Friday, November 27, 2009

A year after the axe

Monday marks exactly 54 weeks since I was pink-slipped, which means I’m reflecting nonstop this weekend about relationships.

Connections, after all, have been the coin of my new realm. Whether or not you get work, fulltime or freelance, depends far more on whom you know that what you’re able to do. Which means you’re constantly looking for new contacts—anyone who can open a door, refer you to worthwhile link, serve as a partner, offer some helpful advice, or just make the prospecting process a little more pleasant.

You can’t help but evaluate those relationships, as mercenary as that might sound. Actually, I wish I knew some real mercenaries who could deal with a few of the people who figured into my career efforts of the past year.

Many of the contacts with whom I’ve interacted deserve their own Hallmark special. Near strangers stepped forward to help me in ways that I never would have expected—in one instance, the sister of a distance acquaintance; in another, someone who’d seen my byline but have never once written, called or otherwise had any interaction while I was on a publication’s staff. But he stepped up with some immediate help.

A woman I’d known for years, though not very well, came forward with job help that kept me from making a huge mistake. I could see no gain for her except the gratification of thwarting a bull-shit artist who’d already sold her some snake oil. Indeed, her assistance could’ve backfired into a job problem for her. Yet she did right by me, for which I’m hugely grateful. I’d now walk over hot coals for her.

At the other extreme were the people I had regarded as friends but soon learned were snakes that had learned to slither upright. A few wouldn’t even speak with me afterward, even on a personal basis. Once I couldn’t help them any longer, or no longer posed competition, I was dead to them.

Most galling of all was the former colleague who called up a source of freelance work to ask that he award the assignments instead to some of her cronies. He ignored her, and indeed has given me considerably more work since then.

The Snidely Whiplash in that scenario also rebuffed an 80-plus-year-old contact/friend who wanted to get in touch with me after I’d been fired. She said she had no idea where to reach me, even though I’d retained the e-mail address and cell phone number that I’d used during the three years she and I had worked together. Indeed, it’s printed on a wallet-sized directory that I know the staff still uses.

And then there are the thieves, legions of them. We journalists have our strong points, to be sure. But respect for another’s work is clearly not one of them. I can’t tell you how many times my blog and Twitter postings have been ripped off by other members of the media. Friends have advised me to put in a bit of mis-information as a way of scaring them off. But I don’t want to sink to that level.

Of course, journalists aren’t the only parties to swipe an idea. A longtime acquaintance approached me to see about working together. I had an idea that complemented the specialty of his consulting firm, so we discussed it a bit. Then he largely disappeared. He resurfaced with a new venture that incorporated many of the points we’d discussed. I can’t prove he knowingly borrowed my notions, but the coincidence certainly is striking.

I’m not mentioning names here because of the Six Degrees of Separation rule—you never know who’s linked with whom. And at the one-year mark, my prospects for a fulltime job aren’t exactly looking robust.

I could use as many positive relationships as I can forge.

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