain can't even consider themselves doing a $10 an hour gig. Very short-sighted.
It was through 2 survival jobs that I got insight in something that I never knew: An alert bright hustler like me would be noticed in just about any work situation. At the loss-prevention contract gig in Home Depot in inner city Bridgeport, Connecticut I won two awards and was asked to take a supervisory position. At the customer service gig at the Marriott in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, they accommodated my demands to try to keep me. They couldn't.
What else I picked up in survival jobs is the strange notion: Don't take work so seriously. My colleagues were there for the paycheck and the socializing. I learned to enjoy myself while I worked. Made many new friends.
Along with survival jobs I also got down cold: Ditch the self-consciousness. It was all the energy I put into watching others watching me that probably left me too depleted to pick up what was going on in the economy and my field around 2000. How to get out of ourself? We have nothing left to lose, right? Sticking a toe in the water of eastern thinking helped too. It was irrelevant, if you can believe it, who saw me in my trusty navy blue loss prevention uniform.
The thing that still helps and that I'm still doing is cutting expenses to the bone. All upper middle class living got me was upper middle class debt. I will be paying that off for eternity.
What would I have done differently in orchestrating a comeback? Trusted myself more, worried less, and spent more time with my fascinating co-workers.