Dear young professionals,
It’s me, the economy. It’s been great getting to know you these past several years. You may not have considered it, but I’ve been here as you’ve gone from high school to college to the working world. When you were younger, free of the worries of children, your career, and other “adulting” stressors, you played in my world as a consumer. Those were the good ol’ days. Get that summer job, earn a little cabbage—or an allowance from your parents—and shop away.
Then, it was off to college. You wish you could go back there, am I right? Study now and then, go to parties, maybe attend a few athletic events. If you went the more traditional route, four years flew by, and suddenly, you were interviewing for jobs. Most of you didn’t find landing one tough. I was super healthy, and roles were plentiful. But things weren’t always so grand. Way back in 2008, I was ill. Banks were failing. Mortgages were in default. Thousands of layoffs were a daily occurrence. Graduates were lucky if they could find a job that used any of the education they had just paid a fortune for. But I got better, and the good times rolled.
Even as they rolled, I knew they wouldn’t last. Like all of us, the longer I go without getting sick, the more likely it is I will come down with something. Unfortunately, you humans seem to forget this. You not only forget it—you twist it into the opposite logic. The longer I go without being sick, the more convinced you are that I’ll never be sick again! But I’m here to tell you that in a 50-year career, you’ll have to deal with me getting sick several times. The reasons for my episodic illnesses are global and complex. That’s why nobody can predict it. But I’ll be hit by some bug now and then. Bank on it.
One factor that often plays a part in my illnesses is magical thinking. You know what I’m talking about; the thinking that manifests itself in the most dangerous of statements: “This time, it’s different.” Newsflash: it’s not. Real estate can decrease in value. Companies that don’t generate cash will eventually go out of business. Guaranteed returns from risky assets aren’t possible.
You may have noticed I seem to be under the weather now. I’m hoping it’s just a cold and won’t become a full-fledged flu like back in 2008 and 2009. That one was a killer. But, like you, I don’t know what course this illness will take. And anybody who tells you they do is either lying or ignorant. There’s certainly some indication that my sickness will get worse. I read your newspapers. Layoffs are in vogue again. Inflation is my thermometer, and the readings this past year have been elevated. The war in Europe has caused complications. Things have been better, for sure.
“Thanks for nothing, economy,” I hear you saying. Fair enough. I’m being a bit negative, aren’t I? Since none of us knows when I’ll get sick, how severe the side-effects will be, or how long they’ll last, let me offer some advice to help you weather my illnesses.
First, accept the fact that I will get sick. The more you remind yourself of this, the less surprised you’ll be when it happens. “What good is that?” you may ask. Knowing it will happen doesn’t make the sting of a downturn any easier to handle. Or does it? Reminding yourself during the good times that bad times will eventually come puts you in a better mental state when they inevitably arrive. Don’t underestimate the power of saying to yourself, “I knew this was coming. No need to panic. It was expected.” Couple this mentality with an understanding that nothing lasts forever, that “this too shall pass,” and you’ll be just fine.
Second, use the times when I’m healthy to arm yourself for when I’m not. It’s easier to prepare for a downturn when you aren’t in the middle of one. You’ve probably heard a lot about being a life-long learner. Yes, be one of those. Read. Take courses. Nurture your curiosity. Research shows that curiosity is critical to gaining new knowledge. A corollary is also true: gaining new knowledge helps drive curiosity. Always be asking, “Why?” From that question, all knowledge, innovation, and skill will flow. When tougher times come, you’ll be better prepared to take advantage of opportunities.
Finally, if I’m not well and you find yourself without a job or in a career you hate, consider starting your own company or joining a startup. I know this may seem counterintuitive. Isn’t it difficult to get funding and win customers when I’m wheezing and coughing? It certainly can be. But countless times as I lay in bed with the covers pulled up tight around my chin, I’ve watched people launch firms that went on to become juggernauts. Did you know that Microsoft was founded during a recession? So were Slack, Airbnb, WhatsApp, and Uber. It won’t be easy. You’ll work hard. You might even fail. But using my malaise as an excuse not to be entrepreneurial is unacceptable. Consider taking a chance. It may pay off.
Well, I better get to bed. I’m really trying to beat this cold so I don’t end up in the shape I was 15 years ago. None of us want that. I’ll see you around.
All my best,