On September 1, 2008, an eager, bright-eyed 54-year-old sat down at the old laptop he had just inherited from his teenage son. What am I supposed to do with this?, he thought.
He could play solitaire. He could watch DVDs. He could play some more solitaire. He could hang out at the local coffee shop and look cool.
Or, he could build a blogging empire.
Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of this blog. Originally begun on Blogspot as “FiftySomethingMan,” the work migrated to WordPress later that fall and the rest, as they say, is history. Extremely obscure history, to be sure. But history all the same, as the term is literally defined (“something that’s written down, though not necessarily read by anybody”).
To honor the occasion, I’m reposting that original entry. Let’s move beyond the italic type, and read on…
So let’s see what this blogging stuff is all about.
I’m calling this blog “FiftySomethingMan” because I hope it’s mainly going to be about the challenges (many) and the triumphs (hopefully there’ll be some) of being a middle-aged, middle-class sorta-corporate-type in 2008. I’m facing much of the same stuff in my work life that a lot of people are dealing with right now – downsizing, outsourcing, cutbacks, restructurings – and I thought it might help get me through to keep some kind of chronicle as I seem to spiral toward unemployment or forced early retirement.
Sounds like fun reading, right?
I’ll also reserve the right to go off-topic periodically and write about something completely unrelated to work but that still might resonate with my Fellow Fitty’s. (“Fitty”, as I understand it, is a hep modern term referring primarily to the hip-hop performer “Fifty Cent”. Like most baby boomers, I try desperately to stay up with these things, but know in my heart I’m failing pathetically.) Not sure yet what those topics might be, but we all know there’s plenty of annoyances out there to keep us aging boomers complaining.
I guess I should start with a little about myself. A key fact – my true name – will go undisclosed at this point, as I’m hoping the anonymity will give me more freedom to write frankly. I’m a 54-year-old man, living in the suburbs of a major southern U.S. city with my wife and teenage son and our three cats. I’ve lived in the South for almost 30 years now and, even though I spent my life before that in Florida, I don’t consider myself a typical white Southerner. Thanks to parents who lived in the Northeast until just before I was born and several years of college education, I consider myself an enlightened progressive who is generally uncomfortable around all the NASCAR dads I come in contact with these days. I have a few hobbies, but probably not enough, and until just recently defined myself primarily by the kind of work I do.
I work in the financial services industry, helping process documents the Securities and Exchange Commission requires corporations to produce. I’ve done this for the last three decades. I consider myself very good at my job, and have been recognized as such by my company with a nice salary and extras that have included training opportunities around the world. In the last few years, however, this training “perk” has been diminished by the fact that it’s mostly Asian workers making a tenth of my pay that I’m training, and I’m basically showing them how to take my job away from me and my coworkers. I could’ve declined the opportunity but the movement of our work offshore would’ve just as easily gone on without me. I was convinced at one point that I was positioning myself as an intermediary who’d be able to maintain his position with the company even after all the work had transitioned overseas, but now I’m not so sure.
My office is located in a drab warehouse office park in a part of town more accustomed to the transportation industry and its giant trucks than to people working on disclosure documentation. They hollowed out a small corner of the warehouse to install our staff, our air-conditioning and our computers, but kept us close enough to our blue-collar “pick-and-packers” to remind us of the muggy fate that could eventually await us. There are probably about 40 of us left in the air-conditioning, down from the 80-90 we had only a few years ago. Most of those who have now moved on to another worklife left of their own choice, sensing how they’d eventually be shown the door anyway. Plus, there’s been a parade of countless temporaries who come and go like summer fireflies, many staying long enough to be trained by me and put in a few months before finding full-time work elsewhere.
Where we stand in the current economic downturn is not a good place: our clients are the suffering megabanks and investment houses you hear about in the business news, and the work they are able to give our company mostly goes to those able Asians I trained so well. Only six months ago, I was making almost half my take-home pay in overtime. Then it started getting slower and slower and we all knew something bad was about to happen. We actually breathed a sigh of relief six weeks ago when our department manager called a rare meeting to announce we were going on a four-day workweek and virtually no overtime. When we were summoned to gather ‘round and saw his trembling hands and nervous manner, we were actually relieved to hear we were only receiving drastic paycuts and nothing worse. Yay!
That seemed to relieve the pressure for him to do something for a little while, but as we continued to plod through the summer doing crossword puzzles and cross-stitch, the fears rose again. And then last week, news of layoffs elsewhere in the company started spreading (no formal announcements, of course; just farewell emails and unreturned phone messages) and again we’re wondering how much longer before the axe falls on our sorry necks.
As I write this now – ironically, on Labor Day weekend – I am perversely comforted by the new job losses. For at least a few of the departed, I’ve been asked to pick up some of their duties. Others’ absence may require a little more overtime from those who are left. These tea leaves give me another temporary jolt of job security.
I feel guilty for such a heartless attitude. It reminds me of how two of our cats will attack the third one whenever she cries out with a stepped-on tail. In a sense, we’ve become no more than animals looking out only for ourselves and our own families (if they’re lucky). The global economy is ruled by the law of the jungle, I guess, even though like my cats we’ve been semi-domesticated.
What will follow in future postings (I think that’s what they’re called) are stories of how and if I survive this downturn, and what happens if a pudgy grey-haired guy is thrown out into the job market only a few years short of what would have been his retirement. Maybe the attitude I’ve cultivated while working with hundreds of twenty-something trainees halfway around the world will somehow serve me when I end up interviewing with one of their American cohorts, trying to get myself another job.
Footnote from 2010: Somehow, two years later, I’m fortunate enough to still have the job. The world is a miraculous place.