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.

20 September 2010

Just Wondering

I wonder

if any clergy anywhere observed "talk like a pirate" day yesterday during services.

if tea party candidates given full power would suddenly require people wait until their 70s before they could collect social security payments (and of course make that retroactive so that retired people UNDER 70 would have to find jobs in this robust economy) and would cut defense spending by 50%. Or if they would suddenly become Republicans at the point of receiving power and simply cut taxes again but do little to actually cut budgets.

if a compromise on "don't ask / don't tell" would involve just telling or just asking.

what college football players would make if they got a share of the revenue generated by their games.

how much of what he says that Newt Gingrich actually believes.

how it is that this country could show such a poor exercise of patience, giving dubya 6 unobstructed years to wreck the country but Obama only 2 years to repair it. (Yes. I know that Bush was in office for 8 years. But it was only the first 6 years in which he had absolutely no opposition in congress and was able to effect exactly the policies that the Republicans wanted.)

when a president will actually be humble enough to say, "I don't know but the thing that seems most reasonable is ..." rather than talk like they can not just predict but even control the future.

Just wondering.

12 September 2010

Just the Way Things Are

Once a myth is seen to be a myth, it no longer is. That is, if you call a myth a myth it no longer functions as a myth, as a way to make sense of the world that people believe in. The people who believe something is a myth no longer believe in it.

I wonder if a philosophy is similar. Today, pragmatism is characterized by the fact that people don't think of this philosophy as a philosophy. To call yourself pragmatic is, of course, to say that you are not ideological or philosophical.

Once we see pragmatism as every bit as philosophical as the Enlightenment before it, we might begin to find it lessen its hold on our collective consciousness.

09 September 2010

Waking Up From the American Dream

David Brooks has an interesting column in which he essentially gives a platform for David Platt.

Platt is a preacher who thinks that it is time for us to give up the American dream of living better. This reconsideration of the American dream is not unique to the religious world. People like Michael Polan, who argue for eating locally grown foods, are also suggesting that health and happiness might lie down a path of moderated consumption.

I am sympathetic to these notions. I've argued more than once that one of the characteristics of the new economy will be a shift from an emphasis on quantity of goods to quality of life. But I think that Platt probably gets something wrong.

Progress rarely means going back. The way out is forward.

In the early 1900s, consumer credit and the birth of mass consumption that made mass production profitable was challenged by the religous groups. They pointed to Paul's injunction to "owe no man" as evidence of God's disapproval of credit. For them, credit was a social evil and the thought that people might be free to buy goods simply because these made them happy was itself a little sinful.

But credit is an essential part of the modern economy and so is consumption. I do think that we'll consume fewer "things" in the future. Already we've shifted to spending an increasing amount of money on virtual products rather than real ones.

07 September 2010

Discovering a Life

Tonight my teacher wife said something profound. A person can't learn their strengths without doing their best. It's a curious thought, that: we realize our potential to discover who we are. I like this thought.

A Few Clowns

A few clowns short of a circus”

A "mistake" made repeatedly is probably better labeled a character flaw. One of my flaws? This notion, when I get to the hotel, that my interest in politics will translate into an interest in the political shows.

These shows (and to be fair, the candidates they are forced to cover) seem so inane. I think it's time they just give up the pretence of intelligent dialogue and go to death cage matches between candidates.

The root problem seems to be that no one can continue to stay in inquiry about what might work and openly experiment with policy. Instead, everyone has to declare what will work as if their theories were facts and then stay on the defensive. Pathetic. And so absolutely what we don't need in a time of great change.

06 September 2010

Continuing the Denial of Climate Change

It is getting harder to deny climate change, so here is a quick guide for the growing number of converts to the "there's no such thing as climate change" camp."

1. Dismiss the data as insignificant. "Oh, it's a raise of less than 1 degree! That's noise. The planet's temperature is changing all the time."
2. Dismiss the rise in temperature as part of natural cycles. Don't admit that there is any merit to the notion of green house gases. Instead, talk about larger changes in climate that scientists have tracked through centuries.
3. Dismiss the notion that this rise will be bad. "Crop yields will raise in Canada and Norway. What is wrong with that?"
4. Dismiss claims that a changing climate triggers more floods, droughts, and storms. Rather than accept that the models all seem to predict this, just wave your hand and say, "How could anyone know that?"
5. Dismiss the notion that it is a bad thing to lose coastal cities. "Mankind has migrated before. This is part of the normal pattern of history."
6. Die. Eventually, if you deny long enough, your life will be over and any complications from climate change will be a problem for a new generation to deal with.

Take heart as reports like this come in.

Floods, fires, melting ice and feverish heat: From smoke-choked Moscow to water-soaked Pakistan and the High Arctic, the planet seems to be having a midsummer breakdown. It's not just a portent of things to come, scientists say, but a sign of troubling climate change already under way.
The weather-related cataclysms of July and August fit patterns predicted by climate scientists, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization says — although those scientists always shy from tying individual disasters directly to global warming.

It was not until 1822 that the Catholic Church stopped banning literature that claimed we were orbiting the sun and even scientific peers took about a century to accept Copernicus's central premise. We've got at least another generation of denial before we have to let go of the old paradigm. Don't worry. You don't have to go through the painful steps of adjusting your worldview if you follow these simple steps.