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She searched for herself as she looked for work

INDIAN SHORES — Inside the condo on the beach, the cordless phone with the ringer turned off lights up orange when calls come in from collectors.

Janie Dawes lives here with her cat.

One morning last week, she sat on her couch and read out loud from the Dr. Seuss book, Oh, the Places You'll Go.

"All alone," she read. "Whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot."

She worked for IBM for 14 years. She was laid off 11 months ago, in a phone call that took 15 minutes.

Work-life balance? It was more like work-work. She lost touch with family and friends because she was so focused on her job. Then she focused on her job because she had lost touch with family and friends.

When she lost the job, she lost who she was. Her job search has been a soul search.

Janie's 53.

Across the room, stuck to the cabinet above the TV, were a pair of sticky notes.

One said:

Tech Data

3:00

The other:

Courage

Hope

She already had an offer from one company. Now she had an interview with another. She got dressed in a black suit and put makeup around her eyes and pulled her hair up in a clip and stopped before heading out the door.

"I need my Grace book," she said. "I take that with me everywhere I go.

"Grace," Janie said. "Where is it?"

• • •

She's outgoing and bubbly and articulate. An online personality test says she's enthusiastic but impulsive, really good at talking but maybe less good at listening, which to Janie sounds about right.

At IBM, she supervised the setup of computer systems at companies all over the country, even in Europe.

That meant airplanes and airports, rental cars and room service, out early on Monday and back late on Thursday. She drove herself to the airport. She drove herself back. She wore iPod ear buds to avoid conversations she didn't want to have and sunglasses so she could watch without being seen.

Once, to get enough points to up her status on US Airways to Chairman's Preferred, she flew from Tampa to Jacksonville and back, then did it again. On Christmas Day.

She was making $145,000 a year. She drove a Lexus SUV and had the condo on the beach and a second home in Brooksville. Her title was senior managing consultant.

Commitment to career, though, came with a cost.

Janie Dawes, it says on those mortgages. Single woman.

Psychiatrist Abraham J. Twerski wrote a book last year called Without a Job, Who Am I? He urges people who are out of work to lean on those to whom they're closest.

For Janie, that made some sense, but it also confronted her with a difficult question:

Lean on whom?

She has a daughter from the first of two brief marriages when she was in her 20s. But she wasn't the greatest mother, she said, and still isn't. They hardly talk.

She has two sisters who live in Michigan. They sometimes went years between phone calls.

She has friends in the small communities on the beach because she has been here for a couple of decades by now. But the more she traveled for work the less she called her friends.

"I pushed people away," she said.

Her job, she thought, gave her what she needed.

Until it didn't.

One evening a month or so ago, she went to see Up in the Air, in which George Clooney's character fires people for a living and travels nonstop, surrounded by people but stripped of any intimacy.

After the movie, she sipped on a Coors Light bottle and allowed herself a moment of melancholy.

"You see people holding hands, you see people kissing, and you think, 'God, I miss that,' " she said.

"But I did make a choice.

"And now I'm sitting here."

• • •

Over the last year, as Janie sent out resume after resume, she also rode her bicycle on the beach — sunglasses off, ear buds out.

She taught herself how to paddle­board. Then she taught others. She baked cookies and took them to the Indian Shores police station.

She started going to watch an ex-boyfriend play his guitar at beach bars. Other old friends started hearing more from her.

"She's calling a lot more often now," said Carson Guy, 54, who has known her since the mid-'80s. "Just to talk."

Janie was out of town for a bit last month. Carson cat-sat.

Her sisters too. They're hearing from her after not having heard from her for a good long while.

And she read and read.

She has dog-eared the pages of Grace. The book is a collection of quotes on that theme, like this one, from writer Anne Lamott: "It's help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you."

She highlighted that.

"I was always busy packing and unpacking," she said last month. "Sleeping in my own bed every night has made me realize that I don't want to go back to that."

Who is she if she isn't what she does?

"I am not anything special. I am equal," she said. "I am just somebody who wants to be useful."

Earlier this year, she sent in a questionnaire for the St. Petersburg Times' Help Wanted project. She was one of dozens of people seeking work who were featured in the paper.

Diane Sector of a St. Petersburg company called Business Automation Specialists saw the piece. A lunch led to an interview and eventually an offer.

Last week, as Janie was driving to her interview with Tech Data in Clearwater, she got a text message.

"Good luck this afternoon."

Diane Sector.

• • •

Janie came back from the interview and said she thought it went well. Part of her wanted to wait to see if she got an offer — even if that meant saying no to the opportunity at BAS.

Tech Data? Bigger company. Bigger paycheck. But also? More like IBM.

"I don't ever want to be the person I was," Janie said.

So she called Sector and accepted the job at BAS. She starts this week as a senior consultant. The company is small enough where she feels like she can be Janie and not just another worker. There's almost no travel compared with what she did for IBM. It's close to her condo, which she hopes she can keep, and it's 10 minutes from the beach in Treasure Island.

Perhaps, she thought, she could even paddleboard at lunch.

Maybe, her new boss said, but there's tons to do, and typically they eat at their desks.

"Busy busy," Sector said.

Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

She searched for herself as she looked for work 03/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 2:55pm]
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