In pursuit of happiness: Job Security

It's weird how priorities change over time

In December of 2010, I was running dangerously low in funds. I hadn't found work in a while. A while being weeks. I was freelancing. My main source for income was Craigslists. Some gigs offered 200 dollars for impossible jobs, some were wittier and offered 20 dollars an hour for 3 hours of work for a 40 hours long project. I couldn't live in this unpredictable pattern of inconsistent jobs. I had to get out. I had to find a nice secure job.

My Office

My definition of secure job changes every month. During that month, security meant a job that gives me a paycheck every 2 weeks in return for my work. Armed with my keyboard, I ventured on the web to find that security of a job.

Reading thousands of sample resumés, I went for the most generic type and filled in the blanks with my name. I later learned that there is very little difference between a resumé and spam. I sent my resumé to every company that had the word career on their website's footer.

January 1st and not a single response. I had exactly 16 dollars in my bank account after paying rent and desperation was violently settling in. Sleeping 6 hours felt like a waste of time. Four hours rang and I was back on my feet looking for a new strategy to get more money in my bank account. And I tried things, Lord, I have tried so many things in vain. I even started doing door to door in companies to see if they needed someone.

I felt like there was some rumors going around about me. I don't know what, but every company in the world knew about it and declined to hire me.

As cliché as it sounds, in times like these, you find who your true friends are. One after another, they dissappeared. My phone rang less and less every day. One day it didn't ring at all. I went online and found a company that was looking for a front end developer. The difference with this one among the million I saw everyday, was that this one had the HR department phone number listed.

I took their info, modified my resumé to meet their needs and sent it. Right away, I took my phone and dialed their number to let a human know that I just sent my info. To my surprise, this is what I heard after the second ring: "We are sorry, your number has been disconnected. Please dial star, two, two to reach a customer service representative and pay your bill."

I felt cheated. Cheated by this invisible force we call life. So I went to facebook. Facebook, I finally get it. It's called facebook because everyone is posting happy pictures of their faces. Who would have thought that happy faces could make me even more depressed. I selfishly wanted to see someone in my situation. Someone who is suffering. But no. They all had these exciting lives, always partying and having a good time.

Then I clicked on my profile. To my surprise, I had a happy face too. All the pictures I had were happy faces. This gave me hope. I knew I was not alone, I even smiled a little while browsing. I wasn't happy because I had happy pictures, but because I knew that behind those beautiful smiles were people with the exact same feelings as me .

After a week of silence, my sister helped me pay for my phone bill. Finally, I could get calls again. The very same day I got a call. I couldn't hear the name of the company during the call. I couldn't understand a thing they were saying other than "I will send you an email with the address."

A job in Venice beach. I immediately updated all the websites I worked on to make them look fancier just for the job. A few days later, I found myself riding the Big Blue Bus on Lincoln Boulevard. Not a single cloud in the bright blue sky. I wore my blue shirt with long sleeves. It looked white under the sun. I knew I looked classy. No one could tell me otherwise.

Big Blue Bus

Big Blue Bus, Los Angeles

The bus dropped me two blocks away from my destination. I saw the house, but kept walking. I didn't want to believe it was the address from the email. It was a modern two story house with the top window facing the beach. Clearly not a place of business. It looked like it hosted a frat party the night before and I'm sure if I checked behind the bushes I would have found a couple of kids still passed out.

I rang the bell and was greeted by Matt. I remember his name because as soon as he opened the door he said "Hey … Matt" and extended his hand. I shook his hand and said "Hi … it's not Matt, I'm here for the interview." He replied, "I know, I'm Matt", followed by an awkward pause.

It was an up and coming startup. There were at least a dozen people walking around. Some with standing desk, Macs, there were large sofas and coffee tables. People worked any place they could find. You know, it's Venice beach.

Beach bum

Venice Beach

I have to admit I liked the vibe. Matt showed me the room where I was to interview. It was the dining room. On the large dining table was jewelry. Assorted all over the table making a big pile in the center. A girl was standing, both hand spread wide on the table and looked confused. She smiled and said, "It's from a client, I don't know what to do with them." She was waiting for the guy that handles the client to help her; he wasn't in yet.

I picked a chair and sat down. "Beer, soda, snacks, anything you want?", Matt asked like any host would when inviting you into his house. In every company I ever interviewed I was asked if I wanted something to drink. I was surprised that water wasn't the only option. I read somewhere that you should always say yes, I don't remember the reason behind it but I continue the tradition anyhow.

I answered, "Yes, water will be fine". He opened the fridge, I took a glimpse. Water was the hardest choice. He had to pull out packs of beers to find a plastic jar of water that was hiding way in the back. He stood on his toes looking for a water glass in the top drawer. There is nothing wrong drinking water from a large beer mug.

Large beer mug with water

I waited alone in the dining room. Jewelry in front of me. I took a couple to see what they were made of. That's when my first interviewer walked in. It was a tall guy, very down to earth. I'm your friend screamed all over his face. He was very easy to talk to. I felt comfortable sharing my work despite my very limited knowledge.

A few minutes into this very friendly meeting or interview, another guy walked in. He looked almost identical. Same shirt and pants, same haircut and beard, I knew I would nail this interview. "Sorry I am late", he excused himself. He was the CEO. We chatted for a while before they got to the technical questions.

Not very technical I would say today. The questions were most basic and I think anyone who spent more than a month training as a developer should know. But In those days, it was the extent of my knowledge. I did well in the first few. The final question was to be the trickiest. I worked as a front-end developer in the past, so I did have some experience, but this was the most they were asking from me: "How do you create a three column page without using tables? You know we hate tables."

In other words, this interview went pretty well. I knew I was exactly what they were looking for. The CEO thanked me for coming and went on his way, doing CEO stuff I presume. And then the bad part.

I remained in the dining room with the first guy. Buried under jewelry was an Apple mouse and a keyboard, I did not see this coming. He grabbed the mouse, and the large screen behind me lit up. He told me about the history of the company, how they got started, who their clients were. The slide show abruptly ended. He asked me to type the URL of my current websites and I proudly showed him. He was amazed that I had a three column page with no table.

"OK, so this is an unpaid internship, we would like you to work for us for at least 3 months", these words enthused out of his mouth. The bright sunlight coming from the kitchen window reflected on an appliance, on the beer mug, then straight into my eyes. He added, "most of the people you see here started just like, you" pointing at me. "After three months, if you are really good, we will hire you full time."

I hummed and nodded to all the words that followed without paying attention. We shook hands, I got up and left. There are many words to describe my feelings when I walked out the door, but what I really wanted to do was punch someone. Anyone.

When I got home, a very nice message was waiting for me in my inbox. They liked me and wanted to know when I wanted to start. I had a lot in my mind, but I managed to write a very nice message to respectfully decline the position. At least I think it was nice.

In the days that followed, I received many calls. All from companies I don't remember applying for. I once went to a company that was very secretive of what they do. When I showed up, I was greeted at the door with 20 other candidates waiting in line. Suspicious, I waited, only to find that for a modest 300 dollars I could be trained to work for an exemplar company as a knives salesman.

I went to another interview not for a developer position but for an IT technician. Because I had worked in the field in the past. It was the fanciest building I ever walked in. I spent 15 minutes trying to find the entrance. I guess fancy and ergonomic don't necessarily go hand in hand.

Highrise in los angeles

The ultra high-tech and confusing elevator lead me to the 7th floor without the touch of a button. I was to meet with a lady whose name I couldn't pronounce. Usually, I solved this problem by calling the person "Miss last name", but her last name was just as unpronounceable as her first.

Unlike the beach house interview, I was in a corner room overlooking the imperial highrises of Los Angeles. I felt powerful just standing by the window. I gazed far beyond the horizon at things puny humans brains cannot comprehend. My day dreaming was interrupted by Miss …

A short Asian woman who was not more than 20 years old greeted me. She was eager to meet me. She asked me personal questions and I was happy to respond. Then she asked me some work related questions. I was completely lost. I could hear her questions but I did not have the answers. I knew the answers, I just didn't have them with me.

For example, when she asked "What does FTP stand for and how is it used?" It was like going to a restaurant, you eat like a champ, and when the check comes you find you forgot your wallet. I mean, you have money, but it's just not right here with you. There is no way you can convince the people you came with, because you yourself don't believe yourself but we all know you are not trying to dine and dash.

I could not answer the question. I think she wanted to hire me anyway as a junior, because she kept helping me. I was stressed and intimidated. I think that's what happened. I was intimidated by her, yet she was as friendly as one can be.

When I got home, I couldn't get it out of my head. I didn't know how to process the fact that I couldn't tell her what File Transfer Protocol was and how I used it everyday to transfer files on my server.

Before I ever heard from Miss … my phone line was disconnected. I don't know if she ever called. I would like to believe that I was the best candidate and that she called and called but couldn't reach me. She could have sent an email too but that's not part of the story.

December 2010 and January 2011 are two months I will never forget. Not only I couldn't find a job and was on the brink of becoming homeless, I also lost my father. Even when I typed this sentence, I felt a glacial chill consuming the tip of my toes slowing filling up my person all the way to my head, leaving me temporarily paralyzed.

But despite all this, I learned. I learned from these failed interviews. Once again I reconnected my phone. I've had enough interviews under my belt to call myself experienced. The process was becoming routine. I was not going to fall for FTP again.

After interviewing 6 times in one company, I got a nice box that said secure job on it.

Box labeled Job security

It was as refreshing as the Ice Bucket Challenge.

In February I started my new job. The low pay was not enough to bring me down. I did not care. I had a job that allowed me to pay my rent, pay for my phone, and take care of my family. Job security? I had it baby. I did it. Or as my 2 year old niece says it: My did it!

I walked the floors of this building with the confidence of a million dollar man. My new co-workers would only see the smile on my face but like on facebook, they will never know the hidden story behind it.

Fast forward 4 years, my definition of Security has changed. I still believe in the security of getting a routine paycheck. However, I added a little more to it. Time. Security is time and money.

I had the money I needed, but I didn't have the time. So I quit.

Now I have time. But not the money. But I think I can work with that.

I was told it is one of the stupidest decisions I ever made. But remember, I already know who are my real friends so it didn't matter.

Job security in the traditional sense of the word is an illusion:

[…] most of us are just a single job loss, a single medical diagnosis, a single broken marriage removed from a swirling, chaotic, wholly uncontained abyss.

No matter how predictable my raises and performance reviews were, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing. Unless I have control over how much money I can make, there was no point relying on a job that will give me just enough to survive and no time to ever improve. Remember, I did the surviving part already.

Now what I need to do, is live. That's were this story ends, because right now I am alive. I remind myself everyday that when the prince saves the princess, the story is not over. They fight, they make up, they cry, they laugh, but most important of all, they live. They live forever after.

Job security is not the end either, we have to keep living.

Maybe it was a truth in the old days when you got one job after college and worked for 45 years then retire. Maybe job security wasn't a fairy tail in the industrial revolution. But today, it is. The only way you can achieve this freedom is by being the driving force in your work.

In my journey, this is what I am going to attempt. And I know that the finish line will be a new episode where the meaning of security, once again, will change.

The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.

Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.

The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it's a job.

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.

Seth Godin


Rahul Singh :

That was so honest and well written and as someone crossing a similar patch of land this resonates too well with me. I hope you do well in your life man.

Mike :

Thank you Mr Diallo,. A very good read. Good luck!

Ibrahim :

Thank you @rahul and @mike

Fiddler :

a very good read indeed.


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