COVID Closes One Door, While I Reopen Another.
March 21st was officially my first day sheltered in place.
It was ALSO the day I launched my first book, “The Liddle’est President.”
It was ALSO the day I learned that I was no longer employed at the company I worked a total of 14 years.
To say the least, it was a roller coaster day that may have changed my life for the better. I will not try to kid you: being unemployed for the first time in 17 years is scary. Honing my skills as a graphic designer since 1989, I’ve never had to look longer than 2 months for a job. I’ve worked for large companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, and have worked for much smaller, high-volume graphic design and printing firms in NYC.
The Ageism of Experience
The scary part is knowing that, at the age of 52 (as of April 28th!), ageism is a very real thing. Back in the day, having 30-plus years of experience in ANYTHING would have been considered a real asset, an automatic slam-dunk towards your next bigger and better career opportunity. Experience used to mean “this is a candidate who can hit the ground running, no questions asked, and can immediately add value to our operation.”
This does not seem to be the case anymore. For the 6-8 months prior to the coronavirus crisis, I had finally dusted off and updated my resume. The environment at my job had become unbearably toxic, and I decided it was long past my time to make a move. Working from 9:30am until 6:30pm, and commuting an hour to and from work, did not allow me much time to conduct a serious job search, but I used job search sites like Monster.com and Indeed.com to apply for at least 3-5 jobs per week…and nothing. No replies whatsoever.
Granted, they might have just found a more appealing candidate for each of those job opportunities with lower salary requirements. But I knew in my bones that I was qualified for all of them. And then my sister had a look at my resume, and she suggested that I had WAY too many years of experience reflected on my resume, which stretched back to 1989. She explained that potential employers would look at my experience, and decide that my knowledge would make me less pliable, or more set in my ways of doing things. This was not the case at all, as I am a very flexible, team-oriented person, but I wasn’t even getting the opportunity to walk in the door for an interview to dispel any faulty notion.
The Timing Was Write
Meanwhile, I was working on my passion project on the side: an illustrated political humor book. Ever since the election of 2016, I had become transfixed by the unbelievably bizarre behavior demonstrated by the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I began sharing my observations on Twitter under my pseudonym BrooklynDad_Defiant! and I grew a following from 60 to 447,000 in just over 3 years.
Around the same period that I began looking for a new job, the unhinged tweets from the Oval Office began to bang on my funny bone in such a way that I KNEW I had to document what was happening. In particular, the Oval Office occupant began to describe Rep. Adam Schiff as “Liddle’ Adam Schiff.” Then he insisted that what we all knew to be an apostrophe was (much to the dismay of English professors and grade school children everywhere), a hyphen. And so my book, The Liddle’est President was born.
I was ALWAYS a writer. Ever since I had first written a 32-page (unfinished) science fiction at the age of 9, I knew that this was what I wanted to do some day. Writing was ALWAYS my jam. I’d started school newspapers in both high school AND college. I’d written plays and sketches for me and my friends to perform. As a young 20-something, I was even briefly employed as a newspaper reporter for Ridgewood News in New Jersey, where I wrote some 200 newspaper articles.
Designed By Fate
I always had an affinity and aptitude for art, but I preferred alliteration more than illustration. However, as fate would have it, graphic design allowed me to pay the bills and not much else. I applied myself diligently to every single project I worked on, whether it was a PowerPoint presentation or promotional materials for a complicated medical education conference with dozens of design components. My dedication to my work always left me completely tapped at the end of the day; no energy for continuing education or passion projects.
But The Liddle’est President changed that. Suddenly, I was writing on the train, when I got home from work, and on the weekends. I storyboarded pages deep into the night, and I interviewed potential illustrators for months. I spent dozens of hours researching the ins and outs of self-publishing. And I was able to leverage my Twitter following and social media savvy as a launch pad for promoting my first book. I hadn’t found a new job yet, but I didn’t care: this book was everything, all-consuming.
And then it happened: 15 minutes after I launched my book, I got the phone call informing me that I no longer had a job. I went from ecstatic to anxious in a heartbeat. What would I do? I had a Wife and kids to provide for, a mortgage to pay, credit card bills almost maxed out completely, and I was suddenly sheltered in place with no means of finding work as the entire nation was pumping the brakes on the economy for the foreseeable future. All I had was my book.
A Glass Half-Full of Lemonade
So, for the next few weeks, I committed myself to expending the same energy that I normally would for any employer to my OWN passion. I became my own publicist, production manager, quality control, marketing associate, social media director, and shipping manager. I ate, slept, and drank the sales and promotion of my book from multiple angles. I secured positive reviews from celebrities like Malcolm Nance, Laurence Tribe, and Rosie O’Donnell. I appeared on podcasts and live radio shows like The Stephanie Miller Show. I did everything I possibly could to make this book successful.
And, in my first month, I’d sold 1,500 copies of my book. It wasn’t the massive number I’d hoped and dreamed for, and it wouldn’t be enough for us to survive on. But it was MINE. And it felt amazing to spend that time and energy on something that I had created.
So, I reach into my half-full bag of proverbs and pull out “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’m home and unemployed, but my creative brain is still functioning perfectly. And I’ve finally accomplished one of my life goals – writing and publishing a book – that quite a few people seem to be enjoying. As far as I know, my family and I are healthy, and we still have food on the table. We will be smart about saving money, and let those credit card bills just sit until we can figure out next steps.
The Open Door of Opportunity
Now that my mind and heart are unburdened by a toxic, unhealthy work environment, I can leave that door closed and open up another door to the next chapter of my life. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE the work I did. It wasn’t just graphic design. I’d spent years cultivating an excellent customer service experience for my clients. I wrote winning proposals for the company, and managed many large, intricate projects on my own. I designed marketing pieces and presentations that I am still quite proud of, and ensured client satisfaction in every project I touched. And I did it all in spite of being overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.
Now, I look forward to an uncertain future, but I do so bravely in the knowledge that I take my unique blend of writing and design skills, experience, and enthusiasm to a new, healthy work environment.
And with my glass half full of lemonade, hopefully I can put some smiles on the faces of people who are in the same situation along the way.