When the Great Recession hit in 2008, millions were downgraded to part-time, furloughed or simply laid off. But if there’s one thing the recession has proven, it’s that sometimes a downturn in life can be a blessing in disguise.
ISSUE: Fall 2011
STORY & PHOTO: Shirley Lau
It’s impossible to look in any direction without seeing someone playing the Words with Friends app on their iPhone or messaging a friend on their Blackberry. Despite government-issued checks being the sole source of income for many, it’s not hard to find restaurants with people waiting in a line that goes out the door, eager to spend their scavenged cash on a nice meal. It may look like the economy is getting better, but looks can be awfully deceiving.
Being unemployed or making a career change during what is considered by economists to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, is anything but an anomaly. As of this past summer, the unemployment
rate was nearly 10 percent, about 31 million people. And with constant fears of a possible double-dip recession, it doesn’t look like things are going to get better any time soon.
So what is one to do when she’s living off unemployment and sending hundreds of résumés into a black hole? Some may choose to make a career out of being couch potatoes, while others are just trying to stay afloat, holding out for the day when they can make a career out of what they’re most passionate about. And then there are those fresh (and once fearful) faces who’ve changed their lives for the better — and they have the recession to thank for it.
“Most people who go to business school, there’s a sense of entitlement. They think they’re going to get a six-figure salary or be the next Mark Zuckerberg. It’s almost this fantasy,” says Alfred Fung, who once chased his dream of starting his own business after he got his MBA from University of Southern California.
But that proved to be the hardest thing to do during a recession.
“Expectations were already low at the point of graduation. It was clear that there would be a rocky journey to find funding,” says Fung. “Despite this, entrepreneurs I knew pushed forward by bootstrapping as much as they could in what was our generation’s most hostile start-up environment. After all, being an entrepreneur was a much more active role than being unemployed.”
So Fung spent nearly a year in search of funding to make his idea of a new educational platform come to fruition. He sent his business plan to venture capitalists, applied for grants, and even pitched his idea during job interviews.
“I approached investors of all walks,” says Fung. “The most promising, and ultimately depressing, meetings were with the U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program director, who loved my idea. I waited several months for an answer, only to be denied. The investment environment is just not friendly to people who just have ideas.”
After exhausting every option, Fung says he decided to forgo his business venture. Now he’s working in the marketing sector of a mobile apps company. It’s not exactly what he envisioned, but he says it aligns well with his interests and he’s lucky to have the job. He keeps in mind something a former classmate told him: It’s not just your job for now; it’s undercover research for the future.
– Shirley Lau
Purchase the Summer issue of Audrey Magazine here.