Category Archives: Business & Finance

NASCAR’s Nuts Are in a Vice

NASCAR this week announced they’re banning the Confederate battle jack from all properties and events. Ray Ciccarelli, who was in witness protection on the truck circuit, immediately announced he was quitting in protest. The drama continued this morning as Jimmie Johnson, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch said they were severing their relationships with a helmet designer who decided to double down on heritage racism. Read more

COVID Stress Overload: Breathe and Respond Instead of Reacting

It was only a matter of time. COVID seems to ramping up the stress level all around and I’m starting to see that translating into … snippiness … at work. Not on my team, mercifully. But in close proximity and in ways that affect us.

So I posted this to my team earlier.

Just a reminder: breathe. Never reply while angry. And make use of a lesson I learned some years back from a guy I worked with: respond, don’t react.

Reactions are reflexive and emotional. Something happens and we step toward it. Reacting is inherently confrontational.

Responding means a step back. Assess, get past emotion, think about what’s driving the annoying situation, empathize with others involved, then craft a productive solution. Responding is collaborative instead of confrontational.

This whole coronavirus mess is going to find and exploit every crack, every weakness, every aggravation we have. But we’re all better than these artificial demons.

Think about it. Pass it on.

If nurses are essential why are they being treated this way?

nurseWe’ve heard a lot lately about how America is finally learning who’s really essential now that we’re deep in a real crisis. I even chipped in. But are we treating our essential workers with the care and respect we should be?

I have a good friend who works in an emergency department in a mid-sized Midwestern city hospital as well as two nearby ERs in smaller cities and one community clinic. So four facilities and the issues she reports are the same in each. Let’s call her K.

K and I were trading messages today and apparently things aren’t rosy on the ground there. I won’t share the whole exchange, but here are some key points.

I work 24 hour shifts so I only have to go to work 6 days a month. But I can tell you it’s no joke. We don’t have the PPE [personal protective equipment] we should despite what you may hear. For the whole hospital we have about 150 surgical masks left and those don’t do s*** for anything! We’re given one mask to wear for the entire day. Goes against every infection-control thing we were ever taught. It’s like what we’ve heard about in developing countries all these years where they reuse masks and wash the gloves.

Obviously this is disturbing news to hear from a friend who’s “on the front lines.” I asked if any of her colleagues have contracted COVID.

Yep. One of the ER nurses and also his wife, who’s one of our flight nurses. And another frontline ER nurse. All three were hospitalized but have been released…

At least the hospital is doing what they can, though, right? Here K is started getting a little heated.

They’ve basically told us to f*** off and quit complaining.

They told us that if we can prove with 100% certainty that we became infected with the virus at work then we can file for workers’ comp. But if we can’t prove that we became infected at work then we’re on our own.

We aren’t essential, we’re expendable.

The conversation continued for a while, and you get the idea.

I’m not sure what to add here. I’m glad so many of us have realized what people like my friend mean to our society, but…

It’s like how I describe the career world generally. Companies love to talk about how much they value their people, but their actions – hiring practices, compensation, layoffs, and so on – belie the claim.

The don’t value you. They appreciate you. Which is different. Appreciation is a friendly pat on the back that costs nothing. Value is measurable.

It sounds like America really appreciates its medical professionals. And why not – they go to work and risk their lives despite the kind of treatment K reports. But until we make their workplaces safe and treat them – in all ways – with the respect their commitment deserves, we don’t really value a damn thing, do we?

Disgusted yet?

Watching the Wheels

NOTE: I penned this a few months ago but never posted it. I’m now in deep enough to see some of the warts, and COVID certainly does northing to make you feel secure. But I was right. And that feels really good.


Finally, I’m off the merry-go-round.

“Surely you’re not happy now
you no longer play the game…”

A couple years ago I got cast adrift.

First, I wound up on the wrong side of a company political battle (it wasn’t about me, but I put myself in the line of fire by backing the wrong horse – never mind that said horse was right) and wound up getting forced out. Not long after I stumbled into a severely toxic “opportunity” that went even worse.

Which kicked off 20+ months of “self-employment.”

It was sheer fucking terror. Every morning I’d wake in a panic and it could take ten minutes just to collect myself and calm down. I had several medical issues, no insurance, mounting debts and the few freelance gigs I landed came nowhere close to keeping my head above water. I was sure I would wind up dead.

The upside was that even after working on the freelance stuff and hunting for jobs (applications with literally hundreds of companies, some phone interviews and a handful of in-person interviews which produced little more than a set of outraged posts on age discrimination, counter-productive interviewing rituals, ghosting and applicant screening systems), I had time to reflect on the dumpster fire of my professional life and how it had happened.

The Status Trap

Back in the early ’00s I took some career assessment inventories and among them was one that ranked professional priorities. It considered things like pursuit of wealth, the attraction of a challenge, etc. – basically, there are 10-15 things that motivate people at work, and you were force-ranked on what mattered most.

For me, #2 turned out to be status. This bothered me. I didn’t see myself as a status hound, but the test results raised ugly questions. Truth was, I did get hung up on titles and my place in the company. It was important to get promoted and to have people reporting to me. The gods forbid I should even wind up lower on the totem pole than (or worse, reporting to) someone younger than me.

These factors were visible indicators of the respect I had. I grew up Southern working class and deeply insecure on top of it, so status markers were tangible validation – the only tangible validation – of my worth. Even if I really saw myself as an artist, a scholar and a thinker, being an a executive director in a Fortune 500 making six figures with some direct reports, and even better, reporting directly to the C Suite, this meant I was winning by the incontrovertible rules of society. You might not care about poetry, but you had no choice to be impressed by the business card.

Status mattered in those other areas, too. PhD. Tenure. Publications. If a poem was rejected, it was a chip in the foundation of my worth as human being. So I lived life according to corporate/consumerist social rules, or tried to (even when I moved in academic or artistic spheres).

That hateful little test planted the seed of self-awareness, and while it incited a good bit of self-examination I never acted on it. I guess you could say I chose to live with the disease rather than seek a cure.

The answer

Despite a career which has seen me hold manager, senior manager, director and VP titles, those 20 months of futility eventually forced me to apply for work that was “beneath” me. And here, of course, was the CATCH-22 – it seemed that for every gig out there I was either not qualified or over-qualified.

When I did manage to land an interview for one of those lower-on-the-food-chain jobs I always – always – wound up hearing a diplomatically turned question that translated into something like “wow, what a resumé. Why would a guy like you want a pissant little job like this?”

It was a fair, if unwelcome question, and I experimented with a variety of answers. But the presumption lies against you in a job interview. There are very few right answers and a lot of wrong ones. Following the advice of a zillion HR experts probably only made it worse. But that’s what you do when you’re playing the game.

After all those months of failure I was compelled to face some realities about myself. I don’t love corporations. I don’t care about “career.” I find no personal or spiritual meaning working in the business world. I like money, of course, but not what you have to do to get more of it.

Instead, I love my wonderful girlfriend and my home life. I love playing with Trouble, the Cattle Dog from Hell. I love my photography and digital art. My writing? Well, some do it because they love it and others because they can’t make themselves stop, and I’m in that camp. But there’s value in it, whether it gets read by anyone or not. And nothing I could ever do in the corporate world would ever have that sort of meaning for me.

I finally broke down and admitted that I’m tired of chasing things that don’t make me happy just because other people say I should.

And that became my answer.

The new job

A few weeks ago I finally got the offer. Not for a Veep job. Not for a director job. Or senior manager or manager or any of the other things for which I’m qualified. Nope – my new position is copywriter – which is what I was doing in 1985.

And it feels so very nice. There’s less in the way of the pointless, manufactured stress that accompanies greater responsibility. (Pressure is how too many business managers reassure themselves that what they’re doing is important. It’s pressure driven by ritual, not reality.) My hours are reasonable. I’m not getting rich but I can certainly live on what I make. And I’m good at writing.

There’s some funny stuff about the situation, too, especially if you knew the old Sam. I’m probably the oldest guy in the group, for instance, and my boss is 30 years younger than me. Literally. She was born right about the time I was finishing my MA. She’s sharp as a whip and I really, really like her.

It’s early

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll

Sure, it could all go to hell. Sometimes situations are good early on and a few months later you want to murder people. No guarantees – not now, not ever.

But it feels different. It’s like a tremendous weight is off. I can breathe. And I know for certain that if this job doesn’t work out I won’t go back to the kind of joyless life I was pursuing before.

It took a while, but I now get it. I’m off the merry-go-round and I couldn’t be happier about it.

What Is the “New Normal,” Anyway?


It’s inevitable that we all want to get back to normal. But when we do, it won’t be “back.” It’s going to be a very different normal.

But… We keep hearing this phrase: “the new normal.” I suspect the people who use it the most are the ones who really get it the least. Their “new normal” wisdom seems to be mostly desperate clutching after new ways to … keep doing the same old things.

The world awaiting us on the other side isn’t about means, it’s about ends. It isn’t about how we do it so much as it is what we do. Sure, fundamentally it will always be about family and community and actualization and achievement, but when you hear that phrase ask yourself a simple question: is the speaker promoting a path to the future or the past?

Our shallow consumer capitalism, our affluenza, our greed, our feral pursuit of me instead of we – these didn’t create coronavirus. But they created the crisis.

The “new normal” has to be about building a resilient society and political economy that prepares for, deters and adapts to the seeds of crisis.

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