It was almost three months ago that my wife and I took the monumental decision for me to accept a voluntary retrenchment package from my employer, this decision wasn’t taken lightly and came about after many weeks of hum’ing and ha’ing over whether now is the right time to take such a leap of faith.
Anyone who knows the South African job market is aware that in this uncertain political and economic climate, employment is something you hold onto for dear life, particularly if you are a white, middle aged man. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t having a go at the current regime for trying to right the injustices of the past, this is simply a reality we face here at the Southern end of Africa. And even if I wasn’t the incorrect demographic, the fact remains that with an unemployment rate of nearly 50%, and new entrants to the workplace not abating, this is not an easy market to be job hunting in.
Never-the-less, we took the decision to go ahead and with a heavy heart I departed my place of employment for the last eighteen years. Fortunately I hadn’t spend all of that time in one place, my job roles in those eighteen years have been varied and I have had the good fortune to work with some of the best brands in the motor industry; Mercedes-Benz, smart, Maybach, AMG, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, RAM, Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat to name a few… I was also fortunate enough to travel extensively, even to the point where I spent three years working for the Chrysler brands in Stuttgart Germany.
The first few weeks of my “sabbatical” – wasn’t really sure what to call it, I am too young to retire – were spent simply clearing my head and reaching out to various connections that I had the good fortune to have met over the years. CV’s and cover letters were updated, contact information with banks, insurance companies, municipal offices, social media sites and online shopping portals were updated to ensure my all-important footprint in the ether was maintained.
My natural instinct was to start trolling the extensive array of employment websites and literally applying for every job that I thought was suitable for my skills and abilities. Some of my job applications were responded to, some by automated messages, some by real live humans, but for the most part, more than 98% of all applications elicited absolutely no response whatsoever. Being the ever-optomist I am, I figured this was because the shear number of applications cannot all be attended to so I didn’t let this get me down. Even today I send off three or four applications a day, its a numbers game and eventually the right job will come along.
Aside from the lack of interest on the part of employers out there, one of the first things that we were able to do now that I had this dearth of new found time on my hands, was to focus on my home life. Those who know us, know that our “furmaly” consists of three of the most loving Pitbulls you could ever wish to meet.
I have the most wonderful and loving wife who has been a huge part of past six years of my journey, and has shared in many of the trials and tribulations as we worked together. She has been hugely supportive of this time off, even though she has had to continue working – she parted ways with the company three months before I did – and has been nothing but a solid supporter in my life no matter how tough these past few months has been, she is a big picture person, doesn’t believe in short term fixes.
I do have two daughters but as they are grown up and highly independent, we see less and less of them other than important milestones during the year.
The dogs rule our lives, and over the past few years our ever-increasing workload had prevented us from affording them the proper attention they deserve, their daily walks were reduced to weekends and the occasional morning when we could drag ourselves out of bed before the sun comes up, this became an unacceptable, not to mention selfish act on our part.
The time at home has allowed us to now get out and exercise not only our dogs, but we are also getting to work-out muscles we had almost forgotten about and importantly out into the fresh air (relatively fresh given our city location!).
We are also able to take time to go for breakfasts, lunches and even the odd mid-afternoon cocktail or two, all things we had put on hold for many years owing to our “dedication” to the job. Movies and shopping during the middle of the day can now be done without having to worry that your time-sheet may be docked, or the ever present eye of the HR department is clock-watching to make sure you don’t take more of the company time than you are entitled to.
At the age of fifty-one I thought the need to treat me like a child was something of the past, unfortunately I was wrong, and that added to the need to move on.
So the time spent over the past three months hasn’t been a waste in my eyes, far from it. I have had ample time to get my personal affairs in order, get my family life in order, and it has cleared my head and allowed me to focus on what it is I need to do to get the next phase launched. I am not going to let a small thing like unemployment dampen my entrepreneurial spirit, after all one of the reasons I left my job was to concentrate on a business venture of my own, something we had been talking about for years, but had never done anything concrete about.
Apparently I have photographic skills and am pretty handy with a camera. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully capitalize on these skills whilst gainfully employed, even though I was often the go-to guy to take photos for the company, at no cost to the company… This was something I was warned against doing many times by people in the know; “Don’t give away your Intellectual Capital for free!”. Dentists don’t do fillings for free, a lawyer won’t give you advice without billing you for it, so why should photographers be any different. We spent a lot of time and money honing skills and building up professional equipment, I am not going to give this away! (Apologies, rant over!)
One of the things I have done during my sabbatical is get my photography portfolio in order. I have a collection of many thousands of images, and from this I have created my portfolio of the best, printed many of these photos on canvas, some framed, some simply printed, and have been marketing my photographic services to various sources.
I have also set up my own website, and because I have PR skills too, I set up my own media company, and little-by-little I am making strides towards my own independence and importantly, owning my own business, something I can shape in spite of the current economic environment.
Of course your own financial situation will have a huge bearing on whether or not this is the sort of gamble anyone can take, because it is a gamble. We do not have infinite funds that allow us to retire and never do another day’s work, nor do we honestly want to sit around doing as little as possible until our time here on earth is complete, but I can say that this has been some of the most valuable time I have afforded myself in years, and would recommend it to anyone, if the circumstances in your life permits.