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by SixFigureStart | August 24, 2009


Losing a job will do strange things to a person. Some will consider the setback just another one of the challenges that life has to throw at them, while others will sink into despair, convinced that the end of civilization is nigh. The extent to which people will go to find a way forward is underlined in a pair of recent articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times. The former reports on a surge in the number of people trying their luck at gold prospecting, while the latter concerns itself with an increase in entrepreneurship.

When it comes to dealing with a layoff (and especially one in a field where getting rehired looks bleak), the two stories seem to encapsulate the two available options rather neatly: optimism and despair. While both pieces further underline the difficulties of coping with the upheavals of the economy, the Times piece does it in a way that shows a positive response to the crisis—people reinventing themselves and developing the skills needed to do so on the fly—as opposed to relocating next to a river somewhere out West and hoping to strike it rich through sheer luck.

As the Times article points out, the success and failure rates of startup companies have traditionally remained more or less constant throughout good economic times and. Faced with known odds there, compared to drastically reduced odds in finding employment, many have evidently opted to give entrepreneurship a try. (Incidentally: we'd love to hear any entrepreneurial tales from our faithful readers). That willingness to put a foot forward even when times are tough is exactly where success comes from, and is a just about as American a value as one could hope to find.

The flip side of the equation—sinking into despair—seems to be what's depicted in the Post article. After delivering one of the best opening lines of any article this year (the downright Chandler-esque "Maybe it was the nail in Ray's head. Maybe it was the economy"), the piece goes on to detail the lives of people who have essentially given up on reinventing themselves or doing what it takes to get back into the workforce. Sure, spotting a spike in gold prices, they've invested money in dredging equipment and are trying to haul their fortunes up out of a river—that's the pioneer spirit, right?

The danger, however, is that when gold prices fall—as they inevitably will—those people will be in exactly the same position as when they opted to try panning as their next career choice: victims of the vagaries of global financial markets. However long it takes for that to happen, there will come a time when the pay for finding minute flecks of precious metal no longer seems as alluring. And when that day comes, they may well end up heading back to the regular job market, with the same skill-set as when they left it, and a sizeable gap to fill on a resume.

Bad economy or not, it’s far better, in this writer's opinion, to take a bet on yourself—be it through starting a business or going back to school—than to bet on striking gold. Sure, dumb luck might make you rich, or even just tide you over for a while, but planning and working diligently for the future is almost guaranteed to bring success—even if the payoff can only be measured in fulfillment, rather than hard currency.

Associated Press/Victor R. Caivano

--Posted by Phil Stott, Vault Staff Writer


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