Navigate Your Recession: Applying the Art of Inner & Outer Tracking

articles by nick leadership power the future of work workplace Oct 13, 2022

Are we in a recession?

If you're one of those people that have gotten laid off from Goldman, Wells Fargo, Netflix, Robinhood, Coinbase, Microsoft, JP Morgan, Intel, or Tesla this year, it may feel like it (All have announced layoffs as of October 2022). 

One thing about recessions is their effects are not equally distributed. In this piece, I want to help you better navigate the terrain of a recession. 

Why Inner & Outer Tracking?

Tracking is an ancient and inherently human skill that has been practiced for as long as we have existed as a species. At its core, tracking is about connection. Connection to ourselves, to one another, to our communities, to nature, and to society at large. 

Tracking also reminds us to connect to life’s cycles. Birth and death, waxing and waning, sunrise and sunset, all of these patterns teach us that the ebb and flow of life’s tides are part of the design. When we talk about our economy as something that “booms” or “busts” it creates a narrative that is way more volatile and so difficult to prepare for. 

Cultivating your ability to track puts the power to prepare and adapt back into your hands and out of the hands of an invisible economic hand. 

When we orient to life as trackers, we recruit the full spectrum of our sensing (and not just the analytic skills brought by our intellect) to understand our relationship in the broader life fabric. 

At Wayfinding, we use the language of tracking to emphasize the importance of you and your direct lived experience. Many economic indicators and financial metrics are often used as proxies to help us track larger systems like the global economy, but where those signals fall short is their direct connection to you and your experience. 

Tracking adds texture to life. In a way the practice of tracking is culture. It emphasizes human knowledge learned, shared, and applied to ways of doing things, interactions, and habits of life. 

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How Do I Orient to the Signals of a Recession?

Tracking is one of the most important sensing skills we teach our community. When it comes to recessions and how we navigate them, there is a ton to track.

Let’s start with your workplace. 

Have you begun to notice recession warning signals at work yet? Here are some of the metaphors and coded language you might already be hearing:

  • Tightening purse strings or belts
  • Buckling down
  • Cutting the fat or dropping dead weight 
  • Your work might be seeing a slow-down or a contraction
  • Encountering or navigating uncertain, unprecedented, or tough times

Language like this is coded by leaders all the time to prepare workers for not-so-popular decisions -- layoffs, budget cuts, and missed raises or bonuses. 

Yes. Hard decisions must be made when organizations are not taking in the resources they had planned.

No. The uncertainty surrounding a recession does not give leaders a unilateral get-out-of-accountability-free card when it comes to the decisions they make and their responsibility to lead.

The possibility of a recession in 2022-2023 is unique. While inflation continues to reach historic highs, and 98% of CEOs surveyed by the Conference Board believe a recession is impending, we also continue to see employment increasing. People have jobs. CEOs are still planning on hiring people during the recession. Further, 85% of CEOs plan on offering raises of 3% or more in 2023 (both hiring and raises highly uncharacteristic for previous recessions). So what “recession” means for life is likely to look very different. 

What about wherever you get sources of news?

“Wall Street” and “Main Street” are terms typically used to describe the difference between companies that actively play in and track financial markets versus small business owners. These two perspectives are often at a distance when it comes to their experience of the economy. 

Typically, media sources from bigger news networks will depict news of the economy from the perspective of institutions (e.g., government, big businesses) and so news cycles will often reflect the opinions and ideas of people in or connected to those institutions. Things like bailouts, stimulus plans, and events in the stock market will continue to drive reporting even when they have relatively little effect on individual citizens. 

That means the voices of everyday people, are often and are likely to be left out of the reporting. Part of the antidote to this is to tune your sensing to ask:

What are you noticing in your community?

  • What do small business owners that you shop at regularly feel?
  • Are sales, bookings, and attendance up or down at some of your favorite spots?
  • Are people like you noticing its harder to afford things? (e.g., healthcare, school, groceries)
  • Are people like you more or less likely to want to invest in bigger purchases? (e.g., homes)
  • Do the people in your life feel more or less optimistic about their future?

How a recession impacts you depends entirely on you and what you, your family, and your community/organization value. In general, if you have been reducing your spending and feeling less confident about your financial future, chances are you are experiencing some effects.  

Ways you can “tune” your sensing include listening to or reading from local sources of journalism and following or unfollowing voices on social media to ensure you’re hearing from people speaking directly to the lived experience of people you feel connected to. 

In this way, you start to practice a form of energetic hygiene that controls the sources of signals that you take in to inform how you prepare yourself and to support those in your community for the coming economic shifts.  

Real Signals, Not Fear Signals

When it comes to power, many of us give much of our power to experts. For good reason, experts spend much of their lives studying complex dynamics of areas that the general public doesn’t have the time or interest to learn about. It’s up to us to discern if an individual or group's expertise is salient to each of our individual circumstances. 

When it comes to recessions, one class of experts we give power to is economists. 

How US economists advise if we are in a recession is based on six factors - often they get oversimplified as 'two-quarters of consecutive economic decline'. Not all of these six factors are relevant to our everyday lives. I've kept the ones that matter most to the lived experience of individuals and put them in the context of the economy as it is today (you can find the other indicators online):

  1. Has your income grown? While individual income has improved overall, inflation isn't helping any of us
  2. Are you or your loved ones getting hired, fired, or laid off? According to the businesses that report those numbers, jobs are growing at a pace of 450k a month, and hiring and payroll growth are stronger than before the pandemic.
  3. Are you spending more or less? 70% of our US economy is made-up of what everyday people like you and me spend. And our spending has been rising to near-record levels this year - but seems to be leveling off. We can talk about how harmful continuous consumption can be in another piece.
  4. Are you ordering more or less? Businesses that make and sell things, retail or wholesale, have seen drops in orders and screwy supply chains have been holding them back.
  5. Does everyone in your house that wants to work, have a job? This number has been bumpy this year. Even though businesses say they are hiring, many of us from the homefront are seeing highs and lows with work. 

Whom will you become as you navigate the next recession?

Recessions are fundamentally a transition. They represent that which needs to end as much as they represent that which can possibly be. William Bridges in his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes says:

Transition always start with an ending. To become something else, you have to stop being what you are now; to start doing things a new way, you have to end the way you are doing them now; and to develop a new attitude or outlook, you have to let go of the old.

As you fine-tune your sensing I invite you to consider not just what needs to end but also to sense what might possibly begin in this new reality. 

If you want support as you navigate these moments, here are some ways Wayfinding can be there for you:

  • Consider reading other pieces in this series on Power & Recessions
  • Enroll in our latest self-paced offering Power at Work to learn tools, techniques, and strategies to navigate your power in life and at work
  • Explore 1:1 coaching with members of the Wayfinding Team
 

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