Don't let your ego stop you from meeting your basic needs

Sometime you just gotta make money.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a challenging time to get a job. Despite the overall economy being basically fine, for many urban knowledge workers, job searches are taking longer and people are applying to more jobs than ever before.

For a number of job seekers in my orbit, this has been a source of considerable frustration. It’s easy to get discouraged when the weeks turn months and the months turn to well… many more months. This is understandable.  After all, we all want rewarding, stable and well paid jobs, and we want them now. 

But reality bites. And sometimes the holy grail job is farther away than we might wish it to be. This can be challenging if we urgently need financial stability to support our families and cash to pay for things like rent, food and daycare.

But it can also be challenging for more ego-driven reasons as well.

For example, a lot of people who got laid off in the last year are looking for a FANNG tech job paying over $150,000. Maybe they need this kind of job because they built their lives around having this kind of job, and their Manhattan studio apartment costs $5,000/month. That’s legitimate. But they may also feel that they “need” this kind of job because they identify as the kind of person who is successful in the world of blue chip tech companies. Maybe they would consider a role at a super successful Series C startup, but anything “less” would feel like abject failure. 

This is an unfortunate position to be in because sometimes the job market doesn’t bend the way we want it to. Sometimes 250,000 people get laid off and all of the sudden employers are able to require eight interviews, four references, two take home assignments, and a C-suite presentation only to reject you because you don’t have some super niche expertise that wasn’t even in the job description.

It’s all about supply and demand.  And this is a buyers market.  Which means for those of us selling our labor, times are tough, at least in the urban knowledge worker economy. 

So what’s a jobless guy or gal to do? Well, to start you need to determine what kind of problem you need to solve first: 

  1. Do you need cash in the door in the next 2-4 months or sooner?  

  2. Are you fine for money because you either already have a job, a working spouse, a trust fund, or some other awesome situation that does not require you to earn money? 

If you are in category 1, which is where most people find themselves when they lose a job, you should keep that front and center in your search. You can’t execute a job search strategy designed to nourish your soul, win accolades and make your mother proud if the real problem you are trying to solve is that you just need money. 

If you just need money, solve that problem first. Take whatever job you can get.  Freelance, temp, get a side gig. Don’t be a snob. No one is above any work of any kind. If you climb down the class ladder a few rungs you will find a much tighter labor market. If you need to babysit or bartend, do that. Feel your feelings, be pissed, but take care of your financial needs at the same time.

I know this is easier said than done.

After all, desiring respect and esteem is natural and human, and professional success is one of the main ways of securing both. But I wonder, too, if a lack of self-belief undergirds many people’s resistance to just doing whatever works. It’s almost as if we feel that without that blue chip job we’ll never make it, we’ll never be somebody.

This is false.

If you know how to conduct an informational interview, how to show up, ask questions, and share your dreams with another human being, than you will be fine. Full stop.

Your career will unfold over decades and will be “defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress,” as Julie Zhuo put it. You will be surprised by what you end up doing, the people you meet, the companies your work for, and the way that you end up applying your skills. Nothing will turn out the way you want it to. It might just turn out better.

That can only happen if you do two things. One, keep body and soul together by earning enough cash to survive. And two, keep doing informational interviews.

Informational interviewing is about the lifelong journey of striding “deeper and deeper into the world,” as Mary Oliver put it. It’s how you’ll create little pockets of sanity and coherence in a world where macroeconomics, geopolitics, structural inequality, and basic capitalism conspire to use our bodies and minds for purposes not our own. It’s how you’ll build solidarity in whatever way matters to you, and create spaces of abundance and nourishment with other people. It’s also, ultimately, how you’ll finally get that next fancy blue chip job.

So don’t lose heart. What happens this year will not determine your future. You have the tools to wayfind and make things happen. There will be years when you get lucky and years when you strike out. But the lucky years will be luckier and more frequent if you get really really good at informational interviewing.

New to informational interviewing?

Are you new to informational interviewing? Here are a few articles and resource to get your started:

That should get you started. For more related and adjacent informational interviewing content, visit the Art of the Informational Interview!


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