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MULA, Part One

February 24, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, February 24, 2009: My employer announced mandatory unpaid leave of absences, and I’ve got to get my request in by the end of the week.

Weary traveler...

Weary traveler...

I’m in Asheville, North Carolina today.  [Since having knee surgery in December 2009] it’s the first time that I’ve traveled this year for my job.  Also, it’s the first time I’ve written an entry remotely (although, probably not the last).  I spent the day in change management training for the company, called ADKAR, which in some ways is interesting considering the article that I just wrote on Barack Obama.  In any case, we had a group dinner afterward and I’m sleepy and it was in my mind to skip this entry and write it later, but I can’t.  Things have changed.  My employer has announced a MULA.

In case you don’t know, MULA is short for Mandatory Unpaid Leave of Absence.  It’s a cost saving measure to combat the discouraging outlook for both the economy and our end markets — and it’s not the first time this has happened.  About a year after I started in 2002, there was another MULA, which I cannot remember much about except for my initial, poorly informed reaction of, “Wow, they can really do that?”  Older now, I’m not surprised, although it is interesting that they would announce it during the last week of February and mandate that our week of MULA occur in the first quarter.  I suppose the good news here is my company survived the 2002 economic downturn so, continuing along that optimistic thread, we should rebound and recover from this one as well.

But there are differences here, signals about how potentially disastrous this recession-cum-depression could be.  In addition to the MULA, my company announced the cancelation of all 2009 merit increases; and an even bigger shocker is the suspension of company matching in our 401Ks, which, according to my second-level manager, is only a temporary measure.  Temporary though it might be, you don’t have to be Chicken Little to see the threat on the horizon.

My concern in all of this, of course, is the fact that my wife and I exist off my salary.  Granted, we don’t live above our means — no new cars, no credit card debt, we didn’t buy too much house; we purposefully designed our lives around living off one salary.  We’re restrained although far from penurious — a lot of fat can be trimmed from our budget.

But a decision is what it is.  I am the only one bringing in a paycheck.  My wife focuses primarily on the stock market but, at this point, like most new business ventures, we’re still in the red and our abilities are nowhere near self-sustaining level.  We will have to juggle some expenses next month since I’m forfeiting 2.5% of my annual salary (an engineer in the training class today calculated this, as only an engineer could), and we also have to pay our annual subscription fee for QCharts next month (putting us even further in the red on the stocks).  Overhead is a pain when you’re still trying to eke out a profit.

I try not to feel a sense of dread about all of this.  It can feel as if I’ve grabbed the tail of the cat and it’s already out the door — I can feel like The Plan is all but too late.  And it’s an odd feeling when I’m around co-workers and they’re talking about the market and how the company stock dropped $2 yesterday, and then rose $1.68 today; strange because of all the work I’m doing that makes me feel more confident that, if I chose to say something, I would actually know what I am talking about.  The strangeness comes from the fact that I have still yet to see an overall profit from this venture — this so-called knowledge — so inevitably when the stock market comes up, I keep my mouth closed.

It was strange at the group dinner tonight, too.  We ate at Don Papas, a cost-conscious Mexican choice considering the current state of MULA affairs, at least 40 people swigging margaritas and dipping tortillas; and yet, while everyone passed drinks and laughed in an attempt to drown their sorrows, I was thinking about The Plan, thinking about what week I was taking off, and what I could do to maximize my time.  It appeared, on surface level, a bad sign, but this could also be another opportunity to push closer to my dreams.  I can’t finish writing The Dopple Effect in a week but I can certainly resolve some plot issues — it might be the week of concentration I need to have a breakthrough.  And I can watch the market from home that week — that will help.  Is the MULA a good thing or a bad thing?  Will I ever know?

I don’t know [and still don’t know truthfully] but I came back to the Doubletree and wrote this entry.  I’m still committed to The Plan; I’m still planning to attend the NY Pitch Conference later this year.  I have to hope, don’t I?  If I do what everyone else is doing, I get what everyone else is getting.  As Wayne Dyer says, following the herd is great as long as you don’t mind walking through the herd’s shit.  I’m tired of following the herd.  I have to go where this invisible magnet leads me.  If not now, when?  If not writing, what?  Even if the MULA is a bad thing, it’s my job to turn it into something good, my job to live.

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  1. MULA, Part Two « Weekly Vista

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