Filling in the Gap: What Five Years of Unemployment Has Taught Me

Filling in the Gap: What Five Years of Unemployment Has Taught Me
When unemployment happens, it sucks and the worst feeling in the world. It still is the worst feeling in the world, but you make the best of it by wits, survival, and determination.

Five years ago last week, I went from the working world to being unemployed. I wouldn’t wish unemployment on anyone…it’s been a rough journey, and at times, I feel like hiding from the world.  I don’t know how I have survived this long not having full-time employment, but I have and continue to do so. 

I have gone through experiences that has shaped and reinforced my perspectives and surroundings.

Here are a few lessons I have learned during the past five years of being unemployed.

“As the World Turns”: The world does not stop or end when you experience a life event. Losing your job, divorce, death, or an election (you see what I did there), it doesn’t matter, the world keeps moving. So do you. You can’t stay frozen in time, ruminating about what happened.

“Friends in Low Places”: Very good friends (better yet, friends you never expected) are the ones who know how talented you are and will find a way to help you find work. One pal had me work for him at his company for three months, and another friend got me work doing social media, writing online content, and stats for prep football.

Not all of your friends and networks are going to help you. Most of them don’t have the time to help. Be wary of the person who say  “I’m sorry for you” and facetiously act like they’re sad for you. They are the ones most likely never to offer support, encouragement, or assistance. 

“Jack of all trades”: After I became unemployed, I wanted to do something that was not insurance-related. When you’re in an industry or career for a period of time, you are stereotyped as doing that one thing forever. I went out on a limb and applied to be an unpaid intern for a local art agency. After that, three different stints as a temp for a human service agency, and two of the largest employers in my city. 

Since my first job out of college, whatever job I was supposed to do, evolved. I wore different hats and took on roles that I didn’t expect to do. Being adaptable in the workplace should be considered as a benefit, but most employers, sadly, prefer to hire a candidate who is proficient in one skill over one who is multi-skilled.  

Richard Lewis knows what it's like to get stood up.
Richard Lewis knows what it’s like to get stood up.

Move on after getting “stood up”: After a panel discussion in my mentoring class in 2013, a well-known retired local executive approached me. We spoke about my reasons for being in the class and my hope that the class could help me be fully employed again. He asked for my business card, told me there was someone who might be interested in me, said thank you and left.

I have not heard from him for two years now, despite attempting to reach out to this person.

This has happened several times with other local business leaders I have encountered. If I hold up my end of the bargain, how bad does it look if a leader/mentor doesn’t do the same?  

There will be people or groups that are not worth dealing with. If they have no interest in you, don’t bother attaching yourself to them. They are not worth the effort…and that’s their loss.

“Breakdown Dead Ahead”: All of us are going to have a breakdown. Not just mentally, but physically and emotionally. I have written about my health issues in the past. No, I don’t blame elected officials. That’s on me. I didn’t ask for help.

Just because we have a nation-wide health care plan, that doesn’t mean that you should let your health go south. Your doctors are not with you everyday to ensure that you are following orders. That’s your job.

What have I accomplished over the past five years?

  • created a personal blog (this one)
  • worked short stints in the human resource and marketing fields
  • created social media channels for a non-profit organization I serve on the board for
  • writing online content for a sports website
  • received two awards for community service
  • listened more to people (I already do that, but do it more intently)
  • learning about startups and entrepreneurship and its local impact (Bloomsnap, Dwolla, and Bawte for example)
  • not afraid to write something that could be unpopular or not considered as conventional wisdom

What do I hope to accomplish down the road?

  • be employed (of course)
  • start dating (I’m 38. How I haven’t done that is beyond astounding.  Hello Andy Stitzer.)
  • find another non-profit organization to volunteer for
  • do a better job of leveraging my networks
  • write a guest column for dsm Magazine (I doubt it’ll happen, but a guy can dream, right?)

The pieces we need in our lives are around us…we need to put them in the places that fit in our jumbled puzzle we call life. Hopefully, I will return to the working world. I need it, not just for the paycheck, but for the opportunity to have a passion and drive again to make something better and do good in society.


A Year in Review

Blow out your candle, you little blog!!

As December has arrived, I’ve forgot to mark the 1st blog-(ann)-iversary of this site. I try not to wax poetic on it, but when I decided to “go all in” on writing this full time, I was unsure if I could do this on a consistent basis.

Coming up with topics, managing the site, using tags to bump my site up the search engine food chain, and to establish a consistent readership (though I would like to have a larger participation in comment-ship, but that’s me) is no small feat or easy.

It’s like working another part-time or full-time job, depending how much you invest into making your blog successful and give your loyal readers.

"We meet again. Remember me? British TV fans still talk about how my show ended."

I signed up for a WordPress blog in September of 2009.  My intent was to understand how to use it, how it would be beneficial for me and to build it in the way that was fit my personality and style.  The real purpose was to step out of the comforts of blogging for Juice.  I love that I still blog for Juice as a community blogger, but I noticed that there is a community of readers who don’t normally read Juice or the Register that I wanted to reach out to.  Why not start another one?

I wrote one blog when I started it, and then two more in November, before finally getting my feet wet.  So, in actual time, November 26th I began writing this.  For those who start blogging, there are some advice and rules that you need to apply once you join this world of blogs, social media, and the internet.

"They Call Me Mr. Tony! Mr. Tibbs have nothin' on me!"

Goal in mind: have a goal in mind on what you what to write about it or what your blog will be about.  It doesn’t have to be centered on one topic, but have a mini “mission statement” on your purpose.

Patience: unlike certain sports fans, lower your expectations on how many hits and readers you get starting out.  It takes awhile before people find your blog and start to read it.  Hint:  if you want to build a following, ask a friend to read your blog, critique it, and if said friend thinks it’s worth others to read it, they’ll start telling everyone else.  Consider that free publicity for you.

"I can't believe I lost to a guy who was modeling underwear in the 80's. Click my picture to read more about me."

Tag it: how do you get people to read?  Throw them a carrot.  I’m kidding.  Use tags, or keywords, to help you out.  If someone is Googling “SEO” or “LeBron James“, they will find websites or blogs that will have SEO or LeBron’s name in it.

Just write baby: Easiest advice to give.  Start writing.  Don’t worry, no one will see what you write, until you hit the “enter” or “publish” key.  Type it up and edit.  Shape your words in the way you want to convey them.  If something looks out of place or could be misinterpreted by someone, re-read it, edit, and then send it.

You are your own writer, reporter, editor, and publisher.  Without running a newspaper and hitting deadlines.

I have been blogging for nearly 5 years and this past year has been, in my opinion, my best blog year.  It forced me to dig deep and use that cranium of mine to write the way I have always wanted to write.

Not too bad for a late bloomer.

The Mad Scientist Never Takes a Holiday


"This won't work. Maybe if I tweak this..."


If you start seeing some strange things and themes being changed on the blog, all you have to do is point the finger at me.

I’m to blame.

As I’m approaching the 1st year of this blog, I’m trying out a couple of new themes as a way to change up and “freshen” up.  Thanksgiving seems to be the best time to stop procrastinating and start tinkering around.  Will it disrupt the SEO of the internet world?  Probably not.

What I would like to do is to find a few tools to add to my arsenal to enhance the blog.  Like a flip camera or how to use my “old” digital camera to upload videos, utilize YouTube and embed what I upload, and finally know what is the new thing out there that bloggers are using.

As Ric Flair brilliantly said “To be the man, you got to beat the man.”  I’m not going to physically whip anyone, but I need to “step my game up” if I want to stay a player in social media and the blogosphere.

I’ve never been a guy to ask for help, but I’m asking for some tips on what is the best flip cam, ways to use and download videos, and how to effectively use videos and or audio files to keep my readers entertained and attract new readers.

Any help will be great and especially from the Des Moines Social Media professionals.

Gobble gobble kids!!

We’ve Got New (Blog) Neighbors

The blogosphere these days is always a great tool for people to use.  So, when a couple of friends decide to start new blogs, it never hurts to plug them and their blogs.

It’s called giving back to the blog community.

No, It’s Iowa, primarily a sports blog, debuted this past weekend.  Jesse Gavin, formerly of KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, and fellow Wartburg mate, is an avid sports fan and has covered high school and college teams in Eastern Iowa for Channel 9 until this past spring.  With football season starting in a few weeks, you can expect Jesse to dish out his thoughts, predictions, and breakdown of the football season, especially his beloved Cascade High Cougars.

Carpe DSM is a creation of Lauren Aust.  The Iowa transplant from Kansas City works as an editor for a local publishing company.  She loves fashion, style, and the little things that make fall in love with the great city we call home, Des Moines.

Mind you, Lauren’s Carpe DSM title is slightly different than the most recent new blog, Carpe DM, which is written by Norah Carroll, Kinzie Smith, and their gang.

If you have any free time today, I encourage you to read their blogs and check them out.

Snowstorm or not, the State Tournaments are here!

From "Wrestlers clear the mats" to "It's time for basketball!"  The girls take over Des Moines this week.
From "Wrestlers clear the mats" to "It's time for basketball!" The girls take over Des Moines this week.

It’s hard to imagine not having a snowstorm today as the 2010 edition of the Iowa Girls high school state basketball tournament begins this morning at 10:00 am at Wells Fargo Arena.

Almost every year at this time, Mother Nature throws us a curveball.  It’s probably a good thing that this week may not be the week for more snow.  We’ve gotten too much of it this winter.

If you are a prep sports junkie like I am, these four weeks that we’re in the middle of is the best time of the year, especially here in Des Moines.  The locals may not care for the out-of-towners tying up parking lots and downtown, but this, as Pete Jones of Des Moines Is Not Boring would put it, a great opportunity for Des Moines to show it’s never boring and get some love.

When I was growing up in Waterloo, it was a cardinal sin if you didn’t come to Des Moines to watch East High play at state.  For many of us who didn’t grow up in Des Moines, the capital city was likened to the Iowa version of New York City.  It’s the biggest city in the state, the best teams were here, and there was plenty of things to do, even back then when Des Moines would “close up” for the night at 10pm, you were going to see kids in the skywalks goofing off.

That reason, along with a few, is why I have never considered leaving Iowa.  The state tournaments marks the beginning of spring and the real start of 2010.  Our state tournaments are special in so many different ways to so many different people. The girls are buying prom dresses from Schaefer’s, parents and fans are walking thru the skywalks and taking in the downtown landscape, admiring how much Des Moines continues to change, in small and big ways.

Frosty Mitchell, the man who kept the party going at Vets during a  1959 snowstorm during the Girls state tournament.
The Great Frosty Mitchell of KIOA, KGRN, and WMT fame. He hosted an overnight sock-hop when fans were snowbound at Vets in 1959.

Anyone who doesn’t go to the state tournaments, you need a pulse.  Even if it’s one game or one match, it’s worth seeing and experiencing the pomp and circumstance, traditions, and fervor that builds inside Wells Fargo Arena.

Though, it would be nice to be stuck in there during a snowstorm.  I would do anything to have Frosty Mitchell do an over-night sock hop again!