Career Watch: Millennials, make the most of this recession

Bob Jennings, a management consultant and the co-author (with J. Barry Griswell) of The Adversity Paradox, thinks this recession could be the best thing that has happened to the millennial generation.

How do you put a positive spin on this devastating economic disruption? We don't underestimate the gravity of the situation for millennials, who are getting hit particularly hard by this recession. They came of age in prosperous times and enjoyed the fruits of that prosperity, everything from technological advances to easily accessible material goods to the assurance that jobs awaited them the minute they graduated. The economic downturn really pulled the rug out from under them. The jobs that millennials were promised are now few and far between, and because of their lack of experience, they're among the first to be laid off and the last to be hired. Further, because they've largely been untested by adversity, many lack the skills necessary to weather lean economic times.

Author Bob Jennings
Author Bob Jennings

Still, we do think the recession could be the proverbial blessing in disguise for this generation. Facing and overcoming adversity has a way of bringing out extraordinary qualities and abilities in people that would've otherwise lain dormant. Millennials are already highly skilled, well educated and very creative. They're technologically proficient and perfectly at ease living in a world "flattened" by the forces of globalization. With this kind of capability already in place, think of the potential for growth if this generation befriends adversity and uses it as a springboard to greater success. Undergoing adversity is never pleasant, but there's no more powerful force to catalyze lasting positive change. If it was the Great Depression and World War II that spurred the Greatest Generation to unparalleled achievement and the Vietnam War that galvanized the younger baby boomers to action, the recession may be the very thing that will prompt the millennial generation's rise to greatness. In fact, if they don't admit defeat, and we don't think they will, the millennials with their extraordinary skills are uniquely positioned to solve the worldwide economic crisis.

But it must take more than adversity to make one prosper. Not everyone who lived through the Great Depression became a successful entrepreneur. Both points are absolutely true. The key lies in how one chooses to react to adversity. The point of our book is not that adversity automatically creates success, but that the experience of overcoming adversity teaches you skills you wouldn't otherwise learn and brings out strengths you wouldn't otherwise know you had. Adversity may not be a welcome teacher, but it's an extremely effective one. Failures and setbacks have a way of bringing out the best in us that successes, sad to say, do not.

Some people crumble in the face of adversity, but there are plenty who meet it head-on and make a point of learning from every obstacle and setback they encounter. Our focus is on that latter group. Why is it that some people can come back from poverty, bankruptcy, serious health challenges, limited access to education, or any other adversity and thrive while others give up at the first sign of trouble? Part of the answer lies in attitude. The power of positive thinking is not a new concept, but it's key to productively dealing with adversity. Instead of giving up or focusing on everything that went wrong, optimists take stock of the situation, quickly identify where they went awry, and determine how they can move forward in a positive way.

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