How my grandparents thrived during the 1930′s.
by: Brooke Allen
In the mid 1920′s they met on a date in New York City and decided to marry within a week. Granddad Tom was assigned to Havana to start a bureau for the United Press International; he and Anne married in Key West on the way to Cuba.
When he returned near the end of the decade he was handed a 40% pay cut, even though the cost of living was higher in New York City than in Cuba.
If that wasn’t bad enough, in October of 1929, the Stock Market crashed and the economy began a long slide into what became the Great Depression. Granddad survived multiple rounds of layoffs by accepting further pay cuts.
Grandmother Anne realized that they couldn’t afford their current rent, so she found a bank that would rent to them the mansion of a bankrupt stockbroker for less money. To help care for the children, she found a lovely couple at the unemployment office. The wife was a nurse and her husband was a handyman. They exchanged room and board for childcare and yard work.
Then Anne took a job as a receptionist with a developer who was building houses on the farm next to their rented home in White Plains. Soon she was managing four salesmen. She received 25 percent of the salesmen’s commission on every home sold.
Grandmother convinced the developer to build at cost a home for them in exchange for using it as a show model. She became a stellar saleswoman in her own right. Before long, her commissions had completely covered the construction costs, and the home was theirs outright.
Granddad wrote to a friend that the Great Depression had been unbelievably good to them. Before the Crash they had had high hopes, but owning a house ‘free and clear’ in just a few years was inconceivable. Where could they have found a trained nurse and groundskeeper simply by letting them live in a spare bedroom and join them for meals? Freed of the burden of paying bills, the young couple soon saved enough money working odd-jobs to buy a gas station and start their own business. Because most of his coworkers had either been laid off (or quit rather than take a pay cut), Granddad had no competition as senior positions became available. His career took off.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned from my Grandparents:
Grab the bull by the horns. They never tried to deny the facts of a bad situation.
Get lucky by planning for the worst. Because they never expected things to get better, they worked very hard in the present to survive the worst-case future scenario. Invariably things worked out better than expected so their less industrious friends considered them very lucky.
Find the opportunity, not the excuse. I never once heard my grandparents explain why they were unable to do something. Instead, it seemed they were always asking, “What just got better?” In this story, the things that got better included: rents declined, it became easier to advance simply by being loyal, a soft housing market meant the builder would make a deal, and the cost of childcare dropped.
Keep working. In 1993 I returned from a high paying job in Japan to face an economy in terrible recession. I accepted a consulting position that paid about 80% less than what I’d made the prior year, and I am glad that I did because I maintained discipline and I improved my technical skills. It took a few years, but eventually I eclipsed my prior successes, and I owe it to the skills I honed as a consultant.
Adjust your price. During the first year of the Great Depression prices declined by 27%, which meant that you could take a 25% pay cut and have a real raise in purchasing-power terms. But the real question is, What is the price for what you can do? In 1993 there was no market in New York for what I had done in Tokyo in 1992, so I accepted what the market was willing to pay for what I could do.
Learn to be a good salesman. My grandmother learned a lot from Dale Carnegie, and then she sold him a property in White Plains. She knew that done properly, selling is an unselfish act that involves motivating others to do what is in their best interests, not just your own.
Share; don’t do it alone. By sharing her home and food with a struggling young couple, my grandmother was free to take a job and everyone came out ahead.
Survival is a better strategy than winning. In natural selection, the species that survive are winners, not the ones who hog all the resources to themselves. I will talk more about this in a subsequent piece.
Did you learn something from someone who went through the Great Depression?
Post a comment and tell us.
- REGISTER or LOGIN to leave comments. (Registering DOES NOT automatically sign you up for the newsletter.)
Only newsletter subscribers receive full benefit from this site including help finding: work, mentors, education, meetings, and other members. SIGN UP NOW.
Click here to see a sample newsletter.
WATCH THIS VIDEO to hear Daniel Pink describe what motivates people to work. This is what No Shortage of Work is all about.
- Book Review
- Career Advice
- Getting Help
- Giving Help
- Help NSoW
- Job Hunting
- Lessons Learned
- Life Skills
- NSoW Explained
- NSoW Website
- Social Capital
- TV Alternatives
- Working for Free
- You're Kidding