Written by: Gilbert Goh
This article first appeared here in July 09.
A friend recently told me that he will be retrenched by the end of July as his company is suffering massive losses from the current recession. As the doom days get nearer, he became rather edgy. This is his third time out of work after staying jobless for a few months last year. He only works in his current job for less than a year. He is in his mid thirties and is married without a child yet. He is in the IT industry.
To cut cost, he also stays with his parents for fear that he could not fork out the mortgage repayment as even new HDB flats have skyrocketted in price. During the last time that he was jobless, in his desperate moments, he told me that he had to dish out coins from his piggy bank to get by. When he told me that, tears gathered at the corner of my eyes. His story reminded me of how I have to scrape the bottom of my daughter’s piggy bank to get food when I was desperate. I guess many people who are jobless out there are hanging on a thin thread. Many will be desperate and stories abound of how some have to resort to borrowing to tide through this current downturn. The very desperate few will turn to loan sharks to put food on the table. Turning to loan sharks not only deepen the financial crisis due to their exorbitant interest rates but also jeopardise the family’s stability as loan sharsk are known to resort to unethical tactics to retrieve loans back.
Adversity Quotient Raised During Unemployment
In his book “Adversity quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunites”, the author Paul G Stoltz wrote that there are three kinds of people in this world – the campers, quitters and climbers: “Climbers will take the risks, withstand the challenges, overcome the fear, maintain their vision, take the lead and tough it out until the job is finished.” Stoltz also wrote that climbers face similar insurmountable odds as campers and quitters but they chose to fight on and never give up. They saw the value of their perseverance and also know the benefits of incremental steps to attaining a goal. Climbers are also self motivated and live life purposefully carving out opportunities for themsleves when others have given out.
Many successful entrepreneurs overcame huge odds to be where they are right now. They took risk and press on despite a tough climb uphill. When others give up, they move on and when they reach the summit, they reap the rewards of their ascend.
One can, however, never be fully prepared for a recession unless he has a very strong financial standing. Many people when they lost their jobs understandably suffered from a loss of self esteem and confidence. Some, like me, would hide away in their closet afraid to reveal themselves to the world that they are jobless. The unemployed face a sense of shame often associated with those who are useless and untalented – more of a loser. This thinking is not only erroneous but harmful to the mind. The unemployed face a barrage of issues affecting the mind, spirit and definitely the pocket. The worse is that our joblessness has no time line. We won’t know when we will be able to get the next job and this will be the stuff that will test the mantle of a person’s spirit. One needs to press on despite mounting adversities and persevere till they achieve victory.
Those who have regularly face adversity in their life may be able to handle joblessness better than those who have a smoother path in life. Joblessness, to me, is more an emotional crisis than a physical one. If you are hardened by life’s adversities there is a high chance that you are better prepared to manage the emotional upheaval related to unemployment. Those who belong to the optimistic type and are naturally positive will also take ownership of the situation and try to create their own solutions.
The Painful Story Of Eagles
I want to relate a story about eagles. Eagles can live up to 70 years but they have to make a difficult decision when they are at 40 years old. It’s long and flexible talons can no longer grab preys which serve as food. It’s long and sharp beak becomes bent. It’s old-aged and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, become stuck to it’s chest and make it difficult to fly. The eagle is only left with two choices now: die or go through a painful process of change which takes up to 150 days. The painful process requires that the eagle to fly to the mountain top and sits on its nest. Then the eagle knocks it’s beck against the rock until it is plucked out.
After plucking it out, the eagle will wait for a new beak to grow back and then it will pluck out it’s talons. When it’s new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking it’s old-aged feathers. And after five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for another thirty more years. ( Click here to see the presentation clip on the eagle story).
What can we learn from the story of the eagles? I guess it’s quite plain here that to fly higher when we aged we need to rejuvenate ourselves and often that is a painful process. This may apply to those middle aged PMETs who are retrenched and battle against insurmountable odds to get back to employment again. We may need to ask ourselves whether we want to go through some painful transformation or simply waste away.
I must say that once we are able to manage our emotions, it is easier for a person to go through life’s adversity as he is prepared and hardened. However, a person can only be hardened when he is prepared to go through life’s adversities. There is no short cut to how one can raise one’s adversity quotient. I am afraid most Singaporeans, especially those who have just graduated, will find the journey tough going as we all have a blessed life in calamity-free Singapore. We do not have earthquakes, floods, plagues, wars or famines. Our population has enjoyed great economic success for many decades and our government is tip-top in it’s delivery of solid infrastructure so much so that we are ill-prepared for any upset in our psyche. Even some of our our bus terminals now are aircon!
Lessons Learned From Our Adversity
Frankly speaking, we can learn much from the current recession. Though the journey can be challenging and hard, I am sure that we all will be much toughed the setback. Some may even come out of their comfort zone and be a better person. Singaporeans are often chided to be kuaisu and kuasi. I am afrid to say that there is some truth to that. Many simply do not want to step out and take calculated risks in doing something that they are not comfortable with. We are having too a good a life for the past decade without having to strive or do much to make a living. It is perhaps this reason that many Singaporeans lost out to their outer Asian counterparts in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan who are very entrepreneurial and creative. Their economic situation is different from ours and they need to be very astute and street smart to carve out a living for themselves.
I have worked in China before and many Chinese people have no choice but to set up their own businesses to make a living. As they have no education nor any connection, many could not find work easily and choices are limited. Many are one-man businesses operating from homes or sidewlaks. People hawk all over the place and some have operate such stalls for decades. It is not surprising that due to their economic situation, they have to depend on themselves rather than on the government or their friends to survive. There is simply no choice and that perhaps could be something that we all do not lack all along in Singapore. Graduates have jobs waiting for them sometimes a year beforet hey graduate. Some can job hop easily and others headhunted to jump ship for a few thousand dollars more. We have too many choices for our own good. Suddenly, when the good choices all dry up we panic. We are so unused to waiting for jobs, normally they will be waiting for us and what plentiful choices too!
Some later turn hopeless as they wait for jobs that never come for many months and some even years. They have turned desolate and frankly are no longer proactive in seeking after work when they get too used to being staying unemployed. Some turn very negative even rejecting job offers for fear that they could not perform due to their serious dip in self confidence. They could not control their life events and over a prolonged period that will sap out whatever self confidence that is left within the person. Thus, it is so important to check ourselves and always stay positive. How we react to our situation is more important than the issue itself.
Our natural tendency to depend on others for a job may work counter to developing our adverity’s quotient. We have turn over the risk taking part to the employer when we always turn to others to provide us a job and income. Many have never think of using whatever inherent skills they have and convert that into income generating instruments.
If possible, go for relevant upgrading subsidised courses that our government agencies are advocating all this way but make job searching your own priority. I am not in favour for people who approach their Members of Parliament (MP) to look for job. They will simply refer you to the Community Development Council (CDC). Don’t get me wrong. What you do is a personal choice but looking for work should I believe be your personal journey.
Nevertheless, it takes a a very blessed person to go through unemployment unscarred and any time frame that exceeds a year as an unemployed is considered chronic. The official tag for long termed unemployed (LTU) is 6 months now and according to last Sunday’s article (5 July) there are as many as 16,000 people belonging to this category.
One suspects that those who are jobless for a few years have given up looking altogether and may even need some form of professional counseling to help them overcome certain personal inhibitions. Those who are laid off often felt responsible that perhaps they have not perform up to the mark. This is erroneous thinking as during an economic downturn, employers lay off their workers chiefly because of an adverse economic climate and not the productivity of their staff.
It is common for sales and marketing staff to be laid off on the first line of fire as sales dwindled. Consumers will hold on to cash and everything slows down especially in the retail sector when there is a recession. So when we are retrenched, the most important thing to do is not to blame ourselves too much. Being jobless is already very stressful, we don’t need to over burden ourselves unnecessarily.
Thus, have a personal mission ready when you go through unemployment. Take it as a personal journey that you have to go through to achieve something in return. Write out what you want to learn from this journey of yours. Do you want to spend more time with your loved ones? Write it down. Do you want to take up something that you could not do when you are working full time? Check it. How about trying out some jobs that you won’t consider due to prejudice or pride? A friend of mine try out being a security guard for a period even though he is a graduate. He told me that though he needed the money, he did it more to try out the vocation to see what it was like. When he found another job, he left that industry. Not only did he learned much humility along the way but that he had gone way out of his comofrt zone when he became a security officer. He told me that he treasured his current job more more now after becoming a guard for about six months.
Many jobless people I know volunteer their time at some welfare homes that they care about when they are out of work. Others simply chill out at home and spend quality time with their family members.
If not, simply let life’s event mound you and be asuured that you will come out a better person after the ordeal capable of doing something impactful for yourself and others later on. Live life meaningfully and left a legacy behind.
To end, Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi concentration camp and author of “Man’s Search For Excellence”, wrote that he saw many prisoners lost hope in the prison camp. Many died soon after as they could not find any hope in their situation. Those prisoners who manage to rise above the situation and find renewed hope and have faith in themselves managed to escape death in seemingly impossible situation.