Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What To Wear On Your Journey (or look the part, be the part) 90 Day Essay Continues

I am an unapologetic Rowing Blazers Fan. There, I've said it.

This is a photo from my office, at the Adult Education Center I manage.  We work with low income and recent arrivals to the US, teaching them English (where needed), soft skills (interview techniques, resume and cover letter writing, etc.), and provide job training and placement. We then stay in touch with the student, pretty much forever (or until they stop replying to emails) to make sure that they are still moving forward with their lives.

When Wendy and I first moved to the North Shore nearly 5 years ago, I could not find a job to save my life (thankfully it didn't come to that). It was getting tough to get out of my pajamas and leave the house because it seemed like an inevitable wave of rejection was waiting to wash over me. While I wouldn't say I was paralyzed, I would say that I was that bunny in the road that was hypnotized by the oncoming headlights and moved a little bit too slow and just missed getting its paws run over.

Now the irony in all of this, gentle reader, is that the majority of my career has been in Education and Workforce Development. More ironic when you consider that my last job before we moved eastward was in a college's career services office. I taught a Career Readiness Bootcamp to graduating students where I preached the gospel of positive thinking, proactive attitudes, professional appearance and pretty much any other skill (hard or soft) that might lead to gainful (and hopefully) productive and happy employment. I think it is safe to say that on some levels I felt betrayed. I had followed the playbook, I had done everything that I thought I was supposed to. I would get called in for interview after interview only to be turned away at the final hurdle. It was pretty demoralizing.

After about 2 months of this, I found Phil Knight's memoir Shoe Dog -

As a fellow Man of Oregon I think this book hit me in just the right way at just the right time. We all tend to look at successful people, and somewhat readily leap to conclusions that while forgivable are somewhat inaccurate. Uncle Phil (if you attended the University of Oregon, he is ALWAYS referred to as Uncle Phil, but more about that later) wrote a fairly open history of not just Nike, but his own life. He was honest and did not sugar coat some things that he could have done differently and better as a businessman, a husband and a father. He spoke about about his own challenging relationship with his father, and about how that formed and informed his own adult life.

More than anything, it really spoke about resilience.  Nike started as Blue Ribbon Sports, but in fact it really started with a business school presentation years before. In the watch world where brands like Rolex and Patek were the result of long, steady dedication, it is easy to forget that there was a time when even those mighty brands did not exist.  To quote that other great commentator on the watch business, Barry Hearn -

"You can't take a baby and turn it into a teenager overnight,"

But back to resilience. I finally got a (very) part-time job teaching a career readiness program getting recent arrivals to the Boston Metro area ready to enter jobs beyond Uber and food service (not that there's anything wrong with that). And it was a long, winding road that year that in the end led to 80% of the students getting a better job.

But let's get back to today's post - Look the part, be the part.  What you are doing for a living, right now, this minute?  That does not fully define who you are, what you are capable of doing. In the current time and place that we are living - COVID LAND, it is easy (and understandable) to sleep a little bit later, skip that shave, pull on the sweats, pour a bowl of Frosted Flakes and hunker down for 3 hours of Rockford Files. And I know that it is easy for me to say it - but put on your "going to work" clothes, hit the streets (even if they're virtual) and keep swinging. There is no clock on this except the one that you apply. 

And if you think I'm just blowing sunshine up your collective backsides, allow me to complete my own personal story - after a year of teaching my one class, I was offered a full-time job in Boston working with students and job seekers.  And then one day the phone rang, and I was asked if I would be interested in applying to be the Director of the Adult Education center where I had taught 2 years before. 

As I begin my second year as the head of the program, I am reminded about resilience. I am reminded that where you are now does not and should not dictate where you will be. And although we are seeing all of our students virtually through Zoom and Google Class, I make sure I have on one of my favorite blazers, a good attitude, and a smile when I head in.  

Take the time to appreciate the journey, don't just be a tourist!

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