I’m unemployed for the first time in 12 years.

My group, the Microsoft studio responsible for Flight Simulator, Train Simulator, and ESP, was closed in January. My severance package included 60 days’ paid leave with recruiting support to find a position elsewhere in Microsoft. I looked at a number of job descriptions, most of which started with a question, something like "Are you passionate about integrating SQL server with dynamic .PHP calls and cross-referenced bubble-sorted data groups with an eye for increasing performance as much as 4%?" At this point, my answer to that is a respectfully sighed "…no, I’m just not." (But ask me again when the money runs out.)

Yesterday was day 60, and I turned in my cardkey, my parking passes, and my belov’d corporate American Express Card, sauntering off into uncertainty with a distinct lack of fanfare.

My last break was a mere 18 hours (I had to formally quit one job before the next company could make me an offer without violating a non-compete agreement) back in the summer of ’97. If you don’t count that, then my run was even longer – about 21 years.

If you include part-time work, then my history goes further still: I got my first job when I was 14, which was 26 years ago.

Instead of working in a field and "picking berries and building character," my dad’s suggestion, I was a professional musician, believe it or don’t. I was a drummer, accompanying my friend Tom Gire, a piano playing prodigy who remains the best keyboardist I’ve ever heard. We worked the restaurant circuit, entertaining diners eating Sunday brunch at Andy’s Auburn Station and dinner at Jabingo’s, playing for tips, and, in the case of Jabingo’s, barbecued pork sandwiches.

Tom and I threw ourselves into the rock star lifestyle with rebellious teenage abandon. After our moms dropped us off, we’d jam sedately through a set list that included Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, and, when we thought we could get away with it, Bobby Hebb. And the groupies … I can still feel that tingle at the base of my neck that I’d get whenever some babe would catch my eye, and, with a wink and a smile, send her great-grandson up to the piano to drop a quarter in the jar.

Since then, I’ve held the following positions (many of which have overlapped):

  • Actor
  • Security Guard
  • Day Care Worker
  • Radio Voice Talent
  • Mailman
  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • First Aid / CPR Instructor
  • Police Officer
  • Emergency Communications Specialist
  • Database Developer
  • IT Consultant
  • Senior Technical Support Engineer
  • Toy Store Proprietor
  • Technical Support Instructor
  • Sr. IT Technician
  • Software Test Engineer
  • Beta Coordinator
  • Notary Public
  • Software Test Lead
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Software Design Engineer in Test
  • Community Evangelist
  • Business Development Manager

The last two blend together a bit and describe my final two and a half years at Microsoft, and, in combination, encompassed a lot of different roles: writer, editor, web publisher, public speaker, media spokesman, networker, researcher, amateur marketeer, etc.

Clearly, I don’t know how to do just one thing.

I’m utterly baffled by what my friend Jim calls the "40 years and a gold watch" crowd. Barbara Sher’s books call me a "scanner", Ned Hallowell’s books tell me I have Attention Deficit Disorder*, conventional wisdom tells me that I just lack discipline and my friend Glenn simply calls us "Swans." My personal favorite came from my friend and "other mother" Donna who has no idea the gift she gave me when she called me a "Renaissance Man."

The tagline on my résumé closes with "…I’m looking for a new place to hang at least some of my many hats." And therein lies the challenge, and the promise.

While I am seriously considering a couple of "real jobs", the kind where I’d be employed by somebody and paid by them to go to where they are and do the things they tell me to for eightish hours a day, those are the exception – not many places are actively advertising for world-class-hyphenates.

In the meantime, then, I’m trying an experiment: As of today, I am now officially a full-time part-timer, a freelance thinker working from a home for which I hope to continue to be able to keep paying.

I’m consulting (in some cases as a volunteer at this point) for groups like the Museum of Flight, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation and Topgun Simulations, as well as a couple of other ventures (including one that I’m starting with two close friends) that aren’t quite ready to be discussed. And, above all, I’m finally, and I hope fully, committed to writing, something that the universe has been patiently screaming at me to do more of for years.

Yesterday, I came up with a daily schedule for my new job, one that specifically delineates periods of writing, as well as email, mucking about on Facebook, and semi-aimlessly surfing the web. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but, as I write this, I’m actually 19 minutes ahead of schedule.

Not bad for my first day.

*-For the record, it’s not that I have a deficit of attention, it’s that I have a surplus of tangents.

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5 Responses to XMSFT

  1. Kit says:

    Welcome to the next chapter, Renaissance Man. Can\’t wait to (continue to) read more of your writing!Call me for a complementary ride on a seaplane. I\’m offering them up to my XMSFT friends who might, just might, have time they can schedule for it. :-)cheers.

  2. Francois says:

    This is funny….. well, in a good sense, not wanting to imply that it is funny to lose a good job…. You see, you are now pretty much in the exact same situation I found myself in almost 4 years ago. Being in Europe where \’workers\’ were protected back then, I got a lot more than 60 days\’ pay… but not even a percentage of what the big-guys-that-ruined-the-company got paid when getting their behind kicked.Like you (if I understand you correctly) I did NOT want to go back to a \’paid job\’. Well, not in the sense of getting paid for what someone else thinks I should be doing, or worse, should be thinking. Rather I chose to go it alone and try and make a living by doing things I both like and am good at.And yes, that\’s mainly, as it turns out, writing. I am no talker, and although having managed \’them\’ for the past 20 years, I am no real techie either. Although that is changing at an alarmingly rate lately.I figured if I could do enough things all would come together again and we\’d build us a new life, and me a new career. Mind you, I was already 53 when \’disaster struck\’.Anyway, some of it worked obviously, becasue I am still alive, we stil have our home(s), I still have a (one) car, and I still have my motorbike. So I must be doing something right. And although we\’re not making any money, which we should to build a new pension, we are surviving.The bottom line: if you don\’t mind working ridiculous hours, trying a myriad of different things, getting ridiculously low pay-per-hour (I don\’t even WANT to calculate how much I\’m making) and can get the mortgage paid and the mouths fed WHILE having fun and WHILE being your own boss, THEN GO FOR IT!I for one have many problems, but they\’re all MY OWN and I am having more fun and more satisfaction in these diffcult, no, challenging hours than I\’ve had the past 30 of my 36 working career !YF,Francois

  3. Tom says:

    Oh man!! I can taste the French Dip, and feel the euphoria of watching an entire $5 bill land in the tip jar! I don\’t know if Sunday afternoons ever got any better! Seriously though my friend, your wit, your style, and your far ranging talents have got to be of some use to someone with some bankroll out there?!?! You truly are a Renaissance Man, and the world is very short of those nowadays.It\’s obvious from the comments and history shown on your blog and on Facebook that you have legions of people who love and care about you. That seems to be the hardest thing to collect in life and although you can\’t pay the rent with goodwill, it does make one feel rather rich! Hang in there and I like to keep in mind an old saying that I personally find to be true…."The worst day working for yourself is still better than the best day of working for the man". Too bad \’The Man\’ has an expense account. DOH!

  4. Christian says:

    Good luck with it Hal. Nothing beats breathing the free air. Thumbs pressed it works out!

  5. David says:

    You were a notary public? Could you put your John Hancock on a living trust of mine? 😀

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