Did You Even Know? It’s a Crisis!!

I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.” Until it was.

wordsmithstudios.org

Friends, I have been struggling with  this blog post!  I try to post something once a week.  I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.

Corey calls it the Type A personality in me.  “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again.  You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”

True story.

Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post.  When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words.  Most of my  posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less.  When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little.  His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.

“Wow,” he said.  “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it.  I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Welllll…  Major changes and here we are.  I’ll get right to the point.

Maine, what is happening to us?  Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know.  If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it.  I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.

The Numbers

 Maine is in crisis.    We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born.  So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate.  The baby boomers  are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find  employees to fill their jobs.  We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation.   They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.

And they might be right.

Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs?  Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?

We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise  a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state.  There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers,  in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.

Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant.  It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.

WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment.  It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide.  There are support services for childcare or transportation.  It pays for books.  It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding.  Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college.  WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for  dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.

There is a lot to the grant.   I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it.  I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.

I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24.  Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked.  I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.

Our organization did great work under that grant.   Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did.  They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.

The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds.  It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state.  LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.

My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long.  The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant.  He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.

Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?

The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market.  Get people trained or get them  credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired.   Make sure they are hired at a livable wage.  Make sure they stay working.

Our  job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and  find them viable employment.

ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems.  You know, like welfare?

Anyway,  last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is  targeting WIOA funding again.

I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time  we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals.  In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.

Yet, he didn’t care.  Instead,  we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over.  Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.

I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions.  It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome!  I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”

Until it was.

Shame on you, Governor LePage

We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people.  We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine  so great.

wordsmithstudios.org
Is it really?

Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools.  The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that

OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.

We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system.  WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.

We need to do everything we can to empower  individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.

We need to train Mainers.  We need to re-train them.  We need to educate them.  We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed.  We need to keep them in Maine.  We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.

We need to be helping people reach their potential.  We need to do the right thing.   Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable.  Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable.  Maybe it is listening to our subordinates.  Listening to our co-workers.   Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine.  Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation.  I don’t know what your right thing is…  But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things,  is spiraling.  And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.

It is my story after all.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

For  statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about  state, visit these websites:

www.maine.gov/labor/cwri       www.northeasternwdb.org

For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to:    bangordailynews.com

For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/

I Used to Be Somebody

I used to be somebody.   I was challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls. What do I do now that I am a nobody?

wordsmithstudios
I used to be somebody

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

When I was working it was a question I asked of  the young people who sat across from me.  These young, insecure, anxious kids were afraid–afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding.  Often I would challenge them with what seemed to me like a simple task, perhaps it was to make a phone call or to arrive to class or work on time or to ask a question during a meeting.

I would say, “Why don’t you ask that question at your next meeting?” or “Why don’t you call your caseworker/RA/supervisor/landlord and ask?” So often the answer would be:

“I can’t.”

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? 

I have challenged my son the same way, though probably not with the exact same question.   He is is smarter than both my husband and I and very outgoing and articulate.

Frankly, being smarter than me isn’t a huge accomplishment, but my husband, HE is pretty smart.  He won’t admit it, but he kinda has a photographic memory.  I say ‘kinda’ because he often forgets when I ask him to do something, like pick up the shit he leaves laying around or that yesterday I told him why I had to leave early today.  But he remembers almost everything he Googles and reads on Facebook.  And judging by the time he spends on both of those, he has A LOT of stuff stored up in that absorbent, photographic brain of his.

Corey’s excuse about not picking up his mess or remembering my schedule is that I never told him in the first place.  That’s stupid and totally his way of messing with me– if I am questioning myself, I can’t blame him.  (Smart, right??)

Did I really forget to tell him to pick up his crap or did I just say it in my head??  Well…who cares!?  He is a grown man;  he should know better.  That’s my go-to argument anyway.  All the while I am questioning myself in my head because I do have a memory problem and forget just about everything I don’t write down on my hand.

Anyway, Kobe is really smart.  The kid loves documentaries and has watched everything he can on Netflix.  So between that, YouTube, and his iPhone, he has harnessed the internet to educate himself and man, he just KNOWS things.  I shake my head in amazement everyday.

He is also incredibly articulate.

Me as keynote speaker during a local chamber awards dinner

And he does really great in school except for one subject: writing.  There is a reason for this, but it’s a long story and doesn’t really matter.  What matters is he hates his class and doesn’t like to ask for help.  The teacher will specifically ask the students if anyone needs help and he won’t ask for help.  If I ask him why,  he just says,

“I can’t.”

*sigh.*

wordsmithstudios; I used to be somebody
When I was in NYC to present at the Federal Reserve

“I can’t,” is so hard for me to hear.  I’m a fixer.  If there is an issue, I hate not being able to FIX IT.   If a challenge comes up in conversation, ANY conversation, I immediately shift  into fix it mode.  My friends will want to vent to me and will have to preface the venting session  with, “Denise, I don’t want you to fix it.  I just want to vent.”  Because they know.  They know for me, it hurts to not SOLVE THE PROBLEM…to take action… to just fix it.

And so here I am, 45 and 3 months into unemployment.  In so many ways I am at peace.  I feel settled at home and continue to enjoy creating a relatively stress free home for my family.   When my husband leaves for work, he even asks what we are having for dinner.  Because he is excited about eating what I make.

Like, when has that ever happened in my 20 years of marriage?

(The answer to that is NEVER, friends.  It has never happened.)

Well, I recently listened to Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I am an audio book listener.  I can’t read anymore.  I just fall asleep.  But I can listen to audio books while I am painting or cleaning or cooking or driving.  So I have listened to a bazillion books.  I LOVE Elizabeth Gilbert.  I loved Eat, Pray, Love.   I connected with that book so deeply. I read it maybe 3 times.  I felt she was literally speaking to me when she wrote it.  I loved her take on spirituality, on God, on life.  I feel like we are friends.

In Big Magic, Liz also asks the question.  She asked me, “Denise, what would you do if you knew you could not fail?  Would you trust yourself, your talents, your work?  Would you put yourself out there and trust that The Universe will provide for you?”

I cried.  I have been busting my ass writing a blog barely anyone reads, marketing mediocre talent in an Etsy shop with mediocre sales.  I just started a PoshMark closet .  I work 10 hours a week for a non-profit that helps juveniles stay out of the justice system.  The most positive feedback I get in a day is that my dinner tasted good.

I used to be somebody.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I think that’s what hit me the hardest.  I was asking that question to others and I was asking it while on some pedestal in a holier than thou spot in The Universe believing I was all that and a bag of chips.   Challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls.

Because I was somebody.

What do I do now that I am a nobody?

And I Rise Above

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.  And I rise above.  

Above
I was having a bad day yesterday.

I  pride myself on my optimism.  I named my blog Chronicles of the Dangerously Optimistic, didn’t I? I mean, I am truly a glass half filled kind of gal.  I always see the good. I have gotten into trouble many times because I have failed to see the bad.  But yesterday, yesterday I was really feeling shitty. And it obviously showed in my blog post.

I am actually a little embarrassed.

Yesterday I wrote about my ReStart.  Lost my job; blessing in disguise.  You know the story.  The details were just intimate to me.  I wrote about my opportunities.  Annnnnd the challenges.  Because now it’s 2 months in and things are getting harder.  So I wrote about ReTiring from this. Stopping this…

Giving up.

I basically whined. I apologize to the people to read that post.

But I also truly feel like things happen for a reason.   The Universe, it does it’s thing.  So when I saw the word of the day today was “Above,”  I figured The Universe was giving me my chance for ReDemption.

 

Yesterday, I was ready to give up on blogging.  I was ready to give up on my goal to cultivate my Etsy business.  Yesterday, I was ready to cut bait and run as they say.

Artwork from my Etsy shop WorDSMITHstudios on Etsy.com

I think that’s what they say…

But I am not giving up.  Hell no.  I am just going to work harder.

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.

And I rise above.

So here I am…

Here I am.  45 and UNEMPLOYED. Not the scenario I would have imagined for myself even 6 months ago.  But does anyone? 

I REALLY didn’t think it would happen. Our organization knew our program was in trouble at the state level, but I figured all would be ok.  We were doing what we were supposed to do.  We did good work.  I was really good at my job. (That’s what mattered right?!)  We were all committed to our work.  Our partners and state representatives were in our court, advocating to the Governor.  No one would ultimately take away the resources that provided support and assistance from the vulnerable, yet AMAZING program participants who were benefiting from the services we provided.    All would be right with the world.  

And yet here I sit.  Unemployed. 

I am the opposite of a realist.  I am an optimist in what could be the the worst way. Some could say I am dangerously optimistic.  ( Did you catch that there? )  I try to stay realistic, but in the end I figure everything will work out.  And did I say I was really good at my job?  That my colleagues were really good at their jobs?  We believed in our mission.  We were innovating.  We were meeting our performance measures.  In the world of non-profits, it is all about performance measures.  If you meet your performance measures, you keep your money.  That’s the belief anyway. 

We are fun.

 

You can imagine my shock when we actually did lose the funding. 

We live in crazy times my friends.  I could rant and rave for pages and pages describing how the grant that funded our program was unfairly and unjustly yanked out from under us.  But I won’t.  The fact is there are good people without a job and many, many individuals not able to benefit from valuable programs. 

Myself & co-workers
Aleigh & Nigel

For me, losing my job felt like I was losing a piece of myself.  I was comfortable with my work family. I had a great team. At work. I was the expert.  I was confident. People respected me and I knew the answers to the questions.  What was I supposed to do?  We were a very unique program in Maine.  Maine, people!   I couldn’t just whip up a resume and go down the street to the next non-profit.  I wanted to scream, “What about me? What about MY 5-year plan? What am I supposed to do NOW?”  

And it’s Christmas for goodness sake!! (December 1st was my last day).    
*cue temper tantrum*

And so here I am.  Still 45 and still unemployed. 

Once the dust settled, the tears were all cried, and I had time to just BE, I started to examine my situation.  

Actually, that’s a lie.  I think that’s what I thought I was supposed to say.    

What actually happened was I became so busy shuttling my kids around, running errands, cooking dinner, creating new art for my website (wordsmithstudios on etsy.com), re-connecting with friends…I was running my ASS off.   I was just as busy as I had been when I was working 40+ hours a week.  

My first epiphany was How the HELL did I ever WORK?  How did I do everything, including Etsy stuff  AND work?  

The difference was, without the full-time gig, I didn’t feel as stressed or anxious.  I actually started being a mother.  And a wife.  I was devoting more time to my Etsy shop.  And it didn’t feel all wrong. I was busy, but not CRAZYTRESSEDOUTFULLTIMEJOB MOM busy. 

When I was working, stress was constant. I would be driving like a maniac to pick my son up for an appointment  because I had left my office 15 minutes later than planned, only to stress my son out because he had been waiting for me to arrive during those 15 minutes.  Had I crashed?  Would we be late for his appointment?  Would we crash on the way TO the appointment because I was then speeding to get to the appointment on time? Then in the waiting room, I would be talking to him while checking emails and planning for what I would cook for dinner by way of the microwave.  Leaving the appointment meant booking it back to the office real quick to sit in on a final meeting, sign paperwork, check in with staff, and grab my laptop so I could do whatever work I needed to catch up on because I had been out of the office for that appointment.  Then home I would go.  I’d walk in the door to my house and my stress would spike because there was the messy living room littered with dishes from the morning. Grrrrr.  Keep going to the kitchen and the dishes were overflowing the sink and counter because the dishwasher was full and my daughter won’t unload it unless I remind her 3 times….

*inhale*

…and guilty.  I always felt guilty.  Guilty for going to work. Guilty for staying home.  Guilty if I needed to be home for my kids for something.  Guilty for being at work and not home.   Guilty for not paying attention to my kids. Did I say that already? Guilty when I was relieved they didn’t want me to pay attention to them. Guilty I wasn’t one of those parents who volunteered hours at school or made special signs for athletic events or whipped up cupcakes for the class party. Guilty for not playing more board games. Guilty for not just unloading the dishwasher instead of making my daughter do it.  Guilty that unloading it would not teach her responsibility and that I thought about giving in.  Guilty for paying too much attention to my kids and not enough to my husband. I felt guilty for feeling guilty!   

Whenever I tried to articulate the anxiety to my family and plead for help, the answer was always, “You just have to let some things go.”  “Stop letting the little things get to you.”  

Ok.  Well, what would I let go?  Do I stop doing laundry, because it is surely going to pile up.  And then what?  More stress and anxiety?  What would be a little thing?  Perhaps I stop cooking dinner?  Do I stop working?  Do I stop cleaning? No one could answer those questions.  And so the cycle continued. 

Until  The Universe intervened and decided  for me that the thing to let go was work.  I had no choice,  so I kept moving forward.  And you know what?  I started to feel better.  And pretty soon, I started to feel really good. 

Dare I say stress free?

My family and our yearly crazy Christmas photos in front of the tree.  
I think I look a little less stressed than previous years. 🙂 
My 2nd epiphany came with the realization that for the first time in years, my family was coming first

https://www.etsy.com/your/shops/worDSMITHstudios
A reminder to stand true to myself.
Original art from WorDSMITHstudios on Etsy.com

And by default, so was I.  The Universe had handed me a gift. A blessing in disguise.  For the first time in years, I was present while in the waiting room at the doctor’s office with my kid.  I could listen to what he or she had to say.  I could cook a meal I didn’t feel guilty about serving.  I still hate cooking said meal, but at least my family wants to eat it now.  I could pick up the house a little at a time to avoid walking into messes.  That entire layer of stress I had been experiencing because I had no time, was gone. 

And so here I am.  45 and STILL unemployed. 

And everyday, I am here to say goodbye to my husband when he leaves for work.  I am here to say goodbye to my daughter when she leaves for school.  Some days she even says “bye” back.  And everyday, I drop off and pick my son up from the bus.  Some days, I pick him up after school and we go swimming at the YMCA.  I hate the swimming part, but when we leave and he says, “That was fun.”

Angels sing. 

And so I will blog.  Because I am unemployed.