What’s My Worth?

Three jobs were recently brought to my attention. The first was for the VP of Special Events at an entertainment company, another was short term freelance work at a performing arts school and the last one was a typo at a newspaper.

I received a call from an in-house recruiter at a movie studio who asked if I’d be interested in coming in to meet with them about the job. “Absolutely,” I said. I emailed him my resume, then waited. And waited. I dropped him another line the following week. “I’m waiting to hear back from the hiring manager and once I do, I’ll be in touch. Thanks,” he wrote two days later. He never was in touch.

I had a former colleague and two friends lob calls and emails into the company. These are well respected industry heavy hitters. Still no response.

Three weeks later I emailed the recruiter again. A few days later he wrote back, “Nice to hear from you. At this time I am told that there are a few candidates the EVP has been speaking with. I should know more in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted should anything change.” Huh?

How did I go from ‘we’d like to meet you’ to leper so quickly? I found out that at least two people were interviewed for the job. One a manager from another entertainment company and the other in events at a newspaper. Their mid level titles indicated that I was out of the price range.

I’m too expensive. Or at least I’m perceived to be. They were looking for cheap, inexpensive, low-budge. It seems that many companies are going that way. Why pay for experience when you can get someone for half the price? Budget-cutting is the new black.

During those six weeks, I had mixed feelings about going back into the same job I had once held. On the one hand I knew the job, the players, and the frenetic pace. It’s comfortable. It would have been turn-key. But there was a pang in my gut telling me to move forward not back. The fact was that I had been bored with my last job for at least three years so getting back into the same position in a new company could have made me miserable. Familiarity breeds contempt.

“You need a new stage, not a repeat performance,” a good friend texted me. He was absolutely right. I want to learn something new so I will stay engaged and interested in my work.

I heard that the woman from the newspaper got the job. My only disappointment was for the people who had gone to bat for me. The company didn’t even give me a courtesy interview for their sake. But maybe it was for the best that I didn’t interview. If I had met with them and didn’t get the job I would have felt bad.

A few days ago I had an interview at a performing arts school for possible freelance work. Their events manager was leaving and it coincided with their two biggest annual events of the year, so they were in a major bind. I met with five people at once. This doesn’t bother me as I’d rather get it over with instead of sitting in a frigid conference room as people come and go for five hours (see blog post The Similarities Between a Tech Company Interview and Waterboarding). As it turned out, the head of the department knew my brother! Small world!

The meeting went very well. They were looking to either hire a new manager or find a freelancer to fill in until they found someone permanent. Since the manager job was well below my experience, I was looking to freelance. The HR person met with me alone after the meeting to discuss my fee. How do you put a price on your experience? I first asked her what their budget was for these projects. She skirted around and didn’t answer but told me what the manager made per year. I had thought about my last salary and divided that down to an hourly rate. Then I took $25 an hour OFF of that and made it a lump sum per project (I know, if I were a man, I would have ADDED $25 an hour). Part of me thought I had undercut myself and the other part of me thought I was way overpriced.

Turns out it was the latter. I’m not sure if they can find a freelancer who will work 40 hours a week for less, so they are continuing to try to fill the permanent position. I happen to know someone who would be a great fit and suggested they interview her…she’s meeting with them today. If you aren’t suited for a job, then suggest someone else who might be. I believe in good karma!

Two weeks ago I saw a job posting on Career Builder. It was for an Associate Director of Special Events at a newspaper. The listing read $350,000 in bold! Now, I’ve worked in events for a very long time — ain’t nobody getting $350K as an Associate Director, Director, VP or SVP! What a huge misprint for a newspaper! So, for shits and giggles, I applied.

A week later, I received an email from the Director of Events saying that he was looking to fill this position quickly and would I be available to come in the next day. Sure, of course I can (after yoga). He wrote back with a huge email listing everything that he wanted to discuss during the interview. This included the seven large events they have each year (“come with questions and ideas on their current events”); list the five largest projects I’ve worked on; a summary of my history supervising a team of employees and vendors; a summary of my history with regard to managing the P&L for an event including best success stories; and a couple of examples running difficult sponsor integrations/activations. Sure, no problem.

And finally, the last question: “So that neither of us wastes time on something that is not a good fit, can you let me know minimally where you’d need to be on salary in order to consider the position?”

I wrote back that I was confirmed to meet him at 1PM and was looking forward to it! I pretended not to see the salary question. I figured that I should just take the meeting and we could discuss money in person. How far south of $350K could he be? Turns out he was in Antarctica!

He wrote back saying that he understood the questions he was asking were a lot to turn around in less than 24 hours (true, but I could do it). “Also, if you have any insight into my compensation question please let me know. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page before you drive down here.” I wrote back my minimum salary requirement. It was $75K BELOW my former salary.

“Shoot, that’s going to be out of our range,” he wrote. The maximum was ANOTHER $75K LESS than my minimum. “Let me know if that’s in your wheelhouse” he wrote. Uh, no, it’s not in my wheelhouse, boathouse, bathhouse or any other type of house I don’t own. Geez, for everything that the position is asking for, they were paying next to nothing!

I wrote back that unfortunately the salary was too low for me, but that I was available for freelance work if he were interested in moving in that direction. Also, I wrote, “you should know that the Career Builder ad listed the job at $350K” and included a screenshot. I bet he had to put a diaper on after reading that.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the woman who was the Associate Director at the newspaper got the VP job at the movie studio. She moved up. But what happens when you are at the top of your game, then what? It’s a smaller square footage to move around in at the top of the pyramid. Your resume is impressive but perceived to be expensive so you don’t even get an interview. You interview but what seems logical in price scale for you is absurd to the organization. You discuss minimum compensation requirements only to find that they are a 26 hour flight south of what you can afford to live off of.

What do you do now? You stay positive and move forward. You think about freelancing…or if that crazy idea you once had could work…

Stay tuned.

HackenSack

I was laid off from Sony Pictures last year, but now I cheekily refer to the studio as HackenSack. A few days ago I heard the news that Amy Pascal, the head of Sony Pictures, is stepping down to start her own production company. Amy was always very supportive of me and I enjoyed working on events for her. She’s smart, savvy and has a big heart.

Change is never easy, but always good in the end. I’ve been reminded of this a lot over the past year. One person even going so far as to say, “Without change there wouldn’t be any butterflies.” The cynical New Yorker in me wanted to tell them to go fuck off, but deep down inside I knew they were right and meant well. I find as I get older, change is a much more difficult adjustment to endure. I like routine. If I hadn’t been laid off, right now I’d be sitting in another meeting feeling my brain being sucked out of my left eyeball. So when change happens to you, you have to ride the wave until you land on a brand new shore. Ugh, I think I just puked in my mouth writing that.

The studio has endured many changes over the last year and its most painful moment, the computer hacking by the North Koreans. I felt horrible for my friends at the studio. It wasn’t an easy time for anyone. Who knew Lil’ Kim from NK could be so crazy? If he’d had a good publicist she would have told him, “dude, don’t pull the plug and info dump ‘cause that will just give more publicity to the movie!” And it did. Then the US retaliated and shut off the web. That must have been terribly hard for the ten people in North Korea who have internet service.

I had randomly checked my credit card statement after watching a 60 Minutes report on credit card fraud just after Thanksgiving. I found two charges that weren’t mine. The first for $1 at a Miami limousine company which was followed by a $187 charge at a Walgreens in Sheboygan.

“Are you SURE you’ve never been to Sheboygan?” The rep was grilling me like I’d lie about traveling there.

“I think I would know if I’d been to Sheboygan.” Seriously Sherlock, put your magnifying glass away.

After this thorough interrogation by Citibank they cancelled my card and reissued me a new one. The next day I found out about the breach of 47,000 current and former employees personal information and was quickly sucked into the drama. My personal credit card had been on file in the travel department which is how it had been compromised. I ordered Lifelock to watch my credit and a few weeks later the company offered AllClearID to current and former employees. I just got another alert from LifeLock that my social security number has been listed on a black market website. Good times in these cyber times.

A group was created on Facebook by former employees which quickly grew to over 4000 members where helpful advice was shared on what to do to protect your identity. The amount of information contributed was extremely beneficial in dealing with securing your credit and personal data. While people at Sony would come and go over the years, there was always a common bond that banded us together to help each other out.

Which brings me back to “Change is Good.” It can be uncomfortable, but it prevents stagnancy and boredom. And theft. The biggest takeaway during the hack attack has been to: Change your PASSWORDS frequently! It’s right up there with change your underwear daily, change your tires when they’re bald, and change a diaper when it’s full!

I’m a creature of habit and always hated when that annoying little box would appear on my computer threatening me with ‘you have 3 days until you must change your password.’ Invariably I would wait until the day three when I was pressed for time and had to create a new password. Then I’d forget to write it down or worse scribble it somewhere — a random notebook, Post-It or an old Starbucks cup. Even now, I have pieces of paper littered around my home with passwords cryptically scratched on them. I think I’m fooling someone else by not writing down WHAT that password is for. I only fool myself when I’ve been given three attempts to login to Amazon and get locked out. Damn you InterWeb!

Other companies look at HackenSack as a cautionary tale. No doubt they’re getting their computer systems up to speed security-wise. But then Anthem announced that their computers had been hacked too, most likely by China, and that the information from 80 million current and former customers had been breached. Anthem used to be my health care provider, but all of my personal data was already leaked by North Korea. I hear I’m huge in Pyongyang!

Old World Advice

There are a few people who are very concerned about my unemployment status. My mom tops the list, but that’s understandable. She is in the camp of ‘find a job now’ while dad says “you’ve worked so God damned hard for so many years I think you should continue enjoying yourself.” I know mom gave him the stink-eye when he said that. Her latest was saying to me “times a ticking.” How is that supposed to be helpful? After several calls expressing her distress I finally laid out my financials for mom’s review. She stopped asking about jobs. For now.

My manicurist, however, is now on my back. Lisa is a year younger than me, originally from Vietnam, a divorced mother of three boys and one of the hardest working women I know. She owns two nail salons and is about to open a small convenience store. I marvel at her entrepreneurship and enjoy talking to Lisa about her businesses.

A few months ago I was having a manicure when a man in his late fifties walked into the salon to collect his aged mother. He wheeled his mom out of the store and then his sister, who was drying her nails near me, followed them out. This all took place in about 45 seconds.

Two days later Lisa urgently tracked me down. “That man who picked his mother up the other day likes you,” she said excitedly in her broken English.

“What man?” I asked.

“The man who wheeled his mother out of the salon with his sister.”

Honestly, I was jet-lagged after flying 16 hours the day before back from Istanbul and slightly hung over from happy hour with friends, so I barely remember seeing this guy.

“He lives with his mother in another state,” Lisa added.

“Dysfunctional state?” I asked but she didn’t get the joke. “And he lives with his mother? Seriously Lisa, I don’t want to date a man who lives in another state with his mother.”

“But he’s a good man who takes care of his mother. Where I come from that’s a good thing.”

“Well, where I come from it’s questionable.”

“I knew men in my village who took very good care of their mothers as they got older. They were very well respected.”

“Here’s the thing, Lisa, I’m looking for a geographic desirable who doesn’t live with his mother, father or unemployable adult children. Too much to ask for?”

My real mom recently said “I just want to see you walk down the aisle before I die.” Thanks, no pressure from the 84 year old. She too is clamoring for me to find a man especially now that I’m unemployed.

What is it about being a woman without a job that automatically makes people think you should find a husband in lieu of another job? I was never desperate to get married or have children so is finding a sugar daddy the answer? No, for me it still isn’t. I’ve always taken care of myself and would never expect someone else to. Do men ever get this kind of harassment from their dads or male colleagues? ‘Well gosh Bob, I’m sorry that you were laid off, maybe it’s time you find yourself a woman to take care of you.’ Doubtful.

Lisa has effectively become my West Coast mom wondering when I’ll get a job or at least find a man to take care of me. She has also suggested that I AirB&B my guest room to make some extra money. I explained to her that I didn’t have a separate entrance for the guest room.

“That doesn’t matter, they can come in your front door.”

“I’m not having strangers come into my home while I’m living there.”

“But you can make some good money to help pay your rent.”

“I have a mortgage, not rent, and I can pay it just fine by myself. And anyway, my homeowner rules don’t allow it.”

“Yes it’s okay to do it, they don’t have to know.”

“Lisa, I’m the VP on the HOA Board of Directors and there are only fifteen units, so yes, everyone would know when new people were traipsing into my home every night.”

This went on for several more minutes as we both became increasingly irritated with one another. Her old world advice was not jiving with my new world life. But I didn’t want to make her too upset since she was in the middle of cutting my cuticles.

I’ve been working since I was 15 years old and have no desire to stop completely, but why is it so difficult an idea for people to wrap around their brains that I’m ok without a job for a while?

A little more background on me. Six months before I was laid off, my oldest brother, a highly decorated retired Air Force Colonel died from brain cancer at the young age of 54. After 28 years of service he died just four years after his retirement. I tell you this not for sympathy, but to understand where I am coming from. After losing a beloved family member, well before his time in such a shitty way, losing your job is NO BIG DEAL. It truly puts life in perspective. I was living an extremely high stress, pressurized lifestyle for 17 years and it takes time to come off of that never ending Habittrail in order to regain your balance.

We live such “busy” lives and it seems to me now that I’m on the outside looking in that it’s really all for show. Whenever people meet each other — late as usual — they say ‘I’m so sorry, I’m just SO BUSY.’ Then they proceed to stare at their Stupid Phones so they can jump on a response for the next email or text that comes through or answer a call to talk to someone else while you sit there with your thumb up your ass.

I was guilty of this behavior to a certain point while I was working. But in the last three or fours years I started to notice how isolated (and rude!) one becomes when their phone is constantly distracting them from their real life. You see it in restaurants all the time. A family sitting together but not speaking to one another or the worst is observing a couple not looking at each other but at their phones for twenty or thirty minutes at a stretch. All are gaping at their emails, texts and games with little regard for the human across from them. I decided that once I met up with a friend, the phone would either go into my purse or upside down on the table. If I was waiting for a call or text I would first let the friend know that I may have to take a call or respond to email. There’s a video on YouTube called Look Up (http://youtu.be/Z7dLU6fk9QY) which says it all so eloquently about our antisocial social media.

Lisa recently called me to let me know that the older family had rolled back into the salon and asked about me. She had more to tell me but another call was coming through and she was very busy.

The Similarities Between a Tech Company Interview and Waterboarding

A few months ago I was called into a well known tech company to interview for the manager of events position. I haven’t had many interviews over the past 17 years, so I viewed this as good practice. The job was also very interesting and I was excited to meet with people at such an innovative company.

Let me give you a little background…Before the lay off, I worked as the SVP of Special Events for an entertainment company, so my experience in planning and producing high profile events is extensive. I started at that company as a temporary worker and became head of the department in six years and promoted to SVP in eight. I am a logistics person who can move 2,000 people from point A to point B, feed them, booze them up and get them home without batting an eyelash. It’s fun and I love it.

I was called by the in-house tech recruiter who scheduled an interview and also emailed me several documents that needed to be filled out before the meeting. One document asked for an Executive Summary to be written. This was not to be a mirror of my resume, but needed to highlight eight to ten top accomplishments from my career. I wrote eleven. She asked me to fill out the online application and other confidentiality agreements. The application asked for my college GPA. Now I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night and they wanted to know my GPA from 25 years ago? It did read that if you’d been in the work force for more than 10 years you didn’t have to provide this tidbit, however, you couldn’t move onto the next section if it wasn’t filled out. I gave myself a B average.

The interview was on a Thursday at 10:30AM and I would meet with five people for 30 minutes each and leave by 2PM. Lunch was included. The recruiter met me first and then gave me a tour around the facility — super cool and yes, very high tech. After the tour, she brought me to a small conference room which I believe was set at a bone chilling 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first meeting was with the current event manager via phone. Good cop. This was followed by the angry short man who made my brain hurt. Bad cop. During that interview, he asked me what year I graduated from college. For a split second I thought ‘he can’t ask that, it’s illegal.’ California is a state which protects people over 40 from age discrimination and asking the year you graduated is a roundabout way for asking your age. I told him my graduation year thinking that it wouldn’t bode well for me to correct the guy during an interview. His reasoning to ask was he felt that the jobs you have right out of college help form the employee you are today. Really? So that summer I spent scanning barcodes at a newspaper until 2AM helped me become the person I am now? Doubtful.

Then came the the nice woman with a flat personality, who bought me lunch. We picked up our food in the cafeteria and brought it back to the Polar Vortex. As soon as I started eating, my entree was iced cold. I didn’t quite finish when the next interviewer arrived. At this point I started feeling extreme fatigue and a bit feverish. Then the first interviewer, who I spoke with over the phone, stopped in to meet me in person and we talked for another 30 minutes. TAKE THE FORK OUT, I WAS DONE!

I left in a daze and slightly hypothermic. It’s hard to review and process how you think you performed in an interview under these conditions. Was I mumbling answers under bright energy-efficient fluorescent lighting? Will I ever regain circulation in my feet? Was food stuck in my teeth during the last 3 meetings? Did I look like I was shivering? My head was spinning as crazy thoughts bounced around my skull.

I woke up the next morning with aches, chills and laryngitis. I was sick for the next ten days. The recruiter called me the following week to schedule a 30 minute phone interview with an executive in another state. At least I wouldn’t have to go back to the North Pole. That call turned into 60 minutes by the time it had finished. Another week went by and I was asked to come back for two more interviews. I was over the sinus infection but was very happy when the recruiter brought me to a warm office for these meetings. Though I had packed an extra sweater and hand warmers just in case.

Including two people I had met with more than once, I had interviewed nine times at this juncture. 9 TIMES! The recruiter called me again. She asked me to come back for yet another interview. And she wanted me to REVISE my Executive Summary honing it down to the top four or five most important items. I told her that at this point I would need to know the salary range for the position as I didn’t want to further waste anyone’s time.

Twenty years ago, there was a guy who apparently liked me and had a mutual friend set us up on a “Group Date.” What’s a Group Date you ask? It’s when a guy doesn’t have the balls to ask you out on a date, so his friends and your friends organize a group outing to a bar where you two can get to know each other a little better under a more casual setting. Usually at the end of one Group Date he’ll ask you out. Not with this guy though. He didn’t believe in the old adage No Risk, No Reward. He needed to be absolutely, positively sure about me before he’d ask me out. By the fifth Group Date I told my friend he’d very effectively turned me off.

I felt the same way about this company. Initially I was excited and gung-ho to work there, but by the time they called to set up the TENTH interview I was so turned off and mentally exhausted. The recruiter called me back to say they don’t give out salary information until the offer is made. That was it. I couldn’t continue on the Bataan Death March without at least knowing the salary range. I respectfully pulled myself out of the running.

Was it the right thing to do? I’ll never know. But I was done with the process. I no longer wanted to be part of a company that couldn’t make a decision. In all of the jobs I’ve ever held, I’ve gone on three interviews at most. Today, there’s a groupthink phenomenon that’s taken over hiring decisions so no one person will be held accountable if they choose poorly. I’m an EVENT PRODUCER, not a FUCKING SURGEON! Odds are between my extensive experience, impeccable references and the fact I can speak effectively without drooling they could have made an offer by the fourth interview and wouldn’t have regretted it.

The position was recently reposted on several job boards.

 

 

In Transition & Cleaning Closets

A few weeks after departing the company I was talking to another friend who’d been out of work for five months. I was telling her that when I mentioned to people I’d been laid off the reaction ran from “Oh, I’m so sorry” (with sad puppy eyes) to “You don’t seem too broken up about that.” The fact was, I felt a freedom that I’d never experienced before and had a permanent grin on my face. I’m still wearing it.

I asked my friend what she says when asked where she works. “I say I’m in transition,” she replied. “It’s what people are saying now.” I couldn’t imagine saying that to anyone. I think I’d burst out laughing. It sounds like you’re in the middle of gender reassignment surgery.

What’s so wrong with just saying you’ve been laid off? Since the Great Recession I feel like it doesn’t have the same societal stigma it once had. Most people will be laid off at least once in their lifetime. After I say I’ve been laid off, I usually follow it up with “and it was a good thing.” I add that so the other person doesn’t feel awkward. Some people treat you like you’ve just experienced a death in the family. For me, the job did not define me. Work was just work and not my identity.

My experience was and is far different than most. When you Google the impact of being laid off, the search engine spits out anger, helplessness, overwhelming stress, etc. Again, I had been preparing for this event for several years, so my feelings were and still are positive. I’m a true believer that change happens for a reason and that a few years from now I’ll look back and know that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

One reason why I was prepared for unemployment were observations I’d seen while at the company. A former boss who had been working for 20 years was laid off when he was 47. I was 42 at the time and began seeing a pattern. Many people who had been working at the company for a long time and were in their late 40s/early 50s were being laid off each year. It’s basic math…they were now making a lot of money and the company couldn’t afford them any longer. Experience didn’t matter, it was all about cost. That’s when my massive savings plan started. I socked away money each month and also my yearly bonuses. Look around and see what’s happening in your company. If you’ve been lucky enough to make it through a layoff or two, think ahead and plan for what could happen next year.

Calling Cards

As you transition from the job you’ve held for a long time, think about the tools you’ll need to help you get to your next career. I found that when I met people I realized I didn’t have anything to give them so I made business cards for myself. They are simply name, email and cell phone number all on a cute card with an old fashioned telephone on the back that I created through http://www.minted.com.  They have great templates to help you design a look that’s right for you.

Your Brand

Next, make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are up to date. I found that the resume I’d had for twenty years was well out of style. It was one page and apparently the kids today have two or three pages…and they just graduated from college!  Who knew? So I asked a few friends, one in HR and the other an executive recruiter to take a look at my CV. They both gave me extremely good points and helped me update my brand for a career in the 21st Century.

If you don’t know anyone that can revise and breathe new life into your resume, there are resources online that you can easily Google. Also ask friends and former colleagues to show you their resumes. You can cherry pick the best ideas and action words to boost your CV.

Merge & Purge

After packing up my office, the company sent the boxes to my home and suddenly half my guest room was filled. It made me itchy. I couldn’t stand the clutter! Why had I accumulated so much CRAP in my office that I thought I should move it home? Over the course of several weeks I tackled three closets and ten boxes. I had the four piles of KEEP, DONATE, SELL and TRASH. It was a bit worrisome that KEEP was always in the lead, but soon DONATE and TRASH sprinted to the finish relegating KEEP to a distant third place. SELL was always small and never going to be a strong horse in this race.

I kept a few items that reminded me of what I had accomplished in my previous job. I donated old business attire, small appliances and shoes to a thrift shop that itemizes your donations and mails you the receipt for your taxes. There were a few items in my closets — designer shoes and cashmere sweaters that I brought to a consignment shop. Every few weeks I get a check sent to me after the shop takes their cut. What’s not sold can either be donated to a charity or picked up. I also placed a few big ticket items on Ebay and Craig’s List. It feels good to purge and release (P&R).

Positively Positive

After P&R, it’s also important to keep busy and active. The more you do the less likely you’ll want to plan your own private Pity Party. The Unemployed Pity Party (UPP) is the worst because if you start that on a Tuesday at 11AM, all your friends are at work so you’re stuck by yourself and then it could spiral out of control and suddenly you wake up and it’s Friday. This is when Trader Joe’s comes to the rescue. Tuesday’s at 11AM is the best time to shop there — easy parking, no dodging shopping carts in those small aisles and the rugrats are still in school. Their employees are great and the food samples and coffee are delicious. Who doesn’t leave Trader Joe’s in a good mood? Except of course if you make the mistake and go there on a Saturday at 3PM…that’s just a disaster.

Grooming

A UPP can turn quickly into a hygiene problem when you stop taking regular showers Remember Campbell Scott in SINGLES when he lost his job? His apartment had pizza boxes and Chinese food containers strewn everywhere and a once white t-shirt he wore turned to a brownish grey. Keep your home and body clean. I can’t stress this enough. The Grunge Look is passe. Get your haircut and colored regularly, manicure your nails (men & women) and for God’s sake, brush the fur off your teeth!

You never know where or when your next job prospect will pop up, so you want to look good and feel good. After I purged my closets I went to the mall and picked up some new clothing (using gift cards, of course!). Out with the old and in with the new. Remember — Don’t look back, there’s nothing there for you.

Next Blog: Similarities Between Tech Company Interviews and Waterboarding

Mind the Work Gap

What is MY GAP YEAR AT 47? It’s about the opportunity I’ve had to enjoy life and think about the possibilities for my next career move following a layoff after 17 years with a company. This blog is geared towards people in their 40s-50s who have been laid off from a longterm job and want to enjoy life before getting back into the workforce.

Here’s how my layoff happened:

The company was laying off about 300 employees and each building had an axing day that week. I was called down to my bosses office at high noon on a Tuesday. I knew what was happening. I actually felt bad for my boss when I entered his office. He looked scared and in pain…maybe he thought I’d flip out. He was sitting with our HR rep. As I opened the door I said ‘Heyyy’ in a singsongy way.

He started by telling me how fabulous I am and that this was a hard decision…after that I didn’t hear too much. The HR rep took over explaining my severance and benefits packages. She said I would be paid through the end of my contract (2 months later) and I could stay until then if I wanted. I laughed out loud and asked, “Why would I do that? How about my last day is this Friday?” It broke the tension and I only choked up once when saying that I had had a great time and was able to do so much. My boss choked up as well.

As I walked out of his office, I felt a thousand pounds of bricks fall from my shoulders. It was exhilarating. Over the next few days, colleagues and friends called and stopped by my office as I cleaned it out (Note to self: don’t keep so much crap that you’ll have to move later!). I was even given a cocktail party at a nearby bar. As I walked out of the office for the last time, I never looked back. Whether or not I wanted this change, it was handed to me and I had to run with it.

So the question was, What do I do next? Mind the Work Gap…

Create a Schedule

First I needed to make a schedule for myself. While working I knew all of the meetings I needed to attend each week…you know the ones where you can actually feel your brain being sucked out your left eye? Thankfully, you don’t have to attend them anymore, but you should outline your day. Think about the things you’ve always wanted to try, but work always stood in the way. Is there a course you are interested in? Or an exercise routine you’ve wanted to start? For me it was yoga. Coincidentally it started the morning of the day I was laid off, so the timing was perfect. Originally my teacher would start at 7AM, but as soon as I was laid off, we moved it to 8AM (woohoo, extra sleep!). I practiced yoga privately 3 days a week for about 3 months. It gave me structure and the meditation continues to amaze me how relaxed and peaceful I feel.

Create a Budget

Think about taxes you’ll have to pay, mortgage payments, repairs on your home or car, and figure out how long you can last without a regular check. I was prepared for the layoff. When everyone said to have at least six months salary saved in case you lose your job, I had a year and a half banked. Then I was given a lump sum severance payout and when I Leaned In (thank you Sheryl Sandberg) they gave me an additional 3 months including medical benefits. I am doing just fine but I have a clear idea of how long I can manage to live without a regular paycheck.

So if you’re prepared for this Work Gap and want to make your money last or for those on a tighter budget, a friend of mine who was unemployed for quite a long time created two budget games for herself: The $5 bill game and the $20 a day game. Any $5 bill was put aside and saved in a stash that would be used to treat herself — a manicure, vanilla latte or a movie (1/2 price matinee of course!). She budgeted herself $20 a day (not easy in NYC) and if she went under the $20 the balance would carry over to the next day. So if at the end of the day she had $3, then tomorrow she would have $23 to “play” with — maybe cookies from Trader Joe’s or a 711 Slurpee? The point is to really understand where your money goes and what your spending. Do you really, really need another cashmere sweater? No, you really, really don’t.

Travel

I booked several trips after the layoff. My work included lots of travel, so for me, it felt comfortable to plan a few itineraries. Also, I have a ton of frequent flier mileage so I went back to New York a few times to visit family and friends then to The Bahamas, Washington DC and San Francisco all for free. A few months later I booked a yoga trip to Turkey with my friend Mary Ann. What an incredible time we had in an amazing country. The balloon photos on my blog page are from that trip. I slowly learned not to check emails a hundred times a day or worry whether or not my phone had a signal — all things I used to do when I was supposed to be on vacation! I now enjoy the moments. Travel opens yourself up to new people, places and experiences all of which are good for the soul and could lead to a new job.

Stay in Touch with the Good and Release the Bad

Have a few breakfasts, lunches or dinners planned throughout the week to meet with friends and former colleagues. There are two benefits to this: It keeps you relevant helping you get to your next career move AND you’ll soon find out who your real friends are. I’ve always had a small circle of very good friends. People I can trust with my life. There were some work friends who, let’s say, I never felt had my back. You know the ones…They would push you under a bus if they had the chance. Or the ones that when someone walked out of a room, they’d begin to mimic or make fun of that person. If they did it to someone else, they were doing it to you as well. They are insincere, false and the toxic who need to be released. Fortunately, I knew who those people would be and never felt bad or upset when they didn’t call to see how I was or return emails.

Volunteer

I have always donated money to organizations that have special meaning for me. St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels has been one of those charities that I truly feel is doing so much for the elderly and infirm who are homebound and can’t get a decent meal for themselves. Now I volunteer once a week to pack meals and deliver to my route of 10 customers. For many of my clients, I might be the only face they see in a day, so I chat and smile and ask how they are. Giving is very gratifying. These folks don’t realize how truly happy I am to see them. Log onto Volunteer Match to help you find the charity best suited for your skills http://www.volunteermatch.org.

Nap

Remember Nap Time in kindergarten? I loved it and was saddened that napping didn’t continue when I moved up to elementary school. Siesta is good for you, just ask the Spanish. After taking a 20-30 minute nap a day I feel great and I don’t feel guilty whatsoever. Recharge your batteries while you can! The National Sleep Foundation has great tips on how to nap http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping. I knew a guy that could nap in a meeting with his eyes open…now that’s an enviable talent!

The bottom line is to make good use of your time off enjoying life and helping others. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. That’s 32 years at the grind and I’m going to enjoy this well needed break. I may not have this time to myself again for another 20 years when I’m 67 and who knows what ailments I may be dealing with then.

Let me know what your Time Off To-Do’s are!

Next Week’s Blog Post: In Transition and Cleaning Closets