Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 4, 2012

Bad economy or inability to overcome adversity?


CNHI

— “He that is good at making excuses is seldom good at making anything else.”

— Benjamin Franklin

I have a young friend who has been looking hard for a job for several months. As time has gone on, he started looking at jobs far beneath his education and experience.

He is back for a second interview at a fast-food restaurant. I didn’t realize the economy

has reached a point where fast-food restaurants had gotten selective. I’m sure my friend will make it as he keeps trying and trying.

I have another young friend who is supposedly looking for work. His career path is currently based on mooching off his mother.

Unless someone knocks on his door and makes an offer, he is not going to get off the couch and find one.

Unemployment for young people is running about twice the national average. The bad economy affects people with a lack of experience more than others, but there are some professions for which supply far outweighs demand.

I wonder if young people understand how to deal with adversity.

I was unemployed 30 years ago. The economy was nearly as bad as it is now. I left graduate school at Vanderbilt to work for a candidate for Congress. He unexpectedly lost. Instead of a comfy job on Capitol Hill, I was thrown out on the streets.

I found a job on the cleanup crew at the Kentucky Horse Park.

It was the defining moment of my life.

When you are cleaning up after horses, it makes you consider different career options.

I realized that I never wanted to depend on someone else to hand me a job or control my future.

Thus, I wound up in the financial business. I worked 90 hours a week, mastered a distinctive niche and celebrate my 30th anniversary next month.

It took me years to realize I have a unique ability: Tenacity. Whenever someone does a personality profile of me, the “Energizer Bunny” analogy frequently comes up.

Overall, I consider my tenacity to be a core strength.

It has taken me decades to figure out that few have the driving ambition that I have.

For a long time, I thought that “can’t find a job” meant they weren’t really looking, not looking in the right places or not willing to take a job below their life expectations.

I look at youth unemployment and start to wonder if that holds true.

The fast-food and service industries have normally been the “jobs of first resort.” Twelve percent of all Americans have worked at McDonalds at some point in their lives. About 1.4 million people work at Wal-Mart.

That those jobs are getting harder to come by tells me that this “recession,” caused by the Wall Street collapse, bailouts and the inability of government to say no to special interests, is far from over.

I’m also wondering if you can teach young people to have tenacity, think “outside the box” and create opportunities for themselves. If young people have been sheltered from overcoming failure, they may not understand that adversity ultimately leads to opportunity.

When I started in business, it was like the Bob Dylan song: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” I had plenty of time and needed little money. I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work, which helped the community and allowed me to develop some great relationships.

If you are sitting at home watching reality shows, you aren’t learning new skills, developing new relationships or putting yourself in a position to ultimately succeed. I don’t know if they teach determination and tenacity in school. I don’t know if you can develop it if you don’t have it.

If we are going to reduce unemployment among young people, somehow they are going to have to acquire the skill of working hard, never giving up and getting back up when you get knocked down.

I’m waiting for someone, running for any office, to start taking that issue on.

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Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.