Starting over isn’t easy

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, I expect that a lot of newly unemployed and somewhat older professionals (I’m thinking ages 40 to 55 years old) will be wondering what to do next with their lives. It’s pretty clear that there’s gonna be no going back for millions of these people (unemployment hit 6.3% in January — twice the level from a year ago) and sadly the prospects of shifting to another employer in their same or adjacent industry sectors are also going to be looking pretty grim.

The pandemic has provided ample cover and convenient excuses galore for cost cutting, workforce reductions, and compensation caps that will be with us long after the last vestiges of the virus. The rapid rise of white-collar job targeted RPA (robotic process automation) is continually eliminating far more jobs at higher and higher levels than are being created by new technologies.

A lot of the job shrinkage we’re seeing is structural and permanent and, in certain industries, long overdue. But, even in those spaces where rebuilding has begun, most of the available slots are going to be filled by younger, cheaper and more technical talent. Or, worse yet, by ‘digital’ workers, aka bots. No one is going to tell older applicants to their face, but employers today are too often looking for youthful energy (and even inexperience) rather than lengthy employment histories, a lot of “experience,” and all the baggage that comes with it. They’d rather save some money, start from scratch, and “grow their own.” Older employees lecture; younger folks ideally listen, learn, and rarely talk back.

A lot of the job shrinkage we’re seeing is structural and permanent. But most of the available slots are going to be filled by younger, cheaper and more technical talent.

As a result, especially after getting kicked in the teeth a few too many times, the prospect of starting their own new businesses (as opposed to spending another 6 months or longer getting turned down for jobs that they’re overqualified for) will look pretty attractive to many of these WFH warriors. One of the key reasons may well be because no one (except their family members and maybe their financial advisors) can really tell them not to do it and they’re pretty sick of hearing “No” all the time.

So, I’m stepping up to the plate with a simple message: don’t kid yourself and take a long look before you leap. Startups are hard and starting over is even harder — especially when you’ve accumulated a bunch of family obligations and other financial commitments. At a minimum, you’ve got to do a serious personal inventory and really ask yourself honestly whether you’ve got the stuff and the stomach for what it’s gonna take. And, of course, it goes without saying that if your idea is just another “me-too” business with nothing distinctive or different to set it apart, please don’t start.

Remember that, for every breathless story bragging about some overnight startup success, there are dozens of other “wannapreneurs” who are back on the breadline. They may have started, but they never upped. And, in any event, before you insist on heading down this very precarious path, here are a few things that it’s important to keep in mind. Believe me when I tell you that whatever you ultimately decide, you’ll thank me later.

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