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Look on the bright side: Many still have jobs

To listen to the news lately, you’d think we’ve already hit employment Armageddon. Quite the contrary.
Duane Hoffmann /

Lately I’ve noticed that people I meet at the supermarket or at dinner parties play down the fact that their careers are going well.

To listen to the news, economists and politicians lately, you’d think we’ve already hit employment Armageddon, with everyone on the corner with a tin can singing, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Quite the contrary, a lot of employees out there still have their jobs, are still getting paid and actually even like their gigs.

“I've been feeling guilty lately for saying this, but I do love my job, and that means so much more right now than ever before,” says Rebecca Silver, an account executive for New York-based Krupp Kommunications, a public relations firm that’s in hiring mode.

With the national unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, a 17-year-high, it’s easy to forget that more than 90 percent of workers are employed today. Workplace and career writers are guilty of this, too. The hard-luck stories tend to get more play, and let’s be honest, good news is sometimes boring news.

But sometimes you have to see the employment cup as half full, no?

“In relative terms, things are more difficult than they were two years ago, but it’s not the end of the world,” says John Stapleford, senior economist with Moody’s

‘I love my job’
You don’t have to tell that to Melissa Rehberg, a project manager for the Aflac Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

She’s not afraid of being laid off or furloughed. She gets regular raises, has a dollar-for-dollar matching retirement plan and is offered a host of perks at work, everything from cooking classes to training in computer programs such as Excel.

“I love my job and the people I work with,” says Rehberg, whose husband Jeff also works for the hospital system as a manager. “The economy has not impacted the quality of my work. We are both very happy and hope to be here for a long time.”

Craig Spitzkoff, founder of, a site where people can vent about their employers or former employers, gets tons of negative feedback from readers who hate their jobs. But even his venting site has many happily employed individuals wanting to share their good fortune.

“Positive reviews still come in on a daily basis,” he says, adding that the ratio of positive to negative, which is typically one to five, hasn’t changed even in this recession. “There are happy people out there.”

With doom and gloom because of the tough economy everywhere, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the negativity, but workplace experts say we need to all sit back and truly look at our own job situations and resist getting mired down.

“People are doing a lot of complaining, and they need to smell the roses more,” says, Karissa Thacker, a workplace psychologist.

Some people have an “I’m-thankful-I-have-a-job approach” and others “are pessimistic by nature and are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she says.

Unfortunately, if you always focus on the negative you’ll end up missing opportunities right in front of you, especially in a weak economy when companies are looking for ways to stay viable, she explains. “If you’re still employed, there are tremendous opportunities for you to distinguish yourself right now, to add value.”

‘I feel lucky’
Dexter Chapin, a 64-year-old high school teacher at an independent school in Seattle, has been cutting back on classroom supplies so the school can give more scholarship money to kids who may not be able to afford tuition anymore.

Despite the recession, Chapin feels secure in his job right now, and he also loves teaching. “I wake up in the morning and play all day.”

That’s not to say he’s not feeling the economic pinch.

“I don’t get paid very much, and my house has lost about $90,000 in value,” he says, adding that his retirement plan is also in the dumps.

“I’m a teacher. Best I can do is quit one day before I die in front of my students,” he jokes.

He sometimes finds himself getting upset about the economy when he hears the dire news on TV or reads about it on blogs, but, he says, “I feel lucky.”

“We’re all going to have to consume less. I talk to my students about that. The question is, am I happy? Yes.”

For many, their career happiness right now is also dependent on the industries they work in, says Robert Hellman, adjunct professor at New York University’s Center for Career and Life Planning. “There are certain segments that are hit harder than others,” he says. “But lots of people are finding jobs. I don’t think it’s that bleak. People are hiring.”

Morale, he adds, is definitely low, especially in hard-hit industries like finance, but “many people haven’t felt the recession when it comes to their jobs.”

Fulfillment beyond a paycheck
Job happiness also has a lot to do with the career or profession you choose and how fulfilling it is beyond a paycheck.

Kelly Espy, a development manager for a nonprofit called CaringBridge, left her career as a chemist in an animal pharmaceutical lab and took a cut in pay to work for a nonprofit.

Five years ago, she started volunteering for CaringBridge, a Minnesota-based Web service that helps connect family and friends going through healthcare crises, after she used the service when her sister was battling bone cancer.

“I wanted to give back to an organization that meant so much to her,” Espy says. “After 15 years of working in the chemistry field, I ended up in the fundraising field, and I couldn’t be happier.”

I know not everyone is as happy as Espy, and there are definitely a lot of people out there struggling to find work and pay the bills. But it’s important to maintain some perspective.

If we always think the sky is falling, our careers will truly be in jeopardy.

Many believe Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats helped calm a nation and bring us out of the Great Depression.

So let’s do some internal fireside chatting. Today’s job market is difficult, but there are individuals out there who are doing well, and there are jobs and opportunities to be had.

They just might not be exactly what you expected.

In December, Venita Cooper left law school at the University of Chicago after turning down an internship with a major law firm to volunteer as development director at a start-up nonprofit called National Coaching Fellows, Inc. She works part time as a FedEx package handler to make ends meet. “That is how much I love it and believe in its cause. Or maybe I'm crazy,” she says.

And there’s Craig Sigl, who worked for a Fortune 500 firm as a manager putting in 60 hours a week.

He’s now a hypnotherapist who helps athletes in Bellevue, Wash.

“Some days, I get tears in my eyes going home from the satisfaction of helping someone overcome a problem that has hurt them for decades,” he says.

Maybe he can hypnotize us all to look at the bright side of this crummy economy.