Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Of Work-Life Balance

A note to twenty-somethings:  Don’t go for work-life balance.

Another note:  In this economy, you could be in a not-my-career McJob:  bartender, bouncer, room service delivery guy, retail rat.  This blog is less true for you right now.  You’ll see why in a second.  Also, if you’re married, this may not feel true for you.  That relationship changes the ambition mix.


If you have just begun your career, don’t don’t don’t tell potential employers or your boss that you’re seeking work-life balance, if you want them to view you as a hot-shot.

The twenties can be an unsettling decade.  You’re on your own, physically and practically.  If you’re like many these days, you probably haven’t married.  You’re not sure what you’re about, what you want, or what you’re capable of.  But you wear your best false-self face, you’re full of bravado and bluff, and you say you have the ambition of a presidential hopeful, only you're not a political joke.

Know this about your twenties, and into your mid-thirties:  You will never have as much energy or drive as you have now.  This is the time to go for it.  Companies want your ambition, your ideas, your take-the-hill attitude.  They’re dropping their fifty-somethings like a used tissue (they used to be twenty-somethings) in favor of you, who are – BTW – cheaper than the older guys.

If you’re not in a career job, you will likely seek WLB.  You’re not in it to win the next job; you don’t want it.  You’re marking time till you can find what you want.  Personally, because I believe we develop good and bad habits no matter what we’re doing, you SHOULD give your mall job your all.  You’re getting yourself in shape for your career opportunity; you don’t want to take (and have to break) a WTF attitude to your growth job.

Most of you will change once you marry and begin having kids.  You may be more focused and less haphazard about your job, but part of your heart will never fully report for work again.  Your personal life will matter more.  You’ll have beautiful children and carpool and aging parents, and you’ll be desperate for free time.  Plus, a boss or two will have screwed you over so you’ll realize the company doesn’t take care of you.  You will also have taken  another measure of your ambition.  If you’re still gunning for the top job, you’ll still be driving toward it, and hiring baby-sitters and carpool drivers.  If you’re not,  look for work-life balance THEN.

I don’t care what the company’s official line is about its work-life balance policies.  It's not true (as you will also learn about company pronouncements).  Let the suckers talk about WLB.  If you have ambitions, be about drive and dedication and working weekends.  And make your social life part of your work life:  golf with the boss, a fishing trip with your banker, dinner with your customer.  THAT’s work-life balance for the ambitious.  But this is the time for you to go go go!

As the sergeant said to his men in WWII, signaling they could take a break,  “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”  For you it means:  Don't take the break.  Use that drive while you have it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is It Age-ism?

A client sent me an article about age-ism in IT, when the 30-year-old hotshot becomes the 50-year-old has-been in the lightning world of innovation.  What struck me was how this keeps getting presented as a new problem.

When I was 30 and at Monsanto (and a hot shot, if you'd asked me), we in Human Resources worried about the plight of the over-50s. . . who we viewed as solid performers but not promotable, and who were at the top of the salary range.  What could we do to take care of them?  Ten years ago, after Y2K, I was doing career continuation workshops for older IT workers who'd gotten bounced from their companies after that crisis had passed.

Bottom line:  This is a universal and persistent  and age-old problem of an employee getting older and bumping against a system's value boundaries. Before you're 50,  you're a new product in the market; you have promise; you're cheap to hire.  After you're 50, your employer knows you in depth, good and bad, you're an expensive commodity and you might have settled into a knowledge rut And who wants to work 70-hour-weeks once you have a real life?  You have institutional knowledge, and while you're right about its importance, the company doesn't value it.

When I was cradled by a company that promised us everything and took care of everything, and a lot of years separated me from 50, I expected the company to DO something about those 50-year-olds.  Today the corporate landscape has dramatically changed.  Companies abdicated that care-taking mentality decades ago.  It's "every man for himself," although - curiously - people are still surprised by the way the company treats them after age 50, as if that hire-and-develop-youth practice didn't apply to them.  It comes from being terminally unique; that is, we believe the rules apply to others, not to us. 

You call it age-ism.  Your employer calls it being "mean and lean," saving money by "getting some new blood around here."  Translation:  Younger, cheaper, faster, fresher.  It's why unions were born, frankly, and why seniority is so treasured there, because companies have ALWAYS left older workers in the dust, given the opportunity.  Seniority helped older workers keep their jobs.

Absent the protection of unions, what are you gonna do? 

(1) If you're in IT and over 50, you'd better be in a classroom seat or at a webinar on a regular basis.  If you're in any other profession, you still need skills building.  (I can't tell you how many clients firmly inform me they are NOT going back to school. . .at a time of their career when knowledge freshening is a MUST). 

(2) You'd better be preparing to change jobs or careers because that's when companies move against employees, after age 50.  If that doesn't happen, hoorah.  You've probably increased your value to the company by what you've learned.  The shame of this change is that the 50s is actually the greatest decade, if you're in a job you like.  You're most creative and productive and at peace with yourself, and having fun. 

(3) Don't rest on your laurels; don't coast.  Few companies value loyalty or longevity.  They're running too fast to give you a break. 

Age-ism it may well be.  Thirty years from now the same thing will still be going on.  My point is that making that charge, becoming bitter and resentful doesn't help you a whit.  Be more interested in how to STAY interesting to the marketplace.  If you don't, you'll pay a high price - literally - for your inaction.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mysterious Careers

So many clients want to be writers, and I’m always happy to help them launch their endeavor – for laughs, part-time, or jump-off-the-boat full-time.

I’m at a mystery writers conference.  At each panel discussion, I’m struck by the writers and how they’ve crafted writing careers.  A few are like Charlaine Harris (creator of True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse character and author of two dozen mysteries), a doyenne of this conference, who has spent 30 years writing in her upstairs office. 

Many of the authors in attendance have kept their day jobs.  Gianrico Carofiglio is a member of the Italian senate and till he was 40 prosecuted Mafia crimes.  He writes crime novels (Involuntary Witness, among others).  Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief) is an industrial salesman who crafts novels in his head while on long drives between customers, captures his thoughts at night.  The other published authors here are also professors, writing teachers at senior centers, bartenders, nuclear engineers, parole officers, television producers, union organizers, dancers, retired journalists, Episcopalian priests, ex-cons and carnival workers.  Quite a group, eh?

Some, like Gianrico reached a time in their lives when they said, “If not now, when?” and picked up the pen.  They’ve disciplined themselves to pursue this love by making the time to write and then doing it.  Like Michael Kahn (eight books about attorney Rachel Gold), an intellectual property attorney by day, mystery writer by night.  He writes after dinner.  A client who writes non-fiction sets a goal of a page a day when she’s working on a book.  Another sold his company so he’d have the time to put out his business book.

At the conference are hordes of wannabees, admirers of the genre who reallyreally want to write, but don’t because they fear the blank page, they claim to have no time, they decry the tectonic shifts within the publishing business.

The unifying truths for all of us at this conference are the shared fears, blank pages, time demands, publishing challenges.  What separates the authors from the wannabees, though, is the push through the fear, the time in the writing chair, the march forward despite the fact that everyone knows you can’t do this.

So, dust off your writing quill, crawl to your garret and write that first word.  You could be the next Charlaine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surrender to the Model

Experienced in the coaching profession, I was in a coaches’ certification program and getting bad grades from my supervisors. I saw myself as a crackerjack coach, and resented the “just okay” assessments.

“You need to surrender to the model, Rose,” a supervisor said. “You may be a great coach. We don’t assess you on that, but on how skillfully you’re using OUR model. . .and you’re not.”

The same goes for you. You got here because you’re tough, independent, and results-oriented; bulling through is usually a workable strategy for you. It is not your nature to surrender to anything. You like when it’s “my way or the highway.” But sometimes you’re there as part of a bigger whole, and bigger dogs than you are barking about what’s to be done (you can see the fangs, too). Somebody bigger than you said, “You all have to make this work,” You came as a champion of your organization, but other champions similarly fighting to do what seems right to them are just as loud as you.

Sometimes you just have to surrender to the model. Do it with grace, and you just might win the day when toughness wouldn’t. You may have to swallow anger at analysts or say the sound-bite without flushing with anger at the reporter who doesn’t have a clue about your business and didn’t bother to research the issue. You can get into trouble when collaboration, cooperation, and compromise are the order of the day, and you’re behaving like a bijon frise yapping at all the ankles entering the room and tempting the “accidental” kick.

I learned this at one of my first corporate-wide meetings and sat next to an experienced plant manager. The presenter, Mr. Big, was speaking English, but I couldn’t see the problem or the decision that needed to be made. “What are we supposed to do here?” I whispered to my table-mate. “We’re supposed to say, ‘What an excellent program you’ve designed, Mr. Big!’” my colleague replied. It was our job, not to critique or approve the project, but to surrender to his model. It wouldn’t be the last time I would growl about such a colossal waste of people’s time and energy, but that’s the way it was, and still is.

You can probably find plenty of examples of how your knowing-better, impatience, and bullheadedness saved the day. There are also times where these fine qualities stymied the project, slowed progress, derailed fruitful discussion because you wouldn’t pay attention to what was going on around and above you, or look for the opportunity beyond the easy pot-shots you could take at the puffed-up suits. You surely cut yourself off from learning, from finding the clever way, from the relationships you nicked in your rush to be you.

The nature of your job is political. Just acquiesce and go with the program from time to time. Surrendering to the model can move you in the direction you would like to go.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Russian Coach

One day she was just the student splashing next to me in the water aerobics class.  The next she was our instructor, and boy did that class change!  She’d been a swimming coach in Russia.  She had trained kids for the Olympics, and she meant business in these Y waters.  Suddenly this was hard work as she paced the deck, cajoling and sweet-talking us:  “Come, my darlings!  You can do this!  Do one more!  You are wonderful!  More!  Harder!"

It was fabulous.  I was doing More! Harder! and getting better and having more fun than with the Jazz Hands vanilla routines we’d been doing.  While I could barely strut, the bod was also looking better.  Then she was gone after a few weeks – no explanation – and we were back to our mild Muzak moves.  Sigh.

I never forgot how great she made me feel about my possibilities in the water.  She had performance standards and a belief that I could meet them.  She was relentless and I got better than I thought I could be.

Clients learn quickly that I push and believe in them.  I don’t mince words about their reality or their truth. These are scary times, and hand-patting just won’t get them safely through thrashing waters:  the 4000 resumes that are their competition, the fewer jobs that require clever or elbow strategies, getting to the desired next level where the game plays rough.  You have to be able to compete in this environment.  Come on, my darling!  You can do this! 

If you have a coach, I hope it’s a pushy one.  If you don’t, but you need help with an uber challenge – getting a job out of town, changing careers, deciding whether to keep your faltering business open – enlist the aid of your own Russian coach, someone who will push and believe and never let you off the hook.  That’s what gets you to the Career Olympics.

You’ll be a better fishie for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Paean* to Someone Else

* - Word for the day, meaning “a song of praise, joy, or triumph”

When the project has sat undone so long it’s become furniture or wallpaper or otherwise invisible to you, and has spent an eternity on your to-do list, it’s time to call in the Big Guns:  Someone Else.  This is different than the Accountability Buddy to whom you report while doing a project.  This is the friend to whom you whimper, “I won’t get this started without you.”  This is the friend who will go with you for the first time to the unemployment office (it feels so shameful!), or to begin that quilt or start doing your museum research.

Ah, what a friend is Jim!  He let me browbeat him into meeting me at the museum.  He introduced me around, explained how all this works.  He made sure I was on my way, then wrapped his Super Researcher cloak around him and flew away. (“My work here is done, little lady.”)  And a project that had languished for months was begun.  From this point, the path has been tromped across the field of waving grain, and I can move ahead on my own.

The secret to involving Someone Else is that SE thinks what you’re doing is fun, not the torture it’s become in your mind.  Like networking calls, for example.  I once volunteered to do phone fund-raising for a charity, and I couldn’t wait for my two hours of smiling and dialing to end.  When my sweaty hand slammed down the phone as the quittin’ time bell sounded, the solicitor next to me smacked his lips, yipped a happy HOO-rah, and wished he had another shift.  He’s the guy to call, not me.  Invite him for coffee and hand-holding while you make the calls.  Someone like me will quail just like you before that forbidding phone and talk about anything but networking.  Solicitor Man will make you punch in your first number.  This is fun for him, not torment.  He can't wait to see you do this easy thing!

Get the picture?  Find Someone Else to whom your dreaded project is fun, and ask for help with the first few steps.  Then you’re on the road.  Skippity skip.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Should You Share Your Dream?

When should you talk with others about what you’re developing. . .the idea for a new business or career?  That depends on the strength of the dream, your excitement about it and your confidence.  You have to think of yourself as an artist.  At what point are you ready to give your creation light and air?  Are you fragile in your thinking, or firm?  Do you have confidence in the idea’s hardiness, or does it have the delicacy of newly unfolding butterfly wings? 

Be careful sharing too early.  People love to diss ideas.  They often can’t take their little editorial paws off of them.   It’s too impractical, they tell you.  Why should you start over?  Don’t do it that way; do it this way.  The danger you face in a too early “reveal” is the death of a potentially great way to go.

Take me as a writer, for instance.  When I begin I’m never sure if my work has merit.  Is the idea good?  Where will it go from here?  When the project is pretty new, as I’ve discovered when later mourning dead butterflies, I’d better keep my stuff to myself.  It’s why I don’t join writing groups.  They can’t WAIT to take me in another direction, to create as THEY would have with this as assignment.  I begin to write for their approval rather than the advancement of my dream.  Once I’ve been at the piece awhile, however, I’m more confident in myself; I’m ready for critique and feedback, and I’m very specific about what I want.  If I’ve been going here, don't send me there.  At later stages I'm happy to hear what I missed or how I could enrich what I've done because by then I own the work and its direction, but I want a light hand, not a re-write.

As well with you.  Understand how you respond to others’ input and when you will welcome it.  Too early and your plan will take on a shape you never intended; too late and you’ll be too rigid to hear good counsel.

Hold that dream closely in its early days.  Talk with those who are skilled and close to you, who know how to handle emerging butterflies.  Once you can see where this needs to go, then give it to the world and get the help you need.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Unhappiness at the Crossroads

You’ve made a significant change.  You just left school, or changed careers or retired; all of which held exciting potential for you.  Yet you’re not happy.  Do you know why?

You won’t know for awhile whether you made the right decision because you have some settling in to do, seeing how this fits you.  What’s causing your unexpected grumpiness is being at a crossroads of your life.  You are more familiar with the life you had before than the one you recently chose.  So, this new place feels odd to you, uncomfortable, unfulfilling.  You don’t have a routine, the road map.

The solution?  Take a giant leap into your new life.  New career?  Spend long hours at it.  Study the org charts and the industry.  Expend greater effort to make new friends than to stay in touch with the old (some of them will still be there after you’ve adjusted).  Do a housecleaning to get rid of the books and papers and symbols of what you were.  You can bring them back.  They are making you unhappy now.  Bye Bye!

If you have retired, the same goes for you, but a better prescription is to get a structure:  a part-time job, a volunteer gig, classes at the life-long learning institute.  You don’t know how to sit at home.

Action and patience with yourself as you let go of the old will get you through this.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Willingness and Boundaries

I had coffee yesterday with a client about her new career as an artist.  The content wasn’t particularly important; the points were.

“Look,” I told her, “even though you’re in the career of your dreams, there’s still about 30% of it that you won’t like doing.  Every job has that, whether it’s administrative or marketing or the work you don’t like, those production pieces you churn out for the money.  You have to decide what you’re willing to do.

“Then you also have to decide what boundaries you’ll put around your artistry.  How many hours do you want to work at it a day?  It’s the rare artist who’ll stay at the creative task for eight or twelve hours.  If it’s four to five hours a day, put a fence around that time and defend it from incursion by your other responsibilities and the 30% that’s necessary to do.”

Another story.

When I learned a friend was dying a couple of years ago, I called another friend, the soul of pragmatism.  “What shall I do?” I wailed, “I hate being around death, but I feel like I should do something.” “Decide what you’re willing to do and not do.  Visit the hospital, take food, drive her to treatments; and tell your friend these are the things you can do.”  Willingness and boundaries.

Whether you’re out of a job or working at changing careers, your daily life is full and has its frustrations.  You have to know how much you WILL do to move yourself forward, and what your boundaries are. . .what you WON’T do.  You need to sit yourself down and have a heart to heart with the person you see in the mirror:  “What am I willing to do and not do?”  “What feels like the right thing for me to do?” (always an unerring pointer to one’s correct behavior.)  The heart and mind and path ahead are always clearer after conversations like this.

Your family wants you to spend as much possible time on job hunting.  Your soul needs time for yourself, and the family needs time with you.  If you’re seeking your NEXT, you also have a day job, a family and a dream of your possibilities.  You have to be deliberate about how you allocate your time:  your future, your family, you.  If you get real obsessive in one area or the other, bitterness often follows and it’s often because you’ve left yourself out of the equation.

Ask yourself willingness and boundary questions so you can feel at peace with your work and job seeking activities, to keep your hectic life in balance.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Devil You Know

What’s keeping you from pursuing your NEXT?  You’re miserable where you are.  Why do you sit in a lump of inaction?  I define “inaction” rather broadly.  It includes: reading books about career change or about getting-what-you-want-by-simply-thinking-about-it; looking on the internet for jobs, talking to your spouse or friends about how miserable you are, brooding in the basement.  I’m not even talking about TV and video games!  This is gold-clad inaction. 

“Action” would look like this:  Reading the book, but doing the exercises and reflecting on what that means for you and your NEXT; using the internet to research fields you might be interested in and finding people who might be willing to talk to you about that and making the call; telling an accountability buddy your progress and your goals.  In other words, taking actions that move you forward an inch or a mile into this unknown.

Reading this, why, oh leader of the charging pack at work, aren’t you getting your butt in gear?  It is important to recognize that where you sit every day from dawn till dusk constitutes the devil you know.  You understand it here; you get few surprises, you’re accustomed to the misery, your body likes its routine, your family likes the money you bring in.  And maybe, as the ghost of Puritan forebears whisper in your ear, you’re not supposed to be happy anyway.

As much as you’d like to feel charged up about your NEXT, in the beginning change equals risk, danger, loss, the unknown.  Making change requires greater energy than the progress you initially see.  You may show a bravado face to the world, but almost everything in you resists taking action.

What to do about it? 

1.  Shake hands with your imperfect ole self and recognize the landscape; you’ve been here before any time you’ve contemplated change, and it sucks.  You and your sterling rationalizations are quite happy here, thanks; never mind that your soul is screaming for change.

2.  Commit to doing just one thing a day on behalf of yourself and your growth.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Read a chapter (and DO the exercise).  Make one call.  Research other jobs 15 minutes a day.  I have an author friend who’s written nearly a dozen books.  She hates to write, but she makes herself write 15 minutes a day.  She finishes a book in a year (okay, so it’s large print); but she gets the job done. So can you.

3.  Content yourself with seeing little progress at first.  It’s a matter of accumulating mass.  If you’re saving money for a vacation, $50 doesn’t seem like much.  If you started on this goal a year ago, you now have $600, and that's something.  One pound of weight loss is nothing; ten pounds is a dress size.  Don't expect huge attaboys from yourself when you’re muddling around the staring block; just keep going and you’ll be proud as you complete that first mile.

4.  Really look at this “devil you know.”  What’s here?  What do you hate about it?  Why does it no longer suit you?  Bring these thoughts into the fresh air of change and make them visible.  Write them.  Look at them from time to time so you don’t stay sunk in your stinky reality. 

5.  In your early days of creating change, make yourself accountable to someone, coach or friend, for reporting your progress and crafting new goals.  There’s magic in this.

You and your comfort with the devil you know are the most important block to your NEXT.  Kick that devil aside and you’re on your way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Want the White Coat

The point:  You have to embrace it all.

A member of my family had a brain aneurysm the other day.  As we trek daily to the ICU waiting room we see a lot of docs, superior in their physician armor, crisp in their white coats.  While I wait to see whether the ICU nurse will buzz me in, their card-swipe causes doors to swing wide for them.

While The Client Chair has held MDs who assure me their careers are different from this medical film clip, at this moment as a peasant visitor, I want the white coat.  In my career movie, I want to stride into the room, be seen as vital, in charge; to be made way for, deferred to.  In the next moment, I acknowledge that I don’t want blood on me EVER, to take organic chemistry, to have someone second-guess my diagnosis because they got their medical degree at Google University; or to be yelled at because a loved one died, to be on my feet for 14 hours in surgery, to deny care because the hospital that owns me dictates it.  In short, I want the glamor of the job, not the drudge of its reality.

When you’re thinking of your next career, what you most often see is the white coat, not that reality.  Examples:  College forensics classes are bulging because TV CSI stars work amid multi-hued bottles in muted-toned labs, and investigators work trash dump crime scenes in spike heels.  In real police life their status and environment are quite different.  Similarly, with TV news anchors.  You don’t see the 2:00 AM reporting for work, the no social life, the emotional toll of reporting ongoing horrific stories like 9/11 or community flooding or child murders.  You have no idea of the discipline and fortitude this takes, or how dreadful this industry can be.

If you can picture people you know who are successful and happy in any of these professions, it’s because they bought the whole package.  They looked at all of it, good and bad, and said, “This is what I want.”  If they’re unhappy in those jobs, it’s possible they saw only the white coat and thought, “Cool.”  That crisp white coat might have become a straitjacket, and they may now be sitting in The Client Chair saying to me, “Now what?”

If you want to change careers, especially if you’re not sure of your direction, make it a point to have serious conversations with people already in the job.  Ask them to tell you what’s great about it, what’s not, the challenges and sacrifices.  The road of change is generally not easy.  You have to know you want all of this NEXT.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


One of the most impatiently self-confident consultants you’ll ever meet is Alan Weiss.  He’s famous for barking at his mentee clients, “Eighty percent and go!”  In other words, don’t dink around till you have perfection, which conveniently continues to elude you and lets you wallow in inaction.  Get most of the prep work done and launch, is Alan's message.

(As an aside, he’s incorrect if you try to apply this to a project you’re doing for a demanding client, or if you work for a perfectionist, or if the tolerance for error is zilch.  Then you have to put in the time and sweat to get it absolutely right.  You won’t be forgiven for less.  Otherwise, Alan is absolutely right.)

Move! is particularly true regarding your NEXT.  You can develop an Ideas list in about a minute:  Call this person.  Research an accounting degree.  Ask the pastor about volunteering.  Sign up for a workshop.  Talk to your wife about starting a business. 

It can take forever to get you off your duff and into action, however.  Whatever is the locus of your current unhappiness, non-Move! is at least the devil you know.  Move! is the devil you don’t and the risk you fear.  Ideas are the scary beginning for  you; they can be dead-ends.  Begin anyway.

The point of Move! is to JUST GET YOU MOVING, which has a magic of its own and often sparks other ideas and movement.  Move! also lets you:

* cross things off your list. 
* test your hypotheses about what you want. 
* get you to another contact, another idea. 
* help you know you’re truly serious about finding whatever's NEXT for you. 

You can learn some disappointing things.  The online college brochure makes you tired; you don’t want another degree.  You talk to your wife and she apparently married you for better or worse but not lunch-and-then-some!  She likes you out of the house.  These outcomes are simply data that tell you:

* I didn’t want that. 
* I’m not interested in starting over.
* This might be a fun hobby, but not a career.
* I made a new friend!
* Wow, that gives me a great idea.
* Back to the drawing board
* Hmm, this might be worth pursuing.  Who can I call to learn more?

That’s what you’re really looking for, the path to forward movement in this quest.  What new ideas did you get?  What helpful contact have you unearthed?  What might be an even more interesting combination of all your wants?  This is a winnowing, narrowing, learning process.  One client told me he didn’t know how to think outside the box.  What he didn’t recognize, in the impressive work he was doing, was that he had LEAPT out of it!  You, like he, will be exploring new territory.

Move! is a testament to your determination.  To paraphrase a saying about selling:  Nothin’ happens till somebody Moves!  Git.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Willing to Work for Less

An email exchange with the question of how to say:  I don't have huge salary requirements!

Dear Job Doctor,
I’m looking for a job.  I have benefits from my late husband, which means I have to make less than $20,000 a year or lose them.  I want to work for a company that’s advertising for someone with two years of experience (I have 25+ years in the business).  I have no idea how many people have applied, but I really want the job.  How much do I reveal about my willingness to work for so little money?  I would hate for anyone to look at my experience and rule me out.

Dear Salary-Bargain,
There are a ton of professionals in your field who are in the job market right now, so the resume cubbie could be stuffed at the hiring company.

You’ve already held the top position in that organization.  What would have worked with you, relative to a would-be employee?  My best advice:  Do that. 

In a "normal" situation, salary is discussed at the end of the interview.  Your low salary requirement makes it a key selling point of you, an experienced professional.  In your field, you’re accustomed to bold asking.  You probably know the current head and because of your reputation and relationship can get a meeting.  Don't waste time with lesser lights.  You don't have much to lose by a direct approach to him/her.  If that fails, call for an appointment and in it assert:  I'm experienced; I'm current with the field and technology; I'm a proven entity; I know how to get IN; I know the players; I get the job done; AND I'm a bargain, at least for four years (in truth, most people will have changed jobs by then; but the head would tell you they'd revisit that THEN).  But there's no reason for you to remain patient resume fodder.  There's little risk to the organization by taking you on.

It may be possible you know people whose favor the company wants; have them put in a good word for you.  Others in the biz might recommend you; use their names.  You might even have testimonial letters.  Take 'em. 

The final point is one that wannabe employees just have to face, no matter where they want to work:  How will you add value to the organization?  Your profession is struggling, as you know.  The low salary is a strong argument, but how does your presence there potentially bring more revenue to the organization?  How can you help improve the bottom line?  More money in counts for more than less money out.

Unless the current topper is very young and wanting a young staff that's less scary to manage than an experienced pro (I know you've never heard of that happening!), you're likely to get a favorable hearing.  Go with the confidence that you have little to lose and much to gain.  If the strategy doesn't work, then you might take it to other similar organizations in the area, if that interests you.

One final note about employees being willing to work for less.  Employers never believe it.  They correctly assume that the second you can get something better, you'll take it; which makes you a high risk hire.  In your situation, however, you can't take the risk of a higher paying job for four years, which makes you an interesting applicant.

Good luck.  Let me know what happens.