Categorized | Life

The Recession Battle Plan

Posted on 16 November 2008

It’s recession time again. Or maybe this isn’t a recession, but something quite like it–call it a “slowdown.”

Whatever it is, in the last two weeks, two of my closest pals have been laid off, and that ain’t good. Both of them are in agony. More will be if things go the way they’re going. This economy is a sick little puppy, and getting sicker.

Lessons from La-La Land
Now, I, your humble servant, cannot do a damned thing about the overall economy. But I can offer a few respectful tips about how to deal with the environment of layoffs and cutbacks. For myself, I have worked in Hollywood, insecurity city, for the past quarter century and getting and losing jobs is second nature. I worked as a young man for Richard Nixon and got encouraged to leave when “Mr. N” left–just after I had bought a house I could ill afford.

Layoffs happen to everyone. It just happened to Al Gore. It happened to Winston Churchill many times.

So, I offer these brief pointers, for what they are worth.

1. Be not just friendly, but very, very friendly. Make sure you are the most well-liked guy or gal in the office. Life is highly personal. When bad news comes and layoffs are looming, bosses will tend to keep on those they like. Be one of them. Be a friend (not a call girl) to everyone in your line of work. The well-liked worker will be the last fired–and the first rehired.

2. Make and keep connections. Getting a job is not like applying to college. It depends mostly on connections and pals, not on test scores. Every time you make a sales call or have a negotiation, remember the names of the people you are meeting, schmooze them, keep their cards, send them occasional cheery e-mails. When the time comes that you need a job, your best friend is your Palm Pilot or wherever you keep your names. If you have stayed in touch, you will be glad, and they’ll be glad to hear from you.

3. Keep your skills at peak levels. A man or woman who is likeable and also highly productive is the ruler of this world. Even in the worst economic times, there are shortages of talented, well-educated men and women. Be one of them. Employers want employees who demonstrably add more value than they cost. That has to be you.

4. Save money. This is so vital it cannot possibly be overstated. The day your boss tells you in hushed tones you will be getting the boot can either be a day for suicidal ideation or a day for thinking about taking a trip to Maui before you begin your job search. Savings are your very best pal when you are without a job. Young people should have, at the very least, six months’ worth of after-tax earnings in highly liquid form. Middle-aged people like me should have at least two years’ worth of savings in a form that can be negotiated quickly. (Equity in a house is sort of a cheat because you have to pay it back.)

There is no substitute for this. If you are not saving enough, start right now. Today. Nothing you want to buy is as important as having adequate savings–except maybe emergency surgery. Samuel Johnson said that in times of distress, the three best things to have were, “an old dog, an old wife, and ready money.” Today, we would say ‘spouse,’ but the money part is totally correct and always will be.

5. Mentally start to prepare yourself. Imagine right now while you still have your job what your first week will be like if you lose your job. Who will you call first (that’s where the ‘old spouse’ part comes in handy)? What will be your first stop after work? Who will be the first 10 people you send your resume to? How will you get to sleep without getting drunk or high? (Hint, this is where the savings part and the connections part come in.) Do the drill and train for the day of unemployment and you will be prepared.

6. Have a sense of the scale of life’s problems. Yes, it’s bad to lose your job. But there are people in South Africa with AIDS who have to scavenge at trash dumps for food. There are children without functioning hearts. There are kids whose parents beat them every night. There are people dying from cancer. Your situation is infuriating, but looked at correctly, it’s pretty modest stuff. You are healthy, in a very, very rich nation. It’s not so bad.

7. Have a modest spirit. The world does not owe you a thing. You are expected to work and show a respectful attitude towards those around you. Don’t cop any bad attitudes of superiority or imperiousness. You need work, and you need to show yourself and your colleagues that you have a decent attitude. No one wants to work around a demanding, whining jerk. Don’t be one. And look the part: don’t come in for an interview in cowboy boots or sloppy jeans. Look like you mean business, with a clean, neat wardrobe appropriate for whatever business you’re in, and with clean, wholesome breath. This sounds trivial, but it ain’t. No one wants to be around a foul smelling slob.

8. Be flexible. Have that inner attitude of the cowboy leading his cattle to water. He doesn’t cry and moan if a well is dry. He moves on to the nearest other well. He goes where he has to go to get his cattle watered. You do the same. Do you need to learn something new? Do it. Need to drive a little farther or consider moving? Why not? It beats worrying about paying the mortgage. Inner flexibility is what gets people ahead in this world.

9. Get your rest. Every single problem in life looks easier and friendlier if you get a good night’s sleep. Every task you approach with the energy of good health gets done faster, more smoothly, if you are rested. This is not a joke. How many people can say they are really well-rested? Be one of them.

10. Go easy on yourself Layoffs happen to everyone. It just happened to Al Gore. It happened to Winston Churchill many times. It’s part of life. Go on with your life knowing what has happened to you will happen to about four million others this year and about forty million in a decade. You haven’t done a thing wrong. It’s life in a free market. Go out and use that same free market to get another job and a better one at that. If you lose your job you have my permission to sulk for two days. After that, you knucklehead, get into gear.

Remember: It’s a big country and someone wants you.

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