Here’s to You, Lisa

My friend Lisa

I meant to call my friend Lisa in December, when I saw on Facebook that she was recovering from a hospital visit. But life distracted me, as it often does, and the months flew by. She was on my mind just last week, when I drove by the low-rent motel on Indianapolis’ east side where we stayed as young reporters eager to squeeze an extra night out of a journalism conference in the big city. Good times. Then last night I learned I’d waited too long.

Lisa died yesterday after a brief battle with cancer. She was just 49.

Her obituary, written by a colleague at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was a beautiful tribute to a woman who made a difference both professionally and personally. Lisa was a giver, and I wish I would have done more to thank her for the many blessings she brought to my life.

Lisa was the kind of friend you could work with every day, kick back with every night, and never get tired of being around. She was the kind of friend you could go years without seeing and instantly pick up where you left off. She was the kind of friend you’re lucky to find.

We met at The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, where she was a community news reporter and I was a lowly intern. Her move to the education beat opened up a spot for me when I graduated a couple years later. Ours was a young, energetic newsroom that worked and played hard. We genuinely enjoyed spending time together after deadline.

One of my most vividly hazy memories of Lisa is a “wine tasting” she hosted in her apartment near McMillan Park. She and her brother had a bet on who would get married first, and he lost. He paid up with a few bottles of expensive wine, which she graciously shared with her friends.

Lisa prepared a nice spread of cheese, crackers, grapes and other appropriate nibbles and set out to educate us on the finer points of fine wine. Sadly, all I remember is that high-end wine is quite tasty. (And something about wine having legs. But I might have been a tad tipsy by that point.)

Wine 101 may not have stuck, but Lisa does deserve credit for nudging this Indiana girl out of her culinary comfort zone. She introduced me to the world beyond hamburgers and sweet corn: Japanese, Korean, Moroccan, Thai and much more. Whenever I visited Vegas, I could count on Lisa to liberate me from the tourist traps and introduce me to something new. Dim sum. Fondue. Boozy milkshakes. Tapas. (Pro tip: make sure to enunciate when mentioning you went to a tapas place in Vegas.)

We also bonded over a mutual love for college basketball–and we managed to maintain our friendship despite our lifelong affection for arch-rival teams Indiana and Kentucky. We drove to Indianapolis more than once to watch her Wildcats take on my Hoosiers. If memory serves, she was even along for the ride during the infamous Hyundai Timing Belt Incident of 1995. For that alone, she deserved a medal.

Lisa was my gambling instructor too, introducing me to Kentucky horse racing and Las Vegas odds-makers. I doubt she spent much time feeding slot machines on her own, but she was always willing to join her friends and family when they did. The first time I visited Lisa with a mutual friend (also named Lisa, oddly enough), she won a couple hundred dollars while showing us how to play video keno and used the money to buy us tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show. That’s Lisa.

The last thing Lisa taught me was to cherish every minute I have with the people who matter to me. Because any minute could be the last.

Rest in peace, dear Lisa. You are missed already.

Are Job-Alert Algorithms Trying to Tell Me Something?

It’s been almost a month since I was laid off, and it has been an adventure.

Although I still feel like a teenager pretending to be an adult, in today’s job market I’m practically a senior citizen. Experience, it seems, is not necessarily a good thing.

The job-search process itself sure has changed since I mailed my first resume and cover letter to a prospective employer. Now all of the “paperwork” is handled online, a high-tech solution so efficient that an applicant can receive a computer-generated rejection letter in a matter of hours. (My personal record: 61 hours and 42 minutes from application to “no thanks.”)

Experts say as many as 80 percent of positions are filled without ever being posted—a mind-boggling testament to the power of networking if I’ve ever heard one. My full schedule of coffee (and sometimes cocktail) meetings haven’t produced one of those “invisible” jobs yet, but I have leaned on friends for help with the ones I’ve seen advertised.

That already has resulted in some real head-scratchers: I didn’t make the initial cut for one position, for example, because the hiring manager decided I would be bored by the work. Um, isn’t that my decision? A quick look at my resume should prove I’m a serial monogamist, not a job-hopper. And I applied for that particular gig when I still had a steady paycheck, so I think it’s safe to assume I actually wanted it.

Now I have to apply for three jobs a week to qualify for unemployment benefits. I’ve been lucky enough to find openings that match my interests and abilities so far, but I can’t help wondering if the technology helping to power my search is trying to nudge me toward a new career.

While the job listings delivered daily to my inbox have produced several solid leads, the vast majority of the presumably algorithm-driven “recommendations” have nothing at all to do with writing, editing, or marketing communications.

Need a patient, outdoorsy nanny? Not it. Seeking a part-time carwash attendant?  I don’t even clean my own car. Hiring a retail store manager? Let’s talk employee discount.

Maybe I’m being short sighted or narrow minded or big headed, but I’m holding out for a position that will allow me to use the skills I’ve worked so hard to develop—and that will give me the chance to find new ones to nurture.

First times may hurt, but they’re needed

There’s a first time for everything.

I left a 20-plus-year journalism career last year to explore life in the “real world,” accepting my first non-newsroom job since working the McDonald’s drive-through window in high school. Last week, my new employer broke the news that my next paycheck would be my last. He called it a layoff, blaming anemic sales, but it still felt like a failure.

I’d never been asked to leave a job before, and it stung.

First times can be painful, but what I’ve realized in the past week is that they’re also necessary. Without some important firsts, none of us would be walking or talking, falling in love or following our dreams.

We learn from our firsts, whether it’s how fast to take corners on a bicycle or who to trust with your heart.

The lessons to be gleaned from my first “involuntary separation” remain to be seen, but my unfortunate unemployment does open the door to another, potentially positive first:

For once, I can shrug off the veil of secrecy surrounding job searches when you already have a paying gig.

It also gives me the gift of time, which I plan to use figuring out what I want to be when I grow up—and how to get there.