A Difficult/Amazing Year in Review

Jun 19, 2021

The year 2020 came and sailed through like a dark cloud. While many of us will look back at 2020 and cringe (name one person who came through 2020 completely unscathed), I will look back and reflect on how lucky myself and my family were. This is my year in review. Some of the information will be redundant. Some will be sad. Some will be great. Some might even be confusing. All of it will be a reflection.

October 2019: For the first time in my 14 years with ECS, I am finally feeling energized. I have an amazing boss, Barry Carpenter, an amazing co-worker, Ashley Deatherage and I am feeling excited and happy. The company is forecasting a giant year in sales in 2020. Our marketing efforts are starting to make an impact. For me, it's the first time I feel appreciated. I spent a good portion of my time working for bosses who didn't seem to understand the processes or the market and in essence, just threw shit into the wind in hopes that something would stick. That changed for me when Stephanie Quinn, another amazing boss, and person, came to the company in 2012. But a transition took place in 2017 and I found myself bobbing to stay above water again before Barry finally took over the marketing efforts, and despite a lot of pushback from the top level, we are seeing the fruits of our efforts. I am sitting in Barry's office and he's given me a glorious review and has informed me he is going to get me a raise. I cannot tell you how grateful I am as I walk out of his office. I am on a cloud. The raise was $3 an hour. It's large enough to change my family's life. This has also prompted me to actually give a shit about my job again. Many at ECS don't understand the time and energy marketing efforts take. Things don't happen overnight and I spent a lot of time trying to explain this to folks who did not get it. I was deemed an attitude problem because I felt passionate and protective of the department. Now, someone actually is intelligent enough to understand it. I would run through a wall for Barry and Ashley. In the meantime, I apply for the MBA program at Southern Oregon University and get accepted. Life is good. 

January 2020: After a two-week holiday, we're back in the office. Barry, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, tells us that the sales numbers won't hit until at least April. We are forecasting the largest month in company history as several orders are going to be shipped out in the middle of the month. In the meantime, we are starting a new campaign, including a customer journey. But there is resistance. At home, my wife is working a job she likes, and I begin training for the Avenue of Giants Marathon in Humboldt County. For the first time since partaking in marathon training, I feel great. I also begin the MBA program. 

February 2020: At the onset of the month, my daughter, Olivia, who had just turned 5, was not feeling well. Saturday night, she came into our bedroom and told her mother that she felt terrible. She had a temperature and was pretty weak. I always acquiesce to my wife when it comes to medical decisions, and so when she told me she was running Olivia to the emergency room at 2 a.m., I did not protest. Olivia has been super sick two other times in her young life, and her stubbornness often gets the best of her. If she simply drank fluids, she would be better sooner. When she is sick, she doesn't want to eat or drink. Over the course of the next few days, she faded quickly. I was giving her a bath on Wednesday, and my pale and weak baby girl, one of my favorite people in the entire universe, told her mother and me that she wanted to go to heaven. You can imagine as a parent how incredibly heartbreaking and helpless you feel. My daughter was growing weaker by the day to the point she felt she was done. Her words were agonizing and a year later still make me emotional. She spent two days in the hospital. By Friday, she was feeling good enough to come home. Saturday, I took a picture of her and you can see how much the illness had taken a toll on her. She was still pale, had lost a lot of weight and her eyes were still cloudy. It would take another weak before she felt better. In the meantime, we are starting to hear rumblings of a new supervirus. The Coronavirus reminds me of the beer, but I don't take it too seriously. It's like the rest of the virus that we've heard about in the past, I think. 

March 2020: By the time we celebrate my father's 72nd birthday at the Rogue Valley Country Club, the Coronavirus, or COVID19, had not only found its way into the United States, but it was now spreading fast and had made its way to the West Coast. Reports are coming in that people are getting very sick and some, with underlying health conditions, are dying. As we dined that night, we all scoffed at the notion that this supervirus would wipe out the population. My wife, a public health person, was the most vocal. Unbeknownst to all of us that Saturday night, would be the last time we would dine at the RVCC. By Monday, schools were shut down. The next week, small businesses, including restaurants, all closed indefinitely. Panic was spreading not because of the virus, but because of the reaction to it. My father informed me to prepare for ECS to close its doors. I still remember going to the grocery store at the end of March and standing in a long line. We were ushered in and monitored as I quickly got what I needed. Toilet paper and bottled water were scooped up and the stores could not restock them. Hand sanitizers were also snagged up. It was surreal as people prepared for what they all assumed would be the end of the world. By the end of the month, we were told to wear masks when we ventured out. In the meantime, the owner of ECS was sending out memos telling us that ECS was not going to close its doors because it was an "essential business" and no one should worry about their job. 

April 2020: April 1 would be the last day I would work with Ashley. She informed us she was taking medical leave and would probably not come back. That was a Wednesday. Thursday, April 2, I went into work and things felt off. More people were taking advantage of the medical leave. Working became secondary as we all tried to navigate in this new, and strange environment. I remember after lunch walking into Barry's office and telling him that I was not planning on leaving and that if he needed anything, let me know. He looked shellshocked and distracted. I walked back to my desk and my phone rang. Jodie Shafer, the human resource director, asked me to come to her office. Walking to HR was often like walking to the principal's office. While I did have the advantage of my father being the CEO, I still never knew what to expect. As I got up from my desk, I quickly tried to figure out what I may have done wrong in the last week. I don't know why I felt guilty, I really had no reason to. Still, my heart pounded as I walked down that long hallway. I peered into her office and standing there was the owner. I was told to come in, close the door and sit down. I stopped breathing as the owner told me that times were tough and companies everywhere were struggling and were being forced to make cuts. "I am sorry," he said. My mind went blank. I was being laid off. No, I didn't do anything wrong. No, this was not an easy decision. Yes, I was likely going to come back when COVID19 faded. I knew better. I signed some paperwork and walked out. I was mad. I was blindsided. I walked into Barry's office and told him. After that, I grabbed a handful of things and left. It was just after 2 p.m. I called my mom and she gasped. Why didn't dad tell me I was going to be laid off? And why me? She was stunned, which told me, dad didn't know. She just said she knew they were going to lay off people because someone had contacted OSHA and told them employees were sitting too close. That didn't make a lick of sense. Then, she got off the phone with me and called dad. She got back on and told me that they were laying off some people "but you will be coming back!" she said. Dad had promised her that I would be coming back. I knew different. You don't get laid off at ECS and come back. As I made that long drive home, I contemplated a different future. The next day, Friday, I went back to ECS for the last time. I cleaned out my desk, had a long chat with Barry, collected my last paycheck, and spent some time saying goodbye to people. "You'll be back." No, I won't. When my father came to the house to explain to me what was happening, it was vastly different from what I was hearing and I knew he was out of the loop. Besides, only six people were laid off and two of them had their own offices! He could not explain that. A week later, Easter weekend, his outlook had changed. "You might want to look for another job." He also told me he was pushing up his retirement to December because ECS had brought in his replacement and they were going to usher him into the CEO slot. This made sense to me. The folks who were laid off, the entire marketing team (besides Barry), the CFO, the new business development VP, were all people the owner wanted out. It was personal. In the meantime, the marathon I had spent the previous three months training for was now being moved to October. Another huge setback. In my idle time, I decided to break out my research work on Southern Oregon University football and began writing my book. 

May 2020: Nearly one month after I was unceremoniously let go after more than 14 years, I get a phone call from my mother. "Your dad quit." I was stunned. "His last day is today. Can you believe it?" No, I can't. I was receiving text messages from people who were stunned. My father called everyone into the lunchroom and made the announcement that May 1, a Friday, was his last day. Then, he broke down. My father spent more than 25 years working at ECS. He was dedicated and he kept the company profitable. Yet, when he needed the owners to come to his aid, they informed him he was too old. He responded by walking out. No retirement party, no festivities that were lavished upon previous long-term employees. No handshakes and pictures from the owners. No, in a single afternoon, he cleaned out his office and was gone. I didn't say a single word as my mother told me what had happened, which was my father and the incoming CEO got crossed up and the owners sided with the new CEO. My father took his dignity and waltzed out. Which also meant the absolute end for me. When my father quit, that sealed my fate. I had collected unemployment the last four weeks, getting well over my usual paycheck, so I was ok. Unemployment of course is not forever. I was going to have to get a job. My dad did inform me that Jodie was still there and she would make sure I got my old job back. But less than a week after my father walked out, Jodie was fired. She was my last hope and now she was gone. Immediately, I sent out resumes. I called my friend Tawneh and had her collect the last few things at my desk. When I met up with her, she told me that things were a lot better. I told her to be careful. Two weeks later, she called me crying. They laid her off as well. By the end of May, there were 20 employees who were laid off or fired. Many of us had years of experience at the company. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was happening, they were dumping high-salaried folks or people perceived to not fit into the new CEO's plans. Marketing was the first to go. Then it was the accounting and finance department. The CEO, CFO, HR director, and the VP of product management was axed unceremoniously. Those who didn't get a bullet to the head were like survivors at a massacre. They were scared they were going to be next. The environment was different and they better get used to it, was the clear-cut message. In the meantime, I was sporting a 4.0 in the MBA studies after two terms and I received a call from a small company in Central Point that was looking for a marketing person, would I come in for an interview?

June 2020: Quantum Innovations was located off of Vilas Road. They were tucked away in a warehouse. When they called me in for an interview, the lady told me they do things a little differently. I was ready to go back to work after spending two months at home. I dressed up and made my way in for a late afternoon interview. The business itself was vastly different inside than the warehouse it was in. I was impressed as I walked up the stairs and into the lunchroom. Everyone seemed friendly. I sat down and had three people tell me they were all going to ask questions to see if I might fit in. The interview went from strange to weird. I was asked questions like what are 10 things I would do with a string or what is my favorite food. After about 10 minutes, I was uncomfortable. I was really uncomfortable when the gentleman asked me what year Quantum Innovations went into business. I had no idea and I felt like I flunked a final. I left that day thinking there was no way I would work there and the confirmation came a few days later when the lady called and informed me I was not being considered for a second interview, I practically hung up on her because that was not going to be a place of comfort for me. Ironically, I know two other people who applied and got interviews with them and they said how awkward and uncomfortable the interview was, citing specifically the string question and the year the company went into business. Clearly, we didn't do the research. Back to the drawing board, or more specifically, the job board. In the meantime, I became a first-time grandfather on June 17 when Markus and his wife had a baby boy they named Floki. While I have yet to meet my first grandson in person, he represented another first in a life full of them. 

July 2020: My wife was also going through a transitional period in her professional life. She had spent that past year and some change working for DaVita as a patient care coordinator. She liked the flexibility of the job despite being vastly underpaid. That all changed when she got a new boss and was treated like a peon. As I sent out resumes to prospective employers, so did she. When she got a call from Asante, she was thrilled. Meggan had been striving to get a job at Asante since she moved here in 2011. She had a half dozen interviews and was turned down each time, which frustrated her. We both applied for jobs at Asante at the same time. She got called in for an interviewed and was hired to be a patient advocate. I got called for an interview for an analyst. Wouldn't it be cool if we worked together? To make matters even better, the head of the department was Michael Olson, who I worked with at ECS and had a great relationship with. Nervous and anxious as I got on the Zoom call, I was met by a committee of eight people. Each fired questions at me. It very quickly became apparent I was nowhere near qualified for this job. They had left out a lot of details on the job description and within 10 minutes of the one-hour interview, it was very clear this was not a good match. It wasn't the worst interview I had ever had, but it was close. I liken it to being on a blind date and knowing very quickly this is not going to work, but you ordered dinner and you'll have to go through with it. I stammered and stumbled my way through it and at the end, the lady asked me why I even applied and if I was interested. I lied and said yes, but no, I was not. I felt relieved when they called several days later to inform me I was not going forward. After that, I was going to focus on my school and not apply for work. In the meantime, I had received word Barry was let go at ECS. Trying to understand what the plan is, I simply shake my head in disbelief. 

August 2020: After the 2020 Avenue of Giants Marathon was pushed out to October, I not only lost my focus to training but also my motivation. Nearly a week after the cancellation notice, I was running what was supposed to be 18 miles in the hills when I tweaked my hip. I generally get aches and pains from the training process, but this was different. I ended up calling my wife to come and get me and stopped running for two weeks. Throughout the summer months, I ran only sporadically, opting to ride my bike more as the days grew hotter. In other words, I was not even close to being ready for the October marathon. By August, and with COVID seemingly and questionably picking up steam, the organizers canceled it. Instead of running, I focused on weightlifting again. With nothing but time on my hands, I spent more than an hour out in the garage working out. The objective was to get close to the gains I had made in my 30s. Meggan was working both in the office and at home for Asante, spending more days working in the office. I was the stay-at-home dad. This got old very quickly as I am not a stay-at-home dad type. The long summer was coming to an end and the kids, including Olivia, were due back in school. At least that was the hope.

September 2020: We got word that the kids were not going to be in school to start the year, which meant my daughter, who was starting kindergarten, would be doing it over a computer and with me monitoring her. This was devastating on many fronts, but this was also the way of the world now. It was becoming a habit to not forget our masks when we left the house. Her first day of kindergarten was a memorable one for many reasons. I took her to her classroom and she dressed up as a Bee because he class theme was Bjorge Bees. I met her teacher and was instructed on how to use the computers. In other words, Mrs. Bjorge would do a zoom call with the kids each morning and it was up to the parents to make sure the kids learned the lessons. I was going to be a kindergarten teacher. We left that day and went home. It was on the way, we saw a large dark cloud filling the skies near Ashland. When I checked the news, a fire had started in northern Ashland and was making its way along the greenway. Meggan happened to be at work that day and she called to tell me that she was trying to sneak out of the hospital and get home because Asante was asking all employees to stay as the fire in Ashland was getting bigger. This was Wednesday, September 8. It was also a very windy day. I turned on the news to see that the fire was not only moving north at a very quick pace, but it had also made its way into Talent. I was supposed to help my daughter move into her new apartment that day and she called to tell me that the fires were closing in on her apartments and that she and her husband were in a mad scramble to get home and get what they could. As I was on the phone with her, Meggan chimed in that she was stuck in a nasty traffic jam. I had to navigate her on some side roads. In the meantime, news reports were coming in that the fire had wreaked havoc on Talent and was now closing in on Phoenix. Dark clouds began filling the skies, and it turned the sunny day into a menacing, nightmarish afternoon. By 5, it was dark. Fires were not just in our area, but also Klamath Falls and Eagle Point. It seemed like new fires were springing up everywhere as homes and businesses were turned to infernos. I texted my mother that the fire was on path to her house and she and my dad quickly got out. In a year that could best be described as surreal, this day took the cake. The fires picked up steam around 8 and were now heading toward us. Neighbors quickly evacuated as fire engines roared toward the inferno, which was now about three miles from our house. Meggan wanted to leave, but we couldn't get out even if we wanted to. Traffic was backed up. By 9 p.m., I turned on the hose and began spraying down our house. Less than a mile away, I could see the orange plume. I could hear panic chatter from neighbors. I told Meggan to leave with the kids and she tearfully said she was staying with me. We buckled in that night. We prayed. By 10, thanks to a miracle and the hard work of the firefighters, the wind diverted the fire northeast instead of northwest. They managed to contain it. Had the winds shifted even slightly, there is a strong likelihood I would not be writing this blog. Life is about miracles and luck. We cannot take any of that for granted. Was I selfish for staying put that night? Maybe. But the reality was we would not have made it out anyway. Had that inferno shifted toward us, we would have been sitting ducks in the car. Over the course of the next two days, fires began and were quickly contained. Many of them were arson. The events of September 8-10 are still shrouded in mystery. Many people lost their homes, and are still homeless. This was like gas being thrown on fire for many who were jobless because of COVID. More than 1,000 people were affected by the Alameda Fire. We were so very lucky. By the end of the month, a couple of events happened. The first was I started feeling different. My body was not responding the way it usually did. The second was my mother, telling me my grandmother was fading very quickly. Diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and in isolation from COVID, the decision was to not get any treatment for her. She could have days, weeks, months, or possibly years. We didn't know. My grandmother's mental capacity was failing and she was fading. We made the decision to plan a family gathering in September to say goodbye. They brought Joan to my parents' house and most of the family showed up. She was smiling and seemed happy. She posed for pictures one last time. It would be the last time she would be at my parents' house and, well, it would be a good memory. 

October 2020: Attending a wedding in early October, I was able to catch up with a handful of former co-workers, including Barry, who told me how he was happy to be in a new environment. I was also noticing a decline in my own health. It began when I saw a bulge in my belly button that seemed to be getting larger by the day. Running was becoming more of a chore and I had pretty much abandoned it and was riding my bike exclusively. I felt a tug in my belly and was pretty sure what I had: hernia. Umbilical hernia to be exact. I vaguely remember squatting in my garage one morning and feeling a pop in my belly region. Thinking it was just my body reacting to weights, I didn't think much more about it. Now comes the grueling part of going in for a diagnosis. First, my primary care saw it and he thought it was very much an umbilical hernia. Then, it was off to get an ultrasound, which didn't show a hernia. Still, there was something going on.

December 2020: After a month of feeling worse, I finally went in and did a cat scan to confirm that I in fact had a hernia. I saw a specialist who did the hernia test we all did as teenagers playing sports. When he put his fingers to my testicles and asked me to lean forward, it was quickly confirmed. I could not bend over, I could not reach up. By the middle of the month, I was barely able to walk. The cat scan showed, that yes, I had a hernia, actually two of them, but is also confirmed a blood test I took in November that I had a fatty liver, gallstones, and cysts on one of my kidneys. I have been healthy my entire life and I have been fortunate to accomplish a lot physically. Now, this news was like a bullet to my stomach. Of all the things I had dealt with in 2020, this was the icing on the cake. I was going to have to get surgery. I spent the next month in a deep depression that I had not felt in a long time. Christmas seemed to come and go and while I tried to be festive, the reality was I was a mess.

January 2021: I spent most of the first weeks in 2021 in doctor's offices getting poked and prodded. When the surgery center suggested Tuesday, January 19 as the day, I pushed it out a week. Why? January 19 was my daughter's birthday and I didn't want her to remember his 6th birthday as the day her daddy went into surgery. January 26 was the day. I got up early that morning and Meggan drove me to the hospital. I was anxious and nervous. She was incredibly patient. We got a room and I put on a hospital gown. My umbilical hernia and inguinal hernia were in super-sensitive areas. I had watched videos of the before and after the process so I knew what to expect. I am extremely modest, so when the news told me she was going to have to shave my areas, I just about had a heart attack. Yep, I had to lift my gown and expose myself while she took an electric razor and buzzed off my hair. I will admit, the nurses were amazing. All of them. I was wheeled into the surgery room and had a masked placed over my face. I woke up in a recovery room not understanding what was happening. I think I told one of the nurses not to touch me and she didn't know what she was doing, but I was told that didn't happen. I hope it didn't. In less than 30 minutes, I was dressed and wheeled out to the car. While I had bandages all over my areas, I actually felt better. Within two weeks, I was able to move around without pain. I went on walks mostly. 

February 2021: The month of February was a month of recovering. I would say by the middle of the month I was close to how I felt before the hernia. It was also a time when I started to apply for jobs again. All toll, I applied for nearly 50 positions. Basically, anything that said digital marketing I sent off a resume. With just two terms left in my MBA program, and my recovery going very well, it was time to get back into the saddle.

March 2021: Indeed, an online job search website, was my main weapon of choice in my search for new employment. Daily, I would receive job suggestions based on my resume and I would send a resume and apply. Most of the time, I would receive the customary "thanks for applying, we've reviewed your applications..." auto response. For nearly six weeks, it seemed like I was getting more of those than I was interviews. It was discouraging. It was starting to become routine, me getting an email from Indeed, me sending off my resume. Then on March 8, I got a note from Piezo Motion saying they were intrigued by my background but did I know the job was for folks with less experience? I wrote back thanking them for reaching out and thought, next. But they wrote back and asked what it would take to make this work. I wrote back and an interview was scheduled. After my last interviews, I was not sure what to expect. Piezo Motion is in Sarasota, Florida and the job asked for someone close to their area. I am in Oregon. The minute Todd Eckler appeared on the screen, I felt relaxed. The interview was short, but the questions were focused on my background, not what I would do with a piece of string. Could we make this work? I believe so. A second interviewed followed and this one was even better. After a third interview with the CFO/HR director, Bonnie-Jeanne, I felt like Piezo Motion was going to be my new home. The small company was in the middle of a transition and to play a small role in that was exciting. By the end of the month, a job offer was extended and I happily accepted. I began my new role as Digital Marketing Specialist on Tuesday, March 30, nearly one year to the day I was laid off. The very next day, my grandmother, Joan Enloe, passed away at 89. She died exactly 10 years to the day my grandfather, her husband, Dick Enloe died.

April 2021: Working from my home office, ok, living room, has some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages? Well, you can't beat the commute. The disadvantages? Trying to keep the noise level down during Teams calls. Having spent 22 years working in the office setting and having to commute often a long way, the new way of working has taken some getting used to, but once you get a routine, it can be great. While I miss the face-to-face interactions with workmates, when the house is quiet, I can get more stuff done. I enjoy that. My first month with Piezo Motion is literally a blur. I learn about the unique products and also adjust to the new role. Todd is very much like Barry in that they are both supremely intelligent, wonderful speakers who sprinkle a robust vocabulary into their speeches, and hyper good at what they do. Had I not worked for Barry for five years, I might not be able to work for Todd. Like Barry, Todd has taught me a lot in the first few weeks on the job. We are moving at a rather swift pace because everyone is excited about this market disruption. Around this time, my younger son, Markus, tells me he is planning on moving back to the Rogue Valley. He has been stationed in Portugal for the past year. He is going to move here in August. 

May 2021:  The month of May was a complete blur. Between school, which the one class I took in the spring was a monster, and work, I barely remember anything besides my daughter turning 20.

June 2021: The reality of my completion of the MBA is now coming to fruition. I applied for and was accepted to graduate this summer. I have two classes left. I have a 3.7 GPA. I will officially be done the day my wife turns 38. Here is the irony of all of this, I never imagined myself in this position. I never imagined I would have an MBA. I thought only super-smart people got MBAs. Yet, here I am, on the cusp of an MBA with a 3.7. I think of all of my accomplishments, and really that is what the purpose of life is, to accomplish and contribute, this one has to be in the top 3. When I was in high school, I was an unmotivated jock. I wasn't a Bubba, more like a sophisticated Bubba, I was just not motivated when it came to academics. Bad teachers? Part of it. Mostly I would say it was the constant barrage. High school really focuses on you being there and doing the work. College? They don't care if you show up and they don't care if you do the work. They will gladly take your money though. So when the onus is on me, it changes my perspective. I remember I was destined to be a "Refrigerator Repair Man" by my basketball coach. Check that, an obese refrigerator repairman. In other words, lazy, unmotivated, and settled. I am most proud to say I am none of those. I am not lazy, I am not unmotivated and even though I seemed settled at ECS, I went back to school to get my MBA for a bigger purpose. I signed up and completed three marathons for a bigger purpose. Not for anyone else, but for me. To prove that sometimes when you get dumped into an ocean, you can make it out. Look, life is not easy. It has obstacles set up everywhere. No one will ever help you navigate your way out, you have to do it on your own. In fact, people get great joy in seeing you fail. But the sun will always fall on the bad days and rise on the good ones. You will have successes, but you will fail more. This is not the end of my year in review, only the beginning. There are so many great stories to write and feats to accomplish. One door closed (ECS) which only means one door opens (Piezo Motion). No matter what happens going forward, no one will ever take away my lust for this complicated life. I won't let you. 

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