Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The tale of GOOD FORTUNE commences during the 1994 California recession when companies were downsizing and unemployment was high. This sounds familiar doesn't it--as if it were today's news. The plight of my character, Michael Hamilton, is one I can personally identify with. I know how he felt when he got laid off because in December of 2008 this happened to me. The first thing I did after dusting myself off and squaring my shoulders was apply for unemployment benefits. Each week I forged ahead with a positive attitude, responded to ads, went on interviews and sent out resumes. I had great qualifications as an administrative assistant and expected I'd be employed as one soon, but I just couldn’t get hired. After a few months, like Michael, my self-confidence slipped and I became humiliated and discouraged. I managed to get hired as a cashier but after 4 months of standing all day on a very thin mat my knees became inflamed and I couldn't do the job anymore. I reapplied for unemployment and continued searching for jobs. I was determined not to give up and as good fortune would have it, I finally got hired at a job I really like that also allows me the time I need to keep writing. I'm currently working on my second novel, so everything worked out in the best possible way. While I was unemployed I kept myself motivated by editing my manuscript. I accomplished my goal of finishing GOOD FORTUNE and getting it published. Having the time to do this was something positive that kept me focused and stopped me from giving up. I felt a sense of accomplishment and this enabled me to keep going.

While writing about Michael’s emotions when he unexpectedly finds himself out of work I was easily able to draw upon my own experience. Michael goes through various stages of self-doubt and humiliation because he’s been a respected executive for 12 years and suddenly he’s sending out resumes and competing for jobs against much younger inexperienced applicants. Over lunch, he voices his woes to his best friend, Eric Brewer.

“You know, you're lucky to have a good job.” Again, he ran fingers through his hair. “Going on job interviews at my age sucks. Twenty applicants show up for one lousy opening. Most of them are kids compared to me. Hell, I’m twice their age. I feel old and . . . well . . . useless. Like my time has come and gone and there’s no future for me anymore.”
“Bullshit. You've got experience, those kids have got acne.”

Unfortunately, Eric’s attempt at humor doesn't help because Michael is forty-one and knows his age works against him. While he may have more experience and be better qualified, employers are cutting back and don't want to pay the kind of salary he's accustomed to. This makes younger job seekers more appealing. After a morning jog, he takes a shower and has an honest dialog with himself. Outside of his 12-year position at the advertising firm he admits he has limited work experience and concedes his only option right now is to sell shoes again as he did when he was in college. His aspirations of opening his own business—something completely different from advertising—is going to have to wait. He knows he has to find a job soon and selling shoes is something he can do now.

Can I do it? Can I go from being an experienced professional back to a shoe salesman? Even though it would only be temporary, it’s humiliating. He rinsed his hair and applied conditioner. I know the drill: “Take a giant step backward to advance toward your goal.” Okay, my pride is injured, but I can’t let that stop me. I can do this, I have to.
. . . Above the bathroom sink, steam misted the mirror blocking his reflection. He used the corner of his towel and rubbed a circle in the middle; his reflection stared back at him. It was apparent his recent setback had taken its toll because his face looked slightly older. He noticed a certain edge to his expression that wasn’t there before, enhanced by the small worry lines that had begun to form between his eyebrows. Well, there was nothing he could do about that. Since he would be interviewing soon, he hoped his life experience and maturity would count in his favor.

How many people currently have had the same experience where without warning their job gets taken away from them and everything they’ve invested years in building disappears? The national unemployment rate varies but I think it stays somewhere around 9%. It’s been on the news how a corporate executive finds himself delivering pizzas for minimum wage and tips to keep his house out of foreclosure and he’s grateful for the work. Another scenario on TV depicted how an unemployed executive had all his furnishing in storage and was homeless. For months he was staying in hotels while going on job interviews and paying the bill with frequent flyer miles he’d accumulated from his former high-power position. His unusual story caught national attention and fortunately, someone offered him a job.

For those of you reading this who are struggling and uncertain which direction your life is going, try to keep your intent strong and stay focused on your goal. Don’t give up when faced with obstacles. Keep an open mind and heart and you will find the way through them to success. Where you land may be completely different from what you expected or wanted, so be flexible and open to change; embrace it with all you’ve got.

During this holiday season, now more than ever, I wish you and yours good fortune.


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