Thursday, February 25, 2010

A confession ... and a humble request

So, I head back to work on Monday, March 1, 2010, after being unemployed since Friday, May 1, 2009.

And I'm a little freaked out about it.

The freak-out is not so much about the job itself, but is more about returning to the world of the working after being "out of the game" for awhile.

As I prepare to set foot into full-time employment for the first time in 10 months -- and in an agency environment for the first time in my career -- I ask ...

What advice do you have for someone who hasn't worked full-time in almost a year and is starting a new job?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why I'm not on Team Kevin Smith (even though I probably should be)

As you've likely heard at this point, writer, actor, director, etc. Kevin Smith is using his Twitter stream -- and, later today, his podacst -- to wage war on Southwest Airlines because he says he was deemed a "safety threat" by an airline captain and removed from a flight due to his size.

Immediately after he was removed from the flight, Mr. Smith began tweeting about his anger regarding the situation, warning the airline it had "f****d with the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater!"

My initial reaction was anger. I'm not -- and never have been -- a thin person. I used to be self-conscious about it, but as an adult I've learned to be more concerned about being healthy and less concerned about my physical appearance.

Still, though, I find air travel to be a little uncomfortable (especially if I'm stuck in the middle seat), so I felt empathy for Mr. Smith as I read his initial tweets. I know I would've been angry (not to mention embarrassed) had what happened to him happened to me. And I probably would've tweeted about it, too.

But that's where my empathy ends.

Have I recently been wronged by a front-line employee of an airline (not Southwest) and taken to Twitter to vent about it? Yes.

Did the airline respond to me? Yes.

Did I respond favorably to the airline's efforts to make it right? Yes.

Did I keep tweeting about how wrong the airline was? No. (In fact, I tweeted praise for the airline for accepting responsibility for its failure and for making things right.)

That's what reasonable people do. But, unfortunately, that isn't what's happening in this case. Despite several reach-outs from Southwest -- both via Twitter and via a telephone call (for which Mr. Smith says he never received the voicemail) -- he just keeps spewing angry words via Twitter, ignoring and/or mocking every effort that the airline is making to reach out to him.

Now, if Jane Citizen like me was doing this, it probably wouldn't be so bad for the airline. It wouldn't be great, since I do have 2,200+ Twitter followers ... but that's nowhere near Mr. Smith's level. The man has 1.6 million followers on Twitter -- surely all fans of his work, and surely many of them who take his advice to heart.

What I think Mr. Smith fails to realize is that the people who are reaching out to him now are not the ones who wronged him. Instead, their job is a challenging and unfortunate one that is common among professional communicators at large organizations that serve the public: Cleaning up the very public messes created by others in the company.

I put it this way in a tweet:

Do I think Mr. Smith has a right to be angry? Of course I do.

Do I think his removal from the plane might've been unjustified and/or handled poorly? Yes.

Might the airline's urgency and persistence in trying to remedy the situation be tied to the fact that Mr. Smith has a public platform and plenty of devotees at his disposal? Certainly ... but that doesn't make it "disingenuous as f***" as Mr. Smith suggests, particularly if Southwest typically is diligent about responding to customer complaints and concerns that arise on Twitter, which it seems to be.

So, Mr. Smith, I hope you'll take a deep breath and think about this. Did the airline screw up? It would seem so. But there are several people -- none of whom have probably even met the people who wronged you -- trying to make this right, and you're only making their lives harder ... and potentially harming a business. You don't have to fly Southwest ever again. You don't even have to accept the airline's apologies. But, on behalf of everyone who's ever worked in corporate communications and/or customer service, I beg you to at least be respectful of the people who are trying to be respectful of you, even if it feels like too little, too late to you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm ... employed!

Something has happened. Something I've been waiting, hoping and working for for nearly a year.

... wait for it ...

I got a job!

As many of you have read about on this blog, I've been a job seeker since last March, when I received a two-month notice that my job at the time -- at a place where I'd worked for nearly seven years -- was being eliminated.

After plenty of unanswered inquiries, fruitless resume submissions and everything else to which every job seeker has become accustomed in this economy, it finally happened.

The right company and I have found each other.

Starting March 1, I'll be a proofreader/writer/editor for AGP & Associates, an advertising, marketing and creative communications firm in Midland, Mich. And, while the thought of transitioning back into a world I haven't been a part of in almost a year (the world of full-time employment, that is) and packing up and moving to a new community is a bit scary, I couldn't be more excited.


1. The workplace and culture. This is a small firm -- about a dozen employees, including the owners, who serve as the CEO and president. Everything I've learned about the culture here suggests that it is collaborative, communal and challenging (in a good way). It also is clearly a place that doesn't believe in pigeonholing people into job titles, instead opting to draw upon the strengths of its team members as situations that call for different skills and expertise arise. If you know me, you know this is what I've yearned for.

2. The work. Words are my passion, and this job is completely about words. A proofreading/writing/editing job doesn't come along often; I saw very few such positions available during my job search, so I feel fortunate -- and excited -- to have found a job doing exactly what I want to do and where my skills are strongest. The best way to add value to an organization is to focus on what you do best, and working at AGP will allow me that focus.

3. Mutual understanding and respect. I did some freelance work for AGP so the company could get an idea of my writing/editing style and so I could get a feel for the kind of work the firm does. This makes me feel more confident, both about what the company thinks of my work and about my capacity to handle the type of work that the job entails. I've met and worked with several people at the company already (and know two others from my former job), and everyone has been fantastic. I honestly cannot wait to call them my colleagues.

4. A new adventure. I've lived in Mount Pleasant, Mich., for nearly 14 years -- since I came here for college. My time here has been great, and I'll be leaving behind a lot of friends as I move 35 miles down the road, but I think it's time. If there's one thing I've learned about myself in the last 10 months, it's that I'm a lot more adventurous than I ever realized.

5. A cool town in a great location. Not that there's anything wrong with Mount Pleasant (if there was, I wouldn't have stayed here so long), but come on ... Midland is Tennis Town USA! And there's a mall. And my favorite little shop for wines and obscure craft beers is in Midland. For mid-Michigan, I can't ask for much more! Plus, the move will shave 40 minutes off my trips to visit my family downstate and put me much closer to the highway for other travels.

Obviously, I'm excited, happy, nervous and a whole lot of other things all at once. But the thing I am, above all else, right now is grateful. Grateful for the family and friends who've provided emotional support, passed along job leads, thrown me opportunities like guest posting on your blogs or doing freelance work for you, and just generally encouraged me and believed in me ... even when I had moments of uncertainty about what the future would hold.

I don't dare list names because there's always the danger of leaving someone out. Plus, I think you all know who you are. Thank you. ALL of you.

Now ... let's celebrate!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What IS character, anyway?

You're probably wondering what a barely-clothed, lumberjack-looking guy dressed as a hot-air balloon has to do with character (other than the obvious "being a character"). Believe it or not, an awful lot.

Meet Nate.

Nate is married to my friend Lisa, who I've known for nearly 14 years -- ever since we had a communication theory class together my first semester of college. We even eventually worked together at the local newspaper here in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Lisa and Nate -- a bartender at The Bird, a popular local bar -- married a couple of years ago. I've since come to know him a bit, mostly through Facebook.

One thing I've learned -- and really admire -- about Nate is that he is very dedicated to raising funds for Special Olympics Michigan. Each year, he does something that is both nutty and gutsy: He participates in the Polar Plunge, an event that involves jumping -- in costume -- into a frozen pond in the middle of February after collecting pledges. Nate personally raises thousands of dollars annually, collecting pledges from friends, family, Bird customers and even strangers. And last year's Polar Plunges statewide raised well over $250K for Special Olympics Michigan.

Back to Nate ...

This past fall, something very cool happened to Nate; he was selected to appear on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and in October he and Lisa flew to New York with several members of their family for the taping of the show. And, of course, no one knew what happened except those who were there, as Nate, Lisa and their family diligently upheld the show's confidentiality agreement.

Flash forward a few (almost four!) months. Nate recently announced that the show would be airing today (Feb. 4), and The Bird would be hosting a "watch party" for the show's local airing at 12:30 p.m. Ever the fundraising genius, Nate decided it should be a Polar Plunge fundraiser. He set up an event page on Facebook, and he and Lisa invited pretty much everyone they know. The Morning Sun, the local newspaper (where Lisa still works), published a Q&A feature on Nate on Monday. The buzz has been building among Nate's friends for some time and among the community at large all week long.

And, of course, the questions about the show itself were mounting. How did Nate fare? Did he win a bunch of money? Have he and Lisa just been biding their time and waiting for the show to air so they could quit their respective jobs and travel the world with their family?

Today, a lot of people -- I can't even estimate how many -- showed up at The Bird to see Nate on television and find out the answers to those questions, and a lot of them dropped generous cash in the Polar Plunge collection jar. That alone was impressive ... and a great testament to our community.

When Nate came on the screen late in the show, the place went wild ... especially once Meredith Vieira started asking him about his "Big Sexy" nickname and perhaps even doing a bit of her legendary flirting (although nothing quite on the level of this classic “Millionaire” clip on Youtube ... ha ha ha).

Then came the questions. And Nate was rocking them, no lifelines needed. But, as it turned out, pasta would prove to be his kryptonite. He incorrectly answered the $5,000 question -- the "guaranteed money" question -- which was regarding the name of hollow, tube-shaped pasta. While the correct answer was penne, Nate answered linguine (or was it fettucine?) ... and he ended up winning $0. (By the way, he later explained that he thought penne was angel hair pasta ... and that makes sense to me, as I probably only know what penne is because I cook it.)

Once I recovered from my shock over the fact that Nate actually hadn't won a dime (for a variety of reasons, I was pretty convinced going into today that he'd won a nice chunk of change), it occurred to me:

This guy is so committed to his Special Olympics fundraising that he planned all of this despite the fact that he didn't do well on the show.

Swallowing your pride and inviting the world to share in a not-so-shining moment because you're focused on the greater cause -- the attention and funds that your moment in the spotlight could bring to a philanthropy you care about? That, my friends, is character. And it's a pretty darn rare variety of it.

After the show ended, Nate changed into an "I'm with stupid" shirt emblazoned with an upward-pointing arrow as Lisa's jukebox selection -- Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" -- blared on the sound system. (Lisa and Nate are hilarious that way.) Pulling Nate aside, I told him how much I admire what he did, because I do. I wish I could say I'd have done the same thing if I were in his shoes, but I'm not sure I could've. And for that, Nate Jonaitis, I salute you.

NOTE: This year's Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge is coming up on Feb. 20. You can donate, specifically in support of Nate, at his fundraising Web site, which is hosted by FirstGiving.

(Polar Plunge photos: Nate Jonaitis's Facebook page)