1,800 Pounds Per Square Inch

A week ago, I was excited to be committed to a lease in Chicago and I was feeling good about finally making some large changes to my life. However, the excitement just as quickly dissolved into depression. I’m not sure what triggered it, but the acute feelings of doom and worthiness that set in last autumn have suddenly popped up and have again punched me in the face.

Tyson

I believe my wife is going through something similar. Last weekend, as she was packing, she melted into tears. I tried to comfort her by telling her things would be fine and that the change was for the better. She had a difficult time detailing the negative emotions she felt but generally characterized them as a feeling that “things just didn’t seem to work out the way she had originally envisioned when she first moved here”.

Like my wife, I can’t pinpoint exactly why this tsunami of negative emotions has grabbed me. I almost feel like breaking into tears every few hours at this point, especially when I’m not busy.  It probably has something to do with (1) needing to make a lot of changes in a short amount of time mixed with (2) feeling that we’re getting pushed out of NYC rather than leaving on our own accord.

There are a few events, i.e. “worms” that also helped contribute to the depression:

(1) A few weeks ago, I returned to my folks house for a few nights to attend my nephew’s graduation. During the visit home, I noticed that my dad was visibly annoyed by my presence. It seemed that at any moment, he would explode at me (which is never pretty – he has a big ol’ temper and can be quite hurtful when he chooses to be — lots of comparisons to others, etc.) Despite holding off on the tongue lashing, after the graduation ceremony, I overhead him telling my father-in-law that my stock picking abilities “we’re a disaster, just like my career”. This hurt, especially coming from a man who has zero understanding of what a stock price actually represents. I swallowed it but, damn did that one hurt. We avoided each other ever since. Unfortunately, I can tell my mom is bearing the brunt of it — she’s forced to listen to my dad bitch about me constantly — why isn’t he working… he should have never left [    ]…. everyone else is doing great. My dad’s constant focus on the negative and on external score cards causes my mom a lot of unnecessary stress. All of this does not make me too excited to return back closer to home (thankfully we’re 45 minutes away).

(2) After coming back to NYC, a close friend had a slip of the tongue and said “this city has a bad way of chewing people up and spitting them out”. I woke up the next morning thinking about this saying. For some reason, I had a hard time shaking this off. It released the “worms” I used to refer to in my earliest posts. Although I know leaving is a smart decision, this just affirmed the way that others are viewing it. I need to stay focused on my internal scorecard and shake this one off. As easy as that is to say, in bad times like these, its difficult to overlook the external scorecard.

(3) I met a group of former co-workers for “going-away” drinks. They planned it, to my chagrin. Reading into the texts that afternoon, it seemed like no one was particularly excited about going – they kept shifting the times around, was asking if I was still up for it, etc. Whereas our drink meetings in the past have always been characterized by too many beers, a flurry of back-and-forth thought sharing and a lot of laughs, this one was real subdued. Each time I tried to give an opinion on something, I was generally ignored. It just felt like they pitied me and that they had already written me off. After just 45 minutes, one of the guys put some cash on the table and said he had to run. Others seemed to be relieved by this and used it as a chance to leave as well. They scrambled out before the waitress came back with my credit card statement. I was left sitting there alone. I can’t remember a single time in my life this has happened to me. It felt awful.

On the long walk home from the bar, I couldn’t help but to feel generally humiliated. Additionally, from the discussion, I learned that the three of the people recently let go by my last fund all quickly found jobs in single-manager hedge funds. Two of the three are considerably younger (~30 years old) and the third is very well connected. Although I’m happy they recovered so quickly, I just could not stop thinking about how easy it was for them and what a slog it’s been for me. I found myself questioning my decision not to apply to hedge fund jobs anymore — am I just making another dumb decision. What do they have that I don’t? Why am I stuck having panic attacks about getting Obamacare health insurance for my family, worrying about forgetting to claim my weekly $450 unemployment each Sunday, waiting by the phone for an invitation to any interview, no matter what it is.

Focusing in on this a bit further — I can’t help but to know that almost every recent conversation with a working NYC friend is likely the last. Each goodbye s a small death. After 40-some odd years of experience, I’ve come to realize that these type of ‘nice to have but not really needed’ relationships don’t often live through larger life changes. They fade away with exception of an occasional Christmas email or a “hey, I’m in town tonight” awkward last minute invitation with the accompanying “don’t worry if its too short notice” pre-baked out (which is almost always exercised). Nor, do I really want to keep up these communications, at least until my situation dramatically improves. These people likely feel relief that they no longer need to worry about the painful possibility of my asking them for help, primarily in the form of “hey, I saw on Linkedin that you are friends with…”. In the end, none of this will matter. However, knowing these relationships are now gone is understandably a bit depressing.

Lastly, I had to have my in-person unemployment meeting yesterday. I arrived believing this to be a quick “check-the-box” affair. Originally, I was right — just a formality. However, about 10 minutes into my conversation with the career counselor, the discussion shifted to an unexpectedly personal level. I must have said something that rubbed the counselor wrong because she cut me off with her own personal story. She said she had been a “wall streeter” before the recession. Her performance reviews were great and her career was going well. Then she was suddenly laid off. Three years went by and she couldn’t find work. Over time, she began to volunteer and eventually built up a non-profit organization which eventually led her to the government job displayed before me.

This counselor was smart. Once she established a personal connection with my predicament, she captured my full attention. She went on to explain that I had “18 years of great work experience and that I should be complemented for what I achieved. However, I was let go at a high level and it was going to be challenging for me to get another job.” She went on to explain that based on her experience working with people in a similar position, it was common for people to conduct a 2+ year job search before finding something. Usually, they changed their expectations or they went back for training to re-enter the workforce. She said many eventually became high school teachers, tech professionals, or went into not-for-profit / government roles. She said entrepreneurship was also a good path to look into but, over time, she’s witnessed people increasingly less willing to commit the capital necessary to begin this route as savings erode. She advised to get my cost of living as low as I could. I explained my move. She agreed that this was the right next step along with getting my insurance costs minimized.

Leaving this meeting, I felt very lost. I walked block after block closely observing all the people busy working on a hot rainy Manhattan afternoon. I felt like I was just scolded by this counselor, scolded by life. I was directly told that my already low expectations were still to high … get them down, way down. The deal I worked on from November – April was great but its as if I just hit a “pause button” now I’m right back to the beginning of November questioning every decision, frustrated, exhausted and generally feeling like I just keep sliding down a steep slope quicker and quicker with nothing to grab hold of.

companymen01-420

I couldn’t find the actual clip from the movie “Company Men” (side note: if you are a long-term unemployed professional, you can’t help but to think about this movie constantly), but I could not help to parallel my unemployment office experience with a certain scene in the film. A career counselor looks over Phill Woodward’s (played by Chris Cooper) long resume and, in a no-nonsense voice, says he needs “to get rid of all the ancient stuff on here”. Woodward’s facial reaction speaks volumes. Internally, you can tell his worms were released … the viewer can easily translate his internal thoughts: “this ancient stuff is a large part of my identity and you’re telling me to just throw it away, that nobody cares”. This is a brilliant movie scene that perfectly parallels how I felt walking home from my unemployment session yesterday. When the counselor read down my resume and stated all of those 18 years is great but doesn’t mean much to anyone, I felt just like Phill Woodward — completely and utterly worthless. I kid you not, my eyes actually got teary. I probably looked exactly like the picture above.

These are the nasty twists to life. Its never the episodes that you think will directly punch you in the gut that hurt. The true blows are embedded in the seemingly unimportant “non-events”. Its when a total stranger steps into the shoes of life and delivers you a Mike Tyson quality 1,800 lb per square inch punch to the jugular.

20 years from now, some of these black eyes will remain. There is always the firing discussion – those moments burn forever in everyones’ mind. But, then there are the simple events like those listed above. When I think back 17 some years ago, the first/last time I went through this shit, it’s these type of random events that linger as painful memories. The day I could not rent an apartment without a co-signer and had to move back to my folks house at 23 years old. The hour long tongue lashing my father gave me on the way to Midway airport believing that my three day NYC trip was really about having fun with friends when, in actuality, I had spent hundreds of hours to finally line up a few long-shot interviews. The ensuing “pound the pavement” trip to NYC – waking up to the sounds of a mouse eating my box of crackers (dinner) at a dirty $20 / night hostel, bouncing from one bad interview experience to the next, standing on 6th Avenue wearily starring at all the successful productive working folk swarming around me while any glimmer of hope of getting a job once again flamed out. Those were the bad times… and, once again, they’ve re-appeared. But, as someone on the radio this afternoon said “without the bad times, its hard to know the joyous times. Without the joyous times, there is no life.” I look forward to the joyous times.

Sorry about the negativity but just logging true thoughts in the journal in real form.

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