When Quitting IS the Best Option

I quit

There seems to be a multitude of posts on the topic of quitting populating LinkedIn in recent days.

Maybe it’s the coming of spring and how the change of seasons enlightens and empowers people to start anew; maybe it’s because the job market is supposedly on the upswing.

Not being a social scientist, but a simple writer, I am absorbing these with growing interest and not a minimal amount of wonder.

I quit several times in my somewhat long career, but only once when I did not have another job in the bag:

I was working for a news service in Washington, D.C. — a place which was a starting point for many journalists in the post-Watergate era. The pay was abysmal, the boss was a tad paranoid — but the pluses far outweighed the negatives.

You got a chance to cover political Washington and at the same time get your bylines in some of the country’s most prestigious newspapers and wire services. And for many — some with now household names — the company’s opportunities led to much bigger and better things.

Each of one us fledgling reporters was assigned different newspapers, usually decided by state, and if we were not that publication’s primary reporter, we did get pretty significant stories to write. Particularly if your state had one of the more influential and busy newspapers.

I was assigned two states: One which had two small, but good papers; the second with some of the best papers in the country.

Despite being dirt poor, I was having the time of my young life: I was a Washington correspondent and my byline appeared on the same pages with journalists of note. Ramen and tuna were staples, but who cared!

Then one day, two events coincidentally occurred simultaneously, which changed everything — and led me to not only quit, but storm out the door with a few choice words:

  • I was accused of leaking some internal financial information to friends at a major Washington newspaper. The reason: They had gotten hold of some damaging data, they were my friends — so it had to be me; and
  • A new reporter was introduced to the newsroom who had some prior experience in my bigger state and I was told he would be taking over the papers in that jurisdiction.

I tried to point out the absurdity of the first accusation to no avail. I then pointed to my unbridled enthusiasm and loyalty in my months of coverage: This too changed nothing.

So, I turned to the boss, told him what I thought of him and stormed out the door, taking the minimal belongings that were mine.

It was a major rush to turn to him and say: “I Quit.”

The managing editor literally chased me down the street and asked if I knew what I was doing and that jobs in journalism weren’t easy to find (even back then).

I said I could care less; I was throwing caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may.

I was also in my mid-20s!

Now, I justify my quitting without another job on two levels:

  • I was unjustly accused of compromising my place of employ when all I had ever exhibited was hard work, for low pay at absurd hours; and
  • I had snatched from underneath me the opportunity to work for two of the best newspapers in the country at the time.

Total disrespect was the reason I quit — that, and I was young enough to do so with youth’s empowerment of invincibility on my side.

I to this day believe that there is only so much disrespect a person can take at a workplace before they decide enough is enough. And, I might have quit some other jobs before the time was appropriate had I not found other venues — or needed the money.

But my age was the key: It’s a lot easier to quit outright when you are 25 than when you are 45!

And, by way of a postscript: I found another quite awe-inspiring job the next day.

The Absurdity of a Cable TV Ad

billhemmer

Let me start by emphasizing that this post is not a reflection on Fox News, CNN or even Comcast. What this post is is an example of what I consider the utter absurdity of a cable TV ad — on several levels.

The ad has Bill Hemmer, a newsman who has been on CNN and now is one of the main anchors on Fox, promoting advertising on Comcast Spotlight. The following is the script of the ad.

Hi, I’m Bill Hemmer from America’s Newsroom on the Fox News Channel. Why advertise on Fox News with Comcast Spotlight? While the number of prime time broadcast TV viewers has gone down, the number tuning in to cable news has actually gone up – and Fox News has dominated as the Number 1 rated cable news channel since 2002. That gives you a powerful and geographically targeted platform to reach your customers. So advertise your business locally on Fox News with Comcast Spotlight.

Now let me list why I consider this ad to be absurd:

  • You have a respected newsperson advertising a product;
  • It is an ad on CNN, considered a Fox News Channel competitor; and
  • It is an ad for Comcast, which owns CNBC — an ideological Fox competitor.

I report — you decide.

Bunny in the Snow

bunny in the snow

I live in a semi-suburban apartment complex — I can actually on a good day throw a baseball into Washington, D.C.

It was a brutal day on Saturday — it snowed all day and cars were completely covered and blocked. The word was to stay off the road.

I was looking out the window when I saw a bunny scurry across the parking lot. Now, the nearest park is several blocks away and I couldn’t figure where the furry little animal started the journey.

I ran down to see if there was anything I could do, but by the time I got down there the bunny was gone. In retrospect, there was nothing I could have done anyway, but the thought of the animal in the freezing snow was breaking me up.

I am about to repeat an oft-used moral, one that I learned years ago when reading “The Canterbury Tales” — if you can’t be kind to animals, how can you be expected to respect human beings?

Famed modern German philosopher Immanuel Kant, summed it up as follows:

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Here’s a quick tale to emphasize the point:

I once had a boss that can only be described as being pure evil and extremely paranoid. So paranoid in fact — and I am not making this up — he would use a mirror on a stick to look under his Jeep when he left work to make sure no one had tampered with the vehicle.

This man also once told me that my writers had to rework a newsletter that he had already approved and they would have to come in on Thanksgiving to do the work.

I complained vehemently to no avail, but told him I could not do that to my colleagues and would come in and do the work myself.

This man hated dogs and made it very clear that he did. He once told me that he got a thrill out of calling over strays — and then kicking them. I was flabbergasted.

One weekend I brought my mixed-breed Ralph to the office, since no one was there. He for some reason entered the above-mentioned boss’ office — and proceeded to pee on his rug.

You see, Ralph sensed the obvious.

And, I hope the bunny made it to wherever he/she was going safely.

The Freedom of (Hate) Speech

back to normal

I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day that troubled me deeply. It was simply titled “The Zionist are cancer to humanity.”

It bothered me not so much because of the post itself — though that was bad enough — but more due to the reaction it elicited. (Forget the fact that it was totally ungrammatical.)

There was a back-and-forth between pro- and anti-Israeli positions, which I duly understand.

But those supporting the premise that Zionism is a cancer made comments that I found particularly gruesome and troubling, calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the killing of Jews worldwide.

Not because they are not entitled to their opinions — even if they are considered by anyone’s civil-society standards as completely vile — but it was because of the countries that some of these opinions came from.

Countries where if you would dare make comments against government or authority, you could get whipped, jailed — or even killed.

We are very lucky that we live in a country where you can say and publish almost anything without censorship and in most cases not being taken to punishable task. (I wouldn’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater or say “I have a bomb” on an airplane.)

However, that does not mean you need to be unnecessarily repulsive when posting.

I, personally, try to understand all viewpoints. And, whether I agree with them or not, I respect the right of free speech.

But, hate speech is pointless.

And calling for destruction of a country — any country — or people because of their religion, personal beliefs, sexual orientation or race is totally disrespectful.

I respect the rights of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and had hoped from a very young age that there would be a resolution — and still do.

But the absolutely disgusting comments I read that day make me wonder what could possibly precipitate such utter hate.

I understand the anger of people who have lost family members in conflict. I have cousins who were murdered by extremists in Israel — and not in war; I lost a great percentage of my family in the Holocaust.

But posting such loathsome commentary on any site — particularly on a site designed to build, not destroy connections, like LinkedIn — leaves me totally puzzled.

Brain Williams: Personality Cultist

Brian Williams

There are three questions surrounding the Brian Williams saga that have consumed the debate:

  • Why did he deceive the public, when the facts could easily be verified?
  • How many of the stories he told on Letterman and elsewhere were lies, or at the very least extreme exaggerations?
  • And what can he do to redeem himself?

You can’t turn on a cable news channel, read a newspaper or blog, or turn to a website on the topic and not hear or read from a slew of experts on one of the three.

We have heard from everyone from fellow journalists, to Navy SEALs, to crisis-management experts, to psychologists — and even from noted intellectual Charlie Sheen — as to why he created the quagmire he finds himself in and how he can extricate himself from the muck.

The details of each have been dealt with numerous times — both here and elsewhere — so I will try not to be redundant.

The reason he was confused about Katrina was he had dysentery; his claims that he was given gifts by SEALs were fabrications, but basically harmless bravado made on an entertainment program, so what’s the big deal? (BTW: I totally disagree with this argument.)

However, I do want to address one issue that has been used as a defense for his claims related to Iraq: The Fog of War.

I have known, and still know, many reporters who have covered conflicts, put their lives on the line and suffered deeply as a result.

Whether they have been kidnapped, like the titan of journalism we just lost, Bob Simon; wounded and nearly died, like current CNN analyst Kimberly Dozier, or were killed in conflict, like my old friend and former colleague Marie Colvin.

I can continue the name dropping, adding those who were murdered by ISIS and those who are still involved in coverage in the Middle East, Ukraine, Central Africa and elsewhere.

These brave and dedicated people are the ones that suffer the Fog of War. Not some highly paid news people who go over to these areas of conflict for short stints — mostly for the publicity involved and the ratings and exposure it brings to their outlets.

Brian Williams was once a fine, investigative journalist. I have watched his work since he was a reporter on Fox News’ station WTTG in Washington, D.C.

He has devolved into a personality cultist.

He fell into a trap of his own making and it infuriates me when people try to make excuses for his behavior or theorize what he can do to bring his credibility back.

The Fog of War!

Go talk to the parents of James Foley or Colvin about the Fog of War.

Brian Williams is a pathetic, habitual liar. If he had just done it once, maybe he could be forgiven. But we are daily getting more incidents under question.

Let him take his millions and figure out what he has done — maybe spending it on a good shrink would help.

But as a true journalist, he is not redeemable. And people should stop trying to make it sound like these incidents are going to blow over.

And, though it it’s a darn shame, he has no one — or anything — to blame but himself.

‘Human Capital’ Is Not Machines

Contract

Let me start by saying the main point of this post, which I will eventually get to, is: Never take on a job, contract or consultancy until you have it in writing. This should be obvious, but it is surprising how many people I have spoken to who start a project before it is all official.

So, now for the meandering.

I have already posted about the first time I was referred to as “Human Capital” by a very important CEO and couldn’t hold back and blurted out: “Are you comparing me to a machine?” Needless to say, it did not endear me to this fine gentleman.

Well, I recently had an experience, which reinforces the overwhelming perception that many executives look at people – even at some of their best talent – as nothing more than machines, unless they significantly improve the company’s bottom line.

Now, before you go off and say the purpose of any business is the bottom line: I fully understand this and agree. But that does not mean an employee should be treated like a machine – or worse, like a piece of furniture.

Again, I will slightly fudge some of the details here and not name names – it is not my way. It is not that I fear attribution, but let the guilty stew in their own brew, without me stirring their personal pots.

The following happened to me with the same company – not once, but twice. (And, yes, I know: Fool me once….)

I get a phone call early in the morning a few months ago from a CEO that I have known for several years saying she desperately needs to speak to me. She had just returned from vacation and found out that her main media coordinator had given notice, and she needed to fill the position very quickly.

The CEO wanted me to come in the same day to discuss whether I would take on the job as a consultant, or better yet full time. Explaining I had obligations we agreed on a time the next day.

She introduced me to her No 2, who sat down with me and discussed details of the job, my responsibilities and the amount of compensation. I told him that I would like to start on a contract basis and we could go on from there.

I was told I would get a phone call, probably by the time I got home from the two-hour drive, finalizing the starting date, etc.

For the sake of brevity: I sat and contemplated whether I should tell my other clients I would finish my projects, but after that I no longer would be available.

But, something told me to wait.

I waited for that phone call for hours. Finally, late in the evening, after business hours, I got an email saying they had changed their mind and were going to reorganize from within.

Obviously not pleased, I just chalked it up and decided to move on.

Then, about a week ago, I got a phone call from the same CEO, pretty much with the same pitch. I was wary, but assured this time it would be different and the man who I considered the villain in the first encounter was gone.

So, we met, I was introduced to my “team.” We started talking details and I told them I would start doing research on the position and was willing to start Monday (that’s tomorrow).

I contacted her Friday by phone and then email, saying I had begun my research but had a few questions. No Reply.

I said she could call me Saturday. And guess what the response was:

They had again changed their mind.

Back to the point:

  • Never, ever, agree to start a job, contract, consulting position or anything else until you have it in writing;
  • Always remember that there are many people out there that are looking for work – despite recent figures that show an improving economy – and you are just a considered a cog in most machines; and finally:
  • You are not a machine, but deserve to be treated with the respect you rightly deserve.

This all reminds me of a TV show I saw as a child called “The Prisoner” where the main character keeps on hearing a voice saying: “You are number 6” and his answer was: “I am not a number, I am a free man.”

Oh, and don’t EVER call me “human capital.”

How to Keep on Keeping On

Fist

When I got laid off a year ago, I was not surprised, nor — for reasons I am not allowed to discuss — particularly upset.

The very next day (which was a Saturday), I revised my resume, started posting it on all the usual suspects and started hitting LinkedIn and other sites with a fury. I embarked on a mission to contact everyone I knew and made the obvious requests to keep their eyes and ears open.

I did not go into a funk; I did not feel sorry for myself; and I wasn’t even immediately worried about where my next paycheck was coming from.

I was doing everything I was supposed to do — or so I thought. But it was pointed out to me by two very good friends (who as is my way will remain nearly anonymous) that I was not doing what I do best:

Writing!

Both these friends — one who I have known since college and later worked with, the other who I have also known since almost the beginning of my career — basically kicked me in the butt and said: “Sit your tush down and write.”

They actually gave me a pretty hard time, because they said all I was doing, by not doing, was wasting my talent – and it is extensive, if I do say so myself.

At first, I was angry: Who are these people to tell me what to do? And then I thought about it and came to a conclusion:

They were right.

Now to the point: Just because you lose your job does not mean you should not continue to try and do what you know best.

Obviously in some professions it is easier than others: unless an unemployed actor is into street theater, this advice doesn’t help much.

But there are other ways to use your talents until you land where you want to:

Volunteering immediately comes to mind. So does reading everything you can on advancements in your profession and telling people – particularly on LinkedIn – what you have learned.

I have already blogged on the fear of writing and on retooling your career after 50, so I won’t repeat myself.

But I will say giving up is not the way to go.

There are days when you won’t feel like pushing; there are days when you will want to take off from the job-search grind – and you should, for both sanity and health reasons.

But we should still wake up most morning looking, driving ourselves and pushing forward. That’s how human beings are built.

And, in conclusion to one of my more obvious blogs:

I thank my old Mets fan friend from up north and the Cincinnati Kid for kicking me in the butt.

Those on Your Way Up, Might Be Those on Your Way Down

janitor

I used to visit my uncle at his huge textile factory in Long Island City, N.Y. The man was owner of a well-respected company and a giant in his industrial circle.

Each morning, he would bring three cups of coffee to work: One for himself, one for his receptionist and one for the janitor.

One morning on my weekly visit, I asked him: “Why, if you own the firm are you doing this”?

His answer was simple: “Those you meet on the way up, might be the same people you meet on the way down — so get your nose out of the air!”

The answer surprised me, but taught me an important lesson: When you enter the offices of the company you work for, want to work for, or just have a scheduled meeting with an associate, always treat each person who crosses your path as if they owned the place.

We all have had bosses who treated us brutally and all have witnessed colleagues who treat the janitor as if he or she was of less importance than that boss.

Bad mistake.

Not only does it show that you have little regard for your fellow human being but — more importantly in a business situation — it shows you have little knowledge of human resources.

(We won’t even get into the first time I was referred to as “human collateral” and almost forgot the point of this post and nearly reverted to the street kid I once was.)

There is an old business axiom that goes something like this: I’d rather be respected and feared than loved.

To me, that’s a bunch of malarkey.

Most of us, barring those who are totally miserable on the job, want to make their worth known. We want to be appreciated and respected for what we do and what we bring to the table.

This does not mean you have to “love” everyone you work with or for. What it does mean — and without sound trite, or biblical — you should do onto others.

On that note, here are several lessons I have learned in my years as an employer and employee:

  • Always at least listen to what a colleague has to say — whether you agree with that person or not or whether she or he is a subordinate or a manager;
  • If you do disagree with what is being said, politely let the person know why and how the idea might be improved;
  • And finally, never demean or besmirch a person’s idea, especially in front of others.

This might seem like obvious comments, and you might not always be in the mood to have to sit through — let’s say a meeting you consider full of drivel.

But in the long run, it will serve you well.

Just ask my ex-boss, who was just fired for his negative attitude toward his employees.

All I could do was smile as I waved good-bye.

And, by the way, I bring the receptionist coffee every morning.

Marion Barry’s Mixed Legacy

Last night, former “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry passed on.

If you live or lived for any extended period of time in the District of Columbia, you might have seen him as a civic and civil rights hero; a champion of the disenchanted and disenfranchised; the first true leader of the city — or a scofflaw, a letch, a drug user and a tax evader.

But the one thing you could not do was ignore him.

marion barry

When I first arrived in D.C. at the end of 1976, there was a definitive distinction between “tourist” Washington and the city itself. The only comparison that immediately comes to mind is the “Green Zone” in Iraq and the rest of the country.

There will be plenty written in the next few days about this incredible – yes I said incredible – man.

He started the revitalization of a city where people – both black and white – were afraid to tread at night. He brought the concept of civil rights – of which he had considerable experience before he arrived in 1965 – to a broken city.

And most importantly, to me, he made me proud to live in D.C.

One of my first jobs in D.C. was covering the District government and Barry.

I watched as the four-time mayor pushed the city of Washington and its citizens as dynamic forces.

There were always questions in the background about his infidelities and other “liberties” taken both with the law and with the City Council.

As a matter of fact, at the end of one news conference he made an overt pass at my then girlfriend and I unabashedly said if I ever saw that again, I wouldn’t care that he was mayor.

We also both worked out at the same YMCA, so I am pretty glad I never had to carry through on any threats.

I was also on the scene of the now-forgotten hotel where video was taken of the mayor smoking crack and – when busted in what was obviously a frame-up – uttered the now infamous: “The bitch set me up.”

He went to jail for that, but came back and was re-elected to the City Council – several times – while continuing to be accused of various violations of traffic laws and other white-collar crimes.

Why?

Because D.C. loved Marion Barry.

I watched as Barry went into dilapidated areas of the city and offered long-boarded up houses in questionable areas of the city for $1, if the buyer agreed to have them renovated. The townhouses now sell for millions.

I watched as Barry pushed to renovate some of the city’s black landmarks – many of which were destroyed during the riots after the 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King – who Barry once worked with.

(Barry as head of Pride, Inc., working on D.C. impoverished housing in 1970 before he entered public office. Photo courtesy Henry David Rosso.)

Barry was a longtime warrior for civil rights long before he came to D.C., a fact acknowledged by President Obama upon news of his death.

“Marion was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades,” Obama said. “As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advanced the cause of civil rights for all. During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity and begin to make real the promise of home rule.”

I watched as Barry fought to bring the city the respect it deserved.

In his recently published autobiography “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.” he flaunts – in his flamboyant style – his accomplishments, but also acknowledges his foibles.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

The Powerhouse and His One-Eyed Dog

I have the honor of knowing an 89-year-old gentleman whose physical, mental and emotional capabilities would put most men a quarter of his age to shame.

Like many other men of his age, he has watched as his wife, friends and relatives slipped away and as result was granted a service dog for “emotional” support: A one-eyed, shelter, service dog — though it was not known at the time that this amazing animal was half blind.

This gentleman: A veteran of the wars of the Brooklyn streets when the Mafia ruled; the son of a woman who made bathtub gin to keep the family afloat; and who worked on some of the most sensitive defensive weapons this nation has ever created — sometimes alongside Nazis brought to this country for their scientific knowledge — loves his service dog.

But, it is what he does with the dog that is truly astounding. He uses the one-eyed miracle to help others.

shayna-dad-1

This gentleman is not content to sit at home; he takes the dog named Shayna — Yiddish for beauty — to homes for the elderly, hospices, hospitals, children’s wards and to those who have little happiness and hope in their lives.

This is his passion — as he often opines: “Everyone has a right to a little company.”

Shayna brings smiles to faces of those who talk of death, despair, pain and loss of hope. Shayna Gives them joy.

dad and shayna

One particular story is both an example of what can be done and a tragedy of what cannot be changed.

The man often visits a 52-year-old former journalist who is suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. The ill young man speaks only of his desire to die; the life he could have had; and the lack of those who care that he still suffers on the face of this Earth he no longer considers his own.

But when the upright smiling gentleman enters with Shayna, this all changes. She jumps straight into his lap and snuggles next to his face. Yes, he still talks of the tragedy that is his life.

But for a few hours each week, the three: The 89-year-old man, the one-eyed dog and the man whose life is wasting away sit together in peace. And the former successful journalist finds a tad of joy in what he knows will eventually be a horrible end.

This is a story of strength — the strength to look hell straight in the eye (sometimes with only one) and come out ahead because people care.

I cannot name this man because it would embarrass him — and he probably could kick my butt, even though I am considerably more than 30 years his junior.

But he is an inspiration: To me, to his family and to everyone who has the luck to cross his path — to anyone to whom he brings a moment of relief.

And Shayna?

This one-eyed super dog is a gift — a gift we would all be lucky to have. shayna