The recession is over: it’s time to move on

This September marked the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, otherwise known as “the financial crisis of 2008” or “recession,” for short. Like many recent college graduates at the time, I was hopeful and excited at the prospect of having a career. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that with a business degree, I had plenty of choices.

Little did I know how wrong I was.

Ten years later, last week, I received an influx of articles in my inbox reminiscing about this recession. In a NYT opinion piece, an editor who, like me, came of age during the recession, expressed bitterness for the “big guys” who crushed her parents’ hope of achieving the comfortable middle-class life and her ambition towards a financially stable future.

Another piece, also by the New York Times, poses a slightly more optimistic view, chronicled several selected individuals who were interviewed in 2008 about their lives in relation to the crisis and their lives now, ten years later. Some of them got back up after being knocked down and prospered, while others continued to struggle, never finding the same level of work that they were accustomed to before the crash. Finally, the New Yorker said that evidence shows middle class incomes have not rebounded back to same level as it were prior to the recession.

Coincidentally, just last week I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast called “Looking Back” in which they talked about regret in conjunction with nostalgia.

The episode (which can be heard here) dove into the idea that is so fundamentally obvious and yet we tend to forget about sometimes—that we regret what we didn’t do versus what we did do. Much can be said about the mistakes that we make as humans when we choose to do certain things, and yet more can be said about what we choose NOT to do.

It’s not so much that I want to talk about a terrible period in my life, but rather, disclose it in a way that tells you that I’ve learned a thing or two.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

From 2008 to 2010, I didn’t think anything was different or challenging from my post-college life (except for the fact that my husband and I owed the IRS more taxes than we had in the bank and therefore, we had to survive on a $30 per week grocery budget while we drove our used 8-year-old car as little as possible so that we can pay the bills AND the IRS back). I thought that was just the life that we were given, thus nothing out was of the ordinary. I didn’t pay attention to the news; thus, I didn’t realize the crash had such a fundamental effect on so many people.

Upon reflection, I realize that it was quite extraordinary that my husband and I managed it all. It’s extraordinary how we didn’t move back in with our parents, how we didn’t rely on charity (even though we could have), how we didn’t default on our loans, how we managed to come out of it alive and kicking.

After listening to the Hidden Brain episode, it brought me back to the early days of the crash and several years after that. After being laid off from a really nice job at a good company, I fell into a sinkhole of uncertainty and low self-esteem. I was more confused than ever, so I obtained jobs without much thought to the pay or the culture (because, let’s face it—back then there weren’t that many jobs to be had, so you couldn’t be picky even if you wanted).

I landed in a position that was so low paying with such a toxic culture that I came home crying every day. The job only lasted a year. Then, for the next four years, I worked in the financial services industry—first at a bank, then at a credit union. By 2012, things were starting to rebound a bit, and yet, I didn’t feel that I was making any progress.

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Photo by Chris Li on Unsplash

I had been there for a year and a half when a great position opened up in their accounting department (this mind you, was a small credit union with roughly 115 employees, and therefore, opportunities like that didn’t open up very often). By then, I was pregnant with my first child, and had already been rejected for another position prior in their call center. Because I didn’t want to face another rejection, I decided not to apply for the position.

The person who got the job was a fellow teller named Bri. Much to her surprise and mine, she got the position with no prior experience. In fact, she graduated with a degree in communications. But after knowing her for several years by that point, I knew how organized and consistent she was — two traits that would make a good accountant.

I remember talking to her after she got the news. I told her how happy I was that she got the job, and that the main reason why I didn’t apply was because I was five months pregnant, and that I would only be trained for a few months before going on maternity leave. She knew that I was taking some accounting courses and was looking for a new avenue to pursue. Bri told me that I should’ve applied, and I said I didn’t feel right competing with her. Now looking back on it, I knew how foolish that was. Pregnancy, after all, is a protected class, and they couldn’t discriminate based on that fact alone.

This is just an example of the many opportunities passed over the years, simply because I didn’t want to experience failure. Little did I know that failure only serves to bring people back up again. I truly felt like my twenties was spent fluttering my hand in the wind, with no sense of direction whatsoever, and no way of figuring it out, all because I graduated during the recession, got laid off, and didn’t get any (financial) help from anybody. I felt myself partly to blame because I wasn’t prepared enough for the recession. Now that I think about it, I think, “How can you possibly prepare for a major financial meltdown?” There is no business school or college course that talks about these kinds of things and how to prepare for them.

Now, looking back ten years ago, I feel exactly what the Hidden Brain podcast said–a sense of nostalgia marked by sadness but also with a certain level of triumph. I feel that many of us, regardless of what generation we were born into, will enter our thirties with more wisdom than we had in our twenties. Our experiences are influenced by the economic changes of our generation, and I feel that because I was amongst many of those who came of age during the recession that it only made me more resilient and aware of life’s volatility. I realized that I needed to move on—that blame and bitterness about the situation wasn’t going to change it. The fact of the matter is—I survived it, and thus it will go into my memory  as a story I can tell to my children.

 

On Why I Quit Facebook

Recently I stumbled upon a New York Times article about social media. But instead of glorifying it, this article – written by a computer science professor and blog writer – stressed the reasons why you should quit social media: because it can hurt your career.

As an avid fan of reading the New York Times, I’ve been waiting for an article like this for the past few years! It feels like decades ago, but approximately two years ago, I decided to quit Facebook cold turkey.  By that, I meant that I disappeared off Planet FB – I stopped posting (except for the automatic posts that transferred over from Instagram) and checking Facebook altogether. I reached a point in my life where I was busy with a little kid – a 1 1/2 year old who demanded a lot of my attention, plus I felt that I was misusing my time, and I could do better things than check Facebook every 20 minutes (or less if there was a red indicator of someone responding to one of my posts). As I’m writing, I feel a little bit of shame at having to admit that.

I’ve had a long relationship with Facebook, starting approximately in 2001 when i was still in college and continued on until well after I graduated from college. While being employed at a local financial institution, I worked at an office that wasn’t very busy. I also had coworkers that were very much into social media. Thus, what does one do when those two ingredients are combined? One checks Facebook during breaks & quiet times on one’s phone. Luckily this company blocked FB on their computers.

This went on for several years, until I decided to leave the company to stay at home with my daughter. This fact alone wasn’t boasted on social media, because I wasn’t too sure as to how people would respond and I didn’t want to go into detail as to how we were able to do that. Lastly I didn’t want to be known as “the mom who has nothing to do but post on Facebook all day because she’s not working” type of thing.

This went on for several years, until I decided to leave the company to stay at home with my daughter. This fact alone wasn’t boasted on social media, because I wasn’t too sure as to how people would respond and I didn’t want to go into detail as to how we were able to do that. Lastly I didn’t want to be known as “the mom who has nothing to do but post on Facebook all day because she’s not working” type of thing.

 

 

Now I know these were unwarranted anxieties that arose from unrealistic fears about being judged by your peers. After all, the people you’re friends with on Facebook is a combination of your family, friends and colleagues, all of which have an opinion about you. Hell, I had an opinion about what people were posting as well! Then, it dawned on me that what used to be a thing that connects people together and gives updates is now a thing that involves MAJOR boasts about everything from how much better their job is, what kind of cool things their kids/pets do, or how much fun they’re having on vacation. (I admit, I’ve been guilty of doing all of this). What once was a channel for communication and maintaining relationships became a boat for everyone as young as 14 (possibly younger because everyone can lie about their age) to post a ridiculous amount of selfies, blurry unattractive photos and rants about all the things that’s going wrong with their lives.

In short, I was tired of the bragging and the negativity I was seeing on Facebook. Even those who knew me would comment on my posts and although I know the person means differently I realize they are not aware that their thoughts should be filtered online, that comments can be seen by people who aren’t your friends, and especially by people you have no connection with and doesn’t care to have one. Thoughts typed out loud can be misunderstood especially when you don’t think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Last but not least, we’ve evolved into creatures of oversharing. I’m not going to say that I’ve never done this because I have, but I will say that on one end of the spectrum I know that there are certain things I’d rather not know about a person. Besides sharing too much about oneself, many of us are oversharing in the forwarding department – reposting a meme or a graphic with a witty message is NOT original, and it makes me wonder what kind of value you are giving to the online world by posting something that someone else has already thought of.

So I decided I didn’t want to be like everyone else – I didn’t want other people to view me as I view certain people. I didn’t want to be so connected to the online world that I forget to have a real life. It’s sad to think that the preferred method of sharing your life nowadays is through Facebook / Instagram / twitter / snapchat. It’s time to start thinking more about what you can contribute to the world, go out and do actual work.

 
What the NYT article mentioned was that as you become more valuable more opportunities will find you and you will gain more connections that way. I absolutely agree. In the other realm of social media- the professional side called LinkedIn I have also decided to be absent. It’s a decision that may have hurt me or it may not. One thing I do know for sure is that LinkedIn has never helped me get a job. In fact, the only thing it has done is send me regular updates about what my past classmates and colleagues are doing – things like promotions, new skills, new degrees – all of which made me feel as insecure and under qualified as the next person standing in line to audition for a comedy show. I felt like I wanted to go hide underneath a table at my high school reunion, because in the world of updates (“what are you doing now!?!?”) I didn’t want my former peers to know that I haven’t yet succeeded to the title of manager or assistant manager, or anything that involved the possibility of making more than $30,000/year.
 
Recently I told my husband that he needed to beef up his resume and profile on LinkedIn. He created an account many years ago and never updated it, and I thought since he’s going to be out of school soon and he’ll need to network to get the “right” job and LinkedIn can help him do that. Now, I realize just how ridiculous that sounds. He doesn’t need LinkedIn to help him get a job! Possibly to get him an email address or telephone to someone who he can solicit, yes, but not to be directly involved in finding employment. My husband is outgoing, social and possess a strong work ethic with solid recommendations from previous & current bosses. Everyone who’s ever worked with him likes him. So if you are that type of person, you don’t need to hunt down that job on LinkedIn. You go out there and use your skills to get that job on your own. 
 

 

About six months after I quit Facebook, I broke down and went back in to see what was going on. I wanted to be sure that what I missed was worth missing. Turns out, I was right – nothing of what I missed was actually big news. No one had a baby. Nobody got pregnant or married. Nobody graduated from college. Nobody paid off their student loans. Nobody bought a house. Nothing of positive value was posted in those six months that I was away. So I decided that it was indeed the right thing to do – and since then I’ve only checked it once or twice in the past three months and currently have no interest in ever checking it again. 

Look, I’m not saying that Facebook or LinkedIn isn’t valuable. It is for some people, just not for me. I’m a person who values face-to-face interactions. I’d rather have coffee with you at Starbucks than get a Like on my post, because I know you already like me. If we are far apart and can’t see each other, then I’d rather that you text me and/or send me an email rather than a Facebook message. If you actually read this far, that means you actually care about what I have to say so THANK YOU! Know that I do not have a “I don’t care” attitude about social media, rather I have a “I don’t need it” attitude about social media. I have many other ways to fill up my time, people who care about me, and things I’d rather devote my attention to (my kids, for one).