One of Eight Million…..
My story begins a little more than two years ago: February, 2010, a few days before my 50th birthday. 36-inches of snow had fallen in my town, Skippack, Pennsylvania, cloaking buildings and streets in a soft, white blanket. But the world was not soft. I just lost a job I had held for ten years. A quick Google search indicates that I was one of about eight-million people in the United States who lost jobs between 2008 and 2010.
My former company sent me to an outplacement service for help with job seeking skills such as resume writing and networking. I remember sitting across from a white-haired, middle-aged man at the very corporate-looking conference table they provided for us to meet and discuss our progress and challenges in finding a new job. This gentleman was coming to the end of his severance pay and the end of the time period for which he was eligible for outplacement services. He had no immediate prospects for work, no innovative idea about what to do next, no way to pay his bills, health issues, brewing tension at home with his wife, and, likely, more problems of which I was not aware.
We all live close to a thin line, the one that divides us from that dark, engulfing sustenance; despair. Sitting in the outplacement center, listening to this gentleman, I thought, “Will I cross that line in the upcoming months?”
DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND LISTEN: A simple phrase that my father, Bernie Shaw, said to me still sticks out in my mind. He said, “Michael, you have to work.” With the instinctive communication that takes place between people who love each other, even if they don’t always agree, I knew exactly what he meant. Not only did I have the challenge of paying the bills, I could not, recession or no recession, stop being what I am — a writer and editor. It was my identity, not just a paycheck, which I had to go out and rebuild.
I loved creative writing as a kid and when my wife and I started looking for a house, we discovered Skippack, a little-known Pennsylvania town with unusual shops, lively social gathering places, and restored 19th century buildings. Even before we bought our house here, I sensed it was a place that might inspire me to write. The idea of a blog about life in Skippack was starting to take shape in my mind. But how would this solve my immediate problem, finding employment?
A professional employment recruiter told me that my blog would be of value to potential employers as long as, rather than advocating a personal agenda, my writing helped support business. If my writing helped promote Skippack’s economy, culture and community events, I could use it to strengthen my resume and provide potential employers with up-to-date samples of my work.
My conversation with this recruiter crystallized in my mind, the idea for I Love Skippack and I had already built friendships with shop owners. So I dedicated my blog to supporting locally-owned businesses, community life, events, and non-profit associations, such as the Skippack Historical Society and Playcrafters of Skippack, our community theater. Even if no one had asked me to do it and no one would pay me for it, I would make Skippack, its people, places and events, my job as well as my place of residence.
Not long afterward, I found real, paid employment from a well-established, national company. I had a great new job as well as a blog to maintain. I had my identity back. I was Michael Shaw again and now, the Skippack Blogger as well.
Only in fairy tales do we get a “happily-ever-after” ending. In real life, the best ending we hope for is the prizefighter’s reward, the chance to do battle another day.
This year we’ve had a mild winter, no major snow storms. Spring is already going strong and for me, the past two years have been a journey up from darkness. This time though I took the first step out of darkness with my wife by my side. This time, for the first time since I left my parent’s home, I did not face it alone. Along my journey, I met wonderful people.
*Skippack shop owners: Skippack is a town of individually-owned mom and pop stores. There are no chain stores or restaurants such as Starbucks or Wal-Mart. Through my blog, I get to know many of Skippack’s shop and restaurant owners: Independent entrepreneurial spirits from all walks of life, each one has a great story to tell.
*My community: My blog helps me reach outside the commercial zone of Skippack Village and provides an entree into many aspects of life in my adopted town.
*My Web and social media mentor: My generation did not grow up with the Internet and social media; I have a lot of catching up to do. Thanks to I Love Skippack, I was able to reach out to a Skippack-based web designer and social media expert and we have formed an informal partnership. He is helping with the design and social media outreach for my blog and guiding me in the ways of the new digital age.
*A nationally-known blogger and social media personality: One morning, my wife was sitting in the kitchen reading More magazine. She read an article about Rene Syler and Good Enough Mother and urged me to look at it. I couldn’t imagine how an article in More magazine could be relevant to me. But my wife is smarter than me, so I always listen to her. When I read about Rene, I found many aspects of her life inspiring, but the way in which Rene reinvented herself and reignited her career through social media really struck a chord. I sent an email to Rene via Good Enough Mother and we corresponded, which is how I got the opportunity to write the blog post you are reading now.
The great thing about life on this spinning planet is not that the night is temporary, but that the night contains blessings that we don’t see until the light of day. What is the life lesson? In the words of my father Bernie Shaw: You can’t give up the battle.
More from GEM:
Michael Shaw is grateful to be working full time as web content manager for a Fortune 500 company which provides educational services for working adults. He is also grateful for the opportunity to write for Good Enough Mother. He blogs at I Love Skippack and would love it if you would “Like” the I Love Skippack Facebook page.