I have to write a book. This is the story of why.
I’ve never told this story–the “before” part, anyway–except in parts here and there to my closest friends. If you don’t care about stories, but you are interested in a book with a completely unorthodox approach to jobhunting, sign up for the mailing list.
See, I’ve helped thousands of people jobhunt over the years. I tune resumes. I coach interviewees. I help people find out who’s hiring and how to get in touch with them. I’ve never charged or anything, it’s just something I do to help friends.
And I am really, really good at this.
I wasn’t born this way, though, and the way I am now is the happy, helpful, “after” part of the story.
I’ll tell you right now, the way I learned was not pleasant. Trigger words: divorce, chronic illness, depression. You’ve been warned.
For me, it’s all in the distant past, and I’m fine now. I like to fantasize that this is sort of my “Superhero Origin Story”, only with me ending up with a freakish personnel management skill instead of a superpower.
But yeah. This is a story I’ve never told all at once before, but now I need to–for the same reason I need to write this book: Some of you out there need it right now in the worst way, and most of us will need it in the next year or two. So… I guess this is for you. Here you go.
Act I: In Which The Hero Is Kind Of Whiny And Pitiful
In my early 20’s, I was… well, I was a mess. I had a positive attitude, a ton of self-entitlement, and absolutely no clue how the real world worked. I was newly married, freshly dropped out of college, and rocking a pretty severe case of undiagnosed ADHD. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make ends meet, get back into school and graduate, or just keep things from falling apart generally. But I had unsinkable optimism and a can-do attitude, and I just knew that if I worked hard enough everything would be okay.
And then I got sick.
I got so sick I couldn’t work, and I lost my job. I went to the doctor, got a prescription, rested up, got feeling a little better, and went out and got myself a new job.
And then I got sick again.
I saw the doctor again, got another prescription, rested up, got feeling better, and went out and got a new job.
And then I got sick again. And again. And again. I had a chronic illness that wasn’t well-understood at the time.
I switched doctors. We tried antibiotics, then antivirals. I switched doctors again. We tried radical dietary changes: no artificial food colors, no additives, no gluten, no corn. The next doctor suggested it was in my head, and could I just try not being sick? When I tried just going to work and pushing through it, and became even sicker, he suggested I go the other way and take it easy. I took a month off to REALLY rest up and get better. To be fair, it helped: I lasted maybe an extra week at the next job. I tried chiropractic and megavitamins and massage therapy. I was desperate to find anything that worked. Nothing ever did. One doctor literally told me that the only thing left to try was divine intervention. He suggested that I talk to my church leader and get an ecclesiastical blessing.
I had already talked to him and gotten a blessing. Divine intervention seemed to be in agreement with medical science: No cures, no fixes. The only thing that could help me was lots and lots of rest, and then only for a little while.
It seems odd in retrospect, but the one thing that never occurred to me or my wife or any of my doctors this entire time was that I was, in fact, very sick. I secretly wondered if I was just lazy or somehow unfit to be a grownup. All we really knew was that I couldn’t hold down a job for more than 2 or 3 weeks at a time… and whenever I felt too physically ill to work, I was tormented by the guilt that I wasn’t supporting my wife like a husband should.
Over the next 18 months I worked at, and lost, 24 jobs.
My illness got worse. Our finances became unbearable. The combination of money, health problems and other stresses became too much for my wife. When she left me I was devastated. We had an amicable divorce because we couldn’t afford any other kind. There was nothing to split up but our debt.
I moved back in with my parents and spiraled into a deep, dark depression.
Act II: In Which The Hero Goes Off To A Monastery And Learns Kung-Fu
Technically this is true, if by “a monastery” you understand me to mean “my parents’ house”, and by “learns kung-fu” you understand me to mean “sits around moping and feeling sorry for himself, but at least has plenty of time on his hands to read and think and stuff”.
I did a lot of soul-searching, in every way I knew how. I read self-help books, I meditated, I saw a therapist, I took antidepressants, I sought spiritual counseling, I fasted and prayed to my God, and above all I spent a lot of time just thinking. I really felt like I was one of God’s “special screwups”, and that the only thing I was really good for was to serve as a bad example to other people. Any time I wished I could move back out on my own, I’d realize that I needed a job, and I’d remember that I’d lost more jobs than I was years old.
Transition: That Moment When The Hero Takes A Long Walk In The Rain Alone
One day I happened across a quote by Patrick Overton:
“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
Something about that quote resonated with me, which is why I still remember it. I felt like I had no light at all, and that any step in any direction was into the darkness. But I felt very strongly that if this quote was true then it should be true of any kind of the darkness; I should be able step in any direction and find solid ground–or a pair of wings.
I remember thinking about my job history, and laughing ruefully at myself, and saying aloud, “24 jobs in 18 months. That’s not solid ground. So how is that going to teach me how to fly?”
And that’s when it hit me:
In order to lose 24 jobs in 18 months, I had to search for, find, interview for, and get hired for 24 jobs! Even at the end, when I had to explain to interviewers why I had had dozens of jobs before them, I had no trouble convincing them to hire me. What on Earth was I doing to get these people to hire me? I had no clue. I didn’t know what I was doing; all I knew was that I could.
Act III: When The Hero Decides To Confront His Nemesis
I decided to move out of my parents’ house, and put my life back together. They say that when the student is ready the master will appear, that fortune favors the bold, and that the whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he’s going. There must be a good reason for these sayings to exist, because as soon as I started moving, miracles started happening.
Some friends from the city called me and said they felt inspired to ask if there was anything–anything–they could do to help me. I took them at their word: “Um, actually… yes. Can I come live in your basement for a year or two?” They didn’t even hesitate before saying “Yes.”
So I moved back to the city. With no rent, I was free to work when I could and not worry about eviction when I needed the rest. I got a job working the electronics counter at a big box store. I decided to take charge of my health proactively, and sought out a doctor while I was still healthy. I described my health history, and the doctor blinked in astonishment. He had just heard about my peculiar combination of symptoms. The treatment was simple and life-changing.
On the way to work one day I heard about some symptoms affecting millions of people called Attention Deficit Disorder. It described me to a T. Two weeks later I had an official diagnosis and a prescription that I still take today. I love to joke around about it, but honestly the best way to describe it is like my brain is now able to put on glasses when it needs to see more clearly. More importantly, I learned that I was not learning disabled, but rather had some specific constraints to my learning style. I stopped trying to get back into school and started buying textbooks to read on my own for fun. You know, as one does.
I began programming again in my spare time. Three months after I’d started working again, I heard about a company hiring not-quite-entry-level tech support people. Turns out that just dropping out of a top-ranked CS program was enough of a qualification to land the job.
I worked continuously for a straight year. I started dating again, and got engaged. The day the company announced they were closing their Utah offices in a month, I felt the strangest thing: absolutely nothing. My coworkers began scrambling frantically to find new jobs, but I didn’t. They thought I was crazy, and I thanked them for their concern, but I just shrugged and said I wanted to stay focused on my current job until they locked the doors. Later, my manager would give me a glowing review for my professional behavior in the last days of our team. On our last day I walked out into the bright afternoon sun.
I was getting married in three months. I had to find an apartment and pay first and last months’ rent. I had furniture to buy. I still had debt to pay off from my previous marriage. But above all, I had to show my fiancee (now my sweet wife of 17 years and counting) that I could support her financially without the slightest trace of worry.
I inhaled the warm summer air, and smiled. I had no job, no leads, and no idea where my next paycheck would come from.
And I knew exactly what to do.
Epilogue: In Which The Hero Realizes He Should Write This Stuff Down
It’s been eighteen years, now. I’ve always had work whenever I wanted it. I’ve been laid off, I’ve quit, I’ve been outright fired. Through it all, I’ve never missed a mortgage payment and I’ve never missed a meal. I’ve also never missed a wink of sleep wondering if I should quit my job.
All those years ago, back when I was a complete mess, I stumbled on an approach to jobhunting that makes the whole process simple, obvious, and easy. Maybe it’s the sort of thing I should save for the book, but I feel like I need to get it out there. I can’t explain it in one or two paragraphs, though, so you’ll have to wait for my next blog post on Monday.
There are three reasons I’m going to explain the whole thing on my blog. The first is that, even though it’s a simple idea, almost everyone looks right at it and doesn’t see it. (It took me several years to figure out what the actual idea itself was, even though I was acting it out unconsciously.) The second is that the reason people look right at it and don’t see it is because they’re afraid. And I can’t stand that anymore.
They’re afraid because they’ve just been fired or caught in a layoff. Or they’ve got a job but they’re afraid of losing it. Sometimes I even see people hate their jobs so much they wish they’d get fired, but they don’t quit… because they’re afraid.
Last year, a weird coincidence happened to me that made me sick to my very soul. I saw hundreds of people change jobs, no different than any other year, really. But just out of coincidence, four different people said the exact same sentence to me, and it’s a sentence that stabs my heart with ice:
“I just don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
I can’t stand leaving that question lying around unanswered, and I’m writing a whole book to answer it: Here’s what you’re gonna do. What I’m going to explain in the next post is the core principle, the why of what you’re gonna do. That’ll be here waiting for you on Monday.
The third reason I’m willing to explain the whole thing is that it’s taken me 18 years of applying that core principle to learn all the tricks I’m putting in the book. A few of them are original, but most of them are tips and tricks I’ve picked up from others along the way. Things that I’ve read or seen and thought, “Yes, that matches my core principle of how to do this.” But you don’t need the book if you’re willing to read my next post and then be me for twenty-odd years.
So… I’m writing all those tricks down. I love helping people with their careers, to take risks at work and learn and grow. But that’s hard to do if you are terrified of being let go.
That fear, that terror. That’s why I have to write this book. Not just the despair you feel when you’re out of work and laying awake worrying about feeding your family. I’m talking when you’re at work and that brief flutter in your stomach stops you from telling your boss that bad news she really needs to know about. Or that qualm that keeps you from speaking up in a meeting because the CEO might not like your suggestion. Or that seeping dread that makes you say, no matter how bad your boss is, you should be grateful to have work.
That fear. That terror. THAT is why I have to write this book. I hope you love it when it’s done and that you and a million friends all buy it. But even if it only sells one copy (thanks, Mom!), I can’t let this book live silently in my head any longer.
So, yeah. Coming Soon: