Tag Archives: Great Recession

The Blessing of Being Underemployed

ImageMy Mother during World War II, Waiting for My Father to Return from the Pacific

I have been fortunate to be underemployed for several years. That seems like a terrible thing, but for me, it has been a blessing that money will never overshadow. Both my parents are in their 90s now. Since the day I left home in the 1970s, I have been too busy with “life” to make the drive down to Austin and spend time with them. At first, my wife and I would drive down for major holidays. This continued through the early childhood of our first child. By the time the second child arrived, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter at home just seemed like a better option.

I lost touch with the family I grew up with.

Since I was laid off 5 years ago, I needed money, even if the money came from part-time work doing things a professional with an MBA and years in the high-tech industry should never be expected to do. I painted houses, I did yard work, I hawked products at the State Fair of Texas, I did in-store demos…whatever I could find.

My family in Austin was generous with little jobs to help me keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. They offered me jobs at good pay. They even insisted on giving me more than I asked for and loaded up my car with groceries and put “gas money” in my pocket for the return trip to the DFW area.

However, none of this, as much as I appreciated it, can compare to the benefit of simply getting to know my original family again.

Today, I am working to get a young business off the ground. I no longer take on part-time jobs from my Austin family. However, my “day job” still takes me down to Austin on a monthly basis. I stay with my parents each time I travel to the Texas Hill Country so as to not miss an opportunity to spend a few more hours with them.

Recently, my mother has gone into a serious decline. Twelve years ago, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The best doctors in town treated her with a variety of medications which slowed the inevitable, but the end is at hand. After living in the same house since 1959, she is now living in an extended care facility. What could have been a sad end to an extraordinary life has turned into a glorious send off to a woman loved by many.

I never knew the impact she had on so many people until I spent several hours by her bed in the extended care facility. If my work life had not been interrupted by a devastating lay-off 5 years ago, followed by a protracted return to full employment, I would have missed one of the greatest events in my life.

 Vi Outside TalbotsMy Mother One Year Ago,Waiting for My Father to Pick Her Up After Bible Study

I spent some wonderful time with my mother two weeks ago at the assisted living facility in Austin. As she slowly fades, communication is becoming difficult. At moments, she could answer questions, at other times, I had to guess what she was trying to communicate and at other times, I just sat next to her while she slept.

I saw some of her many friends drop by to see her. They could not tell, because they were only there for a few minutes, but I could see the changes on my mother’s face as she recognized their voices and she smiled, faintly.

Sometimes, after they left, my mother would start to talk to them, having rallied a bit from the visit. It would only be a few words, repeated over and over, facing in the direction where her friend had been moments before. She was loved much, because she loved much.

It was not depressing to be there with her. It was a chance to just spend time with her as I’d said, for so many years, that I should do. Over the seven hours (over two days) I sat next to her, I was rarely alone for more that 20 minutes before another friend or family member would show up. I saw friends lavish love on her and tell me their favorite stories about her. I saw family members giving selflessly to her as she had done for them for so many years. I saw the best in people, brought out into the open as they expressed their love for the woman who gave so much to me for so many years.

I think that we all say that we hope we go quickly and do not linger, but this lingering departure of my mother has given so many people a chance to express their love for her while she still has some ability to experience it. This is a good closure experience for many of us who have already started to miss her.

As I woke up in the house where both my father and mother lived until recently (the house where my 92 year old father still lives and where I grew up), I was struck by how empty the house felt without my mother in it. Not lonely or depressing but empty. One small person was missing, but that small person is the heart of that house.

Good Luck and Godspeed.


Migrant Mother – Glorious Failure


In the Grapevine Public Library, there is a poster displaying one of the most iconic images from the Great Depression; Migrant Mother. I have seen this photograph for years and have always been struck by the woman in the picture; both strong and vulnerable, defeated and determined, plain and beautiful. The image was shot in a pea picker camp in 1936 after the timing belt in their car had snapped and her husband and sons were away having repairs done in town. Six photographs were taken of Florence Owens Thompson and her children by Dorothea Lange, working for the Resettlement Administration. In 1998, the iconic image was turned into a 32 cent postage stamp, which is a bit poetic in the fact that Florence was only 32 years old at the time. Only a few years out of her 20s and yet she looked so much older.

Great Depression Viola

A second picture in this series moved me so much, that I based a post on it called, It wasn’t supposed to be like this…. In the foreground is 14 year old Viola, looking as if her disappointment in life was more than she could bear. At 14, we all long for more than is reasonable, but in Viola’s case, life was indeed worse than she could have expected. Add that to the ennui resident in the soul of the normal 14 year old and you can see this girl, longing for beauty, romance and “happily ever after”, is sure that life is over before the exciting part got started.

The happy news is that they did make it. I found an image of Florence and her three daughters in 1979, 43 years after the photograph was taken.

Florence Thompson and daughters

I do not know the details of all the people in the original photograph. What was the story of Viola’s life, after she moved on from this iconic image? I have not found the story. What I do know, is that they were ashamed. They were dirt poor, selling the tires off their car to buy food, when this photographer arrived to take their pictures. They never wanted to be identified as “that family” the poor Okies in the image that nearly everyone in North America has seen.

It was not until Florence was very ill, and unable to pay her hospital bills, that the family eventually came to understand the importance of that image. The request went out for donations and they received $25,000 to pay for the expenses. After Florence died, the surviving son (the baby in the famous photograph) received 2,000 letters which showed him that this image, a curse on his family for his whole life, was much greater than his shame. It was a source of inspiration and encouragement to people he would never meet.

Share  your experiences as a job seeker. I have never been so surprised as I was when a talented, intelligent job seeker I barely knew, thanked me, in front of a small group of other job seekers, for my blog. She said that my posts let her know that she was not alone. Others were facing her same struggle and they were doing it with humor and honesty. I’ve been thanked by others since that time.

I have written about my grandfather, Choctaw Bowman, who went on to achieve modest success after a hard start in life. However, it is my other grandfather, Bill Snider, who never achieved success, who inspires me. I hope to publish his story some day, but suffice it to say, he was knocked down time and time again, only to beat out a modest living and die happy.

I was laid off well after the prime of my life. I had no dreams of rising back to my former glory and traveling the world in business class, staying in four star hotels and eating steak dinners on a corporate expense account.I had to face the harsh realities that life was not going to end as well as it had started.

That is what I chose to write about.

We can not all succeed but we will all fail. Share your experiences as you forge a path forward. Blog your experiences and you just might find that you are being thanked by someone younger, more talented and intelligent than you are, because you share a common experience with honesty, humor and hope.

Good Luck and Godspeed,

James Snider
Engstrom Trading, LLC
VP Business Development

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The Value of Forgotten Things

Life is full of ups and downs and a series of comebacks. During one particularly bad period in my life, my son told me something that lifted me out of a low and taught me something which has led to many comebacks. He said, “Do you remember that time up in Seattle when we played Stratego in the back of that SUV? That is one of my favorite childhood memories.”

If I’d had to guess, I would have never picked that event to be anyone’s favorite memory. It was not winning the science fair. It was not our trip to Barcelona. It was not the praise he received after screening his first amateur claymation. It was a routine task that he and I did together. It was an event that was quickly fading from my memory.

The event he made reference to occurred during a business trip I made to Redmond to visit Microsoft. I brought my family with me as a makeshift vacation. They found things to do during the day while I was in meetings. About halfway through the trip, we ran low on clean clothes. My son and I gathered a trash bag of dirty laundry and set off to find a laundromat. That was not easy, as the area around Microsoft is fairly affluent.

We found a laundry room facing the parking lot of an inexpensive hotel. The facility was intended for hotel guests and required a room key to gain access. We waited until a hotel guest walked up and tailgated into the laundry room. Then we devised a way to gain access back into the room by propping the door open just a little…but not enough to attract attention. Then we went back to the rental car, an SUV. We lowered the tailgate and played a couple of games of Stratego while the laundry washed and dried.

To me, the evening had been about washing clothes. To my son, the evening had been about playing Stratego with his dad.

When you are 9 years old, one-on-one with a significant adult can be special. However, I think what made this event stand out in my son’s mind was the sense of adventure. He’d seen his mom wash clothes many times at home. This time, he and his dad were on a hunt. We were hunting for a laundromat. We were hunting for locations which looked like they might have a laundromat. My son had never been aware of laundromats, much less the fact that there are certain locations where they were more likely to be found. Once we found one, gaining access into the laundry room was a whole new game of strategy…with some mystery and stealth…and a tiny bit of danger (in the mind of a 9 year old).

To cap it all off, we played his favorite board game in yet another unusual location; the back of a really cool SUV.

I’d known this kid for 9 years and knew the joy he could bring to every situation. He saw life as an adventure. A speed bump in the parking lot just had to be walked across like a balance beam. When studying for a history test, he answered sample questions as if retelling a scene from a novel. At the grocery store, toy guns would materialize in his hands as he would leap around corners and shoot storm troopers.

I knew, that night in Redmond, that we were on an adventure together: hunting for the laundromat, gaining access, playing his favorite board game. But over the years, the grind of adult living had reduced the memory to simply washing laundry. For me….but not for him. He still remembered the adventure and treasured it.

So here we are, in what we hope is the continuing recovery from the Great Recession. We have weathered something that economist predict will be discussed for years to come. For those of us who lost our jobs, laid people off, or struggled through a sharp decline in business, we have participated in a piece of world history. It did not feel much like history. It felt painful, demoralizing, frightening and humbling. Some of us have learned new skills, obtained new certifications and branched out in new directions. I have been forced w-a-y out of my comfort zone and taken on things I would have never done if I’d remained comfortably employed. I am banking on the fact that I am now much better suited to the new economy than my friends who spent the last two years doing what they have always done.

In the middle of this struggle, however, I have not forgotten the lesson I learned from my son. I am embracing this change with a sense of adventure. It has made this trying time easier to manage. It has helped me remain constructive in my attack on the problems and not despairing. It has also helped me to remain positive and even upbeat. I think I will look back on this time and say, “Yes, that hurt, but it was a game changer. If I could have only seen the endgame, the journey would have been exciting.”

I hope that you can find your path through your current situation. You may discover that one of your loved ones will point back to this time with fondness. One of their favorite memories may come from the Great Recession when you took them with you on a mundane task. A task that the two of you approached with a sense of adventure.

 James Snider
Business Development Director
817 203 4944

It wasn’t supposed to be like this…

Today, with unemployment stuck at 9.1% and the President speaking to Congress about the latest job creation plan, my father emailed me a group of pictures from 1935 – 1939; The Great Depression.

There is plenty to be down about today. As if being unemployed in the Great Recession were not bad enough…

The worst wildfires in the history of Texas are raging near Bastrop, TX, just 30 miles east of Austin (my home town).

View of Bastrop fires from Austin, TX

View of Bastrop fires from my sister's house (in Bastrop)

It was announced today that Texas experienced the hottest summer on record for any place in the USA, replacing the summer of 1934 in Oklahoma. Places like Arizona, which get hotter during the day, cool off at night. Temperatures stayed in the 80s all night long this summer in Dallas.

In addition to the record heat, we are also in the middle of the worst drought in Texas history. Water restrictions are in place.

I attended a lecture today where I saw a list of jobs on the “endangered list.” Over the next five years sales, travel agents, teachers, law clerks, proof readers…will all see a net loss in jobs. Near the bottom of the list (i.e. the “bad” end of the list) were marketers, with a projected decline of 32.7%. One third of all marketing jobs are going away over the next 5 years. These are being replaced with “crowdsourcing” where projects are posted to web sites and people around the world compete for the work. Need a logo? Post the request to Logo Tournament. Need a web page or collateral? Post the request to 99Designs. Talented people from Brazil, Romania, Vietnam, etc. submit  bids and you select the one you like the best. So much for middle aged marketers …like  me.

I could go on, but as I sit in a comfortable chair, in an air conditioned public library, with clean clothes, enough to eat, bills paid and a car to drive home (with all the windows, A/C, radio/CD player and a half tank of gas) I think it is better to reflect on what my parents endured during the Great Depression. These images tell the story.

Now, having seen where we were in 1939, keep in mind that more millionaires were made, coming out of the Great Depression, than at any other time in our country’s history. Look for the opportunities. They will be there.

You may need help in finding them, getting started, or achieving “lift velocity.” I find LinkedIn to be useful. There are scores of groups for start-ups, entrepreneurs, protean corporations, consultants, local business networking, etc. Join a bunch of those, read the articles, follow the discussions and ask questions.  Determine which ones do not work for you, drop them and add some more.

Keep in mind, very little will just come to you. You will have to go out and find it. Become active in a few groups on LinkedIn so when you ask a question, you are not a stranger. People help people they know….so become known on your LinkedIn college alumni group(s) and other groups you find interesting or helpful.

Stick with it. As in fishing, you are going to bait several hooks, lose the bait a few times, get a few strikes that don’t take and sit there with your line dead in the water. You will need to change your location, time of day, bait, etc before you catch anything. Stick with it.

And if nothing works, seek help. There are coaches out there that might do you some good, but my best advice is to find two or three other entrepreneurs and form an accountability group. This will be a group that can give you advice, tell you what worked for them and hold your feet to the fire until you do what you said you would do.

I know. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You should have never had to face a lay off or an impossible job market or that cyber blackhole where resumes disappear. You should have a new job by now. Hiring managers should understand that you can do the job even if your experience is a couple of years old. Your “safe job” should have never moved overseas or fallen victim to crowdsourcing. No, and hard working families should have never faced the Dust Bowl, lived in cardboard shacks, tents and Model Ts and endured 10 years of a crushing financial depression followed by a horrifying world war. But they did….and you are. Now it is time to do something about it.

If you are considering doing a start-up, let me suggest a piece I did on why start-ups fail: Overcoming the “Field of Dreams” Approach.

Good luck and Godspeed.

 James Snider
Business Development Director
817 203 4944