“[Opportunity] has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often it comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.”

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

I recently received a message this week from a member of the class of 2020 at a local university because I graduated from college in 2008 when the last recession hit. The following is part of what I shared in my reply; I wanted to post on my blog in case it helps others!

It may sound a little weird, but my passion and purpose still found me despite everything that changed for me job-wise. I actually think I am better off than I think I would have been had my life gone the way I thought it would as a college graduate. Like everyone, I’ve had good and bad bosses during my career. I’ve worked in everything from highly supportive to downright toxic environments, and became fascinated at what made good leaders good, and poor leaders, well, poor leaders. Long story short: I started learning more about leadership and interpersonal skills, eventually became a first-time manger, applied these skills to my new team, and found a fiery passion within me to teach these skills to as many people as I can for as long as I live when I saw them work so well. (You can read the longer version of the story in my recent VoyageATL interview.) What’s great about this story is that I was able to start my own business and I absolutely love working for myself on my own flexible schedule!! It was a path that turned out better than the one I had originally wanted. With that said, here are a few lessons I learned along the way:

Focus on the bigger picture

Try to reorient your thoughts from short-term thinking into long-term and bigger-picture thinking. I know this is hard when we get a daily report of coronavirus cases, but you will drive yourself nuts thinking day-to-day. The truth is that economies go through recessions — even major ones — this is expected and a normal part of life and business. It doesn’t change your talent or your chances for success. YOU control those. Anything is possible with enough willpower and creativity. Is it uncomfortable? Of course. But what success comes from comfort? I am not aware of any stories of that nature. Success comes from hard work (not to be confused with drowning yourself in endless work every hour of every day with no break), creativity, and opportunity seeking — a truth that is no different now than it is at other times. 

Find the hidden opportunities

Speaking of opportunities: always be on the lookout for them. For example, right now delivery and technology companies are booming. Is there an opportunity to use your skills in these spaces that maybe you haven’t previously thought of? There was once a study I read that changed my whole outlook on this, called “The Lucky Project.” Here’s an excerpt:

“I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message ‘Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.’ This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was over two inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it. Just for fun, I placed a second large message half way through the newspaper. This one announced: ‘Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.’ Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.”

The Luck Factor” by Richard Wiseman

He concludes that “much of the good and bad fortune we encounter is a result of our thoughts and behavior,” a phenomenon that will change your life when you embrace it. Will you keep looking for the “photographs” (the exact job and life you thought you were going to have post-graduation)? Or will you find the new and exciting opportunities staring you in the face?

Embrace – and look forward to – change

Another critical lesson is not to resist change, but to embrace it, and even to look forward to it. A seemingly silly at first (in my opinion), but actually very helpful, fable about this is a book called Who Moved My Cheese. Those who learn to embrace and expect change are the ones who thrive. So your career didn’t start the way you envisioned — I do empathize, and it’s OK to be upset for a short time and give yourself a little grace — but then, pick yourself up, look for the positive and you will find not only new, but better, “cheese!”

I’ll end with another book recommendation: The Obstacle Is the Way. I highly recommend reading this to understand, as the subtitle says, how to turn trials into triumphs. Spoiler alert: think about all the things you CAN control — your attitude, how you interpret it, how it affects you, what you do next, what you tell yourself about it, what you learn from it, whether you let it get you down or not, your mood! You truly have so much more control than you realize.

Final thoughts

Please know you will get through this just like we did; it just won’t look like what you thought it would. As I hope I’ve demonstrated, that change may be a blessing in disguise if you just know how to look at it the right way, resulting in an even better future than you thought you were walking into. I think these challenging times will teach you a level of flexibility and resilience that will serve you very, very well in life. Life doesn’t come with a plan or a rubric; you’re learning that at the beginning instead of the middle (or end) of your career! 

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