Ten Years Ago Today

In February of 1998, my wife and I decided that it was time that we take the plunge and perform that quintessential act of Great American Dream-ism and buy our own house. At the time I was working at America Online as its in-house writer/editor, and we were living in an apartment in Sterling, about three miles from AOL’s corporate offices. We liked the area and most of our friends lived nearby; it was a good place to put down roots. So we started house hunting and near the end of the month found a place we really liked. Back at work I told a co-worker that we were likely to make an offer on the house the next day.

My immediate boss, who had the cubicle next to mine, suddenly popped her head up and asked to talk to me privately. “Don’t make that offer,” she said.

“Why not?” I said.

“I can’t tell you yet,” she said. “Just don’t.”

Two days later the reason became clear: The group I was in at AOL was being disbanded, and while everyone else in the group was transferring into other departments, no one wanted me. The reason for this was somewhat ironic: As AOL’s in-house writer/editor, I was used as a company-wide resource — but no one wanted someone who was a company-wide resource on their department budget. I wasn’t being fired, I was told, I was being laid off. It was a layoff action of precisely one person. Also ironically, the layoff was coming about a week before my two-year anniversary at AOL. In one of the nicer things they could have done, AOL decided to make the termination date one day after my two-year anniversary — which meant I could vest stock I had in the company. My official termination date: March 10: Ten years ago today.

How did I take the layoff? In a word: badly. Up to that point my professional career had been fairly charmed: I helped pay my way through my senior year of college by writing music features and concert reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times and the New Times, and then got a very sweet job as a full-time newspaper movie critic at a time when most newspapers weren’t doing much hiring. Then at the very upswing of the 90s Internet explosion, I was hired by America Online as their first in-house writer and editor. Basically everything was going great, I had no reason to think it wouldn’t continue to go great, and if I hung around AOL long enough my stock would make me a millionaire and then I really wouldn’t have to worry about much. So, yeah, charmed career, and I was pretty cocky about it.

Given my high opinion of myself and my career, the layoff was a smackdown of monumental proportions. Because my career had been so charmed, so much of my self-worth was invested in my work; not to have that work anymore left me spinning. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Krissy and I had been planning to buy a house; in the space of a day we went from young people who had the means to get a nice house in a nice area to people who couldn’t get a house on their own — no bank would have lent us the money with me being laid off and Krissy, who worked part-time, making the income that she had.

While I was literally stunned into immobility, Krissy took control of the situation and did the smart thing: She started to downsize us. We looked at the jobs in the area that I could get; none of them at the time seemed likely to pay what AOL had been giving me. That meant not only was a house out of the question, but the apartment we were currently living in was probably too expensive. Krissy started looking at cheaper places for us to live, made appointments for us to view them, and dragged me along to look at these new places.

And thus it was, standing in the living room of a cheap apartment that we were being shown in Leesburg, Virginia, I had what I expect was the lowest moment of my adult life. I was standing in the living room with gray walls, gray carpet and gray window blinds, on an overcast day, listening to my wife ask about the much reduced amenities relative to the apartment we lived in at the time, and it felt like my life had hit some sort of rewind — that I had managed to come so far, and now this was the bend in the curve, where things started their downturn.

Note, if you will, the possibility that in my depressed state I may have been being overly dramatic about this. But I’m telling you how I felt, and this is how I felt: Low, depressed, and like all the forward momentum I had had in my life — and especially in my personal life — had smacked up hard against a wall. And it had landed me here, in this crappy apartment that I might be living in from now on because it’s what we were likely to be able to afford. How low was I about this? Let’s just say that on our drive back to our soon-to-be ex-apartment, Krissy was vaguely concerned that I might open up the passenger side door and toss myself into traffic.

I spent another couple of days being blackly, blackly depressed, and then something interesting happened, which was that I had one of those epiphany moments you hear about people having. And the epiphany was this — that how I and Krissy reacted to what was happening to us right now was going to echo through how we faced the rest of our lives, individually and together.

In this case, there were two ways this could play out. We could play it safe, take that depressing-but-affordable apartment, live within our reduced means and grind it out. Or we could say screw this, go back to house hunting, buy a house, keep moving our lives forward, and have faith in ourselves that we would find a way to make it work.

Now, I’m sure you think you know what I was going to choose. But I want you to remember two things. The first was that for the very first time in my professional life, I was hit with a setback, and it hit me incredibly hard. Not only in the ego department, but my decision-making. I’d never even considered that I would ever be laid off for any reason at all, and I was clearly wrong about that. What else could I be wrong about? I was uncertain and I was gun-shy. The second thing is that would be one thing if it were just me going for broke. But I was married, and whatever happened to me would happen to Krissy, too. If I screwed up, I would take her down with me. It was bad enough I was already laid off; this added another layer of complications to things.

So despite what you think you might know about me, you should know that my decision could have gone either way. This was a time in my life that I was really and truly without a compass. I didn’t know what to do. So Krissy and I sat down to talk about what we would do next.

And it was Krissy who said, “Well, I want a house.”

Which was enough for me. Because while Krissy wanted a house, I didn’t want to live in that damn, gray apartment. So we called our real estate agent and told her we were ready to look at houses again.

“You got a new job!” our real estate agent said.

“No,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, that will make things difficult.”

“Let us worry about that,” I said.

Here’s how we did it: With help. I called my Uncle Gale and Aunt Karen asked for their trust and their signatures as co-signers on our mortgage loan. They gave us both. And like that, we were back.

And we were back in more than one way. Krissy and I decided to have faith in ourselves and in each other and to find a way to make it all work — to live the lives we wanted to live, not lives dictated by circumstances outside our control. And almost as soon as we made that decision about our lives, things suddenly got better. Krissy’s job, frightened that she would leave and they would have to hire two people to do what she was doing, put her on full-time status with health benefits, replacing the benefits I’d lost at AOL.

On my end, it turned out that people at AOL suddenly realized that when I wasn’t around, their writing wasn’t getting done; all the various departments that didn’t want me on their head count were happy to hire me as an outside contractor. That started happening almost as soon as people realized I was gone. Shortly thereafter I was hired by MediaOne — an early broadband company — to write music reviews for their online portal. And then I got a phone call from a marketing company; I had been recommended to them by a friend at AOL for a project. Would I take it on? Sure I would.

In sum, very quickly I was making more than I had been making at AOL, and actually working a bit less. And from home. Home being the house we bought shortly thereafter; on the day we closed, Krissy and I took the keys, walked into our new home, turned on a boom box, and danced around the place to Madness’ “Our House.” Because it was, and because we could.

Would have all this stuff happened if we decided to play it safe? Oh, probably, minus the house portion. But the point of it was how we reacted to it. When this good fortune came in, we didn’t feel like we had dodged a bullet and had gotten lucky. We felt that it justified our belief that we could make it work, and that our faith in ourselves was not misplaced. And, yes, that made a difference in how we viewed the world, going forward. It still makes a difference now.

And this is one of the reasons why I tell people that being laid off from AOL was one of the best things that ever happened to me — because as much as it knocked me for a loop, it made me ask myself who I wanted to be in control of my life — and it made me make a choice about how my life would be. It was the right crisis at the right time; it was something I think was necessary for me. In a very real way, it’s the moment I can point to and say “this is when I knew I was a grown up.” It’s maybe a silly way to put it, but it was important all the same. So: Thanks, AOL, for laying me off. I appreciate it. It’s done more for me than you know.

Oh, and there’s one other reason to thank AOL for laying me off. On March 10, 1998, the actual, official date of my layoff, I was feeling understandably a bit low about it, even though by that time things were already beginning to look up. But still, waking up and thinking “I have no job to go to” was a little off-putting. So Krissy decided to cheer me up. This is what came of that:

So, yes, this day ten years ago was a life-changing day in more ways than one.

88 Comments on “Ten Years Ago Today”

  1. John, I can’t tell you just how much I needed to read paragraphs 11 and 12 of what you’ve just posted. Thank you. Thank you so much.


  2. as much as it knocked me for a loop, it made me ask myself who I wanted to be in control of my life — and it made me make a choice about how my life would be. It was the right crisis at the right time; it was something I think was necessary for me.

    I understand this perfectly, though in my case, the crisis was the death of a loved one. I’ve struggled at times to reconcile the tragedy of his death with how much I learned from dealing with it, but there’s no denying that it was a terrible wake-up call at a time when I very badly needed one.

    I’m glad that moment changed your life in so many good ways. I hope future happy changes don’t need a crisis to precipitate them!

  3. I just want to say thanks for this. I’ve been depressed about the status of my own career. I graduated law school last year, and despite my best efforts haven’t been able to find a full-time associate position since passing the bar last fall. It has been pretty devastating to my self esteem. I’ve been considering opening my own practice, and there are so many fears that have kept me from taking that plunge. Your story was encouraging, not because our circumstances are all that similar, but because you are an example of someone making his own way in the world. I hope at some point I have that much courage, and perhaps a bit of luck.

  4. Last year we left my beloved San Francisco to move across the country for a job opportunity John couldn’t pass up. In the last month my boyfriend has been laid off from the job in Boston, and then, fortunately, been hired at a new company. (Still in Boston.) But for a few weeks, we had that slightly lost, rug-yanked-out-from-under-us feeling. I kinda feel like we’re where you and Krissy were ten years back, so it’s comforting to read that. Calming. (Also I like seeing Krissy’s reactions because I like having a road map for dealing with Pear-Shaped Situations. I wasn’t born with common sense–I have to purloin it from others.)

    Congrats too on nearly almost a decade with Athena. (Barring nine months, natch.)

  5. De Ja Vu…. in the last month and a half, I’ve gotten tossed on my ear by my former work; attended the very first major filk con in the Pacific Northwest, which was a mind-blowing experience; endured cancer therapy (which involved a somewhat different mind-blowing experience); and gotten picked up by an outfit I’d wanted to work for for nearly a decade, for more money and slightly better benefits than I’d been making. Among other things, some of which I can’t talk about but almost all of which are good.

    It really is all about attitude… and having good people around you who are there when the chips are down. You had that, and look where you are. And you share, and I see that I’m not the only one you’ve hit a note with.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. So, in some darker universe, John Scalzi is remembered as the guy who took a shotgun back to AOL the day after he was laid off?

    Hey, I just started retirement procedures from my Postal Service job. I’ve thought about this many times, especially since I turned 55 last September and actually became eligible for retirement, but I’ve kept opting for the “safe” course of staying with USPS.

    So here’s a shout-out to my supervisor: Thank you, boss, for treating me like a lazy, lying sack of crap last week… again. You finally convinced me to take the plunge into retirement.

    Retirement will mean a significant drop in income, so I’m job-hunting for the first time in more than thirty years. I’ve realized that there are a lot of things I can do and a lot of directions I can go, so — for the first time in my life — I’m NOT feeling pessimistic about job-hunting.

    I’ll be retiring about June 1st, but I’ve already submitted my first application for a new job. It was when I hit the “Send” button for that online application that the idea of leaving the Postal Service became real to me. I felt so giddy about it that it felt like… like the first time I got laid.

  7. I’ve been down the dark path of no job, no nothing, doom, too. And, in parallel, another dark path entirely.

    I remember reading books and web pages about that other dark path. The recommended reaction is: your life has changed forever, and you must accept it. You will never be safe again. Here are the things you must do: ….

    I remember thinking, that’s what I have to look forwards to for the rest of my life, or until as such unfortunate circumstances have happened to somebody else?

    Sensibly, I should have accepted it.

    Instead, I said, “Screw it,” and went on with my life as it was, as if it hadn’t changed. A few more precautions than usual, but nothing that people wouldn’t do if they didn’t want to keep getting bothered by those @#$@ phone surveys. But none of this hiding and cowering for life stuff.

    And like you, a weird thing happened… I got a good job in a far away place where they agreed to transport me over and paid for all that. It was a good long distance. It was amazing.

    I am technically still on that other dark path. But I’m enjoying my life a lot more. I think I would have offed myself about four years ago otherwise.

    John, your post is awesome.

    And Jon R, I really like that link. Screw Destiny!

  8. We had a very similar experience, and it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We got our priorities straight so that now we know what is really important. Cliff went to school and got his G.E.D. and ended up with the wonderful job he has now had for 15 years.

    Thanks for reminding me. And by the way, Norman Vincent Peale called what you did “the as-if principle”. Act as if you are equipped for what you truly want, even if you aren’t.

  9. Dude, you are never going to break into the trashy fictitious memoir market with such as this. Can’t you at least throw in some gratuititous alchohol addiction to liven things up?

    Seriously, great story. Happy for you that things worked out so well.

  10. John: I don’t normally comment on what you write about your personal life, because, well, it’s your personal life and I wasn’t there.

    But, one thing I’m curious about, and I don’t mean this as a condemnation but rather as honest curiosity, is:

    How do you reconcile your decision to go forward buying a house when you didn’t the AOL income with the way you have otherwise discussed personal fiscal responsibility? You occasionally write about making reasoned decisions based on the circumstances you are in and buying the house just then doesn’t seem like that kind of decision. It’s like my sister buying her townhouse based on the overtime she *was* making at the time and, uh, that didn’t turn out very well at all.

    In retrospect clearly it was a decision that worked out because your skills were in demand and you made more money, but was it the *right* decision to make at the time?

  11. So, on the “official” day of your layoff, Krissy told you she was pregnant?


    My brain would have asploded.

  12. Umm… ignore my above post. I now understand the meaning of “cheering up”.

  13. That’s truly an incredible story.
    I went through the miseries about a year ago, when I found out I wasn’t going to even be considered for permanently filling the position I had been filling de facto for almost two years. I had the whole righteous indignation vibe with sporadic fits of depression and sleeplessness. Next I was detailed to a similar position that had been vacant for about a year, and got passed over, again without even being interviewed for the permanent job about 5 months later. Same indignation and bleakness mix. In fact, I’m still filling that position 4 months after it was given to someone who didn’t even apply for it. Until last year, I had a similar golden career trajectory horseshoe up my ass since I started working. (I hope it was only similar and not the same, I have no desire to share ass-horseshoes). It took a little while longer for me to come to the “I am not owned. Or pwned.” way of thinking, but Heather finally managed to talk me into it. I was looking for a job when I came here, they’ve paid me a bunch of money in the last few years, I’m no worse off now than I was then. In fact, I’m richer by one thirteen month old. I’m not making more than I did before, but it’s at least about the same, and I don’t have to take anywhere near as much of the work home.

  14. Joe Sherry:

    “How do you reconcile your decision to go forward buying a house when you didn’t the AOL income with the way you have otherwise discussed personal fiscal responsibility?”

    I’m not sure it’s reconcilable, other than perhaps my subconscious realizing that I was being overly dramatic about the situation, and that economically I was in a better position than I was.

    But aside from that, as I said, in this particular case it was a leap of faith that we’d be able to make it work. We assumed a fair amount of risk in the decision. But I don’t think it was a foolish decision overall. Krissy and I were (and are) both people who are willing to work for what we wanted, and the Washington DC area at the time (1998) has not a hard place to find work. I may not have been able to find a job right away that would pay me what I would have gotten at AOL, but between the both of us we would have made it work.

    So was it a fiscally prudent maneuver? Overall, I’m not inclined to think so. But nevertheless a necessary one for us to make.

  15. Something similar happened to me in 2006, only I got laid off a month after we moved into the new house with the new baby.

    You wouldn’t think it, but if it happens in this order it is actually easier to deal with. We’d arranged the purchase and mortgage so that we had some cash left over from the sale of our old house, and I was more than half-expecting the layoff when it came, and didn’t have much fear that I wouldn’t get hired again soon. So the few weeks I spent without a job mostly functioned as an extension of my paternity leave.

    In your situation… I think I would have taken the rotten little apartment. It’s the kind of guy I am.

  16. I’m among the others here that have been through a similar experience. Working for a consulting firm located in Denver, while I live in PA, after 1 year, 11 months and 2 weeks I got “laid off” when they decided they needed some cutbacks. This was just 2 weeks short of additional vesting and the annual profit sharing bonus payouts. No – they wouldn’t include me in those. I had a great track record with the company – client letters of appreciation for my work and very high performance reviews. Their reason for selecting me for layoff: the new salespeople didn’t know me and I lived the furthest away from the office.

    4 weeks after the layoff they called me and asked if I would work as a subcontractor for them on a new project they just landed. I took their offer and made more than they had been paying me as an employee.

    Now I work for a significantly larger consulting firm ( to a power of 10 by employees worldwide ) and make 50% more than I ever did with the Denver outfit. Benefits are better and I love the work. I probably wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t been laid off and worked independently for a while. You and Krissy obviously did the right thing and didn’t let such a miserable setback stop you. My wife was the same – she told me she was never worried about me finding work and she got me through the same kind of doldrums. Having a smart, supporting spouse can really be great, can’t it? I hope our stories help some readers out there that need a little hope.

  17. I remember you saying you lived in the DC area at one point but I didn’t know it was Sterling! I’m a Herndon kid myself. Much respect though!!

    I want you to know, though…that I understand what you’re sayin’. If I had been in that situation and looking at busted in apartments in Sleazeburg, I would’ve been very depressed also…it’s hardly being over dramatic. Glad things are better for you now and I’m looking forward to all your upcoming work!!

  18. John – excellent story. You put a lump in my throat.

    Wow – we might have crossed paths at one point. I used to work for Kesmai (GameStorm at the time) in Charlottesville, and we had all of our games on AOL’s GameChannel. I used to come up there for meetings and Rainman training (ugh – Rainman!).

  19. An excellent story. I referred to it in my blog today, writing about “The Writer’s ‘Tude.” One of the things I say is:

    So the attitude you need to have is: no problem, I’ll go find another client. I’ll go find another gig.

    Really, not in a necessarily dramatic fashion. John Scalzi’s story is inspiring, but I bet that 5 years or 6 year or whatever later, John lost a client or there was an editorial change or something happened, and his reaction was simply, “Damn, I guess I’d better go find somebody else to work for.” And then went and did it.

    I’m over at http://www.markterrybooks.com/blog.html

  20. I am usually amused that just when you think the entire universe is conspiring against you, how everything happens in a way that makes you stop and rethink perspective. Then, click! Things start to fall into place. If you have the time to go back and look at the sequence of events, you realize that they couldn’t have happened any other way.

    I don’t necessarily believe in fate, but there have been times where I’ve been caught off guard and knocked on my ass, only to have something better come a long that has fundamentally changed me as a person.

    So far, I’ve seen the darker side of my personality and I’ve seen the brightest and right now, I’m content with being somewhere in the middle.

    Thank you so much for writing this. I do hope that any more decisions in your ‘choose your own adventure’ book end up with such spectacular results.

  21. O Potentially Great Scalzi, this was an excellent and inspiring read. However, in order to make it perfect – you should also post a picture of She Who Makes All Things Possible.

    You might as well publicly acknowledge that your turnaround in attitude was really due to the Beauteous Ghlaghghee. (Even though She was not born at the time that is of no consequence. Her Superbness can reach across all boundaries.)

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

    PS – The Executive Committee expresses its dismay that Flickr seems to be having problems displaying Her SFWA campaign poster. We shall have harsh words if it has been misplaced.

  22. Scalzi,

    Thanks for sharing this. You have a wonderful way with inspiring others, inspiring me.

    Funny how everyone has a “growing up” moment. Mine was around the same time, but 20 years ago, in 1988. I had two degrees and without a full-time job and because of some poor decisions, was as close to homelessness as one could get.

    Without money for food or utilities, I had a choice. And it was the same “screw destiny” attitude that put me in action. That weekend I was out on a roof learning how to use a damn hammer. It wasn’t a moment when I was feeling especially proud about myself, but looking back, I’m very proud that I never stopped hammering.

    Twenty years later, I can say that becoming a roofer and learning how to run my own business gave me the kind of insight about myself and my potential that I’d probably not have gotten if I’d stayed on the “play it safe” route. It made me a lot more hungrier than most people my age and certainly, with a good business partner, it made me a lot wiser with what I do with my money.

    My song in my first house was a weird one. I had hummed Talking Heads’ Burning Down The House when I was living in my apartment and it stuck with me. So, my first night at my house, my boombox blasted out Burning Down The House. Me and my mutant Pom had a blast.

  23. How do you reconcile your decision to go forward buying a house when you didn’t the AOL income with the way you have otherwise discussed personal fiscal responsibility?

    Yup, it has to be said that a lot of people who said, “screw it, I want a house!” are being foreclosed on right now, perhaps taking their relatives credit down the toilet along with theirs (but more likely walking away from some crazy “innovative” mortgage).

  24. James:

    “Yup, it has to be said that a lot of people who said, ‘screw it, I want a house!’ are being foreclosed on right now.”

    Bear in mind that neither Krissy or I would be the type to buy a house on an ARM, because that shit’s just insane. Also, back in ’98, banks hadn’t yet lost their sanity and begun dispensing loans to anyone who wanted them, the better to bundle them up as securities and foist them on investors.

  25. I love this story. It resonates a lot. My stuff happened in a slightly different order, but that fundamental shakeup business sure is familiar.

    Here’s to many more decades of productivity and prolificacy.

  26. Thank you for the reminder that it’s not just what we do, it’s how we do it. I’ve been facing a difficult situation/choice in my life (whether or not to continue grad school), and this has given me some perspective.

    (Although, the next time my husband offers to cheer me up, I’m going to look at him funny.)



    There is NOTHING like the loss of self-confidence at the (thought) peek of your life, and NOTHING is more secure than to find out that the person you love the most will support you in ANY endevor that you both decide to do, TOGETHER.

    Very inspiring, I think you have this writing down to almost a science. :)

  28. Wow. Good.

    Here is my similar story. although it spans a longer period of time.

    I was lucky enough to have a great job market when I graduated college. I had a choice of fifty interviews, of which I took thirteen, with five ‘plant trips’ where I was flown in and wined and dined.

    Of all of those I picked a major computer manufacturer. This was the seventies and the company was the Microsoft of its time. “Snow White’ to the seven dwarfs.

    The company had done well by my father, but what appealed to me most was its stability. I wanted to take root somewhere, and this company offered exactly that. As long as I played by the rules (and there were many rules) and was patient I would be set for life. Wanting stability I was an odd duck, I know, but I was surrounded by odd ducks and liked it.

    One of the rules was that you had to start low – the company promoted from within. Starting pay was low, vacation was low, and assignments were low. If you shut up and put in your time, though, it would all be worth it.
    The major, major prize was the pension that didn’t even start until ten years in and gained half its value in your twenty-five to thirty years of service. This pension was like the $200 bonus you’d earn at Santa’s Village if you stuck with your boring crappy summer job in High School running amusement park rides with a smile all summer long.

    Fast forward twenty-three years. It started with rumors, worried whispered rumors, and then the word was out. Our company (absolutely fat with cash but never satisfied) ‘converted’ our pension from a traditional pension to a new ‘improved’ cash balance plan. We soon found out who the pension was ‘improved’ for.

    Bottom line the company was taking away 60% of our pension. They wanted the money, and they would start matching a smaller amount of cash into the IRAs. For new hires this would probably work out okay, assuming the stock market gained 10% a year, but for the older workers it was too late. We didn’t have enough time to catch up. Essentially we were told we had sacrificed up front and now, instead of a payoff, we were sacrificing at the end, too. Suckers. Shoulda got it in writing. Those of us who took this career path specifically because we craved stability instead got the old bait and switch.

    This same thing was happening at other companies too. Boeing, other major corporations were ‘converting’ their employees. This was all happening not during a down time but during the flush time of the nineties. There was no real reason for it except the company could do it and the cash was their’s for the taking.

    Wow. Talk about feelings of betrayal. Talk about being played for a sucker. I remembered my friends in college sneering at me – “You are going to work for faceless corporation for 50 years, pop out a couple of kids along the way, and die of a heart attack at 60. I want more from my life.” I remembered how my grandfather, a trucker, responded when my father told him “we don’t need a union at this company.” My grandfather said “No one needs a union when times are good. You need one when times are bad.”

    Times were bad. Very bad. And I had no union. One of the many rules I accepted when I joined the company was “Mention a union and you are fired!” Few things back then could get a guy fired. Drinking on the job, stealing, giving away trade secrets, punching another employee, or unions. These were the golden rules. Break one and you were fired. Instantly!

    That was my blackest time. I imagine someone finding out about a betraying spouse would have similar feelings. Betrayal, stupidity, anger. Yeah, huge anger. And I had to continue to go to work with a smile on my face. I had to listen to BS half truths and outright lies and keep my mouth shut.

    I learned a couple bitter lessons those days. First, never EVER fall in love with your company. The corporation doesn’t love you. Corporations are fictional creations with only one purpose – create money for the shareholders. Corporations have zero loyalty and zero credibility. You may have a manager who is incredible but your manager has no power over the corporation. Corporations will take all that you give and give the absolute minimum back. Never, EVER believe what they say. They won’t put it in writing and they will cleverly word everything to sound as best they can without actually committing anything.

    So what happened? Why am I still working here?

    Turns out many of my fellow employees felt the same way I did, and unlike those in other companies we fought back. We went underground. We were smart. We were absolutely motivated. We did the only thing we could do. We took the company to court.

    We were the first to do this and I am very proud of us. We knew enough math to know we were getting screwed and we were persistent. Oh yeah. Years of listening and patience had taught us that. Did we win?

    Kind of. Those of us over 40 when the conversion happened were suddenly given a choice – keep the old pension or convert to the new. As far as I know 100% took the old. The company said it was doing this out of ‘fairness’ but we all knew the real reason. You see the US government has certain classifications for people who are protected from discrimination. For white males the only two classifications are Vietnam era veteran or over 40 years old. I was (barely) old enough to be protected from age discrimination.

    To this day I despise the Republican talking points against ‘frivolous’ lawsuits and trial lawyers. Now that Republicans have dismantled unions the only worker protection left is the legal system and Republicans are trying to remove that too.

    Now I read everything as if it is a press release and try to determine who is saying it and what they really want from it. Advertising has now become marketing and corporations and politicians all use marketing techniques – half truths, innuendo, and misleading statements.

  29. Happy anniversary John & Krissy.

    Thank you for the story. Its polish lightened up a grey and stormy day over here.

  30. Have to agree with James. Sorry John, but just because it wasn’t an ARM doesn’t mean it was okay. And commenting that back then they weren’t dispensing loans to anyone who wanted them seems equally irrelevent because it implies that you actually were adequately qualified but you just didn’t realize it whereas the bank did. But that’s not the case, clearly you weren’t qualified to be buying that house on your own merits because you had to get your aunt and uncle to co-sign. Also, in reference to your other earlier comment… yes, you both knew you were of the type willing to work hard for what you want and were in an area that was doing well and afforded job opportunities. Nevertheless, surely you realize that out of the millions of foreclosures within the past couple of years, they all weren’t against idiots and/or slackards. Plenty of them were against people who were in the same circumstances – willing to work hard, living in a prospering area, etc. Just like we’ve all known outstanding people who have simply been unlucky and suffered through a long period of not being able to get a decent job no matter how good they were or how hard they tried. That absolutely could have happened to you. Anyway, I just don’t think it’s wise for some people to possibly walk away from this story thinking that a change in attitude or turning one’s life around requires going out and doing something so financially risky as buying a new house. You can change your outlook and develop a positive attitude without forcing yourself into a sink or swim situation and to hell with the consequences for yourself and others. There’s nothing wrong with waiting to enjoy the fruits of your labor once you’re actually in a position to do so.

  31. What’s In A Name,

    May I agree with everyone here?

    I don’t think John implies that a positive attitude fixes everything.

    Despair and depression are a pit. The first step is to stop digging. The second step is to get out of the pit. At that point a positive attitude with preparation and some luck is what it takes. There are risks and there are foolish risks. We all need to learn where to draw the line. I understand Islam forbids one from taking or giving any loan that requires interest. Should we all save our money until we can purchase a house with cash? That would be the only way to eliminate all risk.

    My mother would say “every new baby is a new hope.” Every new baby is also a risk. Part of life is the tension between hope and risk.

    Personally I’ve decided that when looking at others I need to think “there but for the grace of God go I.” I have been so fortunate in so many ways starting with the fact that I was born a white male to stable parents in America.
    I’ve learned to understand that some risks are worth taking.

    A positive attitude is not ALL that it takes but it is part of it. Anything that gets us to be active instead of passive is part of the solution.

  32. What’s in a Name:

    Feel free to disagree all you want; I don’t particularly care what you think, and counseling me on an action that is ten years done seems a bit silly.

    “Nevertheless, surely you realize that out of the millions of foreclosures within the past couple of years, they all weren’t against idiots and/or slackards.”

    Nope; some people were also duped and/or lied to by lenders about the wisdom of using an ARM for their primary residence. An ARM is in my not entirely uninformed opinion an instrument for real estate speculation — you get one when you plan to flip a house, not live in it. That lenders sold them to buyers as a smart way to get more house than they could afford appalls me.

    Be that as it may, back in 1998, neither would a bank have lent to Krissy and I without my uncle, nor would we have taken an ARM to buy a house — it would have been unconscionable to make such a gamble with my uncle’s money and goodwill. Quite clearly, my uncle was taking a risk co-signing; I don’t see where I suggest he wasn’t. It behooved us to get a fixed rate, to minimize his risk as well as ours. However, it worked out nicely for us.

  33. I would have played it safe. But that’s because my family was *very* poor when we came to this country and I refuse to be poor again or receive charity.

    I would like to point out that you and your wife are not “most people”. “Most people” have an unwarranted high opinion of their skills. A lot of what helped you make it was that you have good people (networking) skills which helped you get AOL contract work and get other jobs. It also helps that you’re fairly intelligent.

    So knowing the little I do about you, you would probably have been successful whatever you did, even if you’d taken the gray apartment. And you could always have gotten another great house.

    Tripp@39 – That’s what happened to me at my company. I was so fortunate that I was grandfathered!

    I retired 2 months ago from a high-paying job and have just applied for a job at Borders and Barnes & Noble (at 1/4 of my previous salary). But I’ll be around books, lots of books if they accept me. Now I hope to do what I love to do, pimp my favorite authors.

  34. I have a magnet on my fridge with this quote:

    “Sometimes you have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.”

  35. That’s a really inspiring story, and it’s a very good time for me to be reading it. Thank you for writing it.

  36. Beautiful. I’ll keep this in mind– my company is going through ‘growing pains’ right now and I’m always wondering what the ‘safe’ course of action is. I think maybe I’m going to hold out for the ‘right’ course of action.

  37. Wow. Inspiring. My exit from Philly’s dot-com scene in October of 2001 was a monumentally low point in my life (and I’ve been in some pretty fucking low places). And jumping around from unstable start-up to unstable start-up since then has been tough. Two Decembers in a row, I got caught up in a wave of layoffs from the agencies I worked for.

    This time, I learned my less and went back to big corporate. I’ve been at this desk for less than a month, working for a stable company, making 33% more money than I’ve ever made in my life, and my prospects are once again shiny.

    I’ve got a new girlfriend that I’m pretty crazy about, who put up with my being unemployed for the first two months she knew me (our first date was the day I got laid off), and what we’re in feels like a normal relationship. We’re not quite celebrating the new-found employment the way you and Krissy did the new house, but it’s going well.

    The last month has been a whirlwind and sometimes I sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop, but then I realize that this sort of thing happens to other people, too.

  38. Jennie@45,

    It is interesting how much our upbringing affects our later life. Looking back my desire for stability was probably from the fact that we moved often because of my father’s company which some people at the time said stood for “I’ve Been Moved.” I attended ten schools by the time I entered high school. Luckily we stayed put throughout high school. I would have HATED moving then.

    I know what you mean about “charity” – it always comes with strings, even if they are simply the disdain some others have for you accepting it. On the other hand we all rely heavily on the help of others and giving and getting help is part of being human.

    I’m a pretty good at judging intelligence and I say that John is more than “fairly intelligent.” I say he is in the “extremely bright” category and I bet I could guess his IQ within ten points. Whatta ya say John, want to share?

  39. A few years ago, I was in that situation (albeit without a significant other.) I picked that grey apartment path. The safe path. The one that locked me into a routine for five years. And I have nothing to show for it.

    I hate that path. I want out. I want to be able to do what you did.

    Now excuse me, I gotta send some E-mails. ;)

  40. Tripp:

    The last time I had my IQ charted was when I was in first grade. I have no earthly idea what it would be considered now, and I haven’t the patience to sit down and take one of the tests. However, if you want to put your chips down on a number, I’ll tell you if you’re within 10 points of the first grade me.

  41. Thief,

    Hearing about how “it could have been worse” never cheers me up, but here goes. You’ve learned what you don’t like, which is at least something. You’ve also not ruined your credit with a mortgage foreclosure, that is something else. You also know what you want, which is a BIG asset.

    Take honest stock of yourself. See if there are some safe first steps to get you from here to there. You might be able to take smaller non-risky steps instead of one sink-or-swim leap.

    Listen to honest feedback. For example, change your handle. Companies screen new employees scanning the web and what might seem cool and edgy to you might be poison to them.

  42. John,

    I don’t put much stock in First Grade IQs. At that age so much depends on what has happened earlier.

    With all that said, I’d say right now you are in the 135-145 range and in first grade I’ll guess 100-110. I’m flying blind on the first grade thing because I didn’t read your blog back then.

    Oh, and I’m sure Athena has already been classified as advanced. I don’t think they do the IQ thing anymore. She’s a first born and an only child and has incredible parents. If only she was left-handed she’d really be set. (grin)

  43. Some of you seem to be missing my point. John, I’m certainly not “counseling you on an action ten years done.” The point of my comment was directed at your current relating of the story. As I said, “I just don’t think it’s wise for some people to possibly walk away from this story thinking that a change in attitude or turning one’s life around requires going out and doing something so financially risky as buying a new house.” Although I readily admit that this is hardly the only reason, the undeniable fact of the matter is that plenty of people have ended up in foreclosure because they chose to buy a home beyond their means at the time and just assumed everything would work out okay. In your case, fortunately it did. And despite your rather brusque reply to a comment left in a location where people are supposedly being encouraged to comment and share their views, I’m truly happy that it did work out for your family. I am merely pointing out to readers that yes, a positive attitude is essential, as is believing in yourself, but that doesn’t mean you need to go out a buy a new home you’re not currently in a position to afford just because you can. I would posit to anyone interested in considering it, that there’s nothing stopping you from developing a positive attitude, believing in yourself, and then setting that house you want as a goal to buy ONCE you know you can truly afford it. To me this seems like the best course of action. But John, if you disagree then I would love to hear why. I’m curious, if a young couple came to you for advice and they were in the same exact situation you were in at the moment you lost your job, would you advise them to go ahead and buy the house and assume everything will work out like it did for you OR would you give them some helpful insight on developing a positive attitude, believe in themselves, and setting that house as a goal to work towards?

  44. Whats In a Name,

    I’m really shoe horning in here but another thing to consider when giving advice is the timing of things. For example when I came here I was advised to get the biggest house I could possible afford because there had been a housing boom and supposedly I could expect my salary to rise dramatically. This was good advice for maybe five years before, when these guys came to town but the boom was followed by stagnation and then a little bust too.

    Luckily I was cautious because I really didn’t know if I would stick around past a couple years.

    My advice on buying a house is to not copy what I did in terms of where and when I did it. My advice is to take honest stock of your earning expectations and then also take honest stock of the housing market. Is the market stable or is it rising? If it is rising is it near a peak and if so will it bust, at least for awhile? If it is falling will you save some by waiting a bit?

    Obviously we never know exactly when the peaks and valleys are except in hindsight but we can get a general idea. I don’t think John’s “This is what I did” is meant to mean “so copy everything and you’ll be fine.”

  45. Tripp:

    Regarding the first grade IQ score, you are off by a rather considerable margin. If you’re assuming my IQ went up as I aged you’d be off on your current score as well.

    That said, I am deeply suspicious of IQ scores in a general sense; I don’t think they paint a usefully full picture of the cognitive processes.

    Also, as it happens, Athena is left-handed.

    What’s In A Name:

    I respond how I choose to respond. You don’t get a vote in that. If you don’t like it, don’t comment, or at least, don’t direct your comments to me. You can assume your comment rubbed me the wrong way, whether you intended it to or not.

    Beyond this, your concern seems to me like hand-wringing, based on the assumption that people here are not smart enough to know that what worked for me under a specific set of conditions a decade ago might not apply to them here and now under an entirely different set of conditions. I do assume most of my readers are smart enough to understand this. Likewise, I assume most of my readers are smart enough to know that I am not encouraging them to take foolish risks, but rather to take a look at how they choose to confront the challenges in their lives.

    Which is to say, please give the readers here due credit for intelligence.

  46. I went through the same thing just about six years ago, and I know exactly how you felt. In my case, though, I decided to quit writing instead: not only was I not a particularly good writer, but I realized that I was writing for all the wrong reasons. I coincidentally quit writing the day my divorce from my ex-wife was final, and the only times I’ve looked back (such as when I was offered a contract for two collections of my essays), it’s brought nothing but pain. Instead, I turned to horticulture, and people who knew me a decade ago comment about how much happier I am now that I’m not dealing with science fiction editors and fans. And so it goes.

  47. John,
    I just wanted to let you know that this piece of writing on your blog just turned a casual reader of your blog into a fan. I had seen your blog a while back when someone linked to your article on being poor. I am also a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s and he has mentioned you a bunch. Plus, I am on Mefi and I have seen you post there. However, I have never read or purchased one of your books. I will rectify that in the very near future. I am going to buy one of your books. Great writing.

  48. A bit late to the game on my part, but here goes . . .

    First off, John. Damn. That post will go down in the history of Really Great, Totally Loaded with Awesome Posts at teh Whatever. Solid, inspiring read for a Monday.

    Also, John posted, “So was it a fiscally prudent maneuver? Overall, I’m not inclined to think so. But nevertheless a necessary one for us to make.” Hell, that’s living life. If my wife and I had waited to “be making enough money” before having our son–the marrow of my bones–we’d still be waiting. Along with building the house in whose study I sit typing this post. And waiting for our daughter–my smitten ol’heart–to be here. Some things in life, if you ascribe too much monetary importance to them, will have you spending the rest of your life in a holding pattern. Folks react differently to problems in their lives. Most times, it’s how one reacts, not the problem itself although looking at all givens before any major life-changing plunge bespeaks a thinking individual. [ramble off]

  49. You’ve been very, very lucky.

    I had the lowest point in my professional career last Fall when I was fired for posting an image from Flickr to my tumble-log. Little did I realize that while running stores on eBay all day was fine for my co-workers, doing some mini-blogging at lunchtime was gross misconduct for me.

    And I panicked. A lot. I can’t overstate the amount of panic I felt as I wondered how I was going to pay for my daughter’s birthday, Christmas, my son’s birthday, or anything else while I was looking for a job. Our savings had been sunk into my wife’s numerous chronic health problems, and we already had debt collectors calling about her medical bills.

    But my wife calmed me down. She told me it was going to be okay. I cashed out my tiny 401K that afternoon, and she made me promise that we were still going to have Christmas and that I wouldn’t take a job that I didn’t love no matter what. So I calmed down. I took a week off. We set a strict budget and bought all of the presents for a birthday and Christmas. We hung out together and took our daughter out for her birthday. It seemed like we were really going to get through it all okay.

    And then 8 days after getting canned, my wife passed away. She went to bed planning a party for my daughter and her friends and never woke up. She had developed pneumonia without realizing it because she was on so many pain medicines that it masked the symptoms.

    Soon I had almost my entire family staying at my house. They gave me some money to help with the outrageous funeral expenses. Members of a church I’d never visited made donations. Others sent Christmas presents. We had lots of help.

    I don’t know where my life is going at this point. I made it through Christmas and I took a job that even if I don’t love the work I’m doing right now, I like the company and the people, and I think that I’ll have better opportunities down the road.

    I hope my story goes on like yours John. I hope that in 10 years I can look back and think that some good came of all of this. It’s hard to imagine how that will happen, but hope is really all I have left. Thanks for your story.

  50. Tripp – First grade IQ tests are usually age weighted, I believe, or would have been when John took it. IQs aren’t generally seen as going up as one ages. In fact, many brain skills go down since certain things tend to fall by the wayside after school is over and done with.

    So, I would assume Scalzi’s IQ is similar to where he was from the first grade test, though a teenage test would probably be more accurate.

    But I don’t really think they mean much.

  51. I like you more than most Internet People – in fact, there’s only one Internet Person I like more whom I haven’t met IRL. Now I have another reason why.

    Your timing and message couldn’t’ve been better.

  52. IQ in children is (traditionally) calculated as the ratio of “mental age” to chronological age; the former determined by standardized test, the latter with a quaint device called a calendar.

    So a kid who test with a mental age of 120 months (ten years exactly) and a chronological age of 96 months (eight years exactly) has an IQ of (120/96) x 100= 125 and a kid with a mental age of 96 months and a chronological age of 120 months has an IQ of (96/120) x 100 = 80

    I’m not sure how it’s extrapolated for adults – since cognitive maturity levels off and chronological aging doesn’t.

    Besides, it’s mostly a measure of ability to take a standardized test. Which is useful, I suppose, but not as absolutely vital as it’s sometimes made out to be.

  53. In terms of optimization for earning potential, it’s best to have an IQ around 120. That’s where most of your doctors, lawyers and other high salary-earners fall. Sure, there are some 165’ers out there doing well, but for every John Scalzi, there are a dozen getting by as assistant professors on next to nothing. Sad, really.

    (And I picked 165 because I think that’s as high as a first grade test would usually score, and I imagine John probably topped it out. Whether that was explained to him or not is up for grabs.(

  54. Actually, somewhere around ~165+ generally becomes socially awkward. At that level, one has difficulty relating to the average IQ – which, you know, is most people – because they think very differently.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find Scalzi was in the range of someone like Madonna, which I believe she’s around 135.

    That’s still pretty bright.

  55. Patrick M:

    Actually, Jemaleddin’s guess is somewhat closer to what the score was than yours. And again, I have no idea what my IQ would be considered now.

    Is it really that interesting?

  56. John,

    I wanted to echo my thanks for sharing this experience and to also marvel at your timing; it is truly kismet. After a somewhat golden educational and career trajectory, I find myself realizing that the path I always dreamed of and worked towards wasn’t the right one for me after all. I have spent years molding my life and self to attain the “dream” of white collar success in America – trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for most of my life. It hit the breaking point last year and I let it all go. But it wasn’t until very recently I realized that I still hadn’t moved on.

    So..now what? I’m finding that letting go of other people perceptions and expectations of you can be supremely difficult when you’ve groomed yourself to belong to an industry and culture that demands you adhere to those ideals. Finally, though – I let go of the fear and said ‘Screw it’, and started giving serious thought to the things I wanted to do “someday”, like Photography and taking steps to become a Young Adult Librarian.

    It seems silly, but I only just asked myself “Why can’t someday be right now?”

    Tripp: Thank you VERY much for sharing your experience with your company. The advice is invaluable to anyone working for a corporation anywhere.

  57. I was told my IQ as a kid, and I kind of wish I hadn’t been. It made me feel like I was supposed to be living up to something. The only good thing about the test process, apart from the administrative functions it fulfilled, was that while I was taking the test, my teacher tried to keep me interested by telling me I’d get extra points for creative answers.

    I’d much rather see people tell bright kids that they’re valued for their creativity and their willingness to take risks than tell them they’re valued for a test score.

    @ Patrick M.: At that level, one has difficulty relating to the average IQ – which, you know, is most people – because they think very differently.

    Y’know, I’d agree that there’s some correlation between intelligence and poor social skills — but I don’t think your theory is why. I think it has a hell of a lot more to do with the fact that bright kids tend to have a harder time finding an appropriate peer group.

    There are a lot of different forms of intelligence. Only some of those forms of intelligence are measured on an IQ test — and doing well there doesn’t mean you’ve got the others. (Doesn’t mean you’re missing them, either.)

  58. Sometimes there’s a point in life where there’s a gamble and there’s the safe path. Or, rather, safe-ish path, because even safe paths crumble—John lost a stable job. So much for that safe path.

    But it’s not a case of “the gamble is always unsafe”; depending on how well you’re doing and where you are, the gamble may not be as bad as you think it is—for all that it’s still a gamble. And if you have the guts, and you think the odds are good enough, and you’re smart, then to me it’s quite fair to take the gamble.

    And the safe path is overrated. Sometimes you really need it. But not as often as one would think.

    I really don’t know how to explain it to someone else. Lots would call me crazy for one of my decisions; and yet they are not me at that point in my life, knowing what I knew about my own situation, knowing what I knew about me, knowing what I knew about the lengths to which I’d go to make something work.

    As for ARMs… those are crazy. Every single real estate agent I worked with tried to twist me into one of those. Every. Single. One. I practically had to fight to get a traditional 30-year fixed. I don’t know what the heck was up with that.

    ‘course, that was a few months before the sub-prime market went belly up.

  59. Actually, I got my terms mixed up. Not real estate agents. Those mortgage loan people. Those were the ones who tried to twist my arm. My real estate agent was very very very nice and awesome.

  60. I took a proctored IQ test, one person and me, interactive, when I was in first grade. I have no idea how I scored because after more than an hour of it, I was apparently so squirmy they let me off, seeing as they’d gotten the info they needed—which was that I was eligible for the rapid learner program.

    I only know two things that came as a result of whatever score I got— one is that they told me I was reading at a seventh grade level, which I thought said sad things about seventh graders. :D And my elder older brother— not the rocket scientist*— said, when he heard, “Wow, that’s going to make things hard for her.” He was a freshman in high school at the time. Hmm. High Wisdom score, at least in that case.

    *Really. My nearest sib is a rocket scientist. And while we were growing up, he always felt that he wasn’t as intelligent as me… and yet, my yearly income is under 20K. Who’s the smart one now? :D

  61. Actually, that’s sort of from the article which stated socially optimal intelligence is between 125-155. I haven’t done any research, though I have personal anecdotes of people I know were over 165. I may have met others at that level and not known it.

    And I agree about other forms of intelligence and non-exclusive. Even within the IQ, there are skills and what we refer to as IQ is an average.

    I look at intelligence like computers. You could have a giant HDD to store tons of data. You could have alot of high speed RAM. You could have a phenomenal graphics card. You could have a suped up CPU.

    None of that is AS important as the operating system and applications you are trying to run.

  62. Oh, and on topic of the post, I like to say that our year of financial disaster was probably one of the best things that ever happened to us, because it put us in the right place at the right time to get Evil Rob a job that has fed into a job he’s not only incredibly well suited for, but one where he is seen, appreciated, given kudoes and raises for the work he does, and can wear a Utilikilt with impunity.

  63. Patrick M.— yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about. I have been around large numbers of highly intelligent people in my life and when you start getting those stratospheric IQs you generally get social ineptness… UNLESS the person in question realizes it and applies that intelligence toward learning good social skills without driving him- or herself crazy.

    Perhaps the best example I have of this is a friend who was a complete annoyance as a froshling in college— just the stereotypical computer/math nerd on so many levels. Yes, he had both majors. And played the marimba. And never knew how to deal with a conversation, or interact well without being oppressively present.

    Somewhere along the line he must have decided to work on his social skills, because by senior year he was not only easy to be around, he was a social asset. He’d taken ballroom dance, and with the marimba playing he already owned a tux, so he could be relied upon to actually dance with people. He never obtruded, and while he’d still discourse on esoteric subjects, he’d only do so if you seemed interested.

    Keep in mind, though, this was in college. He’d had to go all the way through high school before figuring that out.

    I’ll keep my own social ineptitude out of this. :)

  64. John,

    Thanks for the response. From how you have written about yourself and your wife in the past, I kind of figured that you had thought through the risk and decided that the risk was acceptable, but I was interested in seeing what your response was all the same.

    I just wish my sister thought through her decision(s) a bit more…but that’s another Oprah.

  65. I, for one wish to thank our revered Overlord for once again providing his minions with delightfully inspiring tales of his life and times. No kidding Scalzi, that was great.
    Oh, and happy birthday to Athena too!

  66. John,

    Also, as it happens, Athena is left-handed.

    I hoped so. She really is off to a great start.

    Patrick M – As someone else pointed out IQ (intelligence quotient) means Intellectual Age/Actual age, so by definition it is age adjusted.

    I have the normal skepticisms about IQ voiced here, but my specific skepticism about IQs measured at the first grade is that so much of one’s abilities at that time rely on one’s environment. I know they say IQ doesn’t vary much, but I think it is possible that early IQ may be lowered if one is not in an optimal environment but there is some catching up that can occur later. And yes, I know about critical skills that must be learned during certain times or it is too late. I’m not talking about that.

    Also I think providing the optimal environment is like giving vitamins. Too little and one may suffer. Too much and one does not become superhuman. Indeed, one may also suffer.

    I am so glad that B. Durbin pointed out that intelligence may be directed towards learning social skills. A common myth is that skill is a finite resource and when one has, say, a great skill at one thing all the other skills must suffer. This makes us feel better (NERDS!) but it is not really true.

    So what are the challenges for “gifted” children? I have a few gifted offspring of my own growing up now and I went through much of the same myself. Like Athena I am also left-handed and the oldest, but not an only child.

    Probably the biggest challenge is learning patience. John himself knows how I struggle with that to this day. Another challenge is getting along with others without stifling your own abilities. This is especially difficult during junior high. Outsiders are shunned and jealousy runs high. My personal solution was humor. I learned to make my friends laugh and was accepted for that. Luckily I also had a growth spurt in early high school and could do well at sports. As long as a kid has sport’s skills the brains are okay too. Without the sport’s skills – not so much. It shouldn’t be that way but it is.

  67. That’s a pretty inspiring story all right. Thanks for sharing it.

    I got laid off in 2003 from a job, and I too think that it was a good thing for me, in the balance. It took me a fair bit longer to find a job to replace it, but from my time off I learned a bit more about how badly I was maintaining my programming skills, having let the technology pass me somewhat. I caught up on the tech, learned to deal a little better with my emotions, and since then I think I’ve had a much better career.

  68. Your story hits a little too close to home. Four years ago I took a long look at my life and didn’t like what I saw. I was drowning in debt, and I knew if I wanted a stable future, I had to do something drastic. I knew the only person I could depend on was myself, so if something was going to be done, I had to do it. I went out and found a second job, and poured every dime into debt. I scaled back what I bought. I got smart about money. I worked years to get things to a manageable level. I worked hard at it. I’m not totally out of debt, but it’s so close I can feel it.

    I’m in the middle of my “leap of faith” now. After a long time of being single, I got married again. I left my job. I left my friends. I moved halfway across the country to be with a man I truly love. (He’s in the navy. He doesn’t have a choice where he lives.) I’m also pregnant. I always wanted a family. It’s been my dream for many years. I’ve finally got my chance.

    The stable person probably would have waited to find a job, but I decided that I had deferred my dream long enough. I’m thirty-five. I couldn’t wait much longer. I’m still looking for a job. Thankfully, my years of hard work have really paid off. I had whittled my expenses down so much that I’ve been able to pay my few bills with savings. He takes care of the household bills. I just pay the bills with my name on them. I’ve got some time before I’m desperate for a job. Plus, they’re so low that it doesn’t matter what job I get, but that I get a job. The great thing is that my stable moment four years ago and all the hard work that followed is now paying for this chance. I have faith that it will work out. I worked hard to make sure that I could have that faith. I’m waiting to see if I make it to the other side. It’s going to be interesting to see what the universe has in store for me.

  69. Hi John,

    I’ve never posted here before, but this is the second post of yours that I’ve linked to on my site, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing it — I took one of those headfirst, balls-out, big-picture-changing leaps almost exactly one year ago today, and had a similarly life-affirming experience. I left the job and relationship that I knew weren’t right for me, thrust myself into complete financial instability, made a complete change in terms of career, met the girl of my dreams, got the job of my dreams and took the trip of my dreams. It’s been a pretty good year.

    Never again will I go through the motions or allow my life to be shaped mostly by factors outside my control, and neither, it seems, will you. I’m glad for your success.

  70. You have GOT to turn that into a graduation speech. That is one of the best talks to give to new college grads: your worst nightmare may turn into your best dream–it’s up to you.

  71. “… to live the lives we wanted to live, not lives dictated by circumstances outside our control.”

    This is so inspiring. Thank you!

  72. My fiance and I are going through an epic shitstorm of a time and this resonated very deeply with us. Thank you for your inspiring words. :)

  73. I was laid off in 2001 as a result of the tech bubble bursting, but I was lucky because I was laid off early in the year and I was able to get a job. The people laid off later weren’t as lucky and some didn’t get jobs for years or moved away to get a job. The best thing you can do is define what you want and then make the road map to getting it and define small milestones along the way. I’ve told my daughter that if she wants something badly enough, she’ll figure out a way to get it. And, for the most part, she has. I’ve taken a risk by cosigning on a car loan (for a 99 Nissan Sentra) and student loans for her. It’s been over a year and she hasn’t yet had to ask me to make a car payment and she also pays for her own insurance. (The student loans won’t come due until after she graduates.)

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