Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Once was one time too many. Hearing it several times is alarming.

I am talking about an attitude, the one evinced by some of the young people who have recently lost their jobs in the New York financial industry. Call it youthful insouciance.

Young people who worked hard for years and who accumulated significant savings find themselves unemployed. But, they are not in a hurry to get a new job; they want to wait out the crisis.

"Markets correct," one recently jobless young man told me, "now the job market is correcting. So I have a chance to kick back and party. I was working like a dog, nights and weekends. I gave everything to the firm. And I was very well compensated. But I never had a decent vacation. Now I can, so that's what I am going to do."

Youthful insouciance papers over a failure to "realize a loss." I learned the concept from Philip Pearlman and blogged about it a few days ago.

When people have suffered a severe loss, when their world is collapsing around them, it is not the time to party. If they decided that it is time to learn how best to enjoy leisure they are simply refusing to realize a loss. They would rather keep the good times rolling, even if they are only rolling in their minds.

Occasionally, I question the assumptions behind these decisions. When I do, most of this group asserts that the jobs will return and that offers will again start coming their way. It is just a temporary blip; it will all return to normal.

And if it does not? As one young man told me, he will cross that bridge when he comes to it. For now he can pay the rent and still go out to great restaurants.

At times youthful insouciance is produced by pills; at other times, it is simple numbness.

When the world is out of control, and when you do not know how to deal with it, you might be tempted to say that doing nothing is a good thing. It makes you feel that you are in control, even if it is only in your own mind. You are simply too smart to panic.

There is a golden mean between insouciance and panic. Call it anguish.

If you have recently lost a job in financial services and the prospects for restoring the glory days of New York finance are slim to none, then you should be feeling some anguish. If you don't you are not engaging with reality.

Youthful insouciance reminds me of the attitude of people who are trying to sell property in a bad market. First, they price their homes too high. When no one makes an offer, they decide to wait out the downturn. At some point they will be forced to sell and when that happens they will have to accept almost any offer.

It is like the young man who was offered a job in St. Louis, and thought it was beneath his dignity. How will he feel two years from now when nothing better materializes? And how will he feel when nothing materializes?

Confidence is a good thing, but it must be grounded in reality. Artificially induced positive sentiment is the gas that feeds market bubbles. And not just stock market bubbles.

Along with a grounded confidence you should allow your anguish to motivate you.

I encourage my clients to take the next step. To go back to work. Not in the sense of getting a new job immediately, but start acting as though their job search were itself a job.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

gumption is the word for 2009!