Midlife Career Crisis

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It Takes a Village

“Let them see you bleed.”

I will never forget the words, or the magnificent woman who took the time to say them to me in late 2015, after I read an article she wrote about entrepreneurship.

Thank you, Tammy Bleck, for planting early seeds for my botanical growth.

To everyone else, blame her.

My Journey Becoming a Writer

Life isn’t meant to be simple, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be repetitively difficult.

That’s what happens when we all (willingly or not) have one foot stuck in our country’s sphincter, which is worse than quicksand. It’s the political equivalent of being stuck, waist deep, in the mudflats of an inlet, just hours from high tide.

All you can do is watch – and hope – that some kind soul will risk life and limb to cut off your legs in order to save your life.

A writer’s words stem from their own close encounters with painful times. Even the joyful ones.

I was “laid off” on April 13, 2015. I was 40. For the first time in my life, I was unemployed. It felt like my life was crumbling – because it was.

In reality, it was crumbling well ahead of my consciousness of the crisis, and one I haven’t successfully resolved…yet.

At first, I looked for a job, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was freshly flung from my front row seat watching the rapid evaporation of the company I co-founded in 1999.

We sold in 2014 and I relocated to Arizona after accepting a position with the new company. Within 11 months, I was laid off retaliated against.

I never imagined the escalation of HR accusations reported to me, against the CEO, by employees I managed, would result in my ousting. Except, it did. That's another story currently under construction.

Time wouldn’t allow me to “move on” until I understood aspects of my past that were either hidden from me, or otherwise done to me while I wasn’t paying attention.

Letting your guard down is sometimes confused for weakness and that's what predators look for in their next meal.

Want to talk about privilege? Privilege is when you’re comfortable enough to let your guard down regardless of the circumstance.

What’s an Unemployed 40-year-old to do?

Reflect.

I asked myself this question nearly four years ago, but it seems like yesterday. To be fair, I’ve asked myself this question every day since I stopped receiving a paycheck.

Take a step back.

On March 7, 2015, I attended a spring training game with the CEO. On March 9, 2015, I received the official complaint about the CEO. By April 14, I had no job. Regardless of the fact that, within those 11 months, I was promoted twice.

The skills I developed up until the day I was fired, grew from necessity, not love.

A fish out of water, I had no idea what to do. I was a jack of some trades and the master of none. I spent almost 16 years working in an industry that chewed and swallowed me like a piece of gum that didn't end up on the sole of a cheap shoe someone lost at a festival.

For a while, it felt like failure. Until time equipped me with a new perspective.

Turns out, it was the best, worst thing that ever happened to me.

Move On

That’s the worst (most simple) advice. It’s convenient and lazy and indicates the lack of interest to understand someone’s situation.

Misunderstanding your past doesn’t fix anything. In my experience, dismissing a situation so quickly is peculiar behavior. It usually indicates something’s not right.

In order for me to reconcile my past, I have to make peace with it and I can’t make peace with things I don’t understand.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Here in an instant, gone in a flash. What have I done to deserve this?

Life was no longer paycheck-to-paycheck. It became early retirement withdrawal after early retirement withdrawal until there was nothing more to take.

Life took a hard swipe and knocked me off my feet and left me leaving a six foot dent in the ground.

For the record, I never filed for unemployment. I still haven't, yet it's been almost four years since I received a paycheck. I'm not complaining. Just facts.

National Emergency vs. Career Crisis

Today, I find myself clawing my way out of a pile of ashes with no financial stability within reach. I’m a living, breathing Phoenix cliché. (Technically, I live in Scottsdale.) As hard as it’s been, I keep my head up. I will get there or die trying.

That’s what it took for me to realize that my life was meant for more than a supporting role. Making something out of nothing is my only option.

At the end of the day, I want a roof over my head and my dog. All roads lead to there. That’s how it has to be. I didn’t make the rules.

If you want a life of candy, you have to crush it.

Silence speaks volumes, but so do I

I was raised understanding if I want something, I have to work for it.

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, Off to Work I Went

My first job was a paper route for the Anchorage Daily News. I was 11 and my parents were fine with my new responsibility. After all, I was the one getting up at 5:00 a.m.

At age 14, I had options. I was ready for the wonderful world of fast food! After assuring my parents that Arby’s wouldn’t interfere with my homework, they allowed me to enter the workforce. Arby’s led to TCBY, and TCBY was next door to Blockbuster, but they couldn’t hire me until I was 16.

Wow! What a difference! Blockbuster Video!

I finished my high school years at Blockbuster and I only quit that job because I left the state to attend the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM).

Off to School I Went

I took a break from work my freshman year of college as I was busy keeping my head barely above academic probation. I received my one (and only) “F” that year. Math wasn’t my strong suit.

By the end of my freshman year, I hadn’t declared a major. All that mattered to me was that I had friends, I had fun, and I liked this new life.

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, Back to Work I Went

I spent the summer of 1993 commercial fishing near Kodiak island off the coast of Alaska. It was the longest, short stint of my life, but it paid well. It was rough work and I appreciate what that experience did for me.

Hopefully that's the last time I go 28 days between hot showers. The option was freezing Pacific salt water with a bar of Lava.

1993 wasn’t a great time to deal with being gay, much less in a place as isolated as Anchorage, Alaska.

Feeling like an outcast in Wisconsin was enough, and that flame was burning hot and fast. What Wisconsin had over Alaska was that none of my family lived there.

There’s a lot to be said for confidence that stems from a fresh start; one from which you cannot be shamed into submission.

I came out to my mom in September 1996. I remember it well. It was one of those "pivot events" in my life that changed my life's trajectory. I plan to write the story. Mom, you've been warned! It's actually really fucking funny but, right now, I need to bring this back to my career crisis.

I can’t remember exactly when I declared myself a Journalism major, but there was a deadline and I didn’t want any more math classes.

Back to School

My sophomore year, I worked at a campus night club. Also that year, I became a Housefellow (Resident Advisor) for UWM’s Department of Residence Life (DRL).

I spent two more years living (and working) in the dorms. But unlike the previous two, I was responsible for the behavior of 70-80 others.

The Journalist in Me

Newspapers are a recurring theme in my life, although I never wrote for one like Clark Kent. I landed a position in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s marketing department through a temp agency.

I graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism supported with a bouquet of public relations classes.

After graduation, I was offered a job at a small marketing firm. For two years – I wrote and edited for corporate publications. After a very brief stint at Manpower, I resigned to start et alia, llc. with Brad Nicolaisen.

The et alia Years 1999-2014

Entrepreneurship.

Right By Writing

Passion is rooted in love, and I love writing. I love everything there is about storytelling and the emotions they trigger.

I started my journey by starting Devilish Smirk, and this summer marks its fourth year anniversary.

That's just, ok, wow...yea, no comment.

If anything it’s been one hell of a way for me to organize my thoughts. My notebooks look like a toddler got a hold of them.

Some hit a little too close to home, but life is messy like that. Nobody’s perfect and anyone who claims otherwise is full of shit.

A Devilish Perspective

When I was 24, the decision to start a company was easy. It was a no-brainer! Why? It’s simple. I was naïve as fuck.

When I was 40, it took me becoming unemployed to consider writing. I finally hit the “now or never moment”, and I chose now.

Regardless, what’s done is done. I feel like I understand strife in life. At least, I think I do.

I only know how I feel.

Sometimes I feel like the only person in my head, and that scares me. I doubt myself a lot and when I do, I always return to the same place:

I didn’t come to exist and settle for anything less than the best.

America, I'm just sayin' we could have a better president tomorrow. Let's grow the fuck up for a minute. My world is part of this galaxy too.

Shit or get off the pot!

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6 thoughts on “Midlife Career Crisis”

  1. I’ve often heard it said that life is what you make it. What? Who the hell thought that was profound? It hasn’t been easy for any of us, and clearly yours has been full of challenges. What matters is you rise to the occasion, if even eventually. What makes us all different is how we handle the good and bad life events; because we all have them. Being open minded and moving forward despite the fear, well, that makes all the difference in the world. So does talent. Not everyone has it. Happy that you are among those that do. You will be fine. Better than fine. You will be great. All you have do is NEVER give up on yourself. Thank you for the mention, it has been a privilege to watch you grow. Looking forward to the future for you and with you!

    1. Tammy,

      I’m happy to call you friend. Profound is profound and almost always in the most simple ways. Thank you again. The future’s so bright we have no choice but to wear shades. And throw some. 😉 ~Travis

  2. I love reading about your life through your eyes. Keep pursuing your dreams. I look forward to what comes next. I am saddened by your struggles and I hope you feel heard. You always have a roof with me where ever I am in this world if you ever need to be a lost boy again.

    1. Thank you, Cory! Without the struggles, we don’t really become better humans. It’s the continued challenge that the past seems like it has strings wrapped around that I’m trying to figure out how to break from. As soon as I do, the first place I’m coming back to is to visit the St. John crew! Things are changing in this universe. It takes a planet a little longer to change than any individual. And, when it does, we will see who was on the right side of things. While much pain may convey through my words, these are old pains. The challenges are very real, but if I weren’t feeling better about life, these words would never be written. Lost boy for life, ~Travis

  3. Travis, although you never mentioned life on Prospect and Webster (promise I’ll get over it) , it was interesting taking the walk with you through your eyes. I feel really bad about what has happened since you and Brad poured literally everything into your et alia. I was often in awe of what you both accomplished. I always really admired you both and your natural ability, through hard back-breaking work, to grow a business the way you did.

    You both need to remember what you accomplished and what got you there. Your abilities haven’t changed other than the fact that you are both even more capable and educated through this experience. In time, when you are ready, you will say, fuck-em, they ruined me for a minute but they haven’t taken everything. As long as you have the air in your lungs, you have opportunity. You just need to see it and you will when you’re ready. Be the fucking Phoenix.

    I know this all probably sounds trite and you are thinking, what the fuck does he know about what’s going on inside of me. He hasn’t lived my hell. And you’re right, I could never know. But we all have a story and there is a chapter in mine that might surprise you. This isn’t your whole story. This is just another chapter. There is a lot more to write and you will as soon as you put the final dot on this chapter.

    We haven’t seen one another in years but I fondly remember being room mates and our friendship like it was yesterday. Lots of laughs, including Sergeant Pepper. I’m pulling for you both. And I’m really excited to see you start on the next chapter. Keep writing. But more importantly, keep living.

    1. Hey Paul! Thanks for checking this one out. Life on Prospect! You know, the original office we rented for et alia was also a Wickman (sp?) building. In fact, the CEO of the company (the company who was named on the sign, starts with an S) – his wife was the daughter of Jim W. Remember dropping off rent checks into that huge mansion on Newberry! So poetic, it’s sinful! Anyway, I remember fondly the time you came to that office and helped stuff a marketing mailing together in exchange for an et alia sweatshirt! That’s one thing I do not have still today – one of those sweatshirts. I still have t-shirts, but they all have holes in them – none caused by bullets.

      I know you’ve been through the ringer. That’s what this life is. It isn’t “The Battle of Who Can Cry More” (another story in development), it’s a “Fight for the right to soar.” Name the musical influence on those two statements. I know you know. In fact, the first one, I only know because of you!

      And trust me, plenty of stories will touch back to the Prospect days. Be careful what you ask for! You’ve been warned! This mind is a steel trap. Writing for the last nearly four years has been one of the biggest brain “lifting” exercises of my life. It my memory were abs, I would have a case + six. 😉 ~Travis

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