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Downsized -- But Not Down

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The new year dawned with great promise. As vice president of an organization, I had exceeded my fundraising goals by thirty-one percent. My salary was excellent, and I had just received a strong year-end bonus. With twenty-three years of successful work as a development officer, I anticipated remaining in my current position until retirement.

Then my supervisor entered my office, shut the door, and said, "I have an unpleasant job to do today." Within a few minutes, my security vanished. The conversation ended without confrontation, and I took the news home to my wife.

From a couple of vantage points, the odds didn't look good for me. How could I match my salary level? How could I explain that I left with a strong record?

For six months, I phoned every colleague I had met who might know about job openings. I sent dozens of resumes. After many empty leads, I made the mistake that's common for the unemployed--I took a job where I didn't belong. After four months, I returned home, again off the payroll.

I wondered: "Is there life after downsizing?" "Am I still marketable?"

Fortunately, I made several decisions that prevented my being downed--permanently--by downsizing.

I decided to waste no energy on blaming or complaining. Bitterness would consume energy, I knew, and would confuse my thinking. What had happened was irrevocable. I had to look forward. This was the time for a positive approach.

Next, I evaluated my skills. With a Ph.D. in communication, I had information that could help individuals and organizations improve their interactions, and their productivity.

At the same time, I identified areas of weakness. I bought a computer, and paid for tutoring. Before long, I became comfortable with the Net and with word processing.

Blessed with excellent health, I forecasted at least a dozen years of work ahead. I asked myself honestly, "What do I enjoy doing the most?" I recalled that during all my years of fundraising, I had freelanced as a speaker, writer, broadcaster, and consultant at every opportunity. Now, I decided, I can do this without conflicting obligations to an employer.

Exactly one year after my dismissal, my wife and I talked about starting a new career thrust. "Let's do it," we agreed. I started outlining seminars, and boldly chose a company name.

I credit my family for trusting me as never before. There was no promise of immediate cash. I had no bookings, and hardly knew how to get them.

Somehow, I decided to ask respected local business people for advice. I took them my seminar outlines, requesting candid feedback. Then I went to the local Chamber of Commerce. To my delight, the Chamber contracted with me to direct two seminars, under their sponsorship.

Over the next few months, I did a few things right and some things wrong. On the plus side, I learned the names of successful speakers in Georgia, and hosted each one for lunch. Patiently, they talked about how to market my services.

On the minus side, I spent most of my days cold calling, unaware of how strongly the odds are against success through this method. A few presentations resulted, but the income didn't match my expectations.

My smartest move came when I joined both the Georgia Speakers Association and the National Speakers Association. I attended meetings, read the magazines, went to conventions--and learned more about how to "position" myself to attract clients.

At a marketing workshop in Tempe, Arizona, I listened as seasoned speakers challenged participants to examine our total approach--company name, descriptions of seminars and speeches, newsletters, Web sites, work habits, business cards, even how we introduced ourselves in networking situations. Within weeks, I incorporated many of those recommendations.

At the end of two years, I noticed that I was devoting sixty to seventy hours a week to the job. Surprisingly, I wasn't tired. Why? Because I enjoyed what I was doing. I was moving toward a personal and professional goal that originated within, not from a supervisor.

Results started coming. An educational organization invited me to give the kickoff speech for its convention, and I delivered the keynote address for a health care association. I worked with continuing legal education groups in three states, and with major hotels--providing communication training for employees. I directed a seminar for a leading university.

After hosting my own radio show for half a year, I wrote tirelessly for eight weeks, producing my first book, The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! A Waldenbooks store in Atlanta held my first signing, and there are several others scheduled.

However, I don't want to make the success sound either simple or sudden. During the building period, we went months without income from me. My wife contributed her monthly paycheck, while I gave work, hope, and promises. Letters went unanswered, calls weren't returned, "sure things" didn't happen, and there was no guarantee about the next speech or seminar.

Here again, I turned to experienced speakers. Assuringly, even the "big names" talked about how cyclical this business is. "Hang in there," they advised. "If we eventually made a good living, you will, too."

Once more, I heeded good advice. I thought of failures and rejections as detours, not dead end streets.

In August, I'll present a program at the National Speakers Association--an organization I'd never heard about until two years ago. When I stand to speak, I could easily represent an example of a downsized person who didn't stay down.

Life after downsizing can be joyful and creative. I recommend the recovery process that worked for me. Forget "If only....." and move on to "Here's what I'm going to do." Amazingly, with the understanding and support of family and colleagues, you'll achieve those dreams that once were just part-time fantasies.


About the Author

Dr. William Lampton is a speaker, consultant, and author. He may be reached by e-mail to drbill@commlampton.com. For additional information visit his web site at http://www.commlampton.com.


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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-02 12:23:03 in Personal Articles

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