It was quite a surprise several weeks ago when Ben Bernanke announced that the recession was likely over. Yea! ... Really? I must confess my skepticism at the news. True, we've certainly seen things pick up in the executive recruiting world as companies apparently decide that they can't hold their breath forever. But I still hear daily from friends, colleagues, professional acquaintances, and strangers about their interest in finding their next "opportunity"...read, find a job. Since I'm committed to taking every phone call (See The Alexander Group blog "Voicemail purgatory" dated September 1, 2009,) I've been having lots of these conversations over the last year. It can be hard sometimes, hearing about challenging situations people are facing caused by no fault of their own, and being completely powerless to help.
These conversations are clearly different from those of several years ago, sometimes with the same people who, at the time, were eager to move on to the next "professional challenge"...read, increased compensation. It's interesting and refreshing to hear a different focus on personal and professional goals.
But if it sounds as though I'm pointing fingers, remember that only means there are three pointing back at me. Don't you love those third grade life lessons? And life always seems to provide opportunities to see if lessons have been learned. It happened to me a few months ago when several retired (voluntarily) HR and finance executives at my church began a free career assistance program to help the newly unemployed find jobs, prepare resumes, and interview. When I was approached to help with the seminar, I'm sorry to say I was not excited about the prospect. As I stood in a Washington, D.C., lobby, between back-to-back meetings, I really wanted to say, "No, sorry, I'd love to help, but I'm just too busy." But then another of those life lessons came to mind, "To whom much is given, much is expected." Time to step up or shut up.
So I helped with the seminar, hoping that whatever advice I could offer might ultimately help someone keep their kids in college, or keep their house, or just regain their financial footing. And I met some interesting people, like the geophysicist who discovered the Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan Peninsula. (Chicxulub was created by an asteroid impact that has been implicated in causing the extinction of dinosaurs. Ask your kids. They learned about it in school.)
But more interesting and inspiring have been the personal stories of those facing tough times, and the silver linings they have discovered in the process. Like the man who got to spend the whole summer hanging out with his wife and kids, making memories and building relationships that only come with
time spent together-an experience that never would have happened if he had been working. (Fortunately, a job came through just as the kids went back to school.) And then there is the woman who was able to spend time with her aging mother, who lives in another city. They had many long walks and long talks, including "the talk" about what to do if/when life or death decisions have to be made. Now both are at peace about the future.
And there is also the search executive friend who, because things have been slower, had the time to take his wheelchair-bound father to innumerable doctor's appointments. In the last 30 years, they had not spent that much time together. (Makes me think of Harry Chapin and "Cat's in the Cradle.") For them, it meant time for long discussions about deep, important things that men rarely share before his father passed away this summer.
Silver linings, indeed. It is as though this economic crash from which we are currently "recovering" has caused a mindset recalibration and humanity is the beneficiary.
I'd like to believe Mr. Bernanke. I hope he is right and the economy will gain momentum in the coming months. Recessions aren't any fun, but they do seem to have a way of causing us to refocus on those things that matter most and see the sun rays peeking through the clouds. We'd love to hear your stories of silver linings. Please send them to email@example.com. Now, I think I'll
go visit my mom.
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