Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After Darkness...LIGHT

Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial
Yardley, Pennsylvania
It has been a difficult time for me in the last few months.  I’ll spare you most of the details—pretty personal stuff—but it all began, or seemed to have begun in September, when the job I had started six months before suddenly came to an end. The company’s financial partner severed the relationship, and I was among the first to be let go.

So I was on “Square One” again, back to the proverbial drawing board.  But, I really didn’t feel very much like "drawing."  The previous six-month period of job hunting had proved to be a huge challenge and I wasn't ready to dive into the "deep end" again so soon.  And then all sorts of other bad things began to happen in rapid succession. I have to tell you that with everything seemingly piling up on top of me, I began to understand for the first time in my life why some people think about suicide when things feel just so hopeless. (Not to worry; it was only a glimpse of the deep dark side, not a journey there.)

[Edvard Munch: The Scream (1893)]

So a lot of bad things were happening, one after the other, and most were things over which I had no control and which had no solution for me. One night, I just began to scream and found that I couldn’t stop until my voice gave out. Then I sat and sobbed until exhaustion took over.

But in the light of morning, I got up, trudged to my home office, and stared at my computer. I don’t know how it got onto my screen during the night, but early that fated morning, my most recent blog post was staring up at me in from my computer screen as I wiped the sleep from my bleary eyes. I was looking at the wonderful face of the late (and great) Randy Pausch, and below it was my favorite of his many original quotations:

”Don't bail; the best pieces of gold are at the bottom of the barrel of crap.”

Well, I can tell you what the inside of that barrel looks like. Really ugly—Seriously ugly! And I’m pretty tired of digging through it to find that elusive bottom.

Not quite the Bottom of the Barrel
Part of  a hoarder's "Workshop" 

I don’t have a new job yet, though I’m on the short list for a very nice one! But there is no such thing as a “Sure Thing” so I also have a “Plan B” ready to activate if things don't work out.

But here’s a new story of Silver Linings that I can share with you, and I hope it brings a smile to your face, a twinkle to your eye, and a big dose of HOPE to your heart.

"Angels" Float
Christmas Parade, Newtown, Pennsylvania 2010
 As I mentioned above, my life has been a calamity lately. We’re trying to prepare our house to go on the market in early Spring. It’s a LOT of work because it’s an old house, and there are lots of little things and some BIG things that need doing before we’re ready. And LOTS of accumulated stuff needs to go through the “decluttering” process, but that’s another long story for another day. Smack dab in the middle of all the work and the marital disagreements and misunderstandings that go along with the process, all of the electrical outlets in a bedroom and bathroom downstairs in the guest area went dead suddenly. No light. No juice, and no circuit breakers thrown. This was a huge potential problem because the house is too old to have a circuit map on file in the township so it was going to be a gigantic challenge to find the source of the problem.

Our House

My husband is a long-retired electrical engineer and I want to tell you that there was no way on God’s Green Earth that he was going to allow an electrician into the house.  He would lie awake every night for hours, planning the next day’s efforts to trace the circuitry to the bad connection that had caused the outage. And every day he would venture into the vast world of electricity (that I know absolutely zilch about) armed with myriad wires, tracers, and testers. All through this effort, my engineer kept telling me that he was “getting closer” to the solution.  But to me the whole episode just reminded me of Inspector Clouseau’s crazy antics. I probably should have had more faith in his abilities, but I was in the midst of a Negative period, remember?

Well, two days ago--almost three weeks into the project-- from the living room (upstairs), I heard him tinkering with his cables and testers in the hallway, near the front door. And then, a shout in his unmistakable Welsh accent, “I think I’ve got it!” And by George, he did have it! I still have no idea how he was able to trace an outage downstairs to a faulty outlet UPstairs, but he had somehow done it.  So he asked me hold his meter and to watch the readings as he probed with the end of his tester in an area of exposed metal in the outlet'  “What’s happening?” he implored. “The numbers are going down, down, down…to zero,” I responded, having no idea what it all meant! “That’s IT!” he practically yelled! “I just have to tighten up this screw and we’ll be done!” (Notice his use of the colloquial “we.”)

As he tightened the screw I stood at the top of the stairs, peering down and only half hoping to see “the light” come on inside the bathroom. And, dear readers, the light DID come on! Of course it did! Had you the slightest bit of doubt?  We both simultaneously broke out in laughter, celebrating in almost utter disbelief that the long siege had finally come to an end.

Enter: "The Light"
[The Dome at Liberty Place, Center City Philadelphia]

You may find this a stretch, and a corny one at that, but…suddenly bright things began to happen:

• My eldest stepson called to say he had just been promoted to a GREAT new position at work. Wow!

• Later in the day, another stepson called. As a mortgage broker, he had seen really tough times ever since the start of the economic downturn, and things were getting pretty desperate for his family. But on this call, he was 'bubbling' with almost palpable exuberance. He had just been hired to do a new job, with a great salary, and the promise of a wonderful future. Double Wow!

• Yesterday a third stepson (there are five in all) phoned to say that he had just made top Salesman (for his company) in the U.S. He had also gone through tough times, so this was Triple Wow!

Well, I don’t know where the next “Wow” is coming from, but once the lights came back on, all sorts of overdue good news began to flow into our lives. I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning.

But I know one thing is true, as Randy Pausch knew all along:

”Don't bail; the best pieces of gold are at the bottom of the barrel of crap.”

I’m ready to see what is waiting around the next corner. Never give up! Not ever!

Around the Next Bend

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I'll end with a message that we all know but sometimes misplace when bad things begin to happen in our lives.  It comes from Jim Miotke, a young executive who, by all accounting has been highly successful in both his personal life and his career. It has to do with the way we make doors open for ourselves.  The poster below was created by Jim for his amazing online class called, "Customer Charisma."

Jim Miotke is CEO of the successful online Photography website, "BetterPhoto.com"

(Unless otherwise stated, all photography is by Michelle Alton)

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Randy Pausch  (1960 - 2008) 

Google  Image Search

Don't bail; the best pieces of gold are at the bottom of the barrel of crap.” - Randy Pausch

This week, out of the blue, my name somehow landed on the mailing list of a photographer that I know casually, because we both post pictures on the same website, BetterPhoto.com. The photographer is Usman Bajwa, and being on his mailing list this week has turned out to be, if not a life changing experience, certainly a life molding one. It has affected me so deeply, in fact, that I want—no—need to share it with all of you. If you have already seen the video, you are lucky, because it may have, in a poignant way, “saved” the rest of your life. If not, please make time: one hour and sixteen minutes and look at it. Find a quiet place. Make yourself comfortable, sit back, have your shades handy. You are about to see some gleaming, sparkling SILVER!

Google Image Search

On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor and alumnus Randy Pausch delivered a one-of-a-kind last lecture (his body was wracked with cancer, and he was dying) that made the world stop and pay attention. It became an internet sensation viewed by millions, an international media story, and a best-selling book that has been published in 35 languages. To this day, people everywhere continue to talk about Randy, share his message and put his life lessons into action in their own lives.

Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (YouTube)

Randy died July 25, 2008, at the age of 47.

I’m not going to write very much of my own words here. The lecture speaks loudly for itself. But in case you can’t find the time to look at it now, I’m going to insert some quotes from Randy below. If you are unemployed, frustrated, depressed, or if your self confidence has taken a hit, please watch it. If you looked at it before, but it has been a while, please watch it again. And then pass the link above on to the people you care about.

Quotations from Randy

  •  "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough…”

Michelle Alton

  • "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity."

  •  "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you. That lesson has stuck with me my whole life. When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a bad place to be. You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you and care about you, and want to make you better."

  • "When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him."

  • "When we're connected to others, we become better people."

If you have a free moment, please visit my Photography Gallery I would really appreciate your feedback about how you think the site could be improved.  And consider signing up to join the mailing list to receive new gallery announcements, product info, photography/photo editing tips and some bonus surprises!


  •  “Don’t complain; just work harder.”

  •  "Too many people go through life complaining about their problems. I've always believed that if you took one tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out."

  •  "Find the best in everybody. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out."

  •  "A good apology is like antibiotic, a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound."

  • "I'm sorry. It's my fault. How do I make it right?”

  •  "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer."

  •  "It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

Google Image Search

  •  "There are more ways than one to measure profits and losses."

  •  "The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls."

  • "No job is beneath you. You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom And when you get there, here's what you do: Be really great at sorting mail."

  •  "You cannot change the cards you are dealt, just how you play the hand."

  • "He had high hopes for society, and though his hopes were too often dashed, he remained a raging optimist."

  • "My coach knew there was only one way to develop self esteem): You give children something they can't do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process."

  • "Want to have a short phone call with someone? Call them at 11:55 a.m., right before lunch. They'll talk fast. You may think you are interesting, but you are not more interesting than lunch."

  •  "It's not helpful if we spend every day dreading tomorrow." ~Jai

  • "And even though I did not reach the NFL, I sometimes think I got more from persuing that dream, and not accomplishing it, then I did from many of the ones I did accomplish."

Google Image Search

  •  “Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”

  •  “It’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant.  Because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”

  •  “I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.”

  • "Focus on other people, not yourself."

Michelle Alton

  •  “Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.”

  •  “Don't have negative thoughts of things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.”

  •  “Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.”

  •  “Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.”

  •  “Try to make at least three people smile each day.”

  •  “Dream more while you are awake.”

  •  “Don't remind your partner of his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.”

  •  “If you know GOD you will always be happy. So, be happy.”

Please watch the video, even if you have seen it before!

Google Image Search

If you have a moment, I think about now you might enjoy my Best of Floral Photographs slideshow, and the gorgeous background vocal by the late, brilliant Eva Cassidy. And if you have another moment, I'd love to hear what you think about it.  Thanks for looking!

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Evidence for SILVER LININGS


Last week was a killer one for me. But, dear friends, if you hang with me for a few minutes, you’ll see how I have found it possible to find -- through all the gray days-- that it is getting easier to find “silver linings” if I keep an eye out for them. You can too—and really, you MUST! Your worst enemy during these down periods is despair!

I’ve known for a while now that my personal world view has gradually come to be almost wholly and directly related to how well my computer is performing. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, it is…but just knowing that it’s crazy, unfortunately, doesn’t change the effect a computer crash has on me. I could be otherwise soaring on Cloud Nine, all systems go, optimism ruling the day. And then my computer starts limping as though it has some broken bones, and I know that imminently, something really bad is going to happen!

Omen of Despair

For a while I tried to tell myself that the seemingly interminable white screen on boot-up was not really a symptom, though secretly I knew I was living at the edge of disaster, and it was just going to be a matter of time before my World crashed down around me. In my mind’s eye, it looks like a building implosion!

(Google Image)

But now I’m out of work, no severance pay this time, and I’m trying to slow the “bleeding” by attempting to be somewhat frugal with my spending. And yet, I know that my computer is the lifeline to my most fervent passion – Photography. To merely imagine that lifeline being severed, even for a few days, fills me with horror and revulsion, the likes of which can suddenly transform me, Florence Nightingale, to Medusa, the mythological monster with snakes for hair!
(Google Image)

To that point, I have learned to warn my husband to keep a few dozen arm’s lengths between us while I’m trying to solve an electronics problem. If he forgets, invariably he is exposed to a couple of bared fangs, which I can assure you, is not a pleasant experience!  So, duly warned, husband brought me beverages and the occasional morsel of food, and otherwise kept his distance through the three-day ordeal.

So, it happened. And it happened right after a major Windows Update in the middle of the night. As I tried to rub the early morning blur from my eyes, it was clear that my screen was frozen. And after trying everything I could think of to unfreeze it (mainly cntl-alt-delete), my only option was to turn the thing off and turn it back on again (as in, when all else fails, REBOOT!). But I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my heart was racing madly. This was not going to be good.

"A Sick Feeling"   (Shot at Magic Gardens, South Street, Philadelphia)

Well, I’m not saying that Microsoft was to blame for this impending disaster, but ever since this high-end laptop was delivered to my door, with the (unnamed here) operating system that has since been discontinued, it has been nothing but problems.

If this was to be an unrepairable crash, then it will have been the fourth one in three years and the fourth one that would require a complete Operating System re-installation. And that means having to reload every piece of software that came pre-installed on the computer, and every program that I had added since, including every photo editing program and plug-in.  And then I'll have to locate every serial number and license key. Each such incident took more than 24 hours of work to get up and running again. And a lot of hyper-ventilating along with a fair amount of shed tears (well, who needs tears anyway?). And if they have not been recently backed up to a portable storage device, it could also mean the loss of all stored documents and precious photos.

Silver Trinket #1  (Google Image)

So here’s the first bit of silver ore I found: All that stuff had been backed up to storage media the day before! And when I checked my backup drive, all the documents and photos were present and accounted for.  Great!  (Smiling)

So--back to the incident: When I turned the computer back on, it kept cycling through the black and white screen that says, “Windows was unable to start.” If you don’t press an option within a minute, it then tries to boot again…and again…and again! Not looking good at all.

Summing up the next three days in a few sentences:

• My computer’s hardware was still under warranty, but…

• The operating system was not. And since the problem appeared to be with the O.S.--

• I would have to pay more than $200 to get assistance with troubleshooting this issue.

• Over a period of three days I spoke at length with two novice technicians-- both of whose heavy dialects I could not parse, and one of which was also rude -- for a total of about 10 hours, until the case was finally escalated to a special group that handles “near hopeless” cases.

• On one technician's strong recommendation, ordered an installation disc for Windows 7, which didn’t resolve the problem because it would not install on my computer.

• Several telephone lines dropped, causing me to have to repeat my story multiple times at great length.  Finally I was connected to the technician for "lost cause" software issues.

• Good news! He spoke very plain English and was full of apparent sympathy for my dilemma. And after a few hours of going through all the same steps as the day before and the day before that, he, with all the patience of a saint, walked me through the start of the very long, unabridged hard drive diagnostics routine. “Let it run to the end, however many hours it takes, and if any errors occur, just write down the message. I will call you at 12:30 pm EDT tomorrow to find out what happened.” And the fatal error happened about two minutes after we hung up. The hard drive was compromised and had to be replaced.!!!

• So it had taken more than 15 hours of telephone time to be able to justify the replacement of a $200 part. Penny wise and pound foolish? I was totally drained.

I don’t remember anything after climbing into bed that night, but woke up the next morning refreshed and thankful for all the pieces of shiny silver ore that I had mined over the last few days:

Glory Be!

Silver Pieces:

#2 Silver Piece: I started off with one lovely but lame computer. At the end of the ordeal, I’ll have two beautiful, fast, and sleek high-end laptops with a total of 1300 gigabytes of storage space.

#3 Silver Piece: With 8 gigabytes of RAM, Photoshop will NEVER crash again because of too little memory to finish a task! And with a new, super-duper graphics card, I’ll have a gorgeous display and no more graphics crashes!

#4 Silver Piece: As wonderful as the other two bits of silver linings are, this one is, for a middle-aged female, Far-and-Away, the very biggest and best silver nugget:

In three days, I have lost, hopefully forever, FIVE POUNDS of ugly, depressing FAT!

Could I ask for More?  Could anyone?

Of course. What we all need is a great job, and if we keep our spirits up and do what we need to do, it's going to happen!  I believe it!


Do you have a "Silver Lining" story to tell? 
Email it to me ( ganesh5555@hotmail.com ).
I'll publish it here* --with photos-- if it fits the theme. Could be fun!


   Please visit my photo gallery at Your Best Shot Photography

* with minor discretionary edits

(Unless otherwise indicated, all photography by Michelle Alton)


Saturday, September 25, 2010


Almost from the start, this blog has focused on silver linings and the importance of seeking them, even while trying to cope with the grim realities of unemployment during this extended economic downturn.

In the autumn of 2010, my status is once again, “Unemployed.” But I’m determined not to throw myself back into the misery of self-doubt and depression. And guess what I learned so far? -- There are even silver linings in this seemingly unhappy state of affairs!

After the layoff last year, I launched into a concerted six-month effort to become re-employed. For eight to 12 hours every day, I worked assiduously searching job boards, networking, applying online for jobs, reading advice columns, and reworking resumes. As a highly experienced (aka “older”) professional, a typical day was often fraught with disappointment and frequently I found myself skidding into the depths of despair. My self confidence also took an enormous hit.

Erosion to Despair
With unemployment remaining very high, especially within the Pharmaceutical Industry (whence my experience), there were large queues of people lining up for every new job opening, drastically changing all the old rules of job hunting. Hiring managers were receiving up to 500 resumes on the first day of a job posting. There was no time to read and give each proper consideration. So, in most cases, automated keyword scans were used to screen candidates. If your resume did not contain the "right" words, it was passed over before a human eye ever fell on it.

And if you got past the keyword screening, your experience had to exactly match the experience required by the position description. Phrases like “highly experienced” tipped off the resume screener that the candidate was not youthful and someone less experienced could be hired at a lower salary. Resumes had to be customized for each position—to use the exact words that were used in the job description.
As far as I can tell, the new rules are still in effect.

Personal contact is so much more “real” to a hiring manager than words on a resume. That's why learning how to navigate around the enormously powerful Linked-In system, is a great boon to job hunters. Linked-In works following the notion that any two people are connected to each other by no more than “six degrees of separation.” You can learn a lot more about it by searching online for Linked-In tutorials that will provide pointers. I highly recommend one such tutorial by Olivier Taupin (http://files.meetup.com/1401259/LinkedIn_Advanced_Job_Seeking_Techniques_1.pdf ). So, through hooking up with a person who knows another person, we can make contact with someone who works inside a company, who can provide a “personal” introduction—a virtual “foot in the door” providing a “leg up” (to extend the metaphor)  on other candidates that appear among the sea of words placed in front of the hiring manager. And the biggest silver lining I found was that PEOPLE WANT TO HELP! They really do.

We are told that only about ten percent of job openings are advertised. If that is true, then searching job boards, where the competition is heavy for every posted position, seems to be a sure route to more disappointment and despair.


The position I was offered and accepted last March was not advertised. Furthermore a defined position did not even exist. But through networking, at least three people who knew me and also had direct connections to people in upper management positions at the new company, provided strong recommendations for me. And so, after a month of discussions about my experience and skills, they decided to offer me a nondescript director-level position in the Center City Philadelphia company. (I hope you’re reading between the lines here, for another lesson learned—the hard way).

But so far, from this post we can conclude that the keys to finding YOUR job are:

  • Learn how to work the Linked-In System

  • Network

  • To avoid depression and loss of confidence, don’t waste lots of time applying on line to posted positions. If you see a job that appeals to you, try to find a way to network to a person inside the company. It’s not that hard once you learn the system.

  • Network

  • Learn how to work the Linked-In System

  • Network

I hope you’re getting that message:  Networking is key to your success and your self esteem on your journey back to full employment.

OK. From the first paragraph of this post, you know that my “nondescript director-level position” only lasted six months. What happened? I’ll explain all that and go more into the Silver Lining that’s allowing me to still feel the Sunshine.


Let the Sun Shine

   All photography by Michelle Alton, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One Less Unemployed Worker: THE LONG SIEGE ENDS

HIRED:  What Worked...and What Did NOT

Took about a month's break from posting because life got incredibly busy and complicated by a major job interview, more storm ravages to deal with, a family affair to attend, prepping our house for marketing, chasing down (and still not plugging) an elusive water leak, and just an amazing amount of “other stuff” to deal with.

A New Beginning

The good news from me is that the interview referenced above eventually led to a job offer that I accepted last week. But not before I was confronted at the last moment with the dreaded question: What is the minimum salary that you would accept? It’s a downright insulting question, to be sure. But employers feel very bold about asking it these days. Prepare yourself for it, folks, because you DEFINITELY don’t want to answer it directly. If you give too high a number, you’ve lost the job. If you give too low a number, you either sell yourself short or accept a lower salary than they were prepared to offer. (If you’re completing an online application form that demands an entry, just fill the box with zeros). I was able to successfully avoid quoting a number by saying, “I know that “CompanyName” will be fair, and value the position appropriately. Can you give me a ballpark range to consider?” I was immediately given a range that I felt was acceptable and we agreed to the middle of the range.

The Garden Path

Work starts for me in a few days. Now, the truth is that I wound up in a lower level position than the one from which I was laid off six months ago, with a corresponding lower pay level. So that’s another side of this weird economy. I wonder what the proportion is of people who have ended their unemployment period but who are earning considerably less now than they earned previously. I’m betting that many of the formerly unemployed are in this predicament. I must research that statistic.

That being said, please understand that I am thrilled to have this opportunity, and I believe the company will reward great performance. So all I have to do is BE GREAT! Right?


I guess one lesson to be learned from this experience is: Network, Network, Network! There will be days that you wake up and just cannot face your computer or another day of looking at Linked-In questions or job boards. Your stomach might even turn at the first sight of the WELCOME screen. If that happens, take a break. But don’t give up.  Don't ever give up.

Never Give Up!

Here’s how it all worked for me: But first I'll tell you what did NOT work: I have not counted the number of online applications that I painstakingly submitted over the months. But there were dozens. I may have had one response altogether. Not a very effective use of time, to say the least. There were a few possibilities (from knowing someone who knew someone) that seemed promising for a while, but which fell apart for reasons like: “We hired someone from within,” or “The job requisition was revoked,” or “We thought we would have an opening by now, but it looks like it will be delayed for several months,” and one most infuriating sudden and abrupt and inexplicable cessation of communications around a position that had seemed made for me!  But if you can get introduced to a hiring manager through a mutual associate it is a GREAT way to at least come under consideration. Take full advantage of any such opportunities.  They can definitely bear fruit for you.

What DID work for me:  Right after the layoff, I had been given a listing -- compiled by a Business Development person who I encountered in my previous job -- of Pharma companies in Central New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia, and contact persons that he had known in his earlier career as a recruiter. So, about two months ago, when I had learned my way around Linked-In, I began cold-contacting people at the listed companies in the hope that there might be an unadvertised opening on which I could capitalize. I used Linked-In People Search to find persons at each company who could possibly be hiring managers in my field of expertise.

Many thanks to Olivier Taupin for the following search tip!

In the People Search field enter, “CompanyName” and (“Vice President” or “Director” or “CEO”) and “ProfessionalFieldName,” for example.

Things Began to Come Together

You’ll have to experiment a little but you’ll find that people who are likely to be relevant hiring managers will eventually pop up in your search results. If you can find a public email address for the person, use it, or if you can send a Linked-In message to that person by virtue of being a connection or belong to a common Linked-In Group, do it that way. In my case, I took advantage of a Linked-In introduction through a common connection. This can work very well, because a common connection can be almost like an instant recommendation!

Now…very important: Take time to write as perfect of an introductory letter as possible, and then carefully customize it for each situation in which you use it. It should not look at all like a form letter when you send it to a person with whom you are hoping to connect professionally.  And don't be afraid to follow up a week or so later.   Several of those that I contacted acknowledged  receipt [That your efforts most often will be ignored is a sad side effect of  the job search in this economy. You must force yourself to keep from being overly discouraged.] of my letter, and a few led to very encouraging dialogues with me that might eventually have led to position possibilities.  During your search, anything that feels positive can buoy you through the rough waters and inject new energy to your search.

Rough Waters

One such contact eventually led to the position that begins next week:  I had sent a detailed note to the company’s CEO via a Linked-In introduction by a mutual associate. It took some time for the CEO to respond and initially the response seemed to be the usual somewhat disappointing : “We don’t have anything now, but why don’t you send me your resume in case something  does turn up.”

And three weeks later she called me. "We don't really have a position, but I think we need someone with your skills and experience."  A month later, after an extended dialog in which I worked very hard to convince my potential boss [Not the CEO] that I had something to offer -- I was hired.

So after six long months of many discouraging disappointments, the story ended quite happily.

Happy Ending

To summarize:

First: You must make a huge effort to  learn the ropes if you are not a natural networker! Most of us are not, and feel uncomfortable asking for help.  Even if you have to force yourself, do it.  Soon it will become easier as you discover how gracious your associates will be.

Second: Be prepared for ups, downs, and discouraging experiences. They will happen -- and they WILL also end eventually. 

Third (from previous posts):  Be willing  -- and offer to help others. In my case, I was so touched by the number of people that sincerely wanted to help me, that I vowed to make it part of my business to offer help to as many others as I could. And I intend to stay available even though I now have a new position.

A Mother's Help

Fourth (from previous posts):  Relationships that you have with recruiters may be very different than those that you remember from your working days. If they have a particular search they are running, and if you fit the bill perfectly, they will work to get you hired for that position. If not…you may possibly never hear from them again. And worse -- they may not answer your phone calls or emails. It is a different world these days.

Fifth:  Take advantage of your connections to provide introductions to potential hiring managers. The majority of  jobs do not get posted on job boards. But an astute hiring manager will recognize a good hire when they see one! Once introduced, you still have to do the work to seal the deal. You CAN do it!

Hope, Arkansas

Since this saga of my unemployment has come to an end, I’m going to be shifting the topic of this blog going forward. I’m now into my third month of involvement with a Transformational Coach, and learning things about myself that I never imagined. The goal is to find the “core” of what has always prevented me from traveling down the path to personal happiness. We have begun to “peel the onion” –  a process that is supposed to, in the end, free up the potential that I’ve only touched tangentially up to now. I’m working out an approach to sharing this very personal experience without exposing too much of my “soul.” It’s a fascinating experience and under the guidance of a special coach could open doors to fulfillment I never dared to imagine. Could be an interesting journey if you care to tag along for the ride.  Could maybe even change YOUR life!

   All photography by Michelle Alton

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hope Refreshed: Part III

[More Musings on Silver Linings]

Before getting back to the “Coaching Chronicles,” I wanted to report on some recent progress on my job search, in the hope of providing encouragement to folks who may be dealing with unemployment despondency, discouragement, desolation,  loss of confidence or even depression (all familiar experiences that I’ve personally lived through since the lay-off in September).


It has been five months now since the announcement that thrusted me into the world of the unemployed for the first time in my career. And because I had not paid attention to the need for networking while I was still working, it has taken until now to begin to see tangible positive results. But this week, suddenly two very “hot” possibilities have surfaced, both resulting from contacts that I made weeks or months ago either through Linked-In or through using Linked-In as a research tool to find the names of key people at a particular company. One important interview is scheduled for Friday.   As a “newby”  to being out of work, it took me a long time to learn the ropes of networking. So my first word of advice to those who are still working, is:

Please start taking advantage of Linked-In and other networking opportunities while you are employed, even if you believe your current position is utterly secure. Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as “utterly secure” in today's economic situation. Begin to build your network while you are still working. It is SO important to keep records of the contact information of business associates, colleagues who have come and gone, vendors, sales associates, and everyone that crosses your path in your business and your personal life. And stay in touch with these people, if only to say "hello" now and again and to exchange small talk. Should you find yourself unemployed one day, you’ll be able to hit the ground running, and start contacting people in your already established network.  Remember: People WANT to help you!

(Not sure the butterfly wants to help all THAT much!)

For example, last week I corresponded for the first time in about seven years with the owner of the no-kill dog shelter from which we adopted two of our wonderful pets. When I relayed to her that I had lost my job,  she said, “My husband is a physician and he has done work with a lot of pharmaceutical companies. Is there anything he can do for you?” And before I knew it, her husband was making calls to everyone he knew in Pharma and then sending me job descriptions to review!

You just never know who, in your personal circle, might have contacts in your industry and might also be willing to help you out by making phone calls on your behalf. To me, as I wrote in an earlier post, finding out that PEOPLE WANT TO HELP was definitely the silver lining to my unemployment situation. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful positive change has come into my life from the uplifting things I have learned about the natural kindness and generosity of  most people. You will be amazed and your spirits will soar. You’ll also be wanting to dedicate yourself to helping others once you’ve jumped back “into the saddle” again!


This post was intended to be about working with a coach  “peeling the onion” of the psyche to discover the inner reasons that obstacles lie in the way of finding happiness in your career. But this interlude lasted longer than I expected ,so I think it has gone on long enough for now. Stay tuned—we’ll be working on that onion in my next post!

  All photography by Michelle Alton

If you have 10 minutes, you might want to listen to the podcast interview that Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine conducted with me, entitled:  "Keeping Your Mojo and Your Sanity in a Tough Pharma Job Market"  http://tinyurl.com/AltonMojo

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HOPE REFRESHED: Signing Up With a Coach * Part II

Part I ended at the start of my first coaching session, as I was expressing to you a feeling of amazement at Coach Karen's almost magical insight into “me."  It was insight that she had intuited merely from my responses to her “Discovery” questions.


To answer the Discovery Question: “What works for you?” I had listed my two passions:  photography and writing.

And without getting too maudlin here, as one of my most “satisfying” personal experiences I had described the closeness that developed between my mother and me during the period after her terminal diagnosis was made. Finally, though it was also the saddest time of my life, I had been able to make her feel comfortable with her decision to refuse further treatment when chemotherapy had lost its effect. Her guilt at disappointing her husband and sons calmed, she was able to relax and “walk on” peacefully.

Mother and I
Photo Booth

So, to begin our session, Karen gave me something to think about. This suggestion came by way of what she calls an “Energy Hit,” and she would not take any personal credit for having thought of it. Her first such  "hit” concerning me was: “With your talents in photography, photo restoration, and writing, and the fact that you are not uncomfortable being around people nearing the end of their lives, have you ever considered a business of chronicling their stories as a service to their families?”  Hmm…not something I had ever considered, to be sure!   Nor would I EVER have made those connections on my own.  The idea/hit may ultimately not lead anywhere, but it definitely deserves more thought, analysis and research. And that was the major highlight of Session One.

Session Two was even more eye-opening!

Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ve prided yourself on the deepness and clarity of your own self-understanding. And I clearly understood that the reason that I have not been able to take appropriate steps to fulfill my passions is that I lack a key component of entrepreneurial success: Belief that I could succeed ALONE!

All Alone

If I had a partner in an endeavor, I know WE would be a resounding success. For example, last Summer I had an idea to collect poignant and funny stories from fellow photographers along with a few of their best shots, and compile a book about “The Shot that Wasn’t to Be.” All photographers have “fish that got away” stories, and are eager to share them. For example, one of my intrepid friends described his experience of photographing a rushing river scene while standing precariously on a slippery, muddy river bank. Suddenly he lost his footing and his prosthetic leg disengaged.  Helplessly he had to crouch there watching his leg floating its way down the river!

An anthology of such stories, with accompanying photos couldn’t lose, right?

I shared the idea with a fellow “shooter,” and we became so excited about it, that we couldn’t wait to get moving. Unfortunately, that enterprise ended up with her starting a new job and me losing mine, so we never got off the ground after the first tactical setback. But the point is that as a team, I was sure we could have made it work. There would have been no stopping us!

But, faced with the prospect of beginning a project like that all on my own, I become utterly paralyzed by fear. An analogous example is that we all enjoy the fun-filled adventure of getting lost on a country back road in a strange unexplored area. But being lost ALONE produces in me a sort of inner terror that is almost indescribable!


So, although I understood WHAT the obstacles were, until and unless I could understand WHY they block my path, they will continue to obscure the way to personal fulfillment. So our next coaching goal is to begin to peel the onion and expose the WHY.   Please stay tuned:

In the meantime, here’s a question for Karen and for other transformational coaches who are helping people with mid-career changes:

Most of us are having great trouble getting interviews within our own fields because the resume reviewer is basing his/her screening on the presence or absence of perhaps even a single missing tidbit of experience, or some other perceived issue that we won't have the opportunity to defend. How in the world are we to “cast our nets wider" into another industry and hope to be interviewed for a new position?

~~( to be continued)

  All photographs (except "Mother and I") by Michelle Alton

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

HOPE Refreshed: Signing Up With a Coach * Part I

 Ultra High-End Condo

I answered a Linked-In question today: What does “Prosperity” mean to you? Perhaps my response will go largely unnoticed—there were dozens of great answers posed. But answering this particular question meant a great deal to me because I had just today come to the realization that I am finally on the right path to my personal prosperity (and it doesn't have a lot to do with dollars). Oh yes, my little tootsies have only tentatively tickled the pavers so far, but now there is a schedule in place for making my way up the road.

"The Path"

Karen Florence McMullen is my Coach and she found me on Linked-In. Though we were three degrees of separation apart, a chain of L-I introductions brought us together on what will surely become a “Red Letter Day” on my calendar for years to come.

"Red Letter Day"

When we meet a person with unique and special gifts, an “aura” is immediately revealed, even though the light may have to travel through Cyberspace or Cell waves. I thought I had “seen” Karen’s aura during our first conversation, but didn’t want to make a hasty decision based on what I thought was just a “gut feeling.” I signed up during our second conversation, when I returned from a short photo shooting vacation in Arkansas and Texas.


In preparation for our “Discovery” session, Karen sent me a list of questions to think about and jot down responses as they came to me. “Make them brief, if you can—and don’t send your answers until the night before we talk.”


When I read the questions, my heart filled with dread. Some examples:

• What is really working in your life? Where are you satisfied?

• What is not working? Where do you need change even if you fear making that change?

• What do you think are your 3 best natural talents?

• What are you tolerating?

• Tell me about a time that was particularly disappointing.

There were 18 such questions, each one increasingly more soul-searching and difficult than the one before. But, in spite of my dread, and since I am compulsive about completing assignments, I did the best I could, and sent my answers at the appointed time.

The next day, the magic began. And I do mean “M*A*G*I*C .

"The Magic Began"

Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement for Karen’s services. But it is a revelation that even a smart person, and maybe especially a smart person, cannot always see the clear path to “prosperity” without a guide. Karen, and others in her profession, are gifted and trained to be just such a guide; they can help you see and remove the obstacles that block your path.

(to be continued)

All photographs by Michelle Alton
Note: An article about this blog and me "PharmaView: Via the Blog, a Pharma Star is Reborn" by Paul Thomas, Senior Editor, appears in the February, 2010 issue of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine.