In early October 2008 I was called by my boss to meet her for an early morning meeting at one of our local stores. It was coming. I could feel it. I knew it. As the Regional Manager of Human Resources I had participated in dozens of similar phone calls and subsequent meetings over the past 5 months. I called my wife who was out of town visiting her mom and told her about the call. Expect a phone call tomorrow, not sure what’s going on. I knew…
I was working in the car business at the time. I won’t tell you the company because I still harbor deep seated feelings about what happened and don’t want this story to be about them. Over the year, the company had responded to contracting sales by cutting workers, cutting resources, and increasing progressive discipline relative to performance. In our business people were used to a generous amount of leeway and freedom to do what they did. When times got bad corporate began playing a stronger role in monitoring and regulating business practices.
We weren’t the only company reacting this way. Many retailers were reacting to shrinking sales and revenues. We were particularly vulnerable because like real estate, our sales were heavily dependent on financing. Not many people walk into a car dealership with a box of bills to buy a car. Like real estate, we were selling very expensive assets to people with limited resources and not much chance of paying their loan. Banks were ok with this. We were ok with this. Buyers were ok with this.
In late 2008 the bottom fell out. Worldwide markets had enough and puked all over the economy. Lots of people lost jobs. Businesses closed. Fortunes were lost. I was one of the daddies who had to come home and tell their kid that the good news was, dad would be home a lot more and be able to pick you up from school. The bad news is it might be on a bicycle because I couldn’t waste the gas in the car.
I tried to remain positive but progressively got worse and had my shut down sometime in December. Walking through Home Depot, just looking, I suddenly had a panic attack at the thought of spending money. My wife found me later that day in my garage, door pulled down, lights off. Not crying, not feeling, just staring. She was pissed! Angry at me, but mostly angry at what the experience had done to me. “They don’t own you!” I pulled myself together and eventually found another job. The job that opened the door to what I do now, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life and what I want to do until they make me retire. It was like a crazy girlfriend doing you a favor and breaking up with you so you can eventually date your true love.
So why tell this story? Look at the date. How old were you in October 2008? Most of the students entering our college were in Middle School when the economic meltdown happened. The only economy they’ve known has pretty much sucked. Chances are one or both of their parents were impacted like I was. They saw a parent or loved one lose their job. Maybe they were positive through the ordeal. Maybe they melted down like I did. Either way, it changes your perspective in ways us old people still don’t really understand. We think we do, but we were empowered to deal with it. We had to manage it. Our kids had to watch it without the ability to deal with it by acting on it.
Additionally, this is probably all they’ve ever known. Students entering our college don’t remember the booming 90s fueled by tech money and Al Gore’s Internet. They don’t remember the Regan years and recovery from the gloomy 70s. Life hasn’t been up and down for them. We’ve always been at war and the economy has always sucked. They’ve been in a low power position in a particularly bad environment.
Take a look at Dean Jarley’s predictions for 2015. Read Dr. Sean Snaith’s economic forecasts. Go read the white paper OrlandoJobs.com did on Central Florida employment. Pick up business publications, real ones, not the crap that’s on the Internet…, and read about what’s going on. Things are getting better. Things are looking up. More companies are contacting us wanting to recruit students. We have a team of dedicated people in our office with the skills and experience to help you get those jobs. More entrepreneurial support exists than at any other time. Nothing’s gonna fall out of the sky and hit students in the lap, but the opportunities are there for people who want to work for them.
I’m stoked for 2015. I’m stoked about what our college is doing and that I get to play a role in it. I’m stoked for every student who calls their Career Coach to say they got the internship or job. I will not let the people who continue to say times are bad get me down. I will not give in to negativity. I will own my career and want each of you to do the same. THEY DON’T OWN US!!!!!