Poster Boy for Recession Gets Job

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unemployed poster boyPaul Nawrocki literally became a poster child for the recession. After a February 2008 layoff and no significant leads for months, he wore a tote board on the streets of New York City, handing out résumés, hoping for a bite. The theory? Not to look desperate but to attract attention from commuters passing who might be hiring managers and recruiters. To his surprise, more attention came from the media and from other unemployed compatriots. "So many people in New York City are out of work, but they're invisible," says Nawrocki, 60. "They're dressed in suits, looking for work. This huge group of people gave me all this encouragement."

Now, two years later, the former toy company executive has finally landed a job. The biggest irony--he now works for a magic trick company.


Serenity Now

Many people have mantras they use for inspiration and motivation. Nawrocki attributes much of his success to the words of the "Serenity Prayer" by Reinhold Niebuhr which constantly play in his head and did not waver over the past two years:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

He learned it from his police lieutenant father who worked with alcoholic rehabilitation in Rochester, NY. But never more in Nawrocki's life did it matter than these past two years. A healthy dose of good karma and patience didn't hurt either.

A career coach who writes for Businessweek.com got in touch with him in early 2009. Lauren Zander of The Handel Group advised him in line with his mantra. Economic numbers? Can't change those. Nawrocki's age? Couldn't change that either. But changing his outlook helped -- that his new "job" was looking for a job. And changing his exterior a bit -- losing a mustache, exercising more, eating better -- helped boost his positive interior as well.


Teetering on the Edge of Despair...and Running the Other Way

Financial problems started to mount. Mortgage deadlines loomed. Nawrocki funneled money to the mortgage and pushed health insurance premiums to the edge of grace periods. His long-standing accountant offered to do his tax returns pro-bono. He welcomed that, but also dreaded learning the total he'd have to pay the government. Good karma struck again and he got a $5,000 return. In 2009, this was essential because his wife is diabetic, has high cholesterol, two hip replacements, and neuropathy. They went for routine tests and found out she had uterine cancer. The family almost lost all health insurability but paid for COBRA with that tax return.

Attitude is everything. Nawrocki says he never felt close to despair. "I was never embarrassed or humiliated. Why would I be embarrassed to ask for work?" he says. "I wasn't out there with a tin cup. I was only asking for an opportunity. I sent my resume to over 7000 businesses in the metropolitan area."


Let the Magic Begin

Ultimately, it was a chain of events that he thinks led to his current job. The good experience wearing the sign board led to his work with the career counselor. And old-fashioned networking in the toy company community hooked him up with his new company -- Fantasma.

Despite making half of his past salary, Nawrocki is back on the commuter train, liking his new role as an operations manager. He's not out of the financial woods yet and he still feels a responsibility to the unemployed masses. Just this week, he said he received a letter from an unemployed 59-year-old woman in California who had read his story. She sent him a check for $25.

The nation added 162,000 jobs last month. It was the first significant growth since the down turn, but unemployment remains at 10.2 percent.

"It's overwhelmingly moving," he says. "I realized the story isn't about me. I know it's about the millions of other people who are also unemployed. I have to stay strong because I needed to do it for them. The team is still out there struggling."

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