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Downsized execs can’t count on the want ads


America is starting to fill up with permanently unemployed executives. One day you’re ensconced in a luxurious office, making your to-do list – find some kind of conference to attend in the south of France; buy another giraffe for the back yard; rearrange the cubicles to spell out your name – and the next day you’re filling out an application at a construction site and worrying that all of the good shovels have already been taken.

Like a tycoon with a trophy wife, American business has chosen youth over experience. Thousands of people who intended to keep climbing the corporate ladder are just hanging around the house, climbing the extension ladder every few hours to see if the eaves troughs could use another cleaning.

Most of them will never find another executive job. Some of them will eventually take less-prestigious jobs, but they won’t be satisfied. Someone who’s used to issuing directives all day long – find a better paper-clip supplier; analyze the fourth-quarter transportation costs with respect to price trends for light sweet crude; shoot those filthy pigeons – is never going to be content just taking orders and putting in time.

It might be easier for people who never got their hands on the levers of power in the first place. If you were downsized out of an assembly-line job, you might not mind assembling french fries in small cardboard containers, at least for a little while.

Suggest that to an ex-power broker, and he or she is going to order a task force to report back with faster methods for processing the fries, or appoint an international study group on recruiting workers with nimble fingers and low pay expectations, or just pull the owner off to the side and try to buy the whole place.

But the world tends to ignore your orders when you’re no longer signing its paycheck, and some VIPs are doomed to come down hard.

In “The Cliff Walk,” former Colgate University professor Don Snyder wrote about losing his lofty job and hitting rock bottom before accepting a new way of life. He actually did become a laborer on a building site and eventually decided to stick with that.

Honest labor. Fresh air. Tangible results. On the other hand: January, July and tendinitis. In your mind, you’re still capable of flinging bales of hay and running a chain saw with one hand. In the real world, humidity seems to be ratcheting up every year, and the knee-joint replacement clinic has started sending you birthday cards.

If you’re lucky, you have enough money saved up to simply retire. You wake up, you play some golf, you see if that guy is still winning every day on “Jeopardy,” you have a decent dinner. That’s not a bad day.

Unfortunately, that’s the only day you have, so you live it over and over.

You no longer have minions to do your bidding, but you still have a to-do list. It reads something like this: become a high-paid consultant; invent something important; write a novel about a guy who was unfairly downsized and then falls in love with a gorgeous young aerobics instructor.

Good luck with all of that.

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