Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Get busy living or get busy dying"

It's a quote from "The Shawshank Redemption." But it could be the kind of advice every American who's hurting from the economy should take to heart.

I was sitting in an office in Santa Fe the other day. Across from me was a man roughly my age. His jeans were pressed, his Italian loafers polished, his shirt nice tailored. He was a man accustomed to having life "just so." And he was in the real estate business.

It's not a good time to be in the real estate business, not even in Santa Fe. And his face was the tip-off that, despite his clothes, things were not going well for him. There was an air of despair surrounding him as he sat there. Unmistakable and deep. A feeling that the world had somehow betrayed him.

I know another person with a different take on things.

She's a friend of my daughter's, a recent graduate from architecture school who got her degree at a time when there aren't any jobs for architects. She got out of school with a heavy burden of student loans.

She found a job in retail. And in a few months she's distinguished herself as a remarkably valuable new employee. She uses her design sense to offer suggestions about how the retail store could do a better job of displaying merchandise. She keeps the store fresh-looking, changing the displays frequently. She taps into her own experience to come up with ideas for better customer service. The fact that she doesn't really want a career in retail, the fact that she's hoping that someday, someday soon, the economy will open up for architects again and she can get a job doing what she trained to do, what she loves to do--that doesn't enter into the equation at all.

Last month's job figures showed something like the largest gain in new jobs in three years.

And the U.S. has the largest number of long-term unemployed people ever. 6.5 million Americans have been without a job for at least 6 months.

So it's getting better.

And it's not getting better.

Even when it gets better, it's not going to go back to the way it was.

That means we have to make a choice. One option is to sit in a puddle of your own despair like the man in Santa Fe. He was in real estate. He'd ridden real estate to the top. He was now at the bottom. But he couldn't imagine trying anything else than what he'd done--mostly with great success--for all those years. He's busy dying.

Another option is my young friend, the architect turned retailer. She's busy living. It wasn't what she imagined for herself when she was in school, staying up all night to complete high-pressure design assignments. But it's what she's got--right now! Maybe not forever--but right now!

And right now, she's busy living. She's making new friends, impressing her co-workers, using her skills and her positive attitude to make a positive contribution. Nights and weekends, she works on her own architectural projects, looks for a job in her chosen field. And then, when it's time to go back to work, she shows up ready to make that job work.

That's the choice from "The Shawshank Redemption": get busy living or get busy dying.

Take your pick.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb