In 2015, for the first time in 25 years, I was unemployed. The future was bleak and terrifying.
For 15 of those years I was the owner of an online retail business. Like many retailers large and small, I was no longer capable to compete with two-day, free shipping offered by Amazon Prime. My financial woes were compounded when every one of our manufacturers started selling directly to the public. Profit margins were non-existent. My crystal ball and our accountant looked into the future for what might happen in the next five or ten years. We realized things were not going to get better.
After 15 years as an online retailer and a total of 25 years of small business ownership, I was broke. Change for a middle-aged person is daunting.
For the first time in 25 years I had to look for a job and fill out a resume. I was in uncharted territory. Over those years I had scoured hundreds of resumes for new employees and was thinking now about how harshly others would judge my own experiences. I stayed up nights thinking about how far back do I take my employment history? Do I dare list the year of my college graduation? Gulp. I suddenly felt extremely old and useless. How could I compete?
A Coal Miner and the Automobile Factory
I was fortunate from a job standpoint. I was a computer programmer for 25 years. Once I focused on my skillset rather than my graduation date, I found a sense of hope. My skills were still very marketable and well paying. After a month of paralysis and resume anxiety, I realized I was going to be OK. Fat, bald, and middle-aged could still land me a decent job. Things started to turn around.
I knew others were not be so lucky. An obsolete business or business model creates skills that may not be in such heavy demand. Owners of a print shop can easily dedicate their life and fortunes to their business ,however, printing is a tough skill to market in 2020. A bit farther away from my New York confines were others in similar situations. These are families like farmers, coal-miners or automobile workers who were all facing the decision to shut the family farm or deal with the finality of a good paying job that disappeared. What skills are transferrable for a coal miner when the market for coal collapsed? Can a farmer just up and leave after bankruptcy of their farm? What does a factory worker do after the plant suddenly closes?