Tag Archives: opportunity

Finding Happiness During A Recession

The best way to be happy during a recession is to insulate yourself from its effects through preparation; however, when this is not possible, there are still many strategies that we can employ to ovecome debilitataing effects.

The best way to be happy during a recession is to insulate yourself from its effects through preparation; however, when this is not possible, there are still many strategies that we can employ to moderate a recession's debilitataing effects.

The weather over the past month has been beautiful; but the pressure — juggling three lines of work — has been intensely, well, wonderful.  Otherwise stated, considering the fatigue and angst that accompany this challenge, I am a happy boy.  In fact, I might go as far as saying that I am blissfully content.  Considering the long days and the focus required to progressively pick off the items on my seemingly endless to do list, some might feel I have earned the right to be just a little grumpy and stressed-out, and as my wife would attest, there is a little of that acting out going on.  However, in all honesty, I am in a great place — enjoying the long hours, excited about life’s prospects and finding life to be quite exhilarating.

Finding happiness in difficult times — like this recession — is challenging.  Whether you are at risk of losing your employment and income or are overworked trying to maintain production with fewer employees, you are likely to feel intense anxiety.

Karen Mazurkewich (The Financial Post, Saturday, March 14, 2009) talks about the “world’s collective mood”. Citing numbers from Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the United States, it appears that in December of 2008, the American mood hit a 26 year low. In less than one month, the percentage of Americans at least somewhat happy dropped from over two thirds to just 35%. It is not a huge stretch to suggest that it was during the pre Christmas period that the harsh reality of the worldwide recession really hit.

Clearly, people were not reacting to death, divorce or illness, the three principle “downers” in the happiness index; they were, of course terrified that the economic downturn would force their organizations to cut jobs. Although a job loss causes loss of family income and high levels of stress, the key issue is the stigma that comes with the loss of employment identity; and then, once bitten by job loss, the reality of a repeat performance is forever etched in your psyche.

After a friend experienced job loss for the first time, he was counselled to expect four more layoffs during his career, a prophesy which was ultimately fulfilled.  He told me that after the second time he was “fired”, he began to accept downsizing as a reality of life.

“Although that first layoff was a shock and it left me feeling very discouraged and depressed, I knew from that point on that another firing was a strong possibility.  So I conditioned myself to prepare for the worst and treat it as part of my normal routine”.

For my friend, when the next layoff took place, he still continued to “go to work”; however, the new interim work was finding a new position.  He resolved that this process would be handled in as normal a way as possible; and just as important that he would treat himself with kindness — that means feeling dignified, having fun and staying positive.

Losing your position or being part of the downsized and leaner team under pressure to outperform competitors is stressful; so on this beautiful Friday, here are a few strategies you can employ to “be happy”, or at least strengthen your happiness quotient, when times are tough:

1. Buffer your life against crisis: Try to live a modest life.  Always under consume your income (if you can).  Save for a rainy day.  Diversify your income streams.  Have a back up strategy.  Trying to keep up with the Jones is a death sentence.  When your spending to achieve lifestyle equals your income, by definition, your always one month removed from bankruptcy.
2. Choose to be happy: This is easier said than done.  If you are on the verge of bankruptcy, about to lose everything you have accumulated over a lifetime, you are clearly feeling intense angst every second.  So in making this comment, I am not trying to minimize your pain or your challenge.  Still, once you have done all you can do to address the challenge, allow yourself to be positive, see the glass as half full, avoid obsessing about things over which you have little control.  Most material possessions are disposable; while spiritual pursuits are perpetually enriching.
3. Flip the concept: With every test comes an opportunity.  It could be a new career direction or a chance to pursue a passion you have shelved for a good part of your life.  By looking for the opportunity, you have adopted an attitude of search.  Because you are searching you will find.
4. Celebrate your accomplishments: Take a look at the parts of your life that are working well: make an exhaustive list of the ways in which you feel blessed. Include all the little things that we typically overlook.  You will be shocked when you discover just how much we have.  Pamper yourself and your family. Get creative about the low cost things you can do to celebrate life with your family. Scour the net and newspapers for ideas, games. Spend quality time with family and friends.
5. Reach out to others in need: The best way to develop perspective on life is to serve others.  I am not sharing this idea because it allows you to compare your plight to others less fortunate.  I am saying this because serving humanity is good for the soul and helps to position giving in your life.  There are many people in this world who have very little, largely because they have chosen a life of service to others.

I would love to hear your stories of trying to cope during difficult times.  How did you deal with the challenge and with the emotions?

Employment Strategies During a Recession

It is no surprise that this year’s college graduates are finding the job market unreceptive;  and “even those who land jobs” says Sara Murray in her education blog at the Wall Street Journal, “will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times”.  Murray cites numbers from a longitudinal study conducted during the recession of the 1980’s by Lisa Kahn, a Yale School of Management economist.  In simple terms, this study shows how income for recent graduates decreases considerably as employment rates rise; further, this data reveals that overcoming a lower starting salary may be close to impossible.

David overcame Goliath by rejecting the traditional terms of battle and by thinking of alternatives that woud level the "battlefield".

David overcame Goliath by rejecting traditional terms of combat and by thinking of alternatives that would level the "battlefield".

Murray offers some good news for graduates who are fortunate enough to find employment in their field of study, referencing Canadian data covering two recessionary periods collected by Columbia University economist, Till Marco von Wachter.  This study states that graduates who found work in their field of interest were better positioned to recover when the economy rebounded, even though their starting incomes might be lower.

In his most recent publication, Outliers:The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell offers additional perspective on the principles of success.   First of all, Gladwell makes a strong case for preparation as a critical component for achieving the highest levels of success.  He examines the absolute dedication that must be invested to become an expert in any field and explains step by step how high achievers  like Bill Gates, The Beatles and others were able to outperform the field.   He also establishes a threshold for the commitment level that will produce excellence.  And from this comes the “10,000 hour rule”.   Step 1 — I have achieved a level of expertise.  I am prepared.

The balance of the book is dedicated to a necessary and complementary factor on the path to success — opportunity.  Although there is an abundance of research on the subject of opportunity and we understand that some people have more opportunity than others, Gladwell presents his case in the most compelling and unique  manner.

Gladwell presents substantial evidence to make the case that success, even for the most prepared and the brightest, is influenced by factors such as year of birth, month of birth, being in the right place at the right time, cultural heritage, family heritage and serendipity.

Considering the 2009 graduates, Gladwell would conclude that their diminished opportunity is simply a matter of bad luck — they have had the misfortune of graduating during a world-wide recession.  Their preparation compares to previous years’ graduates and is not a factor.  No, the year 2009 is simply a year with less opportunity and that’s just the way it is.  Step 2 —  I am prepared, but where is my opportunity?

So now what?  Is that just truly just the way it is?  Do we simply roll over and pretend that having less opportunity is our fate?  After all, isn’t that what we are conditioned to do — believe that our success or lack of it is a factor of our preparation and our ability?  John is so much smarter than I am.  Mary has natural ability in this area that I will never have.  That’s right — the next step is simply acceptance of my limited capacity.  Game over.

Outliers does not change the way we look at preparation; it still takes effort and lots of it to develop expertise.  It is useful to know that 10,00 hours is a goal to which I can aspire to achieve excellence, but it still amounts to lots of hard work.  However, Outliers does offer us a new paradigm of opportunity.   Although preparation is still very important, opportunity outtrumps preparation as a determinant of success.   Opportunity is a commodity that some of us will own in excess, while others will experience a dearth.  Thanks to Gladwell’s, we no longer have to accept the limitation of opportunity.  We can act with effort to create opportunity.

This is the question! What action can I take that will restore an equilibrium of opportunity into my life?

David Brooks, in his New York Times post, shares a story about how the playing field was leveled for some students in inner city schools.  The “Harlem Miracle” as he has dubbed this educational experiment has eliminated the achievement gap for predominantly poor inner city black children when compared to predominantly middle income suburban white children.  The program –currently available to a limited number of inner city children who qualify through a lottery system — counters the view that improved facilities and better teachers will help these impoverished students to achieve at higher levels.  Instead, it has established a disciplined and orderly counter culture of absolute adherence and longer hours of school and study.  In this case, creative thinking has allowed inner city children to compete evenly with their suburban peers.  Opportunity has been restored.

A second story comes from Malcolm Gladwell (How David Beats Goliath).  In this article for the New Yorker, Gladwell explains how a girl’s basketball team, short on talent, size and experience when compared to their competition, managed against all odds to overcome their opponents and win a national championship.  The coach of this team of 12 year old girls, Vivek Ranadive, was of east Indian descent having a heritage of cricket and soccer.  He had a difficult time understanding the logic of how basketball was played.  That is, that a team would permit another to easily enter its half of the playing surface with no opposition.  Once in the offensive end of the floor, skilled teams were at an advantage displaying their dribbling, passing and shooting skills.  And a shorter, less skilled and less experienced team was particularly vulnerable.  Ranadive decided to apply the pressure found in other sports — specifically, he taught his players to apply a continuous full court press.  With constant pressure before the ball was even played in bounds, the playing field was leveled.  The press confused skilled teams and made it challenging for them to unleash their skill advantage.  The press forced skilled teams to play on his terms and allowed his team to outperform far better teams.  Strategic thinking allowed this group to overcome the cultural opportunity that other teams possessed.

In Gladwell’s words,”..substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond girls on the basketball court”.

What are your thoughts about opportunity?  Can you think of times in your life where you sabotaged your own opportunity?  Please watch for “Craig’s Top Five List” for next Friday as I will share five steps that 2009 graduates can take to level the employment field.