Recession watch: The best time for career planning

My PhD reads psychology, not economics, so I won't bet the house on the Bush stimulus package's chances of preventing or softening a recession.

But I have counseled and coached many who were outright terminated, downsized out, or who feared a pink slip in their next pay envelope. The conversations typically move from money to the things that more fundamentally bring us fulfillment -- or that should. The menu usually includes priority setting and value re-ordering, with a healthy side of blessing counting.

Fear of job loss or not, times like these are ripe for thinking ahead to how we'll feel, and what we'll do when we retire, and the regular paycheck stops. (Yes, there are Social Security checks, pension benefits and annuity streams. But trust me, none of these feel as "earned" as a paycheck.)


Digging down into what really fulfills you through work will shine a light on not just what you want to do next, but also on the kind of work style you prefer.

You may hate your job, but you may love collaborating to get tasks done. Maybe you're happiest working alone, door shut, content to find the answers on your own. Perhaps you're best when given opportunities to lead and inspire others.

Gaining insights like these can help you identify options other that your current job, or even career. And it will remind you that if you do lose your job, the earth will continue to turn. The very act of making a "what's next" plan (let alone finalizing and carrying it out) can make you feel more in control, and less under stress.

During times like these, people talk more about starting something on their own. Many, indeed, can thrive with their own business. But others – even the most well-financed others – may soon realize running their own show isn't for them. Most often, people neglect to examine what being one's own boss really means: having few others to blame (or praise), and what it feels like to meet a weekly payroll, are but two things worth pondering.

After some healthy introspection and discussion, maybe you'll realize it's not "on your own" that you want next, but perhaps "smaller, and simpler."

Like investing decisions – large cap, small cap, in-between cap – there's no one right answer. Taking a big position in yourself – taking stock in what you enjoy most -- may well be your best portfolio move during times like these. It may well be the only guaranteed, recession-proof way to invest.

Randy Burnham is a Westport, CT-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of My Next Phase (www.mynextphase.com), a consulting firm expert in non-financial planning products and processes.


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