Looking out the window today, I probably couldn’t have picked a worse day to talk about silver linings.  Right now, at least in the Seattle/Bellevue area, the cloud cover is so dense and dreary (ya gotta love October!) that there are no linings of any kind to be found — silver or otherwise.  Still, since I was really just planning to speak metaphorically, I suppose I can forge ahead and make my point, regardless…

What’s that point, exactly?  It’s that one can find bright spots and positive things to celebrate in almost any situation, no matter how painful or challenging — and I believe that this principle applies equally well to today’s recessed economy, as well.  Now to be clear, I’m not saying things are good out there.  And I assure you I’m not simply donning my Polyanna mask in honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday.  Like everybody else, nothing would make me happier than for us to roll back the clock to a more normal job market where the “average” person could expect to find work and earn an “average” living within an “average” period of time.  After all, as beautiful as it is to look up and see a true silver lining, peeking out from behind a cloud,  most of us would still prefer a sunny day to a cloudy one!

So despite the tight constraints of the current job market, and the challenges the recessed economy is creating for so many people, I’d still like to share three encouraging developments I’ve witnessed lately during my comings-and-goings:

1)  People are gaining clarity around their priorities

While nobody wished this experience upon themselves, necessarily, today’s job market is proving to be a superlative “teaching moment” for many people in terms of focusing them to reassess and reevaluate the things in life that are important to them.  Many people, for example, are being forced to come to grips with their relationship to money for the first time in many years.  How has money (or more accurately, their desire to acquire lots of it) affected their lives to date?  How has it contributed or detracted from their happiness?  Where does it truly rank compared to other work satisfaction elements they might value such as work/life balance, fun, personal growth, freedom, and other factors?  Without question, the financial discipline and creative cost-cutting measures many families have put in place these days are going to serve them well for many years to come, assuming they maintain some of these habits once they land a new opportunity.

Additionally, I’ve seen numerous people use their “time off” to rebuild fractured relationships, improve their health, attend to issues in the family, conquer significant personal goals, and make other incredibly positive strides forward.  How many metric tons of wisdom are we going to gain, as a society, from people thinking deeply and profoundly about these issues as a result of this tough economic slog?

2)  Young people are learning valuable lessons

At a networking event our firm facilitated the other day, aimed at helping job hunters stay confident during protracted unemployment, numerous job hunters piped up and said that one surprisingly positive side-effect of their unemployment status was that their kids were paying attention — and that most of them were showing remarkable maturity, grace, and flexibility in terms of helping the family adapt to these tough times.  This experience certainly isn’t a universal one, I’m sure, but at least a half-dozen of the attendees expressed great pride at the resiliency of their children and felt convinced that this period of privation would provide them with some lasting, valuable life lessons.

Over the years, I’ve heard similar stories from parents that have literally brought me to tears (the good kind), such as the client of mine whose 9-year-old daughter offered up her piggy bank to help pay the overdue rent — or tales of teenagers who have willingly gone out and gotten a job, for the first time in their lives, in order to help the family make ends meet.  So I can’t help but wonder whether this recession will leave a positive impact on the next generation — just as the Great Depression of the 1930s played an instrumental role in forging the values of the “Greatest Generation” we all revere.  Along the same lines, Malcolm Gladwell argues in his latest book Outliers that there is clear evidence linking the success of many of the most prominent business leaders in the last half-century to the lessons, values, and work habits they picked up watching their immigrant parents overcome the odds and adapt, heroically, to a totally new culture and the American way of life.

3)  The best aspects of human nature are on display

The last “silver lining” item I’d point out is the one that I’m most excited about, of all, and is also the phenomenon I encounter the most in my day-to-day experience working with job hunters.  Barring a few annoying exceptions, I’m simply blown away by how generous, thoughtful, and helpful many people (including hundreds of Career Horizons alumni) have been in terms of lending a hand to their fellow seekers and going the extra mile to be a networking resource.  Rather than steal my own thunder, in fact, I’m instead going to direct you to a brand-new article I wrote here (click on the “Troubled Times” link at the top of the list) that spells out my recent observations in this area.  This article was also just published today as one of my regular Puget Sound Business Journal installments.

As I’ve said in that piece, and will say again here, if you’ve been one of the generous souls who has taken the time to assist a job hunter in need, grant an informational interview, pass a LinkedIn request along, or volunteer in some other capacity to help people get back on their feet, thank you — on behalf of everybody.  Your amazing, thoughtful actions are an invaluable part of helping people keep the faith and remain confident that we’ll get through these tough times!