Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Today Reframe: Bankruptcy, American Airlines & the Average Joe

Today's announcement that American Airlines' parent company AMR is filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection illustrates one of my most important points about shame and how to Reframe Shame in our own lives.  Ironically, it's also a poignant example for the Occupy Wall Street folks to point out to those still questioning their message.

The common refrain in our culture upon hearing about someone who has filed for bankruptcy is "What a lazy bum!  Why don't they just pay their bills?!"  Typically the person is labeled irresponsible and one deserving of much scorn. 

Unfortunately, much of that ire comes from the misinformed notion that everyone who files for bankruptcy is doing so fraudulently or that they all have lived an irresponsible life and are "gaming the system": lavish vacations, expensive jewelery and luxury vehicles, all on the credit card.  Even former President George W. Bush signed a bill into law to prevent "abuse." 

That notion, however, doesn't reflect the reality and it doesn't give us as citizens much credit about our integrity.  In fact, most bankruptcies are filed as a result of divorce, job loss or insurmountable medical bills.

It was amazing to read the comments regarding my appearance in a Chicago Tribune article about my bankruptcy (The Tribune has since taken down and closed the comment section).

While there were many who commented, supporting my decision and gave me kudos, there were equally as many who called me terrible names and made disgusting judgments about me.  Had they actually read the article, however, they would have noted that I used to have a credit score in the 800s (likely better than theirs), a very low credit card debt and I didn't purchase a condo that was beyond my income.  I, like many unemployed Americans in this country, had not led a reckless lifestyle and was not "gaming the system."

All this didn't matter though.  Upon hearing the term "bankruptcy," one is immediately labeled with all of the negative terms we have available in our vocabulary.

Contrast this response to the business community. 

When a business fails to meet its financial obligations and file for bankruptcy, its leaders are lauded as "savvy" for protecting the interests of its shareholders.  More often than not, we also observe a rise in stock prices immediately following the announcement. I once remember a CNBC reporter on the floor of the NYSE actually say how savvy an organization's leaders were for saving that company and its shareholders' interests. 

Bankruptcy is a legal tool for use by individuals and corporations in the US.  Let me repeat that: It is LEGAL.  We treat individuals who use that tool like criminals and we applaud corporations who use it, as if their intentions are any less questionable, especially when you have an organization like AMR announcing the bankruptcy while also announcing they still have $4.1 Billion in the bank.  During my bankruptcy, had I still had a significant amount of money in the bank, I would have likely had to forfeit it.  I won't even discuss how irresponsible corporations can be knowing bankruptcy is coming.  Would you manage your personal finances that way?

In addition to being legal, bankruptcy also allows people, and corporations, a new beginning and a fresh start.  An excellent example of how bankruptcy, when used appropriately, can help individuals find success is Walt Disney.  Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy in 1923 with his first attempt at a film studio.  He would go on to create an entire empire.  That's not all, "honest" Abe Lincoln, Milton Hershey and many other "famous" Americans have filed for bankruptcy and ended up becoming wealthy and successful.

Now I'm not advocating that everyone go out and file for bankruptcy.  Furthermore, I'm not advocating that IF you file for bankruptcy, you will go on to own a wildly successful empire like Walt Disney.  I'm simply stating that the notion that we, as individuals, should be slammed for looking out for our best financial interests when hit by unfortunate, often unforeseen, circumstances is hypocritical. 

For corporations, we don't organize mass boycotts of organizations that file for bankruptcy, do we?  No, but as individuals we are blacklisted for eight years (it used to be seven, but Bush's law changed it to eight) from obtaining favorable interest rates, buying a home, a car, etc.  Where's the fairness in that?

If you've had to file for bankruptcy or are thinking about it, remember that it's not the end of the world, it's a new beginning.  Learn from any mistakes, if any, and move on.  The shame you may be feeling is a result of the negative judgments coming to you from societal cues.  If you truly fell on hard times through no fault of your own, bankruptcy is in your best interests.  You, like corporations, need to look out for your best interests to remain competitive in this market.

Best wishes!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Where are the Unemployed?

An interesting article was published today regarding the unemployed and their lack of a loud voice in the public discourse.  While this article does a great job at discussing how labor and unions were once loud and influential in our society, I think it missed an important point: Shame.

I would contend that shame is a very powerful emotion that is both isolating and debilitating.  Many people have not only been hit with unemployment, but they've lost their home as well, which can be a double dose of shame.  Compound bad event after bad event and you find people who have become quite reclusive.

Please take a look at this Yahoo! Tumblr site and you'll see that the unemployed are out there talking, but their stories are those of despair and heartache.  Their energy has gone into finding employment, not screaming at a political system that is cozy with the very establishment that has just thrown them out on the street. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Challenge to Newt Gingrich

Dear Mr. Gingrich,

Throughout this primary season, you've been pretty vocal about a lot of things.  Most important among them has been your fierce criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protesters across America.  You've also been rather aggressive in challenging President Obama to "western style" debates that would be without a timer or arbitrator.

Today, I offer a challenge to you!

This is really a no-brainer challenge, one I'm sure you'll win:  Get me back to work.

You and your ilk have recently criticized the OWS protesters and told them to "take a bath" and "get to work!"  Well, I'm ready!  In fact, I bathe daily, so no worries there.  And here's the added bonus:  I have a Master's degree, 10 years of work experience and even lived abroad in France, like you!  As a result of these studies, I'm even fluent in French, which should be a terrific asset for any corporation now that we've built such a "global" economy.

So, what do you say?  I'm sure you know a lot of people and could get me in somewhere, right?

Yikes, I'm beginning to wonder if this will be as easy as I thought.  While you likely won't read this, I am certain your response would be much like those who agree with you: "Get your own job. Don't expect a hand out!"

That's such an interesting retort.  A savvy businessman like yourself is certain to understand the importance of networking to any job search.  In fact, statistics show that 80% of jobs are nabbed thanks to networking.  You've likely landed a few jobs throughout your career thanks to networking, (you know, like those lobbying jobs after being in the House?) right?  Networking is surely of the utmost important to your campaign as well; how else do you expect votes and campaign funds?   

So, Mr. Gingrich, let me tell you a little more about myself to develop that all-important networking relationship:

My name is Del Phillips.  I'm 34 years old, I'm a white male and I come from the heartland (Illinois).  Sounds like your ideal voting demographic, eh?  I've worked hard since the age of 14, holding down two part time jobs while in high school (two paper routes in the morning and a part time, after school job) and working throughout college.  I don't come from a wealthy family, so this was necessary if I wanted any of the things most teenagers wanted during my youth.

After college, I worked hard and never had any issue finding a place in an organization....until 2009.  Just as the economy tanked I, like millions of others, lost my job.  Normally this wouldn't be a big deal either, but with scores of people applying for the same position my chances began to slim.

To make a long story short, I would go from having perfect credit (820+), a $72,000/yr job, a condo (homeownership!) and an all-around happy life to foreclosure, bankruptcy (major credit hits) and 22 months of unemployment.  What's more is that after those 22 months, I landed a great position only to lose it six months later as a result of the continued lagging economy.

You and the people in your camp keep referring to people like me as "lazy" and tell us to "quit whining" and "get a job."  Would you like to see all the resumes I've sent out?  Would you like to know the number of networking events I've attended?  With a name like Gingrich, I'm sure it's always easy to find a job, but with a name like Phillips, I simply blend in with the crowd.

Another comment I hear a lot from your side of the isle is that the unemployed enjoy being unemployed;  They get to sit at home and collect a government check.  Can you honestly believe that I would prefer the roughly $18,000/yr income I receive from Unemployment Insurance benefits over the previous $72,000/yr I was earning?  If you believe that is true, I've got a bridge in Alaska to sell you.

Most, if not all, of the things you, Mr. Cain, Mr. Hannity, Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. O'Reiley and others say about the unemployed are misinformed.  Furthermore you don't contribute to solutions; you simply belittle and alienate your fellow citizens, those whom you wish to swoon for a vote.  In fact, you are even contributing to the death of many Americans.  Yes, DEATH!

Job loss, long term unemployment, losing one's home, having to file for bankruptcy, questioning one's next meal are all very shameful events.  Our culture preaches self-reliance.  But if that's not possible when there are more people without jobs than jobs available, what happens?  The unemployed deal with rejection every single day.  This rejection turns to shame and shame leads to isolation, which can ultimately turn to a complete shut-down, including suicide.

I encourage you to read this site which contains many stories of the unemployed, including those who have attempted suicide as a solution to their desperation.

Do you think this is acceptable, Mr. Gingrich?  Do you think belittling and calling names to desperate Americans is helping to get them back to work?  Do you think calling people who have been sending out hundreds of resumes a month, attended networking events, job fairs "lazy" is a way to encourage them during a difficult time?  Do you think it's alright that many feel their only hope is to turn to suicide and end it all?  I don't!

We have to stop shaming people who are trying to move forward with their lives.  In fact, we should be helping people to "Reframe Shame."  That's why I'm an aspiring keynote speaker who wants to help those experiencing shame in our daily lives from a host of events including unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosure and much more.  One way I do that is to tell people that filing for bankruptcy is a new beginning, a lesson to learn.  Did you know that your hero Abraham Lincoln filed for bankruptcy before becoming President?  Did you know Walt Disney also filed for bankruptcy with his first film company?

These are excellent examples of how tough times may fall on you, but this adversity may just be a stepping stone to a greater success.

Mr. Gingrich, that is the type of rhetoric I'd like to hear from my government leaders.  I'd like to hear encouraging and supportive language that promotes success in all Americans.

So Mr. Gingrich, now that we know one another a little better, what do you say?   How can we network to get me working?  I'm available to speak at your association gigs or political gigs.  Certainly my first-hand experience with long-term unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy can help shed light on the "average" American you so desperately need to help you win this election.  You and your party could gain such valuable insight.  Heck, it might even help others like you change your way of looking at their fellow citizen in trouble.  Together we can work to help Americans Reframe Shame and get America's economy working again!

Check out my website to learn more about me and how to contact me for an upcoming event.  I look forward to your favorable response.

Best wishes to you with your campaign and have a great Thanksgiving,

Del Phillips

PS: Thanksgiving is a great example of how strangers (Native Americans) showed compassion to desperate individuals (American colonists) in a tough time.  Maybe we should draw from that example this holiday season.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Today's Reframe: Corporate America

Last Friday I attended an orientation session for a program into which I've recently been accepted.  The program is run through Chicago Career Tech and supported by large corporations, the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois.  Although I haven't even started the program yet, this orientation was a real turning point for me on my unemployment journey.   I felt it important to share with everyone out there, especially those going through this same journey.

This is a program initiated by organizations like Microsoft, Charter One and other large corporations about 2 years ago in the middle of the Great Recession.  According to the presenters, these business leaders realized a real need for a program like this as a result of a labor shortage.

Labor shortage, you ask?  But, there are millions unemployed and looking for work, you say!  Yes, but many of these organizations cited statistics of large numbers of unfilled vacancies within their organizations.  These position remained unfilled not because there aren't millions of people looking for jobs, but because the millions unemployed do not posses the skills necessary to do the job.  There is a huge skills gap for so many unemployed people despite the organizations that crave to hire more employees.

This explanation was a real positive moment for me.  Throughout this Recession, and my unemployment journey in particular, there has been a lot of negativity:  rejection to the thousands of resumes sent out, rejection from in-person interviews, politicians who blame the unemployed for being unemployed, articles about how companies are actually advertising that the unemployed "need NOT apply" and, most damaging, my fellow employed citizens who comment on stories all over the internet calling us names like lazy, mooching off the system and so on...

Having worked since the age of 14, sometimes at 2 jobs, having gone to college and having done all the 'right' things, everything has felt so incredibly wrong. 

But to hear organizational leaders recognize that the unemployed are not lazy, but ready and willing to work given the right opportunities and given the skills to do the jobs that are in demand actually got me choked up.  I felt that someone "got it."  There are companies who 'want' me.  All the companies out there don't scoff at something that was beyond my control.  They realize that we, the unemployed, are eager to get back to work and get on with their lives!  It was inspiring to hear examples of companies that took on 40+ interns during the program and then offered all of them jobs at the end of the program!

So I begin my program in just over a week in Social Media Marketing at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy.  At the end, I am expected to obtain certifications in Google Adwords and SEO.  I'm so very excited because I love social media and I have always loved marketing.  I am also excited because this is the "now" and this is the future.  I'm excited that I'm entering a (hopefully) stable area of the market so as to avoid ever having to endure unemployment and all its challenges again.

On a side note, this program is being constantly evaluated and studied across the country.  It is being looked at as a potential model for other states to get people back to work.

I would like to encourage you, especially if you are in Chicago, to mention this program to your company.  Your company can be part of the solution to getting America working again.  They may not be able to hire a student after the program, but the experience gained during the internship will be so important to the student and a stepping stone to get them back to full time work.  Please consider passing along this site to your boss or HR department and encourage them to participate!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Today's Reframe: On OPRAH!

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the live broadcast of Oprah's Lifeclass® on OWN.  It was a really exciting experience...and we had the opportunity to Reframe Shame™. 

While her previous show was fun when it came to celebrities and Favorite Things, Oprah also produced some amazing episodes about being a better person and getting to a better place in one's life.  I always appreciated episodes that helped to bring people to a new level of thought, "reframing" the way we typically think about something to get to that ah-ha moment.

The Lifeclasses focus on getting one to a higher level of self-awareness and finding that 'ah-ha' moment each day!  And Friday's live broadcast allows Oprah to interact with viewers on their moments.   Life Class even touches upon the issue of shame.

In this episode, a woman was with her so-called 'man of her dreams.'  Unfortunately for her, he found love with her cousin, the cousin who had encouraged them to begin dating.  Four years after the break-up, she has not been able to move past the break-up and betrayal.  I believe she is stuck in a feeling of shame and voiced my opinion (at the 22:15 and 27:15 marks)

There's a lot of shame associated with being "dumped," and being dumped for your cousin...even worse.  Shame of betrayal.

As I mentioned in the show, this woman needs to Reframe the Shame™.  Shame, as we've previously discussed, can be an isolating emotion, one that keeps you stuck in a very negative place.

For her (and those of you who may be in a similar place), my suggestion is to reframe this differently.   This man found something he believed was a better fit for him.  Throughout our lives, we have all experienced this.  We may have thought we were into someone, but weeks into a relationship, we decided it was no longer a match.  Similarly, years may go by in a relationship and one day on or both partners may realize they have grown apart.

This is OKAY!  It's natural, even.  Instead of taking on the standard thoughts that this "end" is somehow devastating, it's healthier to remember that these are normal events in life.  Everyone grows every single day and sometimes two people together (in a relationship) don't grow in the same way or the same direction.

I have several friends/couples who began madly in love (or lust) and had seemingly excellent relationships, but as they grew older, they also grew apart.  This didn't diminish the love they had for each other, but they no longer felt it was the right relationship for them at that point in their lives.  Being able to accept this as just a normal process helped them to not "end" their relationships, but change them.  Instead of remaining boyfriend/girlfriend (or wife/husband or, in some cases, boyfriend/boyfriend), they moved into a "friend" realm; they still have a relationship.  And these friendships have become some of the strongest, most meaningful and long-lasting relationships of their lives.

Think about it, what is the alternative to this?  Do you force someone to stay with you because you still love them even if  they may not be in love with you anymore?  We need not look to far to see how that ends. 

The example of John Edwards and his affair is a great way to illustrate this.  John Edwards cheated on his wife, Elizabeth.  Once caught, he expressed remorse and his continued love for his wife.  Many balked at this idea that he could still love her.  But think about it, there's no doubt that after all those years together and all that they experienced together, from bearing children to the death of one child, cancer and more, that love still remained on both sides of that relationship.  However, it's possible that John was no longer "in love" with Elizabeth.

It may sound like semantics, but I'm sure you can relate to this feeling.  You can love someone deeply, but may not feel 'in love' with them enough to want the intimacy anymore of a relationship.

Often we feel shame in ending a relationship, especially one in which there are children involved or a traditional marriage based on religious views.  This shame prevents us from simply expressing the truth to that loved one and instead drives us into isolation and possibly behavior that will ultimately hurt that loved one, as in the case of John Edwards.

Quite possibly, had he maturely stated to Elizabeth that he loved her deeply and still cared about her, but was no longer in love with her, I'm sure she would have accepted this.  It may have hurt (rejection always does), but it could have been a much less negative experience for both of them.  My guess is that this was the case for Al Gore and his wife.  Notice they did not have ANY of the public negativity
 around them like John Edwards.

I am THRILLED that Oprah and Iyanla loved my "Reframe Shame" idea, so much so that Oprah repeated it a few times.  Although she incorrectly associated it to Iyanla, I'm sure she appreciates that it was my comment and has been a part of what I've been advocating here for all of you.  Hugs Mama O!

Tune into Oprah's Lifeclass everyday on OWN at 8pm Est/7pm Central.  The live class discussion is only on Friday immediately following Lifeclass.  If you don't get OWN locally, you can still watch in on her site at Oprah.com.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Radio Appearance Cancelled

Upon further review of radio talk show host Dom Giordano and his style, I have cancelled my appearance on his show.  I have no interest in being part of a show that calls people idiots nearly a half-dozen times within the first 3 minutes of the show.  It's childish behavior that doesn't help our our fellow Americans who have hit hard times move forward to a more positive place.

He has categorized me as a "leader" of the OWS movement and that I have been criticizing him all over the internet.  First, I never claimed to be a "leader" of the OWS movement.  Second, I haven't been criticizing him all over the internet.  I posted one post in response to something he posted.  What's more, he has categorized my letter as me stating that it was intended to say I can't be successful because of the system.  Once again, that was NOT what I said. 

This is the exact reason why I chose not to be on his show today.  He's looking to only use hyperbolic language, contort words, name call and magnify silly one-off situations to categorize an entire group of people.  Dom should try reading through what people are really going through before criticizing them!!

I initially thought he wanted to talk about the fact that I'm trying to be successful by starting my own business and speaking to people across the country about moving past tough times.  I call this Reframe Shame because shame is what many people feel today as a result of the tough economy.

Shame is a learned emotion.  Think about children...they pick their nose in public or say any number of "embarrassing" things for which their parents correct them: the beginnings of the shame.

As adults, we have cultural cues that lead us to certain emotions and judgements.  In particular, this tough economy has created a lot of shame for people, whether they are going through unemployment, rejection, foreclosure, bankruptcy or any number of other situations.  A lot of people are experiencing these events through no fault of their own.  People who have followed the rules all their lives, paid their bills on time and so on and have fallen on tough time.

Unfortunately, shame is a tricky emotion.  Shame makes people close in on themselves; it's isolating and debilitating.  We have people in our country committing suicide because they don't see hope or a way out of this challenging time.   They have worked hard all of their life and played by the rules and now they've hit a very difficult rough patch.  Instead of criticizing them or calling them names like Dom, I'm trying to find a positive approach to getting people to move ahead to find success again.

Oh...and I won't even address his ridiculousness about bankruptcy.  If you want to know more, book me to speak at your next keynote event!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming...

If you've been keeping up with my story, I left off discussing the beginning of the end for my condo.

With my plea for assistance rejected by the bank and the funds in my savings account approaching zero, I had to think of Plan C: What should I now do with my mortgage?  Short-sale?  Foreclosure?  These terms both carry such negative connotations and I've never been accustomed to NOT paying my bills.  The anxiety grew within me.

After researching my options of short-sale, foreclosure or bankruptcy, I decided that my best course of action would be a short sale.  Sure, my perfect credit would take a hit, but I'd be able to get the burden out from under me and I'd help the bank recoup most of the loan.

It was a big surprise that within the first 4 days of putting my place on the market, we had not one, but two offers.  The second buyer knew we had another offer coming in so they even bid ABOVE the listing price!  This was great.  The bank would be thrilled not to lose so much!

Weeks went by and from all indications, everything looked like it would work out fine.  At the last minute, however, the Loss/Mitigation department contacted me to inform me that they were willing to approve the short sale, but would still sue me for the difference.

Huh?  That's not a short sale.  In a short sale, everyone walks away a bit bruised and that meant that the bank was going to lose a bit of their money and so would I, along with my credit.

Now this is where critics of my story lament about how I had a contract with the bank and should pay the bill for which I signed my name.  Normally, I'm all for people paying their bills as promised, but there are times when people just can't.  When the well is dry, there won't be any water to drink.  So if you want to scream at me over and over in the comment section about what a terrible person I am, I've already heard it....and I'm already over it!

But I digress...we'll discuss this topic in more detail in a later post.  Back to the story.

photographer unknown
I told Hope, my friendly (not) Loss/Mitigation Rep, that this was not a short sale.  She laid down the law and I could either accept it or not.  So, I told her no.  I asked her how it made sense from a "mitigating your loss" prospective to now put me in the position to allow the place to go into foreclosure and file for bankruptcy on it.  They had an amazing offer on the table, especially considering the market at the time.  I asked how it made sense on her end to force my next move, foreclosure.  Since I was still unemployed, I would be allowed to continue living there until the foreclosure process was over (typically 15 months).  That meant at least 15 months without a mortgage payment for them, PLUS they would be responsible for property taxes.   What's more is that they would have to price the place WAY below market value as a foreclosed property, thereby losing even more money.  Pretty insane, right?  Remember, they had an amazing offer on the table that only had them losing about $45,000.

Hope then said to me "Well, you don't understand how the system works.  We'll just bundle it with other loans and sell it on the open market, making more money."  I stopped in my tracks!  I was flabbergasted!  I challenged her with "Are you telling me that you continue to use the same toxic practices that put us in this mess in the first place?"  Her response, without any shame was "Yes!"

Once again, if you feel compelled to criticize me for my actions, please re-read the paragraph above.  A financial industry that created this mess by selling toxic loans on the market, thereby creating a huge economic mess around the world, admitted to me that they were continuing these practices, despite the terrible press in the news about it! 

So that's what happened.  I called off the short sale and met with an attorney to begin the foreclosure and bankruptcy process.

Reframe Shame Message Goes "On The Air"

The speed of Social Media has come whizzing by my door so I'm using another post to interrupt my story and tell you about an upcoming event.

I will be on with conservative radio talk show host Dom Giordano, Friday October 14, 2011 at 9:05am (central). 

How did this come about?  Yesterday I received a message from a friend who was furious about photo (see right) she saw going viral on Facebook.  In a nutshell, this is one of many examples from a group calling themselves "The other 53%," a backlash group responding to the recent Occupy Wall Street protesters, who refer to themselves as "The 99%."

Dom posted this on his Facebook page with the comment on "This is the youth we can believe in."

Reading this and other examples from this "53%" group began to make me think about my message of Reframe Shame®.  There are many letters similar to this one calling fellow Americans names like "Lazy" and a "mooch" among others. 

I decided to write my own message and share it with Dom on his Twitter account.  His producer says he liked what I had to say and wants me on the show.  However, after listening to his show today on the topic, I'm a little skeptical about how much he truly "liked" it.  It'll be an interesting discussion.

The font is a little difficult to read, so I will reprint it below:

"I am 34 yrs old & played by the rules all my life. I have worked since the age of 14. I come from a lower-middle class family, obtained a Master’s degree, lived abroad, owned my own MODEST condo, had a $72,000/yr salary, paid my bills on time, had very low credit card debt, a decent savings account and PERFECT credit in the 800s!

Thanks to the FAT CATS on wall street who played casino with the economy and our LAZY, GREEDY politicians, our economy tanked.  I spent 22 months unemployed, blew thru my savings to pay the mortgage.  After that was gone, I had to let it go into foreclosure and eventually file for bankruptcy on it (not CC debt).  My credit is now screwed.  After 22 months, I landed a great job, but due to the continued lousy economy & poor financial management of the greedy heads of the organization, I lost my job again after only 6 short months there.

STOP telling us to quit whining!  Stop telling us we’re lazy!  Stop telling us we should take a minimum wage job!  That’s not why we went to college.  We were told college was our ticket to success & stability.  Instead of calling us names & criticizing us, why not put your patriotism to use & reach out your hand to your fellow American?  Attend a networking event in your area & bring your company’s list of current openings; help someone get an “in” in your company. How about joining JobAngels or another online network to help the unemployed?

Do you really think I (and others) enjoy the $18,000/yr unemployment benefits over my previous $72,000 salary?  Get real!

If you don’t think you’re part of the 99% today, watch out!  You could become one at any moment. Pink slips continue to go out everyday.  YOU could be next!"

Tune in....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today's Reframe: Protests and Working Together

Now that the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken off and is garnering huge media attention, the push back has begun.  In fact, it was announced today that a conservative group is trying to counter the OWS movement with a "We're the 53%" movement.

What's interesting about this and other counter-movements and criticism is that they fail to see that they have more in common with the OWS protestors than they think.  Unfortunately, they are blinded and brainwashed by the typical THIS vs. THAT mentality we have been subjected to over the past few decades.


The prevailing thought is that these OWS protesters are young and liberal.  Because the media reports it that way, the standard response is for conservatives to say the whole thing is hogwash and dismiss it.  This was not dissimilar from the Tea Party movement and how liberals reacted.  Although you may not have liked the ideas coming from the Tea Party, you had to give them credit for taking on the establishment and making themselves heard.

Now, look a little closer at the demographics from ANY news story about the OWS protests and you'll see that participants are of all ages, races and colors.  I've even seen reports that some identify themselves as Tea Partiers, others as liberals and progressives and yet others and Democrats and Republicans.

Nevermind that craziness, however, we have to paint this picture as us vs. them!

It's also become the standard mentality in the US that protesters are "crazy" and "radical."  It wasn't too long ago in our history that people took to the streets the way they do in Europe, Asia and South America.  Remember fighting for Women's Suffrage?  How about more recently with the Civil Rights protests?

Sadly, all that protesting got in the way of other interests of the wealthy, so protesters have been branded with negative connotations ever since.  Group think helps to quell large outbursts like we see in France or other countries where the right to protest is still sacred.    But I digress...

Luckily for America, those participating in the OWS events are from all walks of life.  And THAT is the power of this movement.  The Tea Partiers and Progressives disagree on many topics, but they agree that the greed and excess--both in government and private enterprise--at the expense of the average American has hit a tipping point and they are going to fight against it...together!  Indeed, it'll be a great moment for Democracy if these two groups can work together to make REAL, powerful change.

For those still confused about what "these people" are out there doing, I'd like to break things down very simply.  A lot of cliches and hyperbolic expressions have been thrown out into the discussion; the result is a message that begins to lose its power and meaning.   Here's my simple description of the matter at hand:
  • Business 101 class teaches that the sole responsibilities of a corporation are to make a profit and protect the interests of its shareholders.
  • Government 101 class teaches that our Government is "of the People, by the People, for the People." Our Constitution begins with "We the People..."  Using the word "People" so much seems to make it pretty clear where the focus should be.
Political campaigns are increasingly funded by corporations; Money flows en masse from private enterprise to political leaders.  Given the two bullet statements above, it appears that those elected to political office (ie: Government) now look to protect their interests:  Corporations.  Corporations are the "shareholders" of elected officials.  

Throughout the history of the US, we can find many illustrations of leaders who believed the People matter.  They also believed corporations had their place in our society.  For example, Woodrow Wilson said:
"America was established not to create wealth, but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal:  to discover and maintain liberty among men." (and women, too, of course!)

Theodore Roosevelt said:

"Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth."


I truly believe everyone has an interest in this movement, regardless of political affiliation.  There are so many common interests here for Progressives, Tea Partiers and those in between.   This doesn't need to be another fight, pitting conservatives against liberals.  Nearly everyone agrees things look grim.  If we work together as Americans, everyone will be better for it, especially the USA!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Be a Part of the Solution

Recently I've heard a lot of everyday Americans ponder the question: What can I do to help the unemployed.  There's a good chance that if you're reading this post you are either unemployed or know someone who is.  If you ARE employed and have friends or family members who are unemployed, you likely feel powerless and frustrated seeing your loved ones go through such difficult times.

So, what can you do to help?  I have a few suggestions that do not take a whole lot of effort on your part, but could make a huge impact.

If you live in Chicago, I'd like you to check out the Chicago Career Tech website.  I learned about this organization a few months ago via a WGN news segment.  Being unemployed myself, I contacted them and went through the process.  I'm happy to announce that I've been accepted into their program to earn a certificate in Social Media Marketing! 

The organization offers certification courses (at many city colleges and other accredited institutions) and the chance to work hands-on with a company in the target field to prepare to re-enter the job market with improved, updated skills.  What an opportunity! 

So what can you do?  Well, while you may not be a decision-maker at your organization, you CAN pass this site along to your manager or HR department and encourage them to become a partner with CCT.  It's an amazing and positive PR opportunity for your company to be one of the few being a part of the solution to our terrible unemployment situation in our country!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Today's Reframe: Image Issues

Today I am taking a break from recounting my Recession story to share something I saw that is linked directly to my central message about Reframing Shame.  As I alluded to in my last post, my goal is to help people reshape the way they look at things, particularly shame.  Cultural norms and cues shape how we react to everything, but they are often boiled down to simple black and white judgements, often negative.  We need to get past the noise and negative judgements to find a positive, healthy mindset for ourselves.

This is a great example of someone who has taken a cultural cue about who we "should" be and, because she didn't fit that mold, decided to reframe the message.  I love it!  Kudos to her!


A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

"Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defends and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I'd rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn't enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: "How amazing am I ?! "

By:  Delphine Fieberg
(The girl on the picture is French model Tara Lynn)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Unemployed and Counting...

In my previous post I discussed my loss of employment in the heart of one of the toughest economic downturns the country has seen in more than a half-century.  It came at the beginning of a presidency filled with hope and change.

Fast forward ten months from Inauguration Day to October 2009.  This is when the situation began to go from bad to worse.

Despite my reluctance, I filed for unemployment benefits in April.  Meantime, nearly every temp agency I signed up with was inundated with applicants and short on assignments, so 'stop gap' measures grew more difficult.  Worse, every resume submitted was either ignored or responded to with a rejection letter.  Things were looking grim.

What's more, as my nest egg dwindled, I increasingly worried about my ability to pay my mortgage.  President Obama passed the Making Homes Affordable program in March 2009 and banks, including mine--Chase--began accepting applications in April. 

Going into this, I wasn't looking to the banks to do this gratis, and I didn't expect the bank to lose money on me either.  Simply put, I was looking to stretch out my savings in case this bout of unemployment lasted longer than expected.  My hope was that the interest rate could be lowered which, in turn, would lower my monthly payment; The bank would still make a profit off of me, just not as much.

From the beginning of the process (April 2009), advisors from Chase informed me to continue paying my mortgage because it would better my chances of being approved for the MHA program.   From April until October--when I finally received a decision--they repeatedly requested additional paperwork that was not part of the requirements, asked for resubmissions because they 'lost' my information or claimed they never received information (despite "successful" fax receipts).  What a bureaucratic nightmare!  Nevertheless, was told all along that my chances were good given my excellent credit rating and superb history of paying my mortgage on time.

To my surprise the letter arrived and stated that I was not eligible for the program because my situation was not of a permanent nature.  More specifically, they stated that unemployment was not of a permanent nature.  Hopefully not, but it was clear that the President and Congress passed this legislation to help those who were finding themselves in a long-term unemployment situation.

Wow...now what?  I wasn't going to take this lying down.  I jumped through their hoops and I followed the rules and according to Congress, I qualified for this assistance!  The media would have a field day with this...and I was just the one to tell them!

(please forgive the background noise of a friend giggling at various spots during the story)

My story continues here...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hope and Change

Chicago is my hometown and an amazing city!  It was an especially exciting place to live in 2008 with all the buzz of the presidential campaign.   I was personally lucky enough to meet and shake then-senator Obama's hand at the Super Tuesday event at the Hyatt (see photo below.  I'm between Obama and Jesse Jackson) as well as attend the gigantic Grant Park election night acceptance speech.  It was truly an amazing moment for my city, and like a majority of Americans, I was excited about "hope and change.

Sadly, the change that came my way just three days after Obama's inauguration was not what I had expected.  It would be the first time in my life I'd lose my job. 

At first, I wasn't worried; I've worked since the age of 15 and never had trouble landing a job.  After all, I had a Master's degree, including two years of study abroad; ten years of solid professional experience, including international work and a positive, passionate attitude!  What's more is that being the product of a fiscally conservative mother, I maintained little debt and a comfortable nest egg, so even in tough times, I could manage for several months.

Although I was confident about my ability to quickly land back on my feet, the economic free fall of the previous four months put a lot of things into question.  Unemployment rates were quickly rising as mass layoffs were announced daily; the media reported about the complete crash of the housing market, which would affect all other areas of the economy.  My first sent resumes were rejected.  This was like nothing I had experienced.

With more than 8 months of savings and a new President installed, I was hopeful that my unfortunate situation would change quickly.  Boy was I wrong...

The story continues here...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Conversation Begins today

Welcome to my new blog!  I’m really excited to begin a conversation with everyone.  There may be times we don’t agree, and we’ll try to persuade the other of our argument.  Some reasons will be compelling and might move one or both of us in a different direction, but we’ll always remain respectful to one another.  A vigorous debate is always fun, but it should always remain respectful.  Disagreeing in itself is not disrespectful, it’s the manner in which we disagree that can be.

So what is this conversation’s subject?  Well, it’s mainly about shame and how to unlearn much of what we have learned through social cues that stop us in our tracks, or paralyze us so much that we can’t move forward.  Have you been unemployed?  Gone through foreclosure?  Bankruptcy?  Divorce?  Coming out to your family and friends?  The list goes on…
If you have experienced any of life’s challenges listed above, you’re sure to have encountered judgements and statements that, when analyzed, clearly have a negative connotation to them.  Here are just a few:
  • People who are unemployed are just lazy.  They only need to apply for jobs and they’d have one!
  • Filing for bankruptcy is for losers and those who mooch off the system!
  • I can’t believe all those people who don’t pay their mortgage payment!  What?  Do they think they should live for free?!
  • Well, people shouldn’t get divorced.  Divorce means they didn’t work hard enough on their marriage.
These statements come with a lot of judgement and can change the way we view ourselves, often negatively, which is not at all useful while we are going through a rough patch.

So what do I know about this?  What makes me an expert?  Well, like many of you, I’ve become a poster child for the Great Recession.  Despite my Master of Arts degree, over 10 years of work experience, bilingual speaking abilities (French/English) and many more talents, I lost my job in January 2009.  At the time, I had a credit score in the mid 800s, very low credit card debt and more than $10,000 in savings.  What happened next was something I never expected at the age of 32.

I would spend 22 months unemployed, having sent out hundreds of resumes, attending networking events, career fairs and the like.  I would lose my condo to foreclosure and consequently file for bankruptcy.  If that wasn’t enough, after landing a great job, the company hit financial troubles 6 short months after my arrival and I would lose my job again! 

During this round, I faced an IRS audit and a huge debacle with the State unemployment office that put me on the hook for thousands of dollars, despite THEIR errors!  Indeed, this recession has been “great” and caused much depression for many.

Through it, however, I found patches of hope, happiness and harmony.

So, this blog will chronicle some of the adversity I faced.  It will also be a place I post and discuss interesting topics surrounding shame and how we, as Americans, view ourselves as a result of what we are ‘taught’ by our culture.  It will also be a place to talk about how to reframe that shame.  The judgements and opinions of others will never go away; it’s embedded in our culture, but we can find ways to over come them and move forward with peace in ourselves.

Let the discussion begin…