Are we doing all we can to weather a difficult economy? In previous articles, I’ve pointed out that some people fare better than others. A few of us are even defiant in our approach. I recently saw a lady wearing a button that read “I refuse to participate in the recession.” I guess that’s better than wearing one that says “I’ve lost the will to live!”
Most of us are doing the best we can, but “the best we can” might not be good enough. We might need to do things better than we can, which means we have to look at how we think, examine what we believe and even get some help.
Do we hunker down, cut back all our expenses, let a few people go, watch the news and prepare for the world to end? Or do we increase our efforts, pinpoint our markets (which means targeting those who actually have money) and make sure our bosses, customers and employees can see our value?
The knee-jerk reaction is to adopt the first approach. The media makes it easy to buy into messages of desperation and doom – have you noticed CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s really nice way of telling us there’s no hope? Seeing a 40-year-old with a head full of gray hair makes us feel like being overly worried is normal!
We need to avoid behavior that indicates we look at life through loser-colored glasses. That kind of behavior reveals a defeatist attitude that saps our productivity and affects the way other people value us. So beware of those doom-tinted lenses – the dismal view they offer can make even those who work in the public sector begin to question job stability: Are we going to get government money? Will even we have layoffs? Is the job I took because it had more security than the private sector still secure? Will we finally get rid of that employee who’s been here for forty years, smells like Doritos, does zero work and yet can’t be fired?
Unfortunately, sometimes we’re not even aware of our defeatist behaviors, even though they are obvious to those around us. Watch for these five signs that indicate ineffective plans to succeed in tough times:
- You cry in front of your employees or coworkers with alcohol on your breath.
- You fire the slightly overpaid “New Guy” for borrowing your lucky stapler (the red one you’ve had since 1992).
- Your boss keeps uncharacteristically patting you on the back.
- You’re concerned about how a slowdown in business will affect morale so you cancel the annual meeting in Las Vegas. (Nothing says “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” like canceling the one meeting people actually want to attend.)
- You decide that keeping the office temperature at 88 degrees will save some money and weed out the wimps. (Our research shows that sweaty people are less productive and more likely to short out their keyboards.)
Let’s not miss the underlying point here: The “we’re doomed” view leeches the value right out of us. It erodes our ability to perform and to lead. It’s easy to spot and long remembered.
The better strategy for making it through a difficult economy is not so irrational or overreactive. It involves identifying what opportunities still exist rather than mourning last week’s losses or obsessing about calamities to come. As the value of everything around us recedes somewhat, we want to be the ones who stand apart because we’ve redoubled our efforts, identified opportunities and asserted our value.
I won’t tell you that you need to have positive attitude. Hope and faith certainly help, but they’re not enough to float you effortlessly through a shake-up. So, while a positive outlook is great to have – recommended, even – what we really need are realistic actions that make a difference. I’ve listed a few here.
Think of it this way: If you are at home eating a bad TV dinner with arctic freezer burn when your cable goes out, leaving you stuck watching what appears to be a very fuzzy Fantasy Island rerun, it does not matter how comfortable your couch is, how realistic your artificial plants look, or how much your spouse tells you to get over it. You’ll still feel miserable.
It’s equally important to remember that some investors tend to drive the stock market down with bad news because they hope to buy low and sell high. They are motivated to give the worst news possible. Don’t listen to those guys! When times are tough, listen to rich people in the twilight of their lives – they’ll be the most honest. Billionaire Warren Buffett doesn’t need your money, and he’s old enough not to care what the public thinks of what he says. (People over 70 tend to lose their filter, I’ve noticed.)
For example, last month on CNBC, Buffett said our economy had “fallen off a cliff” but then emphatically stated his conviction that “everything will be all right. We do have the greatest economic machine that man has ever created.” A few days before that, he wrote in his annual letter to shareholders that “our country has faced far worse travails in the past,” including a dozen or so panics and recessions in the 20th century and unemployment rates of up to 30% during the Great Depression.
“America has had no shortage of challenges. Without fail, however, we’ve overcome them,” he wrote. “Though the path has not been smooth, our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time. It has unleashed human potential as no other system has, and it will continue to do so. America’s best days lie ahead.”
Tough economic times are just part of the journey we go through to get wherever we are going. We always say it’s the worst ever when we are in the middle of it, we are always glad when it’s over, and it always eventually is over! The key is not to take such drastic action that our solutions become worse than the problem we’re trying to solve. We want to avoid overreacting to the point of causing our own personal economic crises. Our reactions are what we have the most control over … although watching reality TV shows may cause us to question that.
We happen to be at that place in history where the economy got bad again. It does that every now and then. We usually have about five good years, five mediocre years and five tough years. There is a name for that – they call it life.