Buckle up – it’s recession time again. It’s been a while. The last one we had was the Great Recession, which in the U.S. was from December 2007 to about June 2009. If you started working after that, in the last 13 years, this is your first. We’ve had a pretty good run, but for a lot of people in their 30s, this is going to be the first experience of a downturn. Each is different, but here are a few things I learned from the Dotcom Crash and the Great Recession. Heads up: this isn’t one of the many blog posts out there about the practical steps you do to weather a recession. This one prepares you for how you’ll feel.
It’s going to be bad
Not going to bury the lede. Most companies are built to grow, meaning more opportunities, pay rises, new teammates, office openings, rising valuations, etc. In a downturn, that can still happen but it’s far slower and exponentially harder. It takes quite a mindset adjustment to accept that running to stand still is, in fact, progress while the market contracts. You are moving forward but it won’t seem like it. Just like any other of life’s challenges, it’s something you are going to have to face, and so the sooner you adjust, the better.
It’s not going to last forever
The Great Recession was 18 months. So it will come to an end. There will be others in your career, and those will come to an end too.
It’s really confusing
When you think of recession, economies contracting, layoffs, declining revenue and valuations, it’s easy to assume that happens all the time across the board. But there will be lots of great things that happen too. You’ll close big deals – I closed the most important deal in my career just after the Dotcom crash. New companies will be founded – just take a look at the start dates of the decacorns of today, and it’s 2007/2008. You’ll get promoted, but a friend will lose their job. Cognitive dissonance is a real drain since all these things can happen within a single day. Like it’s snowing one minute, then full summer sun, then a tornado. It’ll be hard to know what to think. I rationalize that recessions are imperfectly distributed – some whole sectors will boom, while the headlines in others are dreadful.
You’ll be frustrated
Everyone gets grumpy, you won’t get the recognition you deserve even though you are working harder than you ever have. Here’s why – so is everyone else. There’s just less to go around. To combat this, draw on your internal recognition, know that you are doing a good job and if you have some extra to give, try to share some kudos. It’s easy to see those who shine when things are darkest. So don’t give in. Your resolve will get tested beyond the limits you think you have but it will teach you a lot. You might need to remind yourself of that. A lot.
You’ll get really good at your job
The thing about downturns is there’s less room for mistakes. You have to make smarter decisions, deliver stronger results, and be more productive. So does everyone else around you, which, in turn, helps you to be better. You’ll learn more in the next few months than you learned in the past few years. And you’ll emerge a better professional. Plus, once you’ve got a recession under your belt, you’re equipped for the next one when it comes. Maybe you’ll even write a blog post it.
You might have to change
We all have to do more with less – your client does, your manager does and so do you. So you might need to adapt a little. Perhaps it’s learning a new skill, doing a task you don’t love but that needs to get done, taking one for the team, adjusting your schedule, or even changing careers entirely. There are new constraints and so adapt as best you can. Then you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage when things bounce back.
Some people will be jerks
They just respond by going into full ‘animal survival’ mode and thinking that business isn’t personal. I can’t really explain this but when everything is going up, these guys just get drowned out or don’t reveal themselves. But when hard times come knockin’, oh boy. They’ll lie, wriggle out of their commitments, they won’t pay you or come up with some ridiculous criticism. Just don’t let these idiots make you think everyone is like that or that this is acceptable. Keep doing the right thing. People will notice. Hopefully, you’ve picked good people to work with – you’re about to find out.
You won’t know when you’ve reached the bottom
One of the most disconcerting things is not knowing how much worse things will get. Like you’re in deep water and feeling around with your toe for the bottom before you can stop swimming. You just don’t know. Nobody does. So deal with today’s reality and make the best decisions you can. It will eventually start getting better, and you may not notice or you will likely not trust that we’ve turned a corner. We had lots of discussions about V, U, W and even bath-shaped recessions before. This one will be different – but let’s hope it won’t be L-shaped.
Don’t worry too much
While this is all fairly downbeat, that’s not my intent. You’ll have your team around you. We’ll all be going through it and in many ways, this shared adversity will bring the best out in you and in them. You will learn a lot. Some lessons will be harsh but during your career, this will just be a phase.
I picked up some decent scars in the last recessions but discovered that I’m pretty irrepressible. I made some good friends. I still work with many of them now. We’ll be fine. Hang in there.
Morgan McLintic is the founder of Firebrand. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech sector, he advises clients about their marketing and PR strategy. Prior to Firebrand, he was the founder of digital communications agency, LEWIS in the US, growing it to 250 staff and $35m revenue.