I have uncanny timing when switching industries just before a crisis. Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that careers are like roller coasters: there will be highs and lows, and none of them are permanent. What determines how we feel on this crazy ride is our vantage point. That optimism — and a deep-seated sense of resilience and personal agency — is the fuel needed to survive extreme economic downturns, including the one we are about to experience.
2000 . DotCom bust
When I graduated, I was excited to join a digital consultancy and be in the midst of the ‘Internet age’. I didn’t know I was the “DotCom bust.” Less than a year later, I was unemployed and wondering what had just happened.
After the initial shock, I mustered up the courage to take the GMAT not once, not twice, but five times (I wanted a better score), and applied to business school. Armed with an MBA, I was ready to re-enter the workforce. After a painful preparation and 50 interviews later, I landed a role in Equity Research, where I evaluated retailers like American Eagle for investors. I knew I was going to hit the learning curve hard and was ready for the challenge. What I didn’t know was I was on my way to another one economic crisis – this time crippling the financial sector. Lehman Brothers collapsed in my new job for just a month.
Then I realized that although very uncomfortable and often scary, economic crises are inevitable. However, despite being full of uncertainty and risk, they are ripe for innovation and opportunity, especially for those brave enough to get scrappy and venture into uncharted territory. This is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned and a pro tip for others: When in doubt, always say “yes” and jump on the roller coaster.
Participating in retail in a recession
The recession hit in 2008 and my company went under. In 2009 I found myself in a new position at Saks, my former client. The economy was in trouble, but I didn’t see the switch to retail as a risk. Instead, I saw the move as an opportunity to get immersed in the burgeoning e-commerce industry while others flocked from it.
I continued to launch new businesses and transform the way the brick and mortar store (and the e-commerce division) worked. I also learned the value of building strong business foundations – a lesson that helped me start my own business. As we navigate a period of economic downturn, my advice for anyone changing careers is to question the status quo, question market opportunities beneath the surface (after all, not everything is what it seems!), and look for ways to run in the direction of opportunities when others walk away. For example, startups like Venmo and Airbnb grew out of needs discovered during the recession and are now among the most respected companies today.
“Find a Real Job”
For anyone who has ever been told to “get a real job,” there are many valuable lessons at play. I clearly remember being told this by a senior leader at Saks and being stunned by this comment. What this person meant, however, was that instead of just focusing on climbing the vertical career ladder, I should strive to Real experiences at the heart of the business. At Saks, I wasn’t in the business of buying products and negotiating with suppliers on a daily basis, which is the core of retail businesses. I missed the core experience.
Although this lesson stung at the time, I am grateful for their honesty and feel it is so important to pass on this advice: be humble and accept all feedback – the good, the bad and the honest. Find a mentor who is willing to have hard conversations with you to advance your career, going beyond the boundaries of your job description wherever and whenever possible.
“The great revaluation”
Nine months into my role at Lyft, COVID-19 hit. Running this kind of business during the pandemic has been one of the biggest growth opportunities of my career. I’ve learned that being able to run from a well-constructed plan is a critical tool for resilience. Not only did this help Lyft stay successful, it also helped me break new ground.
I’ve always wanted to build a business from scratch, starting when I was a kid helping my dad sell computers. So I left my position at Lyft and became a co-founder mixo— again amid economic turmoil, a devastating war, and at a time when the 13-year bull run in venture capital investment came to an end. But I took the risk because I saw an opportunity to radically improve the social media world in a more positive way and bring more connection, fun and cultural exchange to consumers through food sharing.
Changing jobs is scary, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in making radical leaps at the worst possible times, economic downturns are the ideal times to rewrite history and take a risk if you have a goal in mind. Say “yes” (especially when others say “no”), look for hidden opportunities that may not seem obvious outwardly, take on projects outside your job description, welcome as much feedback as possible, and most importantly, follow your heart. Rewards will come to those who welcome them.
Shirley Romig is co-founder and CEO of mixoa social media app especially for food lovers around the world.