Maintaining a Heroic Attitude in an Uncertain World

An industry buddy suggested I write an article on the state of the aerospace business and the “heroic” actions people and small companies have had to take to keep themselves together during the economic crisis l inked to the COVID-19 pandemic. While I’ve got plenty on my plate right now, I thought I’d at least touch on the notion of being “heroic” in stressful economic times.

Not every phase of my career has been smooth. Job hunting is incredibly stressful for someone who often defines himself by his work–someone like me, for instance. One thing I have noted about my three most stressful job-hunting periods is that they were all tied to starting out: getting that first job: while in high school, after college, when trying to break into the space business, or when seeking my first freelance gigs. The biggest hurdle if often proving that you can do a type of job when you have no experience doing that particular job. It wasn’t impossible, I got a job eventually; I just made myself crazy stressing out until that job appeared.

And it is possible that if you had a job in the aerospace industry, this year’s economic contraction, you had to consider switching industries simply because there was nowhere else to go. In that case, you’ve no doubt had to retool your resume so that it matches jobs you can do; tap your network to see who might have need for someone with your particular; and work on your inside game so that you stay motivated to hunt for work and interview well.

Of course unemployment offers obvious carrots and sticks to motivate you. Carrots include:

  • Keeping your bills paid and yourself and significant other, kids, or pets fed.
  • Enjoying the life you’re used to.

The sticks are just as obvious:

  • Being unable to do things for your partner/kids/pets due to lack of money.
  • Having your utilities cut off due to non-payment.
  • Having your car repossessed due to non-payment.
  • Being kicked out of your home due to…you get the picture.

I’m not surprising anyone who’s currently struggling with these issues. You know them all too painfully. Still, as I’ve noted more than once on these pages, in the end you are responsible for improving your situation. Your government’s social security net might stop you from sinking (and in this country, maybe not even that), but to actually move things in a positive direction, you’ve got to stay on on the job. And your job when you’re unemployed is to find another source of income, preferably another job. I’ve been peppering this post with links to previous posts on these topics, and I encourage you to read them, I’ll add a few more thoughts here as well.

When I talk about a “heroic” frame of mind, what I mean is simply that you believe:

  • Your cause is just and worth fighting for–in this case, feeding yourself or your family.
  • You have the freedom to take action on your own behalf.
  • You have the ability or can get help from others to take action on your own behalf.
  • Your actions can, do, and will make a difference to the situation you’re trying to fix.

What sort of actions am I talking about? I’ll just lay out the options I was contemplating as I was running out of money in 2014-2015.

  • Cut unnecessary expenses, whether that’s buying coffee from Starbucks or books (my primary vice).
  • If you’re used to working for someone else, consider starting a contracting or consulting business and working for yourself. If you’re a freelancer, consider going back and taking a steady job (I’ve had to consider both possibilities).
  • Ask family, friends, and business acquaintances in your network if they know anyone who has work in your field they need done; that is different from asking for a job. Be specific so people don’t recommend jobs that have nothing to do with your abilities or inclinations.
  • Consider taking jobs that you can do NOW even if they are not your first choice just to get cash flowing. For reasons that elude me, it’s easier to find work when you’re already working.
  • If you can’t find full-time employment to pay the bills, take more than one part-time or small “gigs” that don’t conflict time-wise.
  • Consider volunteering with an organization in your community or organization with good visibility, i.e., where you’re likely to encounter people who might be interested in hiring someone with your skill set.
  • Consider checking through your “collectibles,” find out what people are willing to buy them for on eBay, and consider selling them.
  • Downsize your lifestyle. I put most of my stuff into storage and spent ten months in 2014 house-sitting someone else’s home rent-free or nearly so.

There might be other options, but those are the paths I’ve considered when I got crazy or desperate enough. You’ll know which option(s) work for you depending on your situation. Some options are more humbling or even humiliating than others, but if the options are doing X that you find beneath you or not eating, eventually you will need to make those choices. You should not consider the choices you make to keep yourself and your life together shameful–though I strongly recommend against a life of crime, which creates a whole new set of risks and potential problems. Short of that, you should consider yourself capable of making good decisions on your own or your family’s behalf, and then make those calls. You can do this. You’re the hero of your own story.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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