This economic crisis may be just the push you need to find the career of your dreams.
Dave Pollard | April 2009 issue
The economic news is the worst in at least a generation. What most people have done is cut personal spending, put off major purchases and try to pay off debts from the boom times. These are wise steps to take. But what should you be doing about your job in this economy? A recent report suggested working harder, updating your resumé and strengthening your networks. While these steps, too, are sensible, they’re steeped in “learned helplessness”—the perception that we have little or
no control over a situation due to repeated failed attempts to exercise such control.
This perception of helplessness is reinforced by our society for all sorts of reasons. Employers want their employees to be loyal and obedient; schools and universities teach us we have to find a job or career working for someone else. Government programs to “combat unemployment” generally entail giving money and tax breaks to corporations in the naive belief that this will “trickle down” to the rest of us. So, conditioned by learned helplessness, we perceive ourselves as passive consumers, passive citizens and passive employees. The key to overcoming learned helplessness is realizing that we aren’t helpless, that we have more control over our situations and destinies than we’ve been led to believe.
Entrepreneurship need not be stressful, risky, expensive, lonely, exhausting or require great skills, ideas or self-confidence—a perception that’s reinforced by the mainstream media. Right now, when the economy is falling apart, is the best possible time to start your own enterprise, and doing so could propel you into work that’s more responsible, sustainable and joyful than what you’re doing now.
I spent more than a quarter-century with Ernst & Young, the big accounting firm, where I discovered a small group of entrepreneurs (I call them “natural entrepreneurs”) who had found a better way to make a living. These natural entrepreneurs were resilient and recession-proof; their businesses thrived in good times and bad. They didn’t work that hard, and the people who worked for them never wanted to leave the company, even if they were offered more money elsewhere. They were responsive to their employees and customers and responsible to the places where they did business. They were sustainable both environmentally and economically. They were non-hierarchical, drawing on the wisdom of their employees, customers and community members to make decisions. And they didn’t need to grow bigger to succeed; they were content to grow better instead.
These natural entrepreneurs did six things differently from all the other stress-prone, boom-and-bust, struggling businesses that made up the majority of my clientele:
- They had found their sweet spot, the work where their gifts, their passions and their purpose intersected.
- They had found the right business partners, people who shared their purpose and whose gifts and passions complemented their own.
- They did world-class research to identify real needs that weren’t being met by any other enterprise in the marketplace.
- They used a rigorous, continuous process to invent and commercialize products and services that met those unmet needs.
- Instead of planning for the future, they had learned how to improvise, to adapt easily to changes in the economy and demographics.
- They acted with integrity, operating in a way that resonated with their values, and made principled decisions, not opportunistic ones, in the long-term interest of their partners, employees, customers and communities.
This is the formula that successful small enterprises have effectively followed since the time of artisans. And it still works.
If the idea of ending your learned helplessness appeals to you, you don’t have to quit your job to discover the work you were meant to do. The first three steps can be done in your spare time, evenings and weekends. Do them right, and by the time you’re ready to give notice, you’ll know you’ve got a winning idea, a winning team and the basis of a natural enterprise that will provide you with a lifetime of meaningful, joyful, recession-proof work.
Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, published by Chelsea Green.
In search of the sweet spot