A recent Monday morning, 7:48 am. I’m sitting on my front porch; outside, a light rain is falling.

I have nowhere to go today, or tomorrow, or nearly all this week. I’ve had nowhere to go for over two months now, ever since I got laid off in May.

This is the first time this has ever happened to me. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons about myself, and about work and what it means.

I’ve always had a job, since I was in high school, except for my first couple years of college. In my professional career, I’ve worked in the software field, uninterrupted, for 25+ years. Never a break of as much as two weeks in all that time.

So this summer, I spent time at home with my wife and kids. Lots and lots and lots of time. A little too much time, maybe. Normally, I’m not one who can sit back and do nothing for days and days on end. Or to put a finer point on it, I do like my leisure time, but only in small doses. I like having things to do, items to check off a list. I like being mentally engaged, especially with problem solving or reading.

And I also like physical work. So, on and off this summer, I’ve done some landscaping, planting bushes and other perennials, spreading mulch, digging out some old bushes and tree roots, clearing out space for new stuff to plant in the fall. There is some tree trimming that still needs to happen, and some transplanting of ground cover, and more mulching. Always something to do in the yard. And some of this costs money, of course, and I don’t want to spend much of that right now on something like landscaping.

But you need to have things to do, to fill the days, in order to not go loony. So it’s a tradeoff: stay somewhat busy, to make the days pass faster, but don’t drain that bank account any faster than you have to: if a bush costs $14 at Home Depot, how many future meals are you willing to forego in order to buy and plant that bush? I suppose we could eat the bushes, if we have to.

So it’s another reminder, which we all need from time to time, that the luxury of time is precious, and something we don’t often get to appreciate. And while most of us wouldn’t choose to get cut loose from our jobs, there is something kind of … freeing about it. Men with jobs and wives and kids and a mortgage are supposed to work, and be gone 11-12 hours a day, and all that. Well, guess what? I’m rolling a little bit different this summer. Life does seem to go on. And time is something I’ve had a LOT of this summer.

We go to the pool, or to the Y, or ride bikes sometimes. We play catch with the football out in the street; Jacob and Jordan take turns running pass routes while the other one plays cornerback, and I throw lots of bad passes in their vicinity. When a car approaches, we stop, and watch them drive by, just like when I was a kid. By the way, too many of you folks are yapping on your cell phones while you’re driving. Knock it off.

We go to the driving range, or play some tennis. We watch old movies, or Sponge Bob, or SportsCenter. We play games. We talk. We just hang out.

It’s been a gift, really.

I’ve also been surprised to find that being without a job clarifies just what a job means to me, and how I see myself moving forward in my life. My last job became less than a challenge some time ago, due to factors beyond my control, but it still had much to recommend it. It was very close to home (I biked there in the summer a couple of times a week), and I liked the people I worked with, a lot.

And in doing this I realized, after a little while, that I was making another kind of tradeoff: I traded intellectual involvement and career development for social needs, family time, and convenience. Was that a good trade? Hard to tell. My career development lagged a bit, but I got to know some people at that job pretty well, and came to know them as friends that I also worked with, not just co-workers.

I’ve also learned that I’ve got a level of patience and calmness that I didn’t know I had. I tend to sometimes get worked up about things that aren’t that important, and now it looks like that was mostly due to the stress of not enough time to get too much done. It would be nice to hold on to that patience and calmness as I transition back into the employment world. It won’t be easy, but now that I have a model to work from, maybe I can keep going down that path. And it is nice to be more relaxed.

So this time has been a bit of an education for me. What seemed like a catastrophe early on, turned into an education later.

Fortunately, just a few days ago, I accepted an offer for an excellent new job, that I’m very excited about. It’s with a company that is a leader in network messaging, so I’ll learn alot about TCP/IP and UDP internals, and how to diagnose network traffic issues with performance and whatnot. There are a variety of reasons this is a great job for me. One, it is close to home. Two, the long-term plan is to transition from the more technical to the more people-centric side of the technology business, which is exactly where I want to be. Three, my experience will become more well-rounded, by getting away from software development with databases (DB2, in particular) and into networking, which carries the added advantages of not being tied to a particular hardware or software vendor, and being such a critical piece of the computing infrastructure these days.

And in an irony of sorts for me, I just recently remembered that my plan way back in 1990, when I was still an MVS systems programmer, was to shift over into networking because that was the future. I called that one, eh?! So I took a 17 year detour as a software developer – big deal! 😉

Now that I have a new job, my wife is also looking for work, after 8+ years out of the work force, partly to protect ourselves against loss of insurance and to make up for my pay cut, and partly because our youngest boy Jordan is starting full day school in a couple of weeks.

So once again, I’ve been reminded that sometimes, our best-laid plans get interrupted. And it is always good for us to be reminded of this, and to stand up, stick our heads up out of our foxholes, and re-evaluate just where we are and where we’re going. Life lived at a faster pace makes that very difficult to do.

One thing I try to remember is: you can always get more money, but time spent is gone forever, traded for the memory of what you chose to do with that time. Deep, huh? But it’s true. So this summer I’ve had the luxury of spending more time with my kids and my wife, and even though not every single moment of that time is blissful — who are we kidding here? — it’s been a great experience that I’ll never forget.

Of course, now I’ll want summers off every year.

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