For the past few months, I’ve been holding workshops for displaced workers. I started them because I wanted 1) to reach out and help others, 2) to distract myself from my own not inconsiderable financial losses 3)to understand what is really going on in Arizona, and perhaps by extension in the country.
I have learned way more than I expected, which is always true when you start something new. I plan to continue the workshops, funding them through either sponsorship from banks who would like to use their CRA funds wisely, or from money the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation board allows me to use. (Yes, I started the foundation, but it’s a 501(c)3 and has very strict rules about what it does). Or from anything else I can raise, because one thing I’ve learned is that our country suffers from a glaring lack of resourcefulness among its educated middle class population.
To put it bluntly, we’ve been spoiled. The past few generations have seen the entrance of women and minorities into the work force, and have allowed them to ask for a certain level of treatment, equal to that of white men. To some degree, this has been achieved. We have had a union movement, protecting the rights of ALL workers, and have gotten collective bargaining rights and EEOC. We consider these “workers’ rights.”
We have totally forgotten that only during a small slice of history did we have a job someone else “gave” us. For the rest of time, we had to scrounge to survive, which we did by employing our own resources. Believe me, we didn’t ask for rights, except the right to work the land.
But the more educated and middle class we became, it turns out, the more we kept looking for that “job.” And as generations went on, they were more and more looking for the “perfect” job. A “better” job. What were we asking for? A job with flexible hours where we could do what we want, work for a wonderful boss, balance our work with our families, perhaps telecommute, and also make a pile of money. I know people who have refused to move, refused to travel, refused jobs with too little vacation or too many evening or weekend hours.
Back in the day, women were not welcome in the work force. To get any job, I had to go to an Ivy League college and then be willing to work as a typist for $60 a week. When I had a baby, I had to convince my boss I could work until the birth and come right back so I wouldn’t lose my job. Maternity leave? You gotta be kidding. I taught my classes (by then I was a professor) while I was in labor and met them again a week later to collect their assignments. And I wasn’t very unusual. In the sixties and seventies, if you got a job, you protected it.
Well, welcome to 2009. We don’t have job security anymore, and we have to look back at what people used to do BEFORE all those jobs we feel entitled to, because we’re condemned to repeat the history we haven’t studied. The future will not contain those jobs.
People who show up at my workshops often think they are going to be told how to make better use of LinkedIn, or how to look more effectively for a job. But I say, look within. What do you have to offer? What would you be doing if you had all the money in the world and could do what made you feel happy? Or how can you be of use?
That’s probably going to be your new job. And you are going to be creating it for yourself, with the help of the community. There is magic when you put a group of people in a room and allow them to think about each other and how they can work together. Something always happens, and you can never predict what it will be. It happens in my workshops.
Chances are, it will be entrepreneurial. I’m trying to teach people how to start something, which is like teaching them to fish. First I have to teach them not to panic, and to rely on the power of the community. Perhaps I also have to teach them how to access the social services, which professional people do not know how to do. Indeed, even in Arizona you can get health insurance for children and food stamps for yourself if you know how.
After you’ve got the food thing and the insurance thing settled, you are free to unleash your creativity and your problem-solving skills and become an entrepreneur. There are plenty of problems out there to solve. Find a small one. Solve it well. Charge money for your solution.
Don’t just stand there, a deer in the headlights, looking for a “job.”