Monday, August 3, 2009

This one goes to 11

Do you like how I put this post up right after the last two, so I wouldn't have the depressing stuff at the top of my blog? Me too.

By the way, I've been neglectful in responding to comments for the last month or so. I plan to rectify that soon. On to the 11th installment of the '80s and '90s countdown.


250. "Express Yourself," Madonna (1989)
Getting this week's Madonna entry out of the way early, I guess.
249. "These Dreams," Heart (1986)
One of many great '80s Heart power ballads that are fun to karaoke to, and much less fun to hear overly ambitious "American Idol" contestants take a crack at.
248. "Dude Looks Like A Lady," Aerosmith (1987)
Perhaps this song was the inspiration for David Duchovny's brilliant cameo in "Twin Peaks."
247. "I Love Your Smile," Shanice (1992)
246. "Why Can't This Be Love," Van Halen (1986)
245. "I Swear," All 4 One (1994)
My youngest sister used to walk around the house singing "I don't swear" when this song was getting a lot of radio play.
244. "New Sensation," INXS (1988)
243. "Just Another Day," Jon Secada (1992)
242. "Brilliant Disguise," Bruce Springsteen (1987)
241. "Mysterious Ways," U2 (1991)
240. "You Learn," Alanis Morissette (1996)
239. "Sweet Child O' Mine," Guns N' Roses (1988)
238. "Can't Help Falling In Love," UB40 (1993)
237. "I Can't Make You Love Me," Bonnie Raitt (1991)
236. "My Prerogative," Bobby Brown (1988)
235. "Spiderwebs," No Doubt (1996)
I don't screen my phone calls. You never know...maybe it's someone calling to tell me I've won a contest! I don't want to miss that call.
234. "December '63 ('94 Mix)," Four Seasons (1994)
233. "Black Velvet," Alannah Myles (1990)
232. "The Promise," When In Rome (1988)
Already a great song, immortalized as the soundtrack of the signature tetherball scene in cinematic history.
231. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," Elton John (1994)
230. "Holiday," Madonna (1983)
I guess we didn't finish with Madonna early this week. Personally, I would flip the order of her two entries in this segment.
229. "Hysteria," Def Leppard (1988)
228. "Would I Lie To You," Charles & Eddie (1992)
227. "Time," Hootie & the Blowfish (1995)
Perhaps Hootie's best song.
226. "When I'm With You," Sheriff (1989)
Talk about synergy...I remember my sister Julie telling me years ago that she would definitely play this song at her wedding (even though I thought she said it was a Cher song at first--oops)...and she got engaged over the weekend! Congrats, Julie!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What do I do? What do I do?

The majestic creature you see is Hoffmann's two-toed sloth. I used to love seeing this thing at Hogle Zoo when I was a kid. I thought it was the perfect animal embodiment of the Hofmann family, or at least me and my brothers. For one thing, as the linked article points out, "the vast majority of their time awake is spent feeding." And in general, us Hofmann boys have some pretty lazy habits and tendencies (though my older brother seems to have overcome his and is now a responsible husband and father).

I'm feeling that sense of slothfulness pretty keenly right now. In my last post I addressed a question I've heard often over the past few months--"How are you surviving without a job?" Now it's time to address that query's corollary: "What do you do with your time?" This question is even more unpleasant, but I feel like I ought to address it, to give an accounting of sorts for my economic and employment failures over the last year.

As I stated in my last post, when I moved out here last August I had some leeway, and I was in no hurry to look for work. I was having too much fun. A few weeks later, I had my gall bladder removed and was hospitalized for a week. Right after that was when the stock market and the economy in general began crumbling, and suddenly I had a lot more competition for the available jobs.

I would be lying if I said I worked hard every day to find a job. There were days when I did nothing. Once or twice I went an entire week without making any real effort to find work. Worst of all was January; I barely did any job-hunting that entire month. I don't even know what I would answer for the "What do you do with your time?" question for those weeks. I just know that I was in a really bad funk.

When I was looking, I know there were some ways in which my search was inefficient. For starters, I had no clear goal other than "get a job;" that makes it hard to know what to look for or where to look. I sometimes applied for jobs without submitting cover letters, either because I wanted to increase the quantity of applications or just because I was tired of writing them. I waited way too long before signing on with a temp agency, and even then I only joined one. My search rarely went beyond "look online for job openings and apply for them online." On the rare occasion when I received interviews, I often did a poor job selling myself.

All that being said, I did try very hard to find a job. I tried to get back into broadcasting, applying for jobs at NBC, HBO, MTV Networks, and more. I applied for dozens of jobs at Columbia. I interviewed for positions as varied as a statistical analyst for Jet Blue, Teach For America, manager of a moving and storage company, a concierge in a fancy apartment building, and was even a finalist to be Dick Cavett's executive assistant. I applied for tons of jobs I found on Craigslist, mostly administrative positions, and only some of them turned out to be scams.

In short, I applied anywhere and everywhere I could think of, and many places I didn't think of. No matter how much effort I made on my own, most of my near-misses came through efforts of friends. Probably around 90% of my interviews in the past year were the result of networking. I thank Aja, Amy, Becca, Brook, Dan, Erik, Erin, Garrett, Holly, Jessica, Jordan, Katarina, Kim, Marc, Marcus, Marcella, Marissa, Matt, Mike, Mike, Nathan, Seth, Tamara, and likely many more that I've forgotten who have referred me to open positions, helped me get interviews, provided sources of income, served as coaches or references, and/or have offered specific and helpful advice and support in the past year.

But even with all that success. The most disappointing example happened just a few weeks ago. I had reached a second interview with a company but ultimately was turned down. However, the day after I had been rejected, they called me to see if I would be interested in a temporary position for the next three weeks. I gladly accepted, knowing it would give me another month in the city and more time to find something permanent. While the woman was giving me the information, she stopped abruptly and asked if she could call me back. Less than five minutes later, she called and told me that there was no job available. Easy come, easy go, I guess. Except it definitely wasn't easy come.

An extended period of unemployment is pretty demoralizing. It can be downright soul-crushing. You waver from day to day, wondering if you'd rather not try and feel guilty, or keep applying for more and more jobs and feel worthless as employer after employer rejects or ignores you. I reached the point where I tried to avoid meeting new people, because I knew one of the first four questions I was asked would be "What do you do?"

Even when I've been employed, even when I've had jobs that I really enjoyed, I have disliked the idea of my occupation being one of the top things that defines me. I definitely understand why people ask about it. If you're an adult, you probably work, and it probably takes up more of your time than any other single thing. And even if your job doesn't make you happy and excited, it likely at least says a little about your background, your personality, or what your talents are. But it still bothers me...especially when I have to answer "nothing" or "I look for jobs" or "whatever I want because I'm unemployed." I encourage everyone to try deviating from the standard "Where are you from? What do you do?" template when introduced to new people. It will be more fun and relaxing for everyone.

Sometimes people would ask me about other things. A few people would ask if I had written anything or performed any stand-up lately, mistakenly thinking I came to New York hoping to break into the comedy business. That has never been my goal, although I would've loved to pursue it as a hobby--taking improv classes, doing some open-mic nights, or something along those lines. But whenever I would start thinking about hobbies, I would feel guilty that I wasn't being responsible and looking for work, figuring I could pursue hobbies more easily and effectively after I got a job. And so I ended up watching TV in my "free" time instead.

Trying to find something to do to help me feel useful, I did more church service than ever before. I volunteered at a weekly tutoring program, and I worked a temple shift every Friday. I was very diligent in my church calling and home teaching assignments, and made myself available for missionary splits, helping people move, and pretty much anything else that was going on. All of these things helped give me a sense of satisfaction, and I feel I did a lot of good, but the sad truth is I probably could've done most if not all of these things even if I had a full time job.

So now I'm returning to Utah with my tail between my legs, at the same time wondering if I've been humbled enough. I had a lot of flexibility when I returned to Utah from NYC in May 2008; this time I have none. I hate the job searching process, and I wonder how I'll even go about it now, with no car and my parents' dial-up Internet access. Even if you don't like your job, I hope you're grateful that you have it. And I hope you learn from my mistakes, and do all you can to have other employment lined up before quitting any job. Believe me, the life of a sloth isn't as glamorous as it looks.

The secret of my "success"

When I fly back to Utah on Tuesday, it will be exactly one year (Aug. 5, 2008-Aug. 4, 2009) since I moved to New York--a year in which I never had a job. While this sounds like it would make for an interesting social experiment, or maybe a reality show, it was never my intention to be in this situation. During this year, many people have asked me how I managed to survive, what I was living on. Well, wonder no more. Here's how I did it.

--When I began my preparations to move here, I had more money in my checking account than I ever had before. This savings was built up largely during my 6-month work assignment in New York that ended last May, where in addition to my salary I had my housing and transportation paid for and was given a per diem for food. Also, while in New York, a friend was borrowing my car (a result of an "Is there anything we can do for you?" home teaching moment that involved a little more than changing a light bulb, killing a spider or taking out the trash), was in an accident where the other driver was at fault. My car was totalled because it's old, but I friend knew a cheap repairman and I ended up making over $2000 in the transaction.

Plus, I'm not stingy, and probably not really thrifty either, but often my wants can be satisfied by something like a package of cookies rather than a new electronic gadget, so I kind of naturally do well with the money I make (which has never been very much). So I had several months' worth of savings when I left Utah, which is why I risked coming to New York without a job lined up.

--Fortunately, I qualified for Medicaid after my gall bladder surgery, or I would've been in big trouble. I'm not sure what the best health care option is out of those being bandied about currently, but I am so grateful that there are options for people who can't afford insurance.

--Oh yeah, I also sold said car before I left Utah.

--Over the past year, I certainly wasn't a hermit, but I was reasonable in the number and type of events I attended. I would've loved to go to more Knicks games, comedy shows, musicals, restaurants, etc., than I did, and to have taken dates with me, but I was relatively cautious. I also would've liked to take trips to Boston, DC, Utah, or wherever, but other than Christmas and once or twice into Jersey I never left the five boroughs.

--I got a pretty good tax refund this spring, especially considering I only worked seven months out of the previous year.

--I have had two credit cards for several years, and while I succeeded in my goal of not adding new cards, the balance on each of them is significantly higher than it was last year.

--Friends hooked me up with occasional work, stuff like babysitting, cat sitting, and most prominently selling used cell phones. I didn't make a ton of money doing these things, but every little bit helped put off the inevitable day when I was completely broke.

--And that day actually came a few weeks ago. My parents knew I wanted to be out here, and that the alternative was me moving in with them (still with no job), and so very kindly loaned me (interest free!) the money I needed for the last part of June and all of my July expenses as I made a last-ditch effort to find a way to support myself. My mom and dad are awesome.

So there you have it. I feel like I did a decent job of maximizing my resources; but I definitely would not recommend that anyone try to emulate me financially. There are much better ways to live.