I will never, ever forget my first experience as a professional living through a recession.  I had what I thought was a stable job, working in business development for a company that I helped start as a co-Founder.  The dot-com boom was coming to a close, punctuated by the horrible events of 9/11.  Our company had two major rounds of layoffs and then, seemingly out of the blue, I was all of a sudden out of a job myself on Halloween Day 2001.

It was a devastating blow… I was overcome by a myriad of emotions involved in losing a job at a company I helped start in an environment that seemed more like Armageddon than anything I had ever imagined as an idealistic 27 year old just 8 short weeks before.  I spent a few months doing some contract work while figuring out how to dust myself off & move on.  I scheduled knee surgery for an old flag football injury.  And I began to survey the world around me to figure out just how to make money on my own.

Certainly there were no jobs to be had… at least for someone who had two startups under his belt along with a liberal arts bachelors degree.  All the job postings I saw required a minimum of an MBA, 10-15 years experience, and an exceptional degree of patience to accept a job that paid far below market rates and probably wasn't very good for that matter.  Undaunted, I woke up one morning resolute that I'd find a job that day.  I identified 14 companies that I would visit unannounced.  Hopefully one of them would yield something that would help me pay bills and have something to do.  That day, I returned home 6 hours later with one apologetic group willing to at least hear my story.  13 rejections, 1 group apologetically agreed to hear me out although I don't think they had anything either.  I returned home with an odd sense of satisfaction that I at least made an effort, which was far more than many of my fellow jobless friends had made that day, week, or month.

Ultimately, I researched the heck out of a new technology, Google Adwords, and with the help of a friend I got a job with an entrepreneur from West Austin.  It wasn't the best job in the world, but it allowed me to learn on someone else's dime, all while helping him out in the process.  I didn't develop that business significantly, though, because it wasn't the type or scale of work I wanted to define my career.  I thought I needed to radically redefine myself because the market didn't give me the validation I thought I deserved.  I started looking into MBA programs and ended up choosing the University of Texas for b-school.

So how is my story relevant?  We are entering some challenging times again when a lot of people are going to be forced to consider what they are doing for a living.  The world of easy credit, low unemployment, and high times is probably over for the short-term.  The business cycle is refreshing before our very eyes.  Inefficient business (at least those not bailed out by the federal government) are being destroyed in favor of better, more efficient businesses.  Fundamental business strength is being rewarded at the expense of charlatans.  The strong are being rewarded while the weak perish.

A lot of people work for the weak.  Most of them don't yet know it, much like I didn't read the tea leaves in 2001.  A lot of people are going to be put in the unenviable position of scrambling for a place to land in a desert lacking opportunity, in an economy that refuses to grow.  What will you do if you are put in that position?

If my experience is any indication, you'll have a few options… all of which are, in my opinion, the best antidote for a recession:

- Redefine yourself — figure out who you are, what makes you tick, and what you are capable of doing that is different than anything you've done before.  Odds are if you are a victim of a layoff, you will appear to be toxic to your former company's competitors, so you'll need to find something in a different area or a different industry.
- Work through your problems — in a recession, it isn't always easy to effectively work to improve your situation.  But it is worth the effort.  Do everything you can, including things that make you uncomfortable.  Think of innovative ways to use your time that can help you reach your goals.  Do more networking or volunteering.  Help out a startup.  Read.  Teach yourself a new technology or product.  Open your mind to ways you can spend your time wisely.  Dwelling on problems doesn't help.
- Consider further education — a recession is a fantastic time to consider higher education to make yourself more marketable to prospective employers.  Usually, the good times return once you're out of school.  If it is going to be difficult to make money anyway, you might as well use the spare time to become more qualified.

Regardless of what happens to you, you can get through the problems you have as long as you are willing to make sacrifices.  Recessions have a way of making everyone more efficient.  Apply the same logic to yourself, and you'll be happy with the outcome.