Our Annus Horribilis of 2013 — and an S.O.S to start 2014!


(George)

2013, aka “Year of the Snake”, has been our economic Annus Horribilis.It is no consolation to hear that so many others have also apparently had a miserable year, financially and professionally, and are in the same boat as us. Misery does not love company – especially when company views misery as a glass half-empty and wants to drain the rest of the glass out of desperation and despair…

The year started off with a bad omen in the form of a client cheque returned by the bank due to the overwriting of the date. (2012 had been changed to 2013). We received a replacement cheque from the client but, in the 2 or 3 days it had taken to identify and sort out the issue, the client decided unilaterally to reduce the scope of the project and the replacement cheque was only half the value of the original.

Things went downhill from there, as potential clients held off on committing to projects, citing the shut off of government $ in advance of the 13th General Election and wanting to “wait and see” who would come out on top and the effect that would have on their own business. Well, the election has come and gone and things have been no better since then. Prices have been hiked and subsidies have been cut, and companies have either run out of budget, or are clinging to what they have until they have a chance to figure out what will remain in their pocket at the end of the year after all the settling out and reckoning of accounts is complete.

Throughout this past year, we met with clients, pitched for jobs, and got offers to participate in several. But when the time came to mobilize to start work, these same clients pulled back and either rescheduled their projects into the New Year or outright cancelled them. All the while, we didn’t panic. For a couple of key reasons:

1) We are two intelligent people with a combined 60+ years of knowledge, skills, and work and life experience. And we complement each other quite nicely: I’m primarily a left brain analytical, structural thinker, while Mrs. B. does better at the social, and conceptual right brain thinking. Surely we should be able to find SOMETHING to bring in the $ with all of these pluses on our side.

2) We (mostly me, I think) looked at things as a test from Allah, remembering His words from the Quran –

“Certainly, We shall test you with fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient – those who, when afflicted with calamity say, “Truly to Allah we belong, and truly to Him shall we return.” it is those who will be awarded blessings and mercy from their Lord; and it is those who are the guided ones.” [ 2:155-157 ]

If we are patient and perseverant enough then God will deliver and provide relief — likely after we have come to understand the lessons that the adversity has taught us about ourselves and about life in general.

3) We have good and extensive networks of contacts, colleagues, former co-workers with their own gazillions of years of knowledge, skills, work and life experience, and their own networks.

So instead of panicking, we did what we do best, which was to put our heads down, face into the wind, and charge ahead, redoubling our efforts to find work from our networks and strategic partnerships with other companies.

We also made ourselves available to the traditional job market once again, figuring it  should be fairly easy for two intelligent people to find work, given the tremendous contribution they could make to employers with their combined 60+ years of knowledge, skills, and work and life experience. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.

We sent out CVs through our networks. applied for jobs through the traditional channels (Jobstreet, LinkedIn, company websites, job ads in newspapers, etc.), and contacted and met with recruiters. Mrs. B. must have applied on a good 100 jobs, while I’ve applied on a good 50 more. In several months, I’ve had just two job interviews, while Mrs. B. has fared no better.

Our lack of success after several months of searching for work has put us face to face with several very inconvenient (and frustrating) realities:

1)  Employers assume that we want to be drawing top salaries based on where we are in our working life/careers. They can’t believe that we would consider working for them for less than what our experience and career level say we should be able to command. Some of our contacts can’t believe it either, so we don’t get taken seriously by them or by potential employers.

2) Being an expatriate, employers reject me out of hand because they assume I will be expecting an expatriate salary and benefits package and figure that they can’t afford me.

3) Computerized/automated job application systems — notably Jobstreet — appear to be screening out our applications based on an initial search of certain keywords or job titles. In some cases, we get the rejection email “we have found a more suitable candidate” even before the closing date of the competition. What does that tell you?

4) Some recruiters appear to be following the Jobstreet path of least resistance: if our CVs don’t contain certain keywords, or certain position titles, then we get rejected outright. They don’t seem to have the willingness or ability to dig into our CVs, pull out skills and experience that are related and transferable to positions that they are trying to fill, to sell us successfully for our mutual benefit.

All the while that we’ve been pursuing work and jobs, the bills have been piling up, rent and electricity in particular. To the point where we’re several months behind in both and are in danger of not having a place to live (or not having power while we still have our place to live), in the real and immediate future. We’ve been getting just enough work to survive from day to day — having to budget right down to the very last sen with what comes in — but no more. When I say, “survive from day to day”, I mean eat frugally, get our phone top-ups, hang out at McD or Starbuks for a few hours a day on a small purchase so we can use their WiFi to get online, and have enough money for gas to get to meetings with potential clients. Even so, we’ve had to rely on the generosity of others from time to time to make it to the next day when the very last sen was gone.

To our friends and colleagues that have provided food for the furkids, and/or loaned us money in the too frequent desperate times this year, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We do promise to make good with you when good fortune comes back our way.

It is very difficult for us to ask others for help, even when we really need it. We are proud people that still believe old school: that you can get anywhere by your own efforts with intelligence, hard work, patience, perseverance, good humor, and faith in the blessings of the Creator. With no luck to date in moving forward despite all of this, with doors to work or jobs slamming shut in our faces just as we approach them, we have considered the possibility that certain forces have been called up to block our path, and have sought spiritual guidance to deal with this. We’ve done one round of cleansing the house, and will be proceeding with a second round  (as well as personal fortification), shortly, to deal with anything particularly stubborn that refused to leave or that we may have missed the first time around.

We’ve done all that we can, and have made the most of all of our own efforts this year and are now down to the excruciating crunch. Trying not to fear or panic but to remain upbeat, hopeful, and optimistic, mindful of Allah’s words that –

“On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray): “Our Lord! condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; help us against those who stand against faith.” [2:286]

So here we are, needing some real and immediate help, and sending out this S.O.S. to anyone in a position to respond and help us get back on our feet.

Our immediate need is for JOBS that will give us the ability to make arrangements to pay accumulated back rent and overdue power bills in the short term to avoid the unthinkable for both.  We then need to whack away at loans from friends and other bills after that. Securing jobs is our overwhelming priority at the moment: possibilities of work through our company just won’t cut it at this point in time.

For Mrs. B., she has an extensive background in HR, recruitment, organizational development, and running F&B and hospitality businesses. She is incredible at relating to, and getting along with, a wide variety of people. As for me, my background is in SME and community development, with some experience in retail sales and management. I’ve word primarily in the government and NGO sectors. One of my exceptional talents is writing, including proofreading and editing.

If any of you have immediate openings in your own organizations where we might apply our skills, knowledge, and experience to the benefit of both parties, then please get in touch with us. If you don’t, but have friends, colleagues or contacts that do, then please have them contact us, or pass along their info to us.

So. There is is. The Annus Horribilis that was our 2013, and the S.O.S. that is the start of our New Year. Wishing you all — friends, family, colleagues, the regular readers of this blog, as well as the simply curious that came across this blog by chance — a very Happy New Year and successful and prosperous 2014! We expect to meet you on the other side of the coming year, with a MUCH better story to tell, Insha Allah…

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