It’s What’s in Your Head

You can blame pocofish for this one. He started it. 🙂

Let’s say someone was stalking you, casing your home, preparing to take something valuable to you. You went to work that day, like every day. Your kids went to school, and your wife went to her job, or went out to do the myriad things that stay-at-home spouses do. Not long after the house was empty, a young man walked up and rang your doorbell. He waited, got no answer, and rang again. If you had answered, he would have apologized for choosing the wrong address and departed your home with a friendly smile. He listened carefully whole time he stood on your front porch, verifying that no one was home.

He walked away, and two minutes later he was dialing his prepaid cell phone to alert the crew in the van that the coast was clear. When you arrived back at home that night, ready for  some tasty meatloaf, you discovered that your home had been robbed. Everything of value was gone. You called the police. They made the report. All the feelings of fear for your family and violation of your personal life rolled through your head for days afterward. The insurance company cut you a check, and you replaced everything you could. Technically, life was back to normal, but something had changed.

What about a bigger change? What if forces beyond your control came into play? You lost your job at the company you had given your entire adult life to support. The retirement you had worked for disappeared in a corporate scandal. No one helped because too many others in your situation had already been helped and the limping economy just couldn’t support any more. Your house fell inevitably into foreclosure. Your possessions began to disappear to any place that could provide a few dollars in exchange, but the pattern was set, and the trend led to the point at which you would take any job to keep your family in a tiny apartment with bargain food on the table. The apartment was not the nice kind. It was the kind that was scraping by with the rest of the country, and was willing to forget things like credit checks in return for the prospect of rent. The new neighbors’ only positive attribute was the hard life lessons they were about to provide your children in the ugliness of the world on the wrong side of the tracks.

At that point, a point you never imagined could happen, what can you do? If you had chosen one of the few careers that always need workers, you would never see that situation in the first place. If, like most of us, you chose a career based on the house of cards we call an economy, you could be in serious trouble. The more money you had before, the more likely you lived near the top of the house of cards. Any slight breeze of economic pain could blow you right off the top. If, like many Americans, you had focused all your time and effort on developing the high level of specialized skill that it took to get to the top, then whatever skills you had gained would be nearly useless down at the gritty foundation of our economy.

You would be less qualified to work at the fast food joint than the kid who had been running to the dumpster and pushing a mop. See, that kid was a known quantity in FoodFAST(tm) number 1317. He showed up for work, and he even occasionally covered the fryer during lunch rushes. You are less qualified for entry level retail because you haven’t worked retail for many years – if ever, and frankly, your salary history scares the hell out of potential employers. They don’t want to hire another cook for their kitchen, figuratively speaking; they want someone with no expectations, no potential for disrupting the work environment, and certainly someone who is happy to make thirty cents over minimum wage. On top of that, you just don’t look as good in the uniform as that fresh faced twenty-something, old man/woman.

Even if you could talk your way into a low level position, it doesn’t solve the real problem, which is keeping your family in some semblance of the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not even close. Many good people cover this shortfall by working three jobs, spending literally every waking minute scrambling for a third of what they had while working a single job with long lunches and no time clock. Many good people, through bad luck, bad location, or lack of will, never find a combination that works.

What do you do in that situation?

Instead of bending all your energy into one focused skill set, maybe you went out of your way to broaden your own personal foundation. Maybe you can fix a bike, throw great parties, hot rod a car, alter clothing, build a greenhouse, make the cake that everyone remembers, wire up electronics. Maybe your garden is the talk of your neighborhood, maybe you’re the geek who everyone asks all the techie questions, or maybe you can teach one of the things – like karate – that doesn’t require a federal security clearance and a blood sample – like basic math. Who knows what you could do?

But know this: Every skill you have is a potential door to open if life doesn’t work out just the way you planned. Every skill is a potential job, livelihood, or way of life. You could even find that your own version of change drives you straight into the arms of a better, more fulfilling life. Every skill is pure opportunity when opportunity seems lost.

Even better, that skill lives in your head. It can’t be stolen by burglars, it can’t be repossessed by the bank, and it can’t be driven out by the most sweeping changes in life. Barring massive head injury, it’s in there forever, waiting to grow, waiting to offer something back to you and those you love, no matter what comes your way. It’s what’s in your head. Now go out and fill it with great stuff!