Now Unemployable

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Note: During the next few months, I’ll be posting a series of essays leading up to the fifth anniversary of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” This is the second essay in the series. The first is here.

Five years after leaving my job at Popular Woodworking Magazine, I’m still asked why I left my post as editor, a job I fought for 10 years to get.

There are about a dozen answers to the question. This is one of them that I can tell because enough time has passed for me and enough people have left the magazine’s parent company. The people in this story do not run the company anymore. And thank goodness.

In 2011, I was picked by the parent company to attend an “innovation summit” to brainstorm new ideas with other editors, managers and marketers from all our satellite offices worldwide. Most of the people in the room I’d worked with for years – fantastic creative types, hard workers and some number crunchers.

A few weeks before the summit, Japan had been rocked by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Like many other companies, we’d helped the relief effort by donating a portion of all sales during a special corporate-wide event.

We were briefed on how much money went to relief efforts – plus how revenue had increased dramatically overall as a result of the additional sales in our online stores. Then the highest-ranking person in the room made a proposal, and that’s when the floor fell out below my chair.

“We should find one natural disaster per financial quarter and run a similar promotion corporate-wide,” he said.

My head spun and I started saying stupid things. I remember asking how many people would have to die for it to be counted as significant enough to hold a special promotion. Would domestic disasters be better than international ones? I’m not sure what else I said, but I should have kept my mouth shut.

It was that moment that I realized I was done with corporations. Not just this one. All of them. I spent the rest of the weekend a bit dizzy and nauseous.

Two other events in May 2011 had to happen before I wrote my resignation letter, but I’m not ready to discuss those – maybe in 2021.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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56 Responses to Now Unemployable

  1. tuckietuck says:

    Wow. Just wow. I had to read that twice. That’s….sad.

  2. Thanks for sharing that with us Chris.

  3. I like your style, You follow your heart, teach people to think about the outcome, and care about family and friends. Thank you for all your ideals on our craft.

  4. Cynicism is quite prevalent in corporation, or to be more exact, in some individuals that have this foul corporate mindset. I would dare to say that a bit of cynicism is healthy to business, but when those wry remarks transform into a serious discussion – run away. I have been in a corporate loaded with cynicals, but the majority of them, including the head, knew when to draw the limit. It’s also a matter of culture and education. Not formal education, real education coming from home.

  5. Subscribed for years to Popular Woodworking, but noticed a shift in content (around the time of Chris’ departure) that watered down the quality of the magazine. Once Chris left I promptly cancelled my subscription….

  6. I’ve been in those meetings and said those thing too. I only tilt against the windmills of my current machine because I think it is in the process of dying and being reborn. I want to be there when it happens to give it its best shot.

    There are many days that I think about writing that letter though. Thanks for telling this story.

  7. bearkatwood says:

    Chris,
    I think you should be proud you didn’t keep your mouth shut. Very admiral in my opinion, I’d like to think I would have the fortitude to do the same, but I imagine I would probably clam up. There is good reason so many admire you, not just for woodworking knowledge.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. skilledno says:

    As a sick joke that’s pretty border line. As a corporate policy that’s…. beyond words I think.

    Wow.

  9. toolnut says:

    More proof that there are more horses asses in the world than there are horses.

  10. Bob Easton says:

    I just set my computer’s clock to 2021 so I can read about those “two other events” soon.

    The corporation where I worked for 40 years wasn’t as Tango Uniform as the one you describe, but it’s still taken 7 years of “retirement” to begin to clear out the negative influences that I didn’t even realize were inside me. Woodworking certainly has helped!

  11. Anthony Wilson says:

    Chris, thank you for this.

    I am very interested to read your autobiography.

    You will protest, and you will say your life’s work is barely started and your ego doesn’t need to be fed and you are too busy with other important projects.

    I will respond by saying that young people (I’m 37) need inspiration and young people need role models and young people need a guide to a life that is more than consumption and social media.

    I will say that people need help to destroy corporate slavery and build a compassionate society and your autobiography will be a part of that.

  12. Mark says:

    I probably dislike the corporate environment more than Chris does but I’m not sure I see the problem with the decision to run a quarterly campaign to donate to a disaster relief or other worthy cause. Obviously there may be much more to the story than is provided in this post and as such, there may be very good reason to see the proposal as cynical. However, we all know there’s no shortage of tragedy and disaster that crop up regularly all over the world and even if you could go three months without a new disaster, there are certainly enough ongoing problems to fill the void. I didn’t read that their higher profits were a result of the decision to aid the tsunami relief effort but of course, if that’s the case, it puts a different light on things. So some corporation wants to use some of its profits to aid people who need help. Good on them. They want to do it quarterly? Who is that hurting? It’s a nice contrast to so much of the corporate grab fest that’s taken place over the past decade. Nevertheless, I’m still glad Chris left to focus on LAP, for whatever reasons. Those of us who suffer from the hand tool bug and love making things with those tools have benefited immensely. May LAP and company continue on for years to come.

    • tsstahl says:

      “We were briefed on how much money went to relief efforts – plus how revenue had increased dramatically overall as a result of the additional sales in our online stores.

      The bloke wanted to capitalize on human misery, pure and simple.

      If the story came from another source, I’d call bulls***. I’ve seen plenty of shady stuff, but never had the misfortune of someone so brazenly trying to cash in on death–and I work in healthcare.

    • The reason to run the disaster promotion was to increase revenue, not to help people.

      • Mark says:

        Sorry but while I suspected that may have been the case, it wasn’t a certainty based on the original post. It would be nice to say it was an aberration or poor judgement call to make that proposal but sadly, it doesn’t sound like it was. I too work indirectly in healthcare/insurance and know the stink in this industry all too well. My retirement is on a distant but visible horizon and frankly, it can’t arrive too soon.

      • In a world of phonies, Chris deserves credit for being willing to admit that he opposed and mocked the idea raising money for people in need because, while the publisher did raise money for a good cause, the publisher had insufficiently pure motives. I’m sure people suffering from a disaster would rather go without than accept money raised by a publisher knowing that the publisher had also taken in additional revenue.

  13. nordichomey says:

    Not sure it is fair to assume all corporations are evil because you had a bad experience. I have been preyed upon by plenty of independent businessmen. I work for a corporation (I would rather not) but I am extremely proud of the corporate ethics of our company. Bad people do bad things no matter who they work for.

  14. pathdoc70 says:

    Corporate Mentality at one of its ” finest ” moments. No wonder that you left.

  15. mcdara says:

    After reading both posts I finally clicked to the fact that using the word Anarchist has a really sad note to it. For it to be Anarchistic (is that a real word?) that we should live a creative and fulfilled life means (all too truthfully) that most of our lives suck out loud. I think I need some strong liquor now.

  16. shopsweeper says:

    We all have those “did I just say that?” moments. For me its most days.

    I’m happy that you did not ‘make it work’ at PWM. Your body of work since then has been significant and interesting to me (and so many others). In the parallel universe where you coped/compromised and stayed I’m not sure it would be as good.

    As for the promotions and whatnot; I think there is a fine line between a strategy to help a relief effort and strategy to benefit from it. I don’t know where that line is, but I trust that everyone draws it in a little different location. All these charities that start off with great intentions and then are spending 50% of the take on overhead in a few years make my fists clench.

  17. Fred Nitchie says:

    Good for you. Not a big fan big business. I took a vow of poverty and became a social worker. Never looked back.

  18. mnrwoods says:

    Corporations evil. Self employment good. 🙂

    We all need to find ways to serve our neighbor in something that is mutually beneficial. It seems that your previous employer simply found it beneficial to profit from helping the victims of disaster. 🙂

  19. Tim Raleigh says:

    Correct me if I have misunderstood you…as I understand it from previous posts, you had a plan/idea to start a business vs. just getting emotional and leaving. While events like you describe are all too common, but as I understand it you were working overtime on your future. It’s hard work to do what you did while holding down a full time job, having family responsibilities etc., but that is the lesson I take from your success. You were proactive not reactive.

  20. erikhinkston says:

    As I get older and “wiser” the world of today’s corporations is so tied to the stock price and the value of the company that nothing else matters. It is not nearly enough that we did this amount last quarter and profited this amount, it has to be MORE than that now and the people running the company are paid to accomplish this at ANY cost. When that is the most important focus for decision making decency and quality take a back seat.

  21. jpassacantando says:

    Please allow me to take the seriousness down a notch here and recognize this post for what it is: fantastic writing! That is a great story! You take Schwarz’s petulance and you juxtapose it with a Dilbert management high priest, and you get the the rich dialog of Kevin Smith’s “Clerk’s,” or “Office Space” (the movie or the series). It’s like putting together “nitro” and “glycerin.”

    Seriously, why the long faces? The event causes Schwarz to launch an amazingly creative career that we are all benefiting from. And lastly, to the commenter who said that he dumped Popular Woodworking once Chris left because the content was watered down, I want to respectfully say to you sir, please take another look. Schwarz stuff still takes up a lot of real estate in the magazine and I look forward to every new issue. Meghan Fitzpatrick runs a great magazine.

  22. artisandcw says:

    In my experience the knuckleheadery present in the corporate world pales in comparison to the knuckleheadery of the non-profit and gubmint world where the discipline of the marketplace is replace by the un-discipline of mostly fatuous ideological whimsy. I recall the boatload of PC BS I was subjected to (political correctness being in essence Stalinism without the catchy tunes), and reminisce about my time during a mandatory sensitivity training workshop. My questions apparently dissected and disproved the assertions so thoroughly that by the end of the day the instructors refused to even respond to my raised hand. That was all part of the calculus for my departure, but was not the catalyst.

  23. When I hear things like this it only makes me sad. Sad because of what the corporate culture encourages. Being cutthroat and cynical might be “good business” but it’s bad humanity. I understand completely the switch from corporate mass to personal interactions. Your passifistic interpersonal and considerate anarchism is something I appreciate. It’s a broken system.

  24. Corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value. Nothing else matters. Supposedly charitable acts by corporations are only allowed if they enhance the bottom line by improving reputation, etc. Corporation are amoral by definition and since the Supreme Court has decided that corporations are people, we must conclude that corporations are psychopaths. Many large modern corporations are Evil and should be dismantled. I used to work for Owens Corning. It makes positive contributions to the world in terms of many areas. However, the belly of the beast is rotten and if you tell the truth at inconvenient times you may be severely punished. I’ve got the scars to prove it. Speak Truth to Power and if it costs you your job, so be it. You’ll find other work and will likely be better off as a result.

  25. Roger Benton says:

    “Ain’t war hell???”

  26. milwen says:

    Done with all corporations? So what about the tools/services/companies you use to design, produce, market, sell, and distribute the product that is your livelihood? How much inconvenience are you willing to endure to stick to your anarchist ideals?

    Sure, I can make my own tools and use them to make my own furniture. And I can only buy clothing that is locally made and eat only locally grown food. But you can bet I’m going to go to sleep at night in my home that’s powered by large-corporation-generated electricity which is used to power a large-corporation-produced heat pump, refrigerator, computer, washing machine etc… I can tell you I’m not done with corporations, and for anyone else who wants to be a part of modern civilization it’s impossible. And it’s not even close to possible.

    • I don’t disagree. There are some things that large corporations do that individuals cannot.

      All I said is I will not be employed by them.

      If you knew about our supplier chain, you’d find that most of our money goes to individuals and small (very small) businesses. You can print and sell books without Amazon and WorldColor.

      • milwen says:

        Yes, there are some things that large corporations do that individuals cannot. Two for instance: large volume production/mining of iron ore and oil. Without them it’s very likely over half of us would be farmers and we definitely wouldn’t be having this conversation on the internet.

        There are many evils done by both corporations (large groups of individuals) and individuals, and we should call them out as we see them. But large corporations also enable our modern way of life including niche producers of quality woodworking books. Let’s not bite the hand that feeds us. We’ve become unbelievably jaded by our truly amazing 21st century way of life.

    • artisandcw says:

      One of my favorite quips was by economist Russ Roberts. “There was a time when all shopping was local. It was called The Dark Ages.”

  27. jessamyn says:

    Utah Phillips has a great bit that he does (which Ani DiFranco nicely put to music, talking about the time he realized it was “all wrong” and that the change would have to come from him. Totally hear you here.This is worth a full listen.

    https://godlesshymns.wordpress.com/tag/utah-phillips-korea-lyrics/

  28. Hoorah!!! for you Chris, trying to profit from other’s misfortunes is the same as stealing from their pockets.

  29. hbm-la says:

    It can be a small eye when threading needles. Having worked in a consulting (service industry) my entire career, I learned that everyone wipes their butt one-handed, and that the old (now) diversity training method of corporate work is another way for aggressive ignorance to prevail. Taking home a million(s)-dollar budget doesn’t work with pocket change only.

    Does this mean no more Pop Wood articles by Schwarz?

  30. gblogswild says:

    Welcome to the Corporation. Please your taste and dignity at the door; you won’t be needing those in this building.

    Good call. I might have left before that, however. Strange that I’m working for another one now.

  31. Bob Snyder says:

    And we are better because of it. Just started reading my signed design book and watched the first disc of the ATC DVD. Great stuff and I’m glad you “unemployable”. Thank you!

  32. jborgschulte says:

    “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

  33. charlie says:

    So you left Popular Woodworking, but hardly a week goes by, that PW doesn’t put you on the cover, release one of your videos, reprint one of your books or re-gram a past article. And you say you left in 2011? At the next corporate brain session someone should suggest renaming the magazine to “Popular Schwarz Woodworking”!

    • They own all my intellectual property from my 16 years there – and I don’t begrudge them for it. They paid me well during my time there, and I worked hard to make it a good magazine.

      Since 2011, my successor, Megan Fitzpatrick, has given me a free hand to write what I want to write. Though I’ve been approached by other magazines, I have a soft spot in my heart for PW because we all worked so hard to rescue it from the dustbin.

  34. Steve Hummel says:

    Thank you for having the courage to share this story Chris. Having been an exec in several companies, I can appreciate the challenges of living within a set of values that makes you want to leave and do something else. I’ve been there for sure. I hope your honesty shared here will inspire some of your readers to follow their own hearts and take risks that preserve their humanity. While I’m at it, thank you for the work being done at LAP. Love your work, and it inspires and calls the craftsman within me to grow and teach my own kids how to build their own stuff. Cheers.

  35. mrogen says:

    When I lost my job at an extremely large corporation, I knew why I was being let go with severance in hand, yet I couldn’t get an answer from anyone. I knew it as coming down due to the abrupt change in the way I was treated, but my direct supervisor kept avoiding the questions. It wasn’t until a few days before the official meeting was to take place that I cornered the Dir. Of Technology, ( I ran the networks for 2 NY offices as well as 5 other states) and said to her, so you’re firing me right? She paused a few seconds and said they were discussing it but it looks like it. At least she had the decency to be somewhat honest with me. Unlike my ‘manager’ who not only knew but contributed to my losing my job. A coward? Yes he was and one of the biggest kiss-asses I’ve ever met. If you have worked in any corporation in your life the halls are filled with them. You just have to look at their knees and see the wear on their pants.
    I took my severance package and was as happy as I could’ve been considering I was without a job, a large mortgage and a young son to support. But there are times when you have to stand up for what you believe in. And losing my job just saved me the hassle from eventually quitting. All was good. I was up for a couple of good positions NOT in the city, which became important to me. Everything was going well until the day I was diagnosed with ALS! But that’s a story for another day.
    When I read about what you did and later some of the reasons why, I clapped my hands and said, good for you Chris, good for you. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t stand by my beliefs. That’s something Chris couldn’t do either and I’ll (sit) by your side anytime.

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