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Happy Halloween. You’re Fired.

I used to like Halloween when I was a kid. I mean, except for the small sharp objects people put in the apples. But it was the ‘70s, and it seemed like that was just the way things were back then.

Now, Halloween means one thing. Layoffs. It’s become National Layoff Day. It’s like Corporate America got together and said, “Let’s pick a day at the end of the year to cut some cost centers loose so the rest of us can go on floating in mediocrity.”

I went to my first layoff on Halloween. Well, Halloween was a Sunday that year so we did it a couple of days before. No company would call you in on a Sunday just to fire you, right?

It was for a struggling cable network that was being shut down. The Young Executive on the Rise (there’s always a YER that delivers the news), assembled everyone in the newsroom and pulled the plug. He mumbled something about the “linear network” ceasing operations. That sparked a dozen variations of the following conversation.

“Are we part of the linear network?”

“What’s a linear network?”

“It has something to do with lines, right?”

“I thought we were in TV.”

“Hey, where did he go?”

Yes, by the time we stopped scratching our heads about what a “linear network” was, and whether or not we were part of it, the Young Executive on the Rise was gone. It was as effective as him telling us we were all fired then yelling, “Hey, look over there,” then taking off.

I landed on my feet with a spot on a nice weekly syndicated show. Then the Great Financial/Housing/We’re Still In It/Crisis hit, which conveniently occurred at the end of summer and bingo–Halloween and Layoff Numero Dos.

The large, faceless corporation that had strayed into television with my little syndicated show decided to use the crisis as the reason to run fleeing from the business. I got the call on Halloween morning on my way in. It came from the young production assistant.

Rachel: There’s a meeting. Murphy wants to see all of us.

Me: Who’s Murphy?

Rachel: The president of the division in charge of the show.

Me: Oh, crap.

Rachel: Silence.

Me: This can’t be good.

Rachel: Goodbye.

Note: The names have been changed to protect the innocent (Rachel) and the heartless executive (Murphy). I’m sure there was a Rachel, and a Murphy, somewhere in the building, but they weren’t involved. At least I don’t think so.

A short while later, there we were around a conference room table. The show was over. Gone. Kaput. Plug pulled. Any questions, Murphy asked.

“Why?” we asked.

A long, thoughtful nod from Murphy that I’m certain he had practiced.

“It’s Halloween.”

Let me tell you, you try trick-or-treating with your kids after that meeting. Other parents are going house-to-house sipping an adult beverage and there you are, knocking ‘em back like you’re at an Eagles game.

Back inside Murphy was in fine Young Executive on the Rise form.

“Will we still have dental benefits?” Rachel asked.

“You’ll have to talk to Esmeralda in Human Resources.”

Outside the door, a shadow loomed.

“Who’s the large man at the door?” I asked.

“Thor,” Murphy said.

“Is he with Human Resources, too?”

“No, Security. He’ll stand over you while you clean out your desks. We don’t want you taking anything that doesn’t belong to you.”

“Wow.”

“He’s also there in an effort to make this uncomfortable moment even more uncomfortable, and hopefully drive you from the building even faster,” he said.

Murphy looked around the table. There was a glimmer in his eye. He was on his way up. We were on our way out.

“Okay, that’s all I have time for,” he said. “I have to get ready for next year’s layoffs. Only 365 days until Halloween, you know.”

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From Cabbie to Bestselling Author

Steven Pressfield, Bestselling Author

How do you go from being a cabbie and scratching out a living, to a bestselling novelist? From someone kicking around at odd jobs and grabbing sleep in the back of a van, to a Hollywood screenwriter?

Some would call it a radical reinvention. Steve Pressfield calls it “Turning Pro.”

Pressfield’s novels include The Legend of Bagger Vance, later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon and Will Smith. He also penned Gates of Fire, a tale of the ancient Spartans that is a staple of military training at West Point and Annapolis. His non-fiction book, The War of Art is a trusted reference for working artists.

But before he was a successful author of those and other books, Pressfield was a lot of other things, including truck driver, advertising copywriter and schoolteacher. So how did he pull off such a reinvention? Pressfield will tell you he turned pro.

And Turning Pro is the title of his latest nonfiction book. In an email interview he described what the term means.

“Turning pro is a mindset,” he said. “If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.”        

We all know the usual advice for those looking to reinvent and searching for a second act. Learn new skills. Retrain. Maybe go back to school. All good, practical tips, but there’s another set of skills that need to be developed.

“Long-term, we must begin to build our internal strengths,” Pressfield said. “It isn’t just skills like computer technology. It’s the old-fashioned basics of self-reliance, self-motivation, self-reinforcement, self-discipline, self-command.”

With the seismic changes shaking up industry after industry, individuals in every profession are discovering what working artists have known for decades.

“Artists, writers and people in creative fields are entrepreneurs by necessity,” he said. “Nobody gives them a paycheck or picks up their medical insurance. The ones who succeed learn to think and act like “independent operators.” I think people who are technically “employees” have to think this way as well,” Pressfield said.

“The company is not looking out for you. The organization does not have your best interests at heart,” he added.

Unfortunately, in the weeks and months ahead thousands of individuals will discover that last point the hard way. Some will be luckier than others and receive voluntary buyouts. Those tend to be better than most ordinary severance packages. But plenty of workers, white and blue collar, will be seeing pink, as in slips, before the end of the year. All will be faced with an opportunity to reinvent, to turn pro.            

“Big changes are taking place in the global economy today that tell us over and over that we cannot rely on any force that we ourselves can’t control,” Pressfield said. “No industry is immune and no occupation is safe. All of us need to begin to think in terms of our own inner strengths, our resilience and resourcefulness, our capacity to adapt and to rely upon ourselves and our families.”

So know that if you find yourself staring at the prospect of reinvention and the pursuit of a new calling, there is a low cost way to getting started.

“Turning pro is free,” Pressfield said. “You don’t need to take a course. All you have to do is change your mind.” And the results can be well worth the decision, as Pressfield says in Turning Pro.

“I wrote in the Art of War that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turningpro and after. After is better.”

If you’ve already turned pro, share your story. How’d you do it? When? What prompted it?

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My Jeff Bezos Tale

Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon.com

I’ve only met Jeff Bezos once.

It was way back in the spring of 2000. The Nasdaq had peaked and the air was coming out of the dot-com bubble.

I was a business reporter with CNN and was sent to cover a media conference at one of the hotels in New York. Bezos was on a panel that day with other Internet executives, and had agreed to an interview afterward. I honestly don’t recall what we covered in the interview, but let me tell you what I do remember.

I remember Bezos walking into the room where we were set up for the interview full of energy and enthusiasm. We introduced ourselves and he sat down opposite me and the first thing he spots is a book.

My cameraman that day was a avid reader, one of those people who always had a book with him. He had put it down to set up the shot and Bezos spotted it. The next thing he knows, he has the CEO of Amazon firing questions at him.

What book is that? Who’s the author? What’s it about? Do you like it?

Another author was mentioned and more questions were asked, and for a few minutes, my little interview had morphed into a book club discussion.

At first I thought it was nothing more than the CEO of a bookseller asking about product. I was wrong. As I sat there and watched the two of them discuss books, I realized that this guy likes books. I mean, really likes books.

As I said, I hadn’t thought about that meeting since then, until a few months ago. It was right when I started to read about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. It was right when I realized that after years of sending out manuscripts to agents and getting nowhere, that Jeff Bezos, this guy who I remembered as really liking books, was giving me an opportunity.

He was giving us all an opportunity.

After decades of Big Publishing telling writers they weren’t good enough, Bezos, and the folks at Amazon, were giving us a shot. They couldn’t tell you if you were good enough or not, but they could get your writing out there on the Kindle, and then let readers decide if it was any good.

What I’ve learned over the last few months, mostly the hard way, is that self-publishing is a lot of work. An awful lot of work. Not only are you the writer, but you’re in charge of getting your book edited, and edited well. You’re in charge of getting your book proofread, and proofread well. You’re the publicity department and marketing department, and the IT department. For a writer, that last one, the IT department, can be the toughest.

What I’ve also learned is that there is a sizable community of writers who are self-published success stories, and they are willing, even eager, to help. They’ll tell you what worked and what didn’t work for them. Guys like Robert Bidinotto and David Gaughran. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, check out their blogs. They’re listed on the right of this page.

Even with all the resources available, self-publishing is still a lot of work, but the good news is, you have an opportunity. You can take your shot.

Cold Open is my first shot. It’s the first in a mystery series featuring cable news reporter Sam North.  Let me know what you think.

 

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