In 2012, Dwain Schenck lost his job as vice president of public relations for a major US company. Nearing 50, it was his first layoff ever. But he was not worried.
Schenck figured that with his background — a journalism degree from USC, decades of experience with non-profits and big corporations, and a proven record of success — he’d land a new gig pretty quickly.
It didn’t happen.
“The world had changed radically” since he entered the workforce, the 10-year Westport resident says.
“The Great Recession was over, but the job market was still horrendous. There were no jobs for a VP of corporate communications.”
Especially one who was — in his words — “middle-aged, balding, a little heavy.”
Schenck went on plenty of interviews. They went well, but nothing panned out. No one told him why he was not hired.
His kids — 2 at Staples, 1 at Coleytown Middle School — were thriving. But Schenck’s self-confidence quickly crumbled. He realized he had “connected all of my self-worth to my job. Nothing equipped me to be out of work, and with no control over my destiny.”
One night, at dinner with longtime friend Mika Brzezinski — they’d grown up professionally together at AmeriCares, and her husband and Schenck were briefly fellow reporters at News12 — he told her of his tough experiences.
As she realized the toll it was taking — on Schenck’s personality, marriage and home life — she said, “you have to write about it.”
Finally, he had something he could control.
Schenck interviewed job-seekers, business executives, psychologists, and celebrities like Donald Trump and Larry David.
The result — Reset: How to Beat the Job-Loss Blues and Get Ready for Your Next Act — is a hit. It’s the 6th best-selling business paperback — and a lifesaver for readers, as well as Schenck himself.
Despite the topic, it’s hardly gloom-and-doom. Schenck writes with humor, insight and plenty of personal experience on topics like insecurity, networking, maintaining a social life, and “Welcome to Hell: HR and Interviewing.”
It’s heavy on reinvention. Which is fitting, because Schenck reinvented himself by the very act of writing a book.
He’d never considered it before. But, thanks to a job coach who helped him look at his “constellation of skills,” rather than just one skill set, he realized he was more than just a public relations executive.
By the time Schenck finished writing, he had the confidence to relaunch himself as PR consultant to high-end clients. He got good gigs, helping CEOs with their messaging and external communications.
Schenck has a website that brings in work, and does motivational speaking too.
He no longer commutes to New York. He works from home and onsite, at clients’ Fairfield County headquarters.
He wouldn’t be where he is, he says, without Westport. It’s an “artistic, comfortable, tolerant town with a lot of heritage,” he says, and his family loves being here. He moved here for the schools, and if he’d gotten a job in Silicon Valley — as he almost did — he would have commuted cross-country.
At 50 years old, he is “doing what I want, and like, to do,” Schenck says. “I’m probably using 75% of my skills, for the first time ever.”
He’s making more money than before he was fired.
But he’s less focused on that. He’s “reset” his life. As his subtitle says, Schenck definitely beat the job-loss blues. Now, he’s well into his next act.
(Dwain Schenck will be at the Westport Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 22 to sign copies of Reset. Mika Brzezkinski will be there too.)
Dwain, happy to hear it all worked out for you. My dad went through something very similar at almost exactly the same age. He was laid off in 1974 at the age of 51 by the NYC textiles business he had long worked for when it was bought out by a Canadian company, which decided to downsize. I was a senior in college, so my parents didn’t tell me about the layoff and managed to keep the news from me. My dad figured out he could do on his own the type of work he had been doing for his former employer–so he set up his own business and ultimately ended up doing better on his own than he had in his previous job. I’m not sure everyone is cut out to do that–or they are not necessarily doing the type of work that lends itself to setting up your own biz. But, for my dad, it really did work out for the best in the end.