Author Archive: smithias

Shame and Shadows in Job Search


Twenty years ago, loosing your job felt much worse than it does today, because it happened much less frequently. It may have been caused by personality clashes, politics, bad luck, or not measuring up with job skills. Instead of outsourcing or company restructuring.

Fast forward to five years ago, and lots of good people started loosing their jobs for lots of reasons, including a major recession. So people who found themselves “in transition” were in excellent company. Even now, the recession lingers, and I think that wonderful, seasoned, and talented professionals are still not getting jobs, not rejoining the employed sector of our economy.

Many people are feeling “less than” they actually are. When self-confidence disappears, shame may insinuate itself into that empty space.

Noticing feelings of shame in job search and facing them are tremendously important. Shame can cause your steps to drag, and your head to hang low. It can also stop you from acting at all. It can exist as separate metaphysical place, separate from the land of the “living.”

When I consider “shame” further, I think of more destruction it causes: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I will never forget how I felt when I saw a woman sitting on a bench in total abject shame, in a French city where I was on vacation two years ago. What I saw was self-exhibited, public shame. Her shame was a visible weight, holding her down, keeping her totally still, as if she weren’t breathing.

I saw a woman not so young, maybe a little plump, wearing a pastel dress. She sat on a bench with a sign in her lap asking for money. Her legs were carefully arranged before her, not crossed, her knees close together. Modest and decent. Not a loose woman.

I couldn’t see her face, because she was looking down at the ground. It appeared that asking for help, publicly on the street, had cost her honor.

Another connection I see is to something I read in Ursula LeGuin’s book The Language of the Night.1 In her essay “The Child and the Shadow,” LeGuin analyzed a Hans Christian Anderson story about a man and his shadow. The man allowed his shadow to leave him—that is, he gave his shadow permission to seek out a beautiful young woman he was too shy to court. By giving power to his shadow that he would not own for himself, he became his shadow’s shadow. And then he lost his own life.

Negative emotions can have terrible costs. Challenge yourself, and confront your own shadows.

1. Ursula LeGuin. The Language of the Night. Essay “The Child and the Shadow,” Susan Wood ed. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979), 61.

Photos credited to the

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional.
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Temporary Shelters – Part III – Joining Groups

lonely-bird  By Cynthia Simmons

Temporary Shelters – Part I – covered the emotional process of seeing the need to create a Temporary Shelter. Part II is about taking responsibility for the practical side of things and beginning to put the pieces in place to erect this shelter. Part III is about Joining Groups.

That sounds like common sense, why bother to mention it? Well, there is much more than meets the eye. The topic of “Groups” covers a lot of ground. I see groups as sorts of tribes. What groups do I belong to? Family, church, old friends from work…. no, no, this sounds like I’m beginning the famous networking lecture. That every job searcher hears many, many times.

These first groups are where you find support and advice before you really begin the networking conversation. Where you can show up frustrated and anxious, or maybe you’re just very, very curious and you have impolitely long lists of questions. So, once again, family, church/synagogue, old friends, and neighbors. People you trust and who already know you.

These groups will show you the ropes of how to do a job search. They may be support groups at a church (most church/synagogue support groups are open to anyone). A community college, or a community job support group. A career center, perhaps. Another person to add to your list or resources is a reference librarian who can help you to find these support groups.

The next type of groups to join is virtual social groups online. Like Facebook.

With each degree of dfile0001880536195istance though, more discretion is needed. Because online groups include strangers and when you regret posting something online, deleting comments and pictures is not entirely possible. When you post to Facebook, you are stepping away from a support group, and out into a networking environment. You may interact socially with someone and later find that they are professional contacts who you need to impress, by how professionally you conduct yourself.

LinkedIn is another, even bigger jump in distance, out into a professional online networking group. When you put up your profile and interact on LinkedIn, you are in the professional marketplace. You are onstage. Under review. You are telling the world, “These are my skills. And this is who I am.”

LinkedIn is not a “Temporary Shelter.” It’s an important tool to promote your professional reputation and marketability. It requires your ongoing attention.

Other groups are more optional.Osprey

Ephemeral groups include Twitter and Instagram. Like Mayflies that live for a day? Or flocks of wheeling birds, constantly changing direction, following what’s “trending” – the brightest objects shinning in today’s sunlight.

Professional groups on LinkedIn are good choices, so that you can listen in on discussions. And when you are ready, you can make your own comments and participate.

You may also choose to “follow” people, topics, publications, blogs, and companies, and that will make you a member of other groups.

My blog has covered the topic of “Joining Groups” as a general process. There are many, many more details.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional.
Photo credited to the
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Temporary Shelters – Part II Taking Responsibility

By Cynthia Simmons

Temporary Shelters – Part I – covered the emotional process of seeing the need to create a Temporary Shelter. Part II is about taking responsibility for the practical side of things and beginning to put the pieces in place to erect this shelter.

There are two big lessons to be learned: (1) Rely upon yourself, and (2) Rely upon help from others. Know that there will be help from other people, and be prepared to recognize that help when it appears. Test the genuineness of the help the way you test a knot. Pull against it: accept the offer, and see if it holds true.

Those are the how’s. The what’s are more concrete: you need to take an inventory of your resources, build a monthly budget, look at where you can find help, and define yourself as a professional with skills and talents. coffee_shop

You need a dedicated location where you can work. You need the structure of a set schedule, so that your time is measurable. And so that you can be held accountable. You need to connect with others personally and professionally – this is no time to go it alone.

Your timeline horizon needs to be narrowed to this week’s goals. Or today’s goals. Or this month’s goals. But definitely short-term goals that are manageable.

So what do you need to survive and even thrive? What things are unique and special about how you operate most comfortably? Most productively? (This is partially about self-nourishment.)

For me, I need a computer with my favorite software, and access to online resources. I need subscriptions to online tutorials and reference materials. These are at the center of how I operate professionally. I need my e-mail in good working order and my contact lists up-to-date.

I’m sort of high maintenance, because I always have a home office. But anywhere you can focus, plan and make progress works. Maybe your home office is portable and loaded into a briefcase or knapsack.

And I need a process to track my job search progress. For me, I create a folder (sub-directory) for each job that I apply to. That’s where I store my resume rewrite, research, and questions I may have. I name my files carefully, so that I know exactly which resume was sent, and when, and to whom.

Temporary Shelters are about Immediacy. What you can do right now to move forward.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional.
Photo credited to the
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Temporary Shelters – Part I

By Cynthia Simmons

Sometimes life places you in unexpected situations. Like sudden unemployment. Or perhaps the change is a long-anticipated loss of work while your job is sent to another state or out of the country.

You may feel truly shipwrecked. Tossed up upon a foreign shore. (Or rather, your former job is on one shore and you are on another. My story.)


My advice in those situations is to build a temporary shelter. To create a support structure and a schedule that will get you through the weeks and months while you re-group, re-consider, and re-launch yourself back out into the working world. You will need a “base camp” from which you can venture out. Your first goal in unemployment is to create that base camp, so that you can begin to operate from a place of strength.

For the foundation, you need to recognize that life has provided yet another rather significant challenge. To be angry and upset, and all the rest of the tempestuous emotions that survival instincts send streaming through our bodies to deal with adversity.

After the surges of adrenaline, shock, horror, grief, and loss, come sadness and perhaps regret. Why? How?Imagem0317

OK, when the grieving is less awful, you can begin to build that temporary shelter. The strength in that shelter may be dreams revisited. The possible imaginings of who you once wanted to be. What you wanted to accomplish. What you had felt was your life’s work.

Perhaps now motives and goals are simpler? More to the point? Less adorned?

More easily achieved?

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional.
Photos credited to the
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Getting Good Counsel

By Cynthia Simmons

We all want to be right—on the right side of the argument, of the law, of the street even! And we all want people to agree with us. We want to have the best opinions, and to be respected as well-informed people.

But for me, at some point as an adult I recognized that honesty is superior to agreement. I mean, I can get sympathy most days from a good friend. But if I want honest and objective feedback, I need to present my situation, my problem, honestly and objectively.

This is leading to my argument that having friends who are different than I am is invaluable—friends who have different values, backgrounds, and preferences.

Most of us have heard the story of the six blind men and the elephant. (This is a teaching fable cited in many cultures.) Each of the blind men stood next to a different part of an elephant and was asked to describe what sort of creature it was.

elephant, kiryat-motzkin zoo (5) brighter(2)

The blind man by the elephant’s trunk, said it was like a snake. The one by a leg, said it was like a great tree. The one by the ear, said it was like a fan. And so on.


Each one was both right and wrong, because what he knew was from feeling only part of the whole elephant.


Wisdom is gained from perspective. And perspective does not exist as a singular entity.

As you travel the unknown and uncertain territory of job search, seek out and befriend people who are different from you. You will gain treasured relationships that you may wish to maintain for many years into the future.

Consider that possibly living with only mirrors of your own images, values, and perspectives can be boring. And incomplete.

Instead of considering how limited each perspective was – that each blind man was blind to the whole picture, instead consider that each blind man experienced his own perspective and his own version of the truth. His own insight. Having friends with points of view that are different from yours teaches you malleability, flexibility, and plasticity in your thinking.

A case in point: I was puzzled about someone’s motivation for a particular action. It didn’t make sense to me, so I asked a relative who is older than I am and from another part of the country. Her explanation was, “Of course, that’s what some people do, because…” And then I thought, “Really? I would never do that!”

In a small way, I was enlightened, and my mind opened up to more possibilities.

file0001739728230 - add contrast (2)Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.
Photos credited to the
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

A Digression: Summer Solstice 2014 – End of the Day

By Cynthia Simmons

(This blog post is off topic, so please skip if you wish.)

It’s well past 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 21st—the Summer Solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s been both a good and a bad day, with Ups and Downs. Especially weather-wise.

Right now, the sun is shining sideways through cracks in heavy clouds. The wind is slow, gently messing with the leaves on trees I see from my home office window.

The air outside seems relaxed and quiet. Repentant.


Yes: From 5-6 p.m. we had a tornado warning here in Lake County, Illinois. I got a mechanical phone message from my village warning residents to seek shelter. Then an upset-sounding phone call from a very near neighbor. (We share the same driveway.)

Angie is a city girl, from Chicago, and she didn’t know what to make of the mechanical phone message with the tornado warning. We talked. I presented my theory that we are close to Lake Michigan, and the Lake Effect probably includes disrupting tornado movements. I’ve lived in this area forty-plus years, and to date I haven’t been anywhere near a tornado.

While we talked it was raining furiously. But the weather radar map showed only a scattering of heavy, fast moving clouds. They were traveling eastward, like a line of stepping stallions, galloping ahead… but with nothing behind. And so, after furious rain, the weather became calm.

Now I see… A fiery pink sunset, shining on lush, full and lovely green trees and prairie grasses.

Now, the light is falling away. Gray, pensive. Lingering but decidedly leaving. Reluctantly. Shouting to the undersides of the clouds, with violent, energetic pink. I won’t, I must, I protest. My leaving.

Straight, clear north, the sky is empty on the horizon.

And now, we are settling into twilight. After these past twenty minutes, when I began writing.

A Snappy Observation: Photos of People

By Cynthia Simmons

Years ago I fell in with a group of starving artists. I learned some good and useful skills while reading about art, talking about art, drawing, and working with clay. My eyes became more skilled at seeing and composing photographs as I developed my drawing skills. Working with clay forever changed how I handle food, dishes, and thrown clay objects. When I cut food—a cake, a pie, or a pizza—my hands are more steady and sure. When I wash dishes I can more precisely sense their shapes and weights. I now look for and feel the throw rings on thrown clay objects. Felt shapes now contain much more information.

I recently remembered another lesson from that time. That is, when you see a photograph of a person, the photographer is very present in the picture. He is the storyteller, telling the story.

There was a photograph of me, taken years ago, where I looked odd. Although the photo was clear and focused, I seemed to be composed of tense energy, as if I were constantly in motion. I looked “stressed,” overly slender (skinny?), with my feet not quite on the ground. The photo showed an angle and an instant of time when I was more energy than matter.

I didn’t like that photograph and could not make my peace with it until I learned another lesson: We’ve been told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And that public relations are based upon perceptions. And in this case the perception, the perspective, was that of a painter taking my picture. A few weeks later, I recognized that if he were to paint my portrait, that was the person he would paint. Because many of his portraits (in oil) showed both that same sizzling, electric energy and the stress on the person radiating, emitting that energy. Somehow, through an un-manipulated photograph, taken at the exact moment when I looked the way he saw me to be, he captured his take, his vision of me.

Not my own vision of me. Not someone I wanted to be.

Now, older and changing again into someone else (I’m growing into yet another pair of shoes and how I fit into the world), I look at recent photos of me and I don’t like them.

But, a week ago, someone else took my photo, and I saw that I’m still the person I remember myself to be. So my lesson here is—consider perception. If I look altered, perhaps the wrong people have been taking my picture. Or is there something in my life situation, something outside of myself, that is causing me to look… less than I am? sadder? more defensive?

Not good. I need to choose which shoes I want to fill.

Because if that one person can see me the way I see myself, then my new mission is to take back who I am. I am someone who is fit, feisty, happy, and strong.

Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Remembering Stone Soup

By Cynthia Simmons

Driving to work one morning, I heard someone on National Public Radio talk about Stone Soup — one of my favorite children’s books. She was a consultant for executives attending the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

That made total sense to me.  Because… Stone Soup is the story of three soldiers returning home from a war, trudging on foot across unfamiliar territory, and stopping to stay the night in a town where they are not welcome. They try to persuade someone to sell or give them food. Apparently there is no extra food in that town, not for those three soldiers.

The magic of the story is that the soldiers had carried a big empty kettle with them, and when there was no supper to be had, they fill the kettle with water from the river, light a fire, and then place stones in the boiling water to give it flavor.

Someone becomes curious at the sight of  the soldiers sitting around their fire with their kettle full of boiling water. Someone comes up and asks, “What are you cooking?” The answer is “Stone soup.”

Then the question, “Well, may I have some?”

The response, “Well, yes, of course you can have some. It’s not quite ready. But it would be even better if we could add a potato or two.”

And the response to the response, “I have some potatoes for the soup.”

The rest of the story continues predictably with the questions and the answers, as people from the town become curious and find themselves offering to contribute to the soup. With the individual contributions the soup becomes a feast.

The lessons are, “People who are not interested in helping you in your job search may decide to help when you share a common interest.” and “Think carefully about how you approach strangers for help.”

(The version of Stone Soup that I know was written and illustrated by Marcia Brown. I first read it many years ago.)


Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.


By Cynthia Simmons

Centering is a word now commonly used to describe achieving harmony with one’s own personal values. For someone working with clay, centering is an active process. It is creating a physical  relationship with a lump of clay. As an action, centering is how a potter work begins to work with clay. And the importance of centering is that it requires your complete attention and your complete focus.  Because in that instant when you stop paying attention, the clay will be as honest and true as your best friend, and it will begin to fight you. There will be a struggle where before there was harmony. Centering is about preparing a ball of clay to be shaped on a potter’s wheel, slapping it down on a potter’s wheel, making it evenly smooth and moving the weight of the clay so that it’s perfectly distributed, with the weight radiating out from the ball’s center.

Blog photo - thrown bowls - mine (08-2000) - cropped - smaller

My porcelain plate, minutes after being thrown.

Centered clay has great potential… If it has been well kneaded to remove any small pockets of air, there will not be air bubbles to fight against the even spinning motion of the clay. It means everything is even, and there are a more limited number of forces to cause the clay to sag or move off center. Centered clay is balanced clay. It knows where it is centered. It respects the core and seeks to maintain its shape evenly.  It acts purposely. With intention.

After the clay is centered, the clay can be opened up, to begin to shape a bowl. Pressure is applied to the center of the mound of clay, first directly down, and then in subsequent movements, the clay is pulled out, up and away from the center and a wall rises.  The clay still requires that you know how to move with it. If you stop paying attention, if you stop acting with your full attention, the weight will shift and your bowl will start to knock toward/against one hand and away from the other one. There may still be adjustments you can make to go back to center. Or this lump of clay may not become a bowl today, but instead go back into the bucket of clay recycling into new clay after some time.

After a bowl is thrown, it is cut off the wheel head using water and a wire. The water will allow the bowl to float after the wire cuts the bowl loose from the wheel. Then your hands, or perhaps a helping tool, will lift up the bowl to place it on a shelf to dry. Later when the bowl is dry enough to hold its shape, it goes back to the wheel, inverted/upside down, and extra clay is trimmed away. A pattern or border may be carved into the clay. The clay still remains faithful. If at any point in the process, your attention wanders, the clay will fight you and the shape may become damaged.

Blog photo - thrown shape - master class (08-2000) top - cropped contrast smaller

Porcelain pot, thrown and incised by a master potter.

When I work with clay, I know exactly what I am thinking. If I remember an angry remark, the even force of my hand alters. I can see exactly when that anger held my attention.  Lines or shapes record emotions on the clay. So as I keep centered with the clay, I am myself centered.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional. © 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

On the Social War Front – Employer Reviews

By Cynthia Simmons

Recently I had a concern about an agency… Something that I was told was “The Plan” suddenly changed.  I felt very disappointed. And while I was feeling disappointed, I considered the whole process I had gone through and my relationship with them. These days, reputations and expectations are built up very quickly. And may also disappear quickly. When I first decided to sign up with them, I went to Google and found worker reviews on Yelp. The reviews were very positive, even glowing, for my area of the country. I looked at the agency website and I liked what I saw.

But recently, as part of my re-evaluation, I decided to go to the website to check the employer reviews. What I saw was interesting. The agency was rated highly by the reviewers (current or past employees) when averaged out.  But I did note that most of the positive reviews came from current employees.

Expedia - screen shot (05-05-2014) crop

That caused me to write this blog post, because I asked myself whether the data  was skewed. Was this a covert PR campaign, and had the agency seen a few bad reviews and decided to raise the overall ratings by having current staff post very positive reviews? Probably.

In the past, I had trusted the Glass Door website because when I was employed by another company I had read those company reviews, and they seemed very truthful. They mirrored what I had seen of that particular corporate culture and events over the ten years while I was employed there. But now, I read the employer reviews asking more questions and looking for patterns.

Anonymous - Employee Reviews (05-05-2014)

The Glass Door website has three other sections: job listings, salaries, and comments on the interview process. I still highly recommend this website overall.


Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.