Recession and You Think You See the Axe Coming … So What? Practical Ways to Stay Happy

Lovely picture isn’t it?  When I retire, I want to live somewhere that I can see this view every end of day.  But between then and now, I reckon I still need to make just enough money to get there.  And I reckon I will probably see a few rounds of bull and bear runs between now and then.

These days, increasingly I have friends at my workplace, outside of my workplace who share with me their concerns about losing their jobs during this downturn.  I know that feeling of anxiety.  I have been there, seen that, during my more than a decade hanging onto the corporate ladder, like many of you.  This blog entry is my wish to share my humble thoughts on how to stay happy based on my very own experience.  And I am happy to hear yours too!

My strategy here is simple.  It is not about how to survive not being axed.  That is hard because of so many moving parts that are beyond your control and influence.  But rather how to excel in your workplace amidst all the uncertainties that affect everyone around you, but you.  And it comes down to one word: Preparation.  A happier you makes you perform better at work.

1. Your Mentality Towards Work

Look around you and you can easily see those who are so committed to work and you wonder: do they have a life at all?  To some, work is more than an entity.  Take the job away from them and they will collapse, don’t know what to do.

Sure, most of us need to earn a living.  I love one quote from my ex-colleague: Day job is to pay my bills, what I do at night feeds my ego.  So true.  When I started my career, I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week.  One day, I read somewhere that I shall begin with an end in mind (back to that image) and I asked myself: Do I want to leave this world being remembered as a good employee who has contributed this much top line sales or bottom line savings to this organization?  Or do I want to be remembered as …

And it struck me there and then: work is just an entity.  That memo I wrote today at work, or that conference call I participated, sure they are important.  But are they that important to me?

At work, I have a role to play, to be responsible for a certain set of items that are important to the organization.  To me, there are more important things in life.  I want to excel while I am at work.  And I want to excel after I step out of my office at sane hours as well.

Take a moment to reflect what is important to you.  Are you sacrificing too much for your career?  What if you let go of your job today?

2. Build Your (Genuine) Network (Early)

Genuine network takes time to build.  You can’t build one right now when you suddenly realize that how nice if you have one.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not here to ask you to befriend only those who are of value to you.  Quite the opposite.  I believe in give and take, give before take, give without thinking of what to take in the future.  That is genuine network.  I enjoy reaching out to friends because I genuinely want to get in touch with them.  If they need my help, I am more than happy to lend a pair of helping hands if I can.  And I don’t hesitate to ask for help if I need one.  Most people prefer not to bother others.  To me, it is give and take.  You give others the opportunity to help you hoping that one day, others will ask the same from you.

Unless you don’t want the latter case to happen.  

When you step out of your job for good, it is good to know that you have support out there and you are not alone.  Don’t you think?

3. How Long Can You Hold?

When time is good, it is easy not to think about affordability on your spendings.  Different people have different philosophy in life when it comes to managing personal finance.  I respect that.  I am a simple person.  My main objective in terms of personal finance is to keep the loan commitment low.  In fact, I often joke with Cynthia that she manages assets while I manage liabilities.  I enjoy reducing the principle sum of my mortgage whenever I have a lump sum of money.  When I bought my first car, I took minimum amount of loan.  When I bought my second car, I paid by cash.  I reckon if I save hard enough, I shall be able to repay the entire mortgage in 3 to 5 years’ time.  By then, I will be debt free.

The question remains: how long can you hold when you stop working right now?  Hence to me – since I am a simple guy – I love to hold cash (and let Cynthia manage investments).  I am not saying that mine is the best strategy for you.  Quite the opposite, I think my friends who are into investment have been doing really well.  But since I suck at that, I prefer to save hard and know that if I am, touch wood, to live without my monthly pay check, I can vegetate for a couple of years while looking for something else to earn a living.

Do you know your average monthly expenses?  Good.  Now, do you know your average monthly expenses should you trim down your lifestyle if the worst is to come?  Divide your total cash savings with that and that is the number of months you can last without the constant flow of pay checks.  Every dollar you now save will lengthen that period that you can afford to take a career break.  Think about that.  Once you build a comfortable buffer, taking a long career break is no longer such a scary concept, is it?

Axe?  So what?  What’s there to be fear of?

4. What’s the Worst That Can Happen?  (What’s Next?)

At times I don’t know which is a better situation.  Struggle to survive in an environment that is collapsing with people around you losing their jobs or to head out and look for better opportunities out there.  Imagine you are one of the penguins out there trying so hard to hunt for fish that is diminishing by day due to overfishing, global warming.  Should you starve with your mates and hope that you will outlast them?  Or shall you go somewhere else like a Singapore Zoo and get fed every day?

I saw the axe coming before and looking back, I agree with the butcher.  That was the best day of my life.  What’s next turns out to be way better than where I was.  In fact, it is good to give ourselves time to self-reflect, to re-evaluate our key strengths, and to look for an environment that we can perform well.  Both external and internal environments change all the time.  That is an universal rule.  Go ride with that.

5. The Ingredients for Longevity

Thank you for reading such a long post and I hope your career is as wonderful as it can be within the boundary of work life balance that you define.  If I could leave you with one last thing to ponder, you can only work well and live well with a health body, mind, and soul.  I have a glass of orange juice each morning, stay out of excess stress, and I rarely visit the doctor or take medical leave for quite a number of years.  I am blessed to have great friends and lovely family.  And I believe in doing the right things in work and life will get me far.

In Summary

You too can stay happy during recession by getting prepared.  You may not become instantly happy today after reading this post but I am confident that in time to come, you will.  Life is really not only about work, is it?  A lovely quote to share.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

PS. Picture taken at East Coast Park using my Nokia N95 phone.


  1. Short, concise & beautifully written. It really struck me how true the words are at this particular point in time .

    Thumbs Up to You

  2. Well, I do agree with you. After stepping out of corp (heaven) and now stepping in again(hell), I totally did not regret my decision to step out then. I had a hard time deciding to step out then but I know if chance permits again, I will step out without much difficulty this time. Getting out of the comfort zone can be really more comfortable. Because life is really MORE THAN just work.

    Hmmmm…..but when you are in it, it is really hard to DO IT. It depends on external and internal factors surrounding you. Some people have more than two mouths to feed at home. Some have the needy. Their bacon needs to be bigger and thus, entrapped in the vicious cycle of work etc. etc. Sigh…..

    I did not know East Coast Park had such a nice view 🙂

  3. wow! great entry! can tell that u really ponder hard and wrote this with alot of sincerity. i agree with the things u wrote, genuine and realistic.

    i particularly like pt no. 2 cos im with u! that is exactly what i believe in and glad that there are people like u who believe in the same thing.

    oh well, i dread this recession too and hope that all of us ride thru. 🙂

  4. Tigerfish – You are right. Especially for those of us who have stepped out before have a better chance to appreciate how life is much more than work. And yes, some have a much larger responsibility to earn a living, especially for the sole breadwinners. However, what I am trying to propose is still the same: build a genuine network, manage your cash flow, and stay healthy.

  5. JT – Thank you for your kind words. Not to worry too much about this recession. From my distant memory of working with you, I have confident that you will excel. Take your time now and pick the right environment!

  6. I agree, I didnt know you get such nice views at east coast park. I agree on your points- they are good reminders to stay positive, especially on expanding networks.

  7. Si Ying – Yes, East Coast Park is pretty at sunset. Cynthia and her friends were cycling so I had hours pacing up and down the path and attempted to find some good spots to take the picture.

    Yes, stay positive!

  8. Well thought up and heartfelt from your own experiences, I am sure. I can hold long, but not in the financial sense 😉

    Seriously, there is nothing to fear. What is the worst that can happen? Everyone starve to death like the Great Depression. Cut down on expense, have fewer kids, sell your car, heck sell the kids! The recession can actually do the world some good. There may see a drop in the number of cars on the roads, and thus less pollution and hence less demand on crude oil and Mother Earth is a happier bitch.

    Lovely picture of the East Coast btw!

  9. Darkspore – Love your lighthearted comments. Thanks!

    You’ve brought up a really good point. The bubble has been created from the past incidents and as the world in a whole, it is not entirely a bad idea to retract back to what is reasonable, what is sustainable, re-group, and progress again. Human race will progress, no doubt. Should be in a sustainable pace to, as you said, make Mother Earth a happier … oh well.

    On a lighter note, we should organize a sunset photo shooting to East Coast Park once our new toys have arrived!

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