In a recession, should you settle?

December 21, 2008

I’ve always been one with extremely high goals, and I always believed I wouldn’t settle for anything less than achieving those exact goals. And when it comes to careers, I was always taught to believe that as long as you worked hard enough, there would be no reason to settle — you could get yourself wherever you wanted.

So I didn’t want the beaten path, I didn’t want in on the consulting/i-banking rat race; I figured I’d do exactly what I wanted (whatever that was) and settle for no less. I didn’t so much care about perfect grades or amazing starting salaries or corner offices or working for the brand-name firms that everyone else fawned over;  but what I wanted to find was work that was really meaningful, something that made me excited to get up and out of bed on Monday mornings.

But now that the recession is decimating nearly every industry, everyone wants to give me advice on my impending job hunt. And, I’m getting similar unsolicited advice from all sides: just settle. Take what you can get, because there’s no jobs around. Forget about achieving your dreams or changing the world; there’s no time for that now. Just settle, and be grateful for whatever you can get.

But is this really the attitude we should be having right now? Or ever?

Nadira Hira recently wrote in Fortune that Gen Yers won’t settle. And maybe that was true, until the economy imploded this fall. Suddenly, all our youthful idealism and lofty goals are evaporating and being replaced with cold practicality. 

Everywhere you turn, you see people doing exactly that: settling. My friends who wanted to go into politics are trading in their political aspirations to be one of hundreds of other fresh grads at big corporations. Friends of mine who had dreamt of working in the nonprofit sector and changing the world are now telling me — though only half-convinced themselves– “I’m just going into consulting for a few years to make some money. I’ll do the nonprofit thing later.”

And before someone objects to this as my description of “settling;” it’s true consulting may be a better option than the nonprofit sector. It’s certainly may be more profitable, more stable, more secure, than many other industries right now. 

But if you choose a career path for security and stability rather than following what you’re passionate about, isn’t that settling? We’re sticking to jobs we don’t love, and more often than not, jobs we hate. Why? Because the recession has got us feeling that we have to cling on to whatever job we can get, and be grateful for it, because we probably won’t be able to find anything else. 

I’ve read what a lot of other people are saying about how the economic crisis will affect young people right now. But I also see a lot of people asking the question, “will they quit being so demanding?” But my question is, does the recession mean we all need to stop pursuing our dreams and choose stability instead? 

Should pursuing your dreams still matter, or is the “dream job” a concept that never really existed anyways? When there’s about three times as many job seekers as there are jobs, is fulfilling and exciting work too much to ask for? Do we have to abandon all our ambitions and dream to change the world in order to even make rent?

And since when did pursuing your dreams becoming  too “demanding?”


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  1. Thank you so much for this post! I subscribed after I saw your writing on the Brazen Careerist contest. I am glad I did. I’m glad you wrote about your peers (I am also in the same Gen Y boat) shunning the nonprofit sector for ‘real’ work. I work at a major nonprofit in NYC and I have had those thoughts. I graduated from college wanting to find meaningful work, and am getting a Master’s at NYU in Fundraising. I was lucky enough to get a year in during a golden age of philanthropy before the recession hit hard like it is now. Fundraising during one of the hardest times on the record is one of the most difficult things I have had to do, but I am glad to have this experience because I have learned irreplaceable lessons. These hard times are also an opportunity for those Gen Yers who have their eyes open.

  2. Definitely don’t settle on your dreams. Maybe settling for something a little less than world domination is fine for a couple years but settling on your dreams is not an option. Now that Bush is gone there will be better days ahead.

  3. I thought that this was a really important topic. I have the same problem now.

    On the other hand, I have always had an extremely tough problem getting _any_ job at all. I’d kill for a job that paid more than 30K so the notion of “settling” is a bit different for me.

    It’s not like life sucks, I have to work for a big corporation. It’s more like, I probably won’t get a single offer from a corporation ever in my life so should I settle for being a lab bitch or a coffee whore? 🙂

  4. I consider settling failing and I think that’s okay. I think if you’re okay with failing then you’ll be good to go on getting your dream job. What I mean is, I’ve had great opportunities since I graduated college, but as I keep searching for the next step up, it’s never far from my thoughts to keep something like being a waitress/bartender/secretary on the table as an option. I think I would actually really enjoy it, and I don’t think myself above any profession. When you’re open to anything, you realize everything is a learning opportunity that helps you get closer to your goals.

  5. Great post, Nisha. I’m only seven years into my professional career, but I can tell you that the job or two I’ve had that I was not passionate about at least helped me hone my skills. So if you need to “settle” for something that is not your dream gig, it’s okay. You’ve still got to take care of yourself with food and shelter and whatnot. As long as you are learning it’s not a waste.

    Try your best to find a means-to-an-end gig that will still test your creative and mental abilities. No, it may not be what you want to do forever, but it’s not a waste if you are learning good lessons (even if they are defined by what NOT to do) and meeting new people.

    I don’t think it’s too demanding for us to know what we want and strive to work our passions – but there is still something to be said for life experience, regardless of the sector or pay scale.

    In the meantime, find a non-profit that needs your skill set – non-profits are ALWAYS in need of smart, political savvy communicators like you.

  6. @Kate — thanks for subscribing and I’m glad you liked this post! I work part-time for a nonprofit so I know what you mean. With the recession this year, we’ve been hit pretty hard, and things are so unstable at times that a few people have started leaving for more stable, secure work. I’m glad you’ve been able to learn from your experiences in nonprofit work during the recession though!

    @Chris — solid advice. And I definitely hope there are better days ahead! But we will see – the economy will probably get worse before it gets better…

    @Leroy — glad you thought it was relevant. I think this is definitely an issue a lot of people are seeing right now and you are not alone 🙂

    @Rebecca — I don’t know that I consider settling the same as failing but I like your perspective. I’m definitely trying to be open to lots of things, but it’s hard to see myself doing something if I really don’t enjoy it.

    @Margie — Learning definitely is key, no matter what you’re doing. I’ll try to keep that in mind!

  7. That is such a relevant post in today’s tumultous times !!
    I think many of us sail in the same boat, and I feel kinda embarassed to admit, that I chose to ‘settle’ into a job, which I am anything, but passionate about. I hope to see a day when I find my true calling, and have the courage to take the plunge !

  8. […] are disappearing, salaries are lowering, and the economy is generally not awesome. So Nisha asks, in a recession, should you settle? […]

  9. Thought provoking questions!

    Getting that first job is the toughest one to secure and it is a lot easier to look for a new job when you already have one that pays the bills. I don’t think that the economic situation will force people to give up their dreams, especially those that are ideologically driven and want to work in advocacy/ non-profits in D.C. With the new administration coming in, there will be a lot of people moving around and switching jobs, so I expect that at least in this part of the world, there will still be a lot of opportunities for now.

  10. […] In a recession, should you settle? […]

  11. Recessions are a fact of life. They happen every so often, stock markets tank, job markets tumble, and everything rebounds after a few years.

    To carve out the direction of your entire career based on a short-term problem is myopic. Things may be harder, but it all still boils down to how you’ve optimized your prospects and position in college and your job hunting skills. And patience.

    The way I look at it — All I have to do is try longer, harder, and more strategically than my competition, and eventually I’ll get what I want. And don’t settle, because that’s what everyone else does.

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  13. AH this is such a good post. As a 4th year at UCLA, I too have seen all of my recent-grad friends ask this same exact question. For many, settling was the only option. Paying off loans and debt is the number one priority after graduating from college. So I guess just to point it out: some students don’t even have the luxury to even think about career OPTIONS.

  14. Hi Nisha!

    Great post! I certainly don’t believe the recession means we all need to stop pursuing our dreams and choose stability instead. Even in so-called “good times” there’s no certainty of job-security.

    Besides, there are still plenty of people around the globe starting and growing businesses right now, or making wise investments where other people are fleeing in the face of the media’s portrayal of doom and gloom.

    It’s all about perception + attitude + skills + gratitude.

    ‘Settling’ for a job that isn’t ideal is only dangerous when your dream, your passion and your creativity die beneath the boredom, frustration and regular paycheck. That’s the saddest day for anyone…

    Keep up the great writing, and ‘never settling’.


    Stuart Fleming
    The guy who stops parents and teens from fighting about money.

  15. There’s a subtle difference between settling for a ‘sell-out’ job that you are not passionate for and resigning yourself to the fact that that is your only option versus settling temporarily for something less than stellar that you consider to be a stepping stone toward that kick-ass dream job that you are still actively searching for.

    There are people who believe that a job is only a job, something that you are supposed to hate. And then there are people who believe 100% that they still can do whatever you want – regardless of the economy, the unemployment stats, the ‘practical’ advice that others give, or any set-backs that hit them along the way.

    There may be people who say there is no time right now to chase your dreams or change the world; I can’t think of a better time than right now to do so.

    I think I know which category you fall into Nisha, and you don’t need to be worried about ‘settling’.

  16. @Jaclyn — I think you’re definitely right about the job market in DC being different; a lot of people I’ve talked to there seem optimistic that it is one place in the country that will still have a lot of opportunities in the coming months and years thanks to the new administration.

    @Julian — I love your attitude. Definitely don’t do what everyone else does 🙂

    @Bernice — totally true. Loans and debt are on all of our minds as well, and the added stress of the current economy isn’t helping.

    @Stuart — Thanks for the comment! I really hope you are right about perception, attitude, skills, and gratitude playing a big role in pursuing your dreams even despite the gloomy economy.

    @Sarah — I thought given your current situation you might have something interesting to say on this topic… 😉 And your point about the difference between temporarily settling and permanently settling is a big and important distinction to make.

  17. […] an economic meltdown for the first time does not mean that we’re going to hide in the corner. We’re not going to settle. Really, we’re not surprised. We saw all this growing up– lay-offs, bankruptcy, politicking – […]

  18. […] an economic meltdown for the first time does not mean that we’re going to hide in the corner. We’re not going to settle. Really, we’re not surprised. We saw all this growing up– lay-offs, bankruptcy, politicking – […]

  19. […] a lot of young people might have graduated in December into a really shitty economy. Second, that Gen Y job hunters are holding out for the right opportunity, which is actually very smart, because taking a job you hate (or end up hating because you […]

  20. […] ignored the scares of the recession and job-hopped. I start on Monday. I know right now everyone is worried […]

  21. […] 3. Liberal arts majors are passionate about what they do. And thus,  they make better workers. We chose our majors for no other reason than because we love learning about that subject — I knew I loved politics since I was a toddler (I wish I was exaggerating. I’m not). And we’ll try our hardest to seek out jobs that we are just as passionate about, too. […]

  22. […] and making decisions based on your personal hopes, dreams, passions, and preferences. It means not settling for a job you don’t love, even in this economy. It means staying true to […]

  23. DON’T SETTLE. Call it Gen Y, call whatever you want.. We came out pessimists unsold on general marketing. We came out saying we were better, maybe not now. But we thought and still think we will be. There’s an enormous differnce between settling and making ends meet. If you can make ends meet there’s no excuse for comprimise. If you have to put food on the table, IT IS NOT SETTLING! Beyond that stay strong, the world is full of people who gave up too soon!

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