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.