A new take on being downsized?

By coincidence, I found this LinkedIn article (Laid Off? Congratulations!!) yesterday, shortly after hearing about another journalist colleague being laid off.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has congratulated her, and no one congratulated me when I lost my job last year.

It’s a tough thing to lose a job. That’s why the title of the article is so… attention-getting. The writer advises assessing what went wrong, reconnecting (i.e. networking), and having fun as you “write your future.” Not bad advice, even the fun part, which may take an extra dose of creativity, an emotional stretch, and time.

Some of the content, and especially the word “Congratulations,” proved offensive to a significant number of commenters, one of whom almost lost his home as a result of losing his job.

And yet… I believe, much as I hate to use a cliché, that when one door closes, another opens. There’s some truth in clichés.

I just read the article this morning, and while I didn’t relate to everything in it, I like the idea of moving forward.

Many of the comments that followed the article were instructive, like reminders to be prepared financially for the loss of a job, and that it’s possible to end up doing something that makes you happier.

So to my colleague who was downsized, and others, no congratulations. Just good wishes that the experience will ultimately lead to positive changes.




Work, identity, and business cards

I followed up on the thought I included at the end of my last post, and asked my son – who has some experience in graphic design – if he might be able to design a business card for me.

He came up with four ideas, and I knew instantly which one I liked, as well as what tweaks I wanted.

I’m more excited than I expected at the thought of having my own “freelance journalist” business card, and it’s got me thinking about the whole issue of identity being tied up in work.

I never felt like I lost my sense of self after I was downsized last June, but after 22 years at The Canadian Jewish News, the paper and my job as a reporter had become a big part of who I was. Every so often, I get a little reminder. Today, for instance, I left a voice message for the first time as a CJN freelancer.  I was on the verge of leaving my phone number when I hesitated, realizing that I was about to give the CJN office number, not the number that I was calling from.

Starting this blog last July was helpful to me. It’s been my pseudo-work, and one answer to the question of what I’m doing now.

But seeing the design for my nice new business card makes my new reality more “real” to me. And it’ll be nice to have a business card to hand out again.



A taste of freelance (writing) life

It’s official, I’m freelancing. Last week, I interviewed Rabbi Miri Gold for The Canadian Jewish News. I just found the article online this morning.

Rabbi Gold – Miri – is the Reform rabbi in Israel who launched a 2005 court case seeking salary payment from the Israeli government, a benefit previously accorded only to Orthodox rabbis.

The interview is my first article since I was downsized last June, aside from a column I wrote a few months ago for my former CJN colleague Sheldon Kirshner’s online journal, about the role of Jewish food in my life.

In the weeks and months after being downsized, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do next. I set up this blog partly to help me figure that out, and I looked at a lot of job postings.

As time went on, I leaned more toward the idea of freelance work, combined with work on my blog and my book-in-progress. I like the variety and flexibility, and I’m willing to live with the uncertainty that goes with it, at least for now.

I couldn’t help thinking back to my first assignment as a CJN freelancer, before I joined the staff in the early 1990s. A couple of things were different this time: I wasn’t nervous any more (experience makes a difference!), and I didn’t have to run out to the local bookstore to see my article as soon as it appeared.

My interview last week fell into one of my former beats (religious issues), so it was easy to get back into reporter mode. I re-familiarized myself with the issues, changed the battery in my tape recorder, and bought a new notebook. I was all set.

But there was one thing I hadn’t thought about. When I asked Miri for her business card, I realized I no longer had one to give her in return. I guess I should put that on my list.


I’m just regrouping – I’m fine!

I think I need to follow up on last Thursday’s post, when I compared being downsized to the breakup of a relationship, and also looked at similarities between the post-downsizing transition time and the mourning period I went through after I lost my father.

A couple of people seemed to be concerned about me, and sent messages of support and reassurance.

Don’t get me wrong, a big part of why I’ve been okay after I lost my job is the support I have from family and friends, including those I used to work with.

I’m past the “mourning” stage of being downsized, but I’m definitely still regrouping and figuring out what’s next.

It helped a lot that my departure wasn’t abrupt, that I wasn’t the only one, and that – during the two weeks I had between receiving notice and actually leaving – my colleagues and I were able to spend time in the lunchroom over tea, coffee, and comfort food, processing all the changes that a restructuring meant.

For the past seven months, I’ve been telling people I’m in transition. Shortly before I blogged last Thursday, I said it again when I ran into someone I knew through my work at The Canadian Jewish News. It was the first time that it didn’t feel right, that maybe I should be past that stage.

The exchange prompted some personal reflection, along with my post last week. I wondered if I’m enjoying blogging too much, and whether I’ve become “stuck.”

I started the blog to help me transition to whatever is next, but the blog may actually be what is next for me. Or a big part of what is next. On reflection, it feels right. At least for now.






How long does it take to move forward after being downsized?

Seven months after being downsized, is it too late to say I’m still in transition?

I don’t think so, but sometimes I feel like I’ve been saying that for too long. At the same time, I still have a few items on my post-work to-do list.

A colleague told me last summer that being downsized is like going through a breakup. I’m sure someone told me once that, after a breakup, it takes a month for every year the relationship lasted to get over it. If that’s true, then 22 months of transition would be about right after 22 years at the same job. But I couldn’t find that formula online, and an article I found indicated there is no formula that applies to everyone.

I’ve also thought about how things played out for me the year after my father died, because I’ve been told that you need time to grieve for a job loss too. The Jewish mourning period for a parent is a year, and I’ve often thought that the year following my dad’s death was a time not just of healing and regrouping, but of life lessons. They’ve been helpful to me these past months.

I have a clearer sense of what I value, and I trust that my instincts and this blog – which I started partly as a way to figure out what’s next – will lead me in the right direction. However long it takes.

Looking back – and forward – at my food posts

This week, I’m combining my Thursday and Friday blog posts – the post-downsizing/writing aspect that I focus on every Thursday, and the “food day” that I’ve created on Fridays.

When I started blogging in July, Tuesdays and Thursdays had a very specific focus for me: to help me figure out what was next in my life, and to keep a hand in the writing world. Friday, “food day,” was more for fun. In its own way, it was a coping tool too. For me, cooking and food are creative and nurturing – just what I needed after losing my job. In August, I added “Chocolate Sunday” to the mix.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the type of recipes I’ve been posting. Do they reflect the way I really cook? Are they healthy? Do I like them? Have I included them for the right reasons?

This morning I looked through the recipes on my blog, and for the most part, I’m pleased.

Before I started blogging, I’d thought about writing a cookbook for my kids, so that they would have my recipes in one place. In the meantime, I’m posting to this blog.  Maybe I’ll turn it into a cookbook some day.

I didn’t start with a list of criteria for recipes I would include in my blog. But, based on my analysis this morning, I’ve listed my food blog recipe goals for 2014. They reflect what I’ve already been doing, more or less.

1. For the most part, recipes should reflect the way I actually cook and eat. Mostly meat-free, mostly dairy-free, using “real” ingredients, not overly complicated to prepare.

2. My favourite recipes have included fruits and vegetables, sometimes in new combinations for me – like salmon stir-fry with asparagus and cremini mushrooms, green bean and pineapple salad, and fruity fennel salad. I want to do more of that.

3. I plan to continue including other ingredients that have health benefits – nuts, seeds, spices and certain grains.

4. More family recipes if I can find them. I want my kids to have them, and to know their history. I believe other people are interested in them too. My post about my grandmother’s camisbroit got more hits than anything else I’ve written.

5. Travel-related food stories and recipes are part of my repertoire too, whether I make them once in a while or on a regular basis. I started my chocolate blog with a recipe for brigadeiro, a lovely souvenir of a trip to Brazil and the celebration of a friend’s birthday there. But they’re too sweet for me to make on a regular basis, plus I’m lactose-intolerant (sweetened condensed milk is a key ingredient).

6. It’s sometimes a challenge to come up with healthy recipes for chocolate. I think the criteria for chocolate recipes is that they have to be fabulous, healthy and/or interesting. Ideally, all three!

Feedback is welcome. Best for 2014.


No more dining room-slash-office

It’s almost two months since I wrote in a blog post that I’d finally emptied one of three bankers’ boxes I borrowed from a friend when I lost my job at The Canadian Jewish News in early summer.

That was a significant milestone in my post-downsizing journey as well as in my getting-the-house-organized journey.

For a number of reasons, the boxes and other paraphernalia from 22 years at the paper ended up in my dining room, which was serving as my office.

As of Sunday, I am officially out of the dining room. It’s been a slow move, but it’s now complete, five months after I was downsized. The dining room-slash-office is once again the dining room… not dining room-slash-anything.

Instead, an extra bedroom is now my new office. It’s a work in progress, but reclaiming the dining room has given me hope and confidence that I’ll continue to move forward with this project too, as well as with my writing life, post-downsizing.

My time-management experiment

A friend of mine said to me the other day that she sees I like to be busy.

It’s true, up to a point. I’m very happy to be busy. When I was first downsized, I worried that I wouldn’t know how to fill the hours as I transitioned to whatever was next in my life. That was part of the reason I started to blog.

But being busy without being productive doesn’t feel satisfying. I’m still trying to fine-tune the balance between productivity and downtime, as well as working in all the other things that foster productivity – eating well, and getting enough sleep, exercise, intellectual stimulation, and meaningful connection with friends and family.

Sometimes I wonder where the time goes, when I’m busy but not as productive as I’d like to be. Yesterday – in an attempt to figure that out while I was home waiting for a delivery – I decided to write down everything I accomplished, and how long it took.

That lasted less than an hour, because I had too many small items to tackle before working my way up to “bigger” tasks.

It occurred to me that it might make sense, instead, just to list what I was accomplishing hour-by-hour. Maybe it would tell me something about what time of day is most productive for me, too.

But I think it told me more about the effects of recording all this information on paper, in my little orange notebook.

Even though I was the only one who knew about this experiment, the act of recording what I did made me accountable, and motivated me to make better use of my time.

Dividing the day into hours made a difference too. Every hour, I was able to make a fresh start. I assessed what I’d accomplished the previous hour, and used that information to help me decide what to do next.

I hadn’t planned it that way, but I guess I was using the “Swiss cheese” method of time management. The concept – from a 1973 book by Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life – involves breaking down an intimidating or labour-intensive task into manageable chunks.

I tried to alternate small tasks with larger ones, and computer time with non-sitting activities.

I was busy all day, I was reasonably productive, and best of all, I gained insight from my experiment. I guess that means it was productive, too.




Lessons from my new front door mat

In last Thursday’s post, I wrote that I miss my paper to-do list, in part because I knew at a glance which items were older.

The truth is, I still know at a glance if an item is new or old… although now I have to scroll down to see all the items on my iPhone list.

Sometimes I end up inputting the same item a second time, or literally moving it closer to the top of the list, so that it won’t fall through the cracks.

Recently I deleted a couple of longstanding home-related items on the list. They weren’t “major” tasks in terms of difficulty or how they would affect my life, but removing them from the list felt like a significant accomplishment.

Probably the most symbolic one for me was finding a new front door mat to replace the ratty old one. In addition to all the work-related things I wanted – and still want – to accomplish, I needed to tend to things in the house. I thought I would start at the front door, and work my way in.

The new mat didn’t make it to the top of the list for a long time, and it was nagging at me. I felt I hadn’t properly “started” to work my way through the house.

Now, when I think about my new front door mat, it reminds me that:

1. Sometimes things loom large psychologically, but don’t really take a huge amount of effort.

2. The payoff can be disproportionately large, compared to the amount of work involved.

3. Starting at the beginning – taking one step – makes it easier to get to the next step.

4. Little things can make a difference.

5. Sometimes, little things turn out to be big things.

Yesterday I set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes, and worked on the book that I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of weeks. Just a little effort, and I feel like I’m back on track.




Food or writing – which one is the “real” blog?

It’s funny – I started this blog after being downsized as a way to keep myself writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – the next stage in my life.

For a change of pace, and because I like food, I decided that Friday would be “food day” on my blog. One day for food, two days for the “real” blog.

Then I added a fourth day – “Chocolate Sunday.”

The funny thing is, I’m getting a lot more feedback about my food writing than my other writing. More views, too.

Another funny thing – I thought my blog was fairly restrictive in terms of subject matter. Now I’m starting to think it’s not restrictive enough. Maybe I need to have two blogs, or a website.

Another thing when it comes to blogging about food – I like how my life propels my blog, and my blog propels my cooking. Yesterday, I spent most of the morning making a pot of vegetarian chili. I won’t be blogging about it this week, but it’s given me some ideas that I hope to blog about in the future.