It’s been just over a year now since I participated in the “Surviving the Downturn” panel discussions at Pink Petro’s HerWorld17 and it’s taken all this time to get to the point where I can honestly say I have finally survived the downturn!
After a 35-year career of being a contract geologist and never being out of work for more than a couple of months between contracts in all that time, I was starting to give up hope that I would ever get the chance to return to my life-long vocation. I tried to stay positive and believe the recovery was inevitable…it was just a matter of “hanging in” there…but hope waned and one day I had a stark realization that I may never be a “geo” again. The thought hit me like a freight train, and after nearly 2 years of being in denial that such a thing could possibly happen, I had to admit to myself that this was now becoming a real possibility.
I have to admit I feel guilty writing about this but too relieved, excited and ecstatic at resuming work as a geologist not to. Guilty because I know there are so many of my colleagues who are still struggling to find work and my writing about finally having a job makes me feel like I’m bragging; it’s almost like a slap in the face to them…I know, I felt that same blow when I’d read someone else’s social media post when they had finally started working again…when my career felt like it was on the edge of a cliff, never knowing if it was going to free-fall off it to an untimely death.
Sadly, many of my peers will face this exact demise and will never recover from this downturn. Surely no other industry in the world is as ruthlessly cyclical as the resource industry. Booms and busts that shuffle hundreds of thousands of dedicated workers in and out of employment at the whim of geopolitical and economic events. As night follows day, so does a bust follow a boom, and in an exponentially faster time than what the boom took to build up.
Everyone who works in the industry is vulnerable, no matter how far up the food chain you are, whether you are a permanent employee, third-party contractor or independent consultant. For the most part, it seems it all depends on where you are sitting when the music stops. If you are working in exploration then you can expect to be the first to go.
While I never expected the downturn to be as protracted as it has turned out to be (and I acknowledge that it’s still continuing today for many people), there were things that I did to help maintain my positivity and optimism for the hopeful resumption of my career. With hindsight I can now appreciate the sometimes small, sometimes big actions I took to keep myself busy, productive and most of all, progressing towards a hopeful outcome.
Here are the five most important actions that I consider cannot only keep you “in the game” when you’ve been sidelined, but are great ideas for improving your game once you are even in it!
1) Explore your creative side and stay connected
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Everyone has a book in them”…well I truly believe this to be the case. Everyone has a story to tell and whether it’s a best seller or not, you will have created something from nothing. You will have successfully shared your knowledge and wisdom with the world and given yourself an ego boost knowing that you are now officially a published author!
While the downturn didn’t spark the beginning of my writing career (I had already written and published a book a couple of years before) it gave me the time to expand on it.
I knew when the drilling campaign I was working on as a contractor finished in January of 2016 that we were already twelve months into the downturn and things were only going to get worse before they got better. I also knew that no matter how good a wellsite geologist I was, there was next-to-no chance of getting more work in the months ahead. If there are no drilling campaigns then there’s no requirement for wellsite geologists…period. With this in mind, I made every effort from the onset to stay connected, increase my professional network and share my experience with other like-minded professionals within the industry.
The idea of writing a book about my career was a means to keep my brain active, highlight my professional skills and demonstrate the depth of my career as a site-based geologist. I knew that publishing relevant and informative information was a great way to staying connected and at the same time, hopefully providing others with some interesting reading material.
I enjoyed the writing process so much that I soon wrote a second book about working offshore, in which I shared my experiences and also tried to provide useful information for the next generation of offshore workers.
It’s easy to sit back and think “so many people know so much more about a certain topic than me”, which may be true, but it’s also just as true that so many people know a lot less about the topic than you. No matter how little you think you may know about something,
"there will always be someone else who knows less than you
and would love to know what you know!"
2) What happens to you in life isn’t “what’s meant to be” but “what you make it to be.”
Every single decision we make and action we take changes the course of what we are making our life to be. Unfortunately we can’t take back actions once we have done them so sometimes shit is going to happen that you don’t want to happen. That’s not because it was meant to be…it’s because of the action you took!
Actions you take during a downturn are just as important to the success of your career as actions you take when you are gainfully employed. Blaming the industry, the O&G company operators, the old-boys club, the millennials, or even that person from years ago who has always had it in for you, isn’t going to help you get a job.
You have to accept the situation for what it is and do what you can to review, re-evaluate, re-educate, and re-establish yourself as the professional you are. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to set you up on a solid foundation from which to spring yourself back into your career when an opening presents itself.
If you find you are struggling then read as many books as you can on staying positive and focused. There’s heaps of them out there and if you haven’t already adapted to reading eBooks instead of expensive printed versions then it’s time to download the kindle app and get started!
Don’t know what to read? Do a Google search for motivational books and you can be downloading and reading them within minutes on your smart phone.
3) “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.”
The chorus of that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song rings true not only for people but also for jobs. It was only by being an unemployed geologist that I found out that I’m a bloody good Uber driver! If you can’t devote all of your passion to the career you really want, then find another outlet for it. Never settle for less professionalism in any job you do just because it may not be your first preference. And if you can’t find any job at all to expend your passion, then give it away for free as a volunteer.
4) Channel Your Inner Millennial and Rediscover YouTube
Remember when you used to be gainfully employed and there were those few things that always brought out that niggling sense of imposter syndrome? Things that you never felt 100% proficient in but managed to wing your way through anyway?
A period of unemployment is the perfect time to hone in on those skills that you think you need to better develop, and the best (and cheapest!) way of doing this is to search for the topic on YouTube and you can bet someone has created an instructional video to help you out.
I used to think YouTube was just for young people who were happy to waste countless hours watching ridiculous stunts but since teaching myself how to publish a book on Amazon to honing in on my skills of interpreting well logs, I now have a whole new appreciation for the power of this amazing resource.
5) Healthy Body = Healthy Mind and Healthy Spirit
It probably comes as no surprise to people who know me that staying active would be a necessary part of my coping strategy. Exercise has always been an essential part of my life and being unemployed definitely wasn’t going to change that. In fact, it became more important than ever to maintain the one thing that I have full control over – my fitness.
During a downturn there are many things that are out of your control, like how many rigs are going to be working, what the price of oil is going to do from one day to the next or if the agencies you are registered with are going to win the few job tender processes that are on offer.
But the one thing that you have total control over is what you put in your mouth and what exercise you do on a daily basis. Staying fit and healthy is paramount to maintaining a positive attitude and showing everyone that you are ready and able to take on any challenges that present themselves.
One of the biggest side effects of being unemployed is the lack of structure and routine it creates on a daily basis. The human body craves routine! Nothing destroys the human psyche more than not having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. A consistent daily routine lays the foundation for essential hormonal functioning that creates the very moods that enable us to stay positive.
Your physical wellbeing is intimately linked with your psychological state of mind. Whether you’re smashing out a super-set in the gym or shaving seconds off your 5km PR time, you are creating an accomplishment that no one can take away from you. Doing just one extra repetition on the last set of an exercise, or cutting 1 second off your previous best run time is an achievement worth celebrating. You are now faster or stronger than you were yesterday!
Don’t ever think “that’s only 1 second faster so it hardly counts”. Your mind functions in exactly the same way as that of an Olympic athlete and world records are created by being just 1/100”s of a second faster than the previous world record holder. Be jubilant in even the tiniest of improvements because over time, many small achievements add up to a much bigger one. Don’t ever compare your athletic progression to anyone else’s but your own (unless you are an Olympic athlete!) because how better the current “you” is, compared to the old “you”, is all that should matter.
Use your extra time at home to develop healthy eating habits and a structured training plan so if nothing else in your life seems to be going to plan at least you’re not having to spend money on doctors bills and medication!
Did I learn Anything From The Downturn?
Absolutely! Here are the biggest takeaways from the downturn for me:
- Always expect a long slow build up to a boom to eventually come crashing down when you least expect it.
- Don’t spend like you’re always going to be on this day-rate before the crash comes.
- Know that your colleagues are going to be your competitors in a downturn so expect professional friendships to be tense and most probably uncomfortable.
- Think seriously about developing an alternative backup career or a stream of passive income should your current one come to a grinding halt.
Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations"and “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community and LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg.