22 September 2010

Unsolicited Advice in a Miserable Job Market

There's a whole group of delightful recent graduates who are trying to start careers in this, the most miserable job market since they invented the personal computer. Here is some unsolicited advice that might help.

Most importantly, don't make your prolonged unemployment or underemployment mean anything about your own potential. If you get caught in a tsunami, your swimming skills have little or no influence over where you end up. This job market? It is a tsunami. Wonderfully able and capable people who would have been making six-figure salaries in the late 90s are serving lattes in today's economy. The people doing so well in the late 90s were not more able; the people struggling so much in today's economy are not less able. The difference lies in the economy. The good news? This economy will change.

Don't confuse cash flow, a job, and a career. In an ideal market, you'd solve all three of these problems at once, starting your career with the right job and getting the cash flow you need. In this market you might have to split those into two or three pieces.

You might have to get a job before you can start your career. Don't give up on your career if this happens. And if that happens don't let your job define how big you are. Define the job by who you are - not the other way around.

Follow your bliss, sure. But the only way this pursuit will pay is if it happens to coincide with the bliss of a customer or employer.

Markets are actually a beautiful thing. They force us to connect our lives to the lives of other people. It is not enough to figure out how to please yourself; you have to please other people. Masturbation can't compete with love making. Whatever bliss you can create in a vacuum does not compare with the bliss you can create with and through other people. Inquire about other people, what they like, what they need, what they wish for. Markets get created out of the intersection of what one person wants and what another can provide. If you can find a way to meet those needs, you'll find a form of bliss twice: once because you get the joy of making other people happy; a second time because in a market economy, you'll be paid for this act.

Even if you are looking for a job, think like an entrepreneur. How would you create value? How could you present this possibility to a customer or employer? Go do it. You literally have nothing to lose. The fact that businesses are creating so few jobs doesn't mean that there are so few opportunities for creating value. Look beyond the want ads.

Remember the Stockdale Paradox: always face the most brutal facts of your present situation while never losing faith in your future. If you are all brutal facts it is easy to feel brutalized and lose hope. If you are all optimism and light, it is easy to gloss over the present reality and what needs to be done.

Mind your diet: feed your hopes and starve your fears.

Be patient with yourself. Believe in your own potential and know that if it really is your potential, it will take a lifetime to realize. I know some of the young adults who are struggling in this market. They're delightful people who I think will make fabulous employees and entrepreneurs. If anything good comes out of this prolonged recession, it might simply be that for a generation so gifted and privileged there might have been no simpler way to remind them of the necessity of compassion and the inevitability of chance.

No comments: