The Little Recession Playbook: 10 things you need to know right now

You never forget your first recession. 

Mine was after 9/11. 

(I literally opened an ad agency on September 10th, 2001.) 

Next came the 2008 crash. Marketing budgets were slashed. And so was I. 

Part of me wishes I’d never had to learn these lessons. 

But I did. And they’ve shaped my life in glorious ways. Painful as these periods of my life were, they led to epiphanies that will forever guide my business and life. 

Now embarking into my life’s 3rd recession, I can look back with gratitude, and a profound sense of purpose, at what came out of those difficult times. I don’t want to sound crass or insensitive, because so many of us experienced crushing loss. Yet these were life-changing periods of growth, with lifelong tangible and intangible benefits. 

Could this be your greatest time to move forth? (Counterintuitive, I know. But stick with me.)

I’ll share a few of my lessons with you.

10 lessons I wish someone had told me at the start of my last recessions: 

1. Decide what matters.

There’s no one “right” thing you should do right now. (Other than taking care of yourself and your loved ones.) 

Decide what matters. Then do it with gusto.

Doing nothing is absolutely fine — if that’s your choice. But make a choice. It’s easy to get baffled, stuck, and motionless. 

Is your goal to spend time with your kids? Or spend time nesting, by cleaning and organizing? Or lining up your next big project? Or just do nothing other than Netflix binging? Awesome. (Hey, no judgment here. Even if your goal is to do nothing, do it 100%.)


Whatever you decide to do — do it full-out. Right now, it’s so easy to do a mish-mash of everything. Then do a whole lotta nothing. 

2. Take nothing for granted. Including the bad parts. 

During an uncertain time, every single little thing becomes magnified. Losses feel harder. Tiny gains feel bigger. In these chaotic days, we become exquisitely attuned to the ups and downs of our circumstances because we’re not in control. We take nothing for granted. And, maybe that’s a good thing?

Start to consider the negative aspects of your job that you’re taking for granted.  

Rather than assume you’re chained to the negative parts of your job, or being beholden to draining clients, what choices do you have now? Just as the luxurious perks of your job might fall away, carefully consider how these obstacles could fall away and allow for new beginnings. 

We live in a jaded and apathetic world. Not taking anything (or anyone) for granted is a quality worth hanging on to.

3. Refuse to recede. 

The word “recession” comes from the verb “to recede.” And “to recede” means to take a step back. 

But what if “taking a step back” isn’t necessarily going backward? 

If you “take a step back,” you can still move in a different and new direction. Like shifting your career focus slightly. Or connecting with your audience in a new way. 

Take a step back, yes. But recede, never. 

4. Tap into your street smarts.

The old rules no longer apply. No longer can you float along and let someone else decide your fate. Nor do you want to. Now, the reins are firmly in your grasp.

Whether you’re in a company of 1 or 100,000, develop a savvy ability to move forth with resilience. Don’t count on your company, or your clients, to protect you. They probably want to, but can’t. YOU can protect you. 

An entrepreneurial mindset is not an inborn talent, but a skill. Find it. Learn it. Hone it. Use it. If you don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset, cultivate one. 

Take one small action. 
Reach out. 
Start something. 
Gradually, when you’re ready… do anything except nothing.

5. Remember who you are.

In 2003, the world still lived in the shadow of 9/11. 

Me, I was pregnant. The baby was in danger and I lived in bed. 

I thought constantly of a piece of graffiti near my house… 

Remember who you are.

… So who was I? Before this time, I had thought I was an advertising creative director. But now that was gone. I’d thought I was a leader. But now I was stuck in bed. Being stripped of the trappings allowed me to just be with the core. 

6. Find opportunity in chaos. 

Recessions are an extreme sport, one you don’t necessarily choose to play. The next few months might not be comfy. You might be forced to push yourself too hard. You might experience financial injury and professional damage. Prepare yourself. 

Yet there’s an upside: Chaos presents an opportunity. 

Prepare for the worst. And, simultaneously, prepare for the best. 

Want to change your life, your career, or yourself? We want you to succeed. We need inspiration. Surprise us. 

You have the ultimate permission slip. 

7. This is your perfect time to ______.

This is the perfect time for you to…. 

Spend less on restaurants. Spend more time with kids. 

Build up, and chill out. 

Start a company. Stop old habits. 

Regroup and recollect. 

Don’t live by default. Do live by deciding. 

The question is not whether you’ll be presented with challenges. You will. The question is, which actions will you take?

8. Remember the excruciating.

When you truly understand the pain of a struggle, you become empathetic. 

Feeling beat helps you help others overcome defeat, because you learn how to overcome. 

Feeling weak makes you stronger, because you’ve been in the depths.

Remember what you think and do right now. Because in a very real and immediate way, it will turn you into a better parent, colleague, or client.

9. Distraught is not destroyed. 

There may be times in your career when you feel lost, overwhelmed, beaten down, or even depressed. Right now may even be one of those times. In this situation, careering feels totally unrealistic; it’s tough to go boldly when you’re trapped in survival mode. I know. But just because you feel powerless doesn’t mean you are powerless.

You always have options.
And options equal power.

Please, keep that in mind when you’re tempted to just give up. We need you to not give up. 

10. Be the silver lining. 

You’ve heard me say it before…

Don’t CHANGE who you are. Become MORE of who you are. 

Right now, we need YOU. 

Can you see the details? We need that. We need your help to understand the complicated facts. Help us understand what’s going on.

Can you listen? We’re nervous. Let us share our fears with you so we feel heard.

Can you motivate us? We need positive messages to shield ourselves from the bad news.

No matter who you are, we need you.

Don’t lose yourself. Find yourself. 

Bring it forth. Share it. YOU are our silver lining. 

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About the author

Sally Hogshead

Sally skyrocketed to the top of the advertising world in her early 20s, fascinating millions of consumers for clients such as MINI Cooper and Coca-Cola. Since then, she’s published two New York Times bestsellers on the science of fascination, and is one of only 172 living members in the Speaker Hall of Fame. Over a million professionals have taken the Fascination Advantage® personality test to discover how others perceive their communication.

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