No matter who you are or what you do, the current economic situation most likely has your feelings fluctuating from anxious and fearful to unstable and depressed. There are very real causes for alarm. A seventy-year old money manager ejects clients from meetings for asking too many questions and siphons billions of their dollars from the economy. Poaching lenders offer rickety mortgages to people who lack the resources to sustain them. Huge public companies fudge their earnings reports to appease and allure stockholders. Worst of all, there is no government oversight to prevent these and other means of relieving people of their hard-earned cash.
This was the status quo, what we considered normal, as recently as six months ago. As long as the dollars rolled in, and we could go out to dinner whenever we wanted, and take the vacations we desired, and afford the best schools for our children, most of us turned a blind eye. Then the illness in our economy continued to fester until its tentacles slithered around each of our lives. It wasn’t until we each personally felt its grip that we awoke from our slumber.
After not qualifying in 2006 for his first tournament since becoming a professional golfer nine years earlier, Tiger Woods was asked what he was going to do. He replied: “Practice.” Like Tiger, each of us can also “fail wisely.” The word ‘failure’, in fact, is a failure as a concept. It makes you feel badly about yourself, when in fact it’s an opportunity for learning – which makes it a critical ingredient for success. Semantics are important here, because they affect the way we think. While the word ‘failure’ makes you feel like you’re on a dead-end street, the word ‘challenge’ puts a fire under your belly to seek an alternate route to your goals. It’s also ironic that the word ‘challenge’ literally contains the word ‘change’ within it.
We now have a fire under our collective belly. We must introduce new practices into our economy so we can be successful again. This is nothing new. There have always been crises, and they will always be a key ingredient in our life experience. To survive them, good civic-minded citizens always pick up the pieces and press on. This is what we did after 9-11, when we leveraged the learning from that horrific event to heighten public security. The impetus for FDR’s New Deal, which introduced a social safety net for low-income Americans, was the poignant suffering the lack of that net produced in The Great Depression. In both of these critical periods in our history, the crisis became the catalyst. It signaled the need to transform a problematic status quo into a new, more resilient and secure status quo.
There is a parallel to our personal lives: when you look back on just about any major crisis you’ve experienced – whether it was a messy breakup, or a protracted feeling of depression, or fear-induced anxiety that left you feeling paralyzed, or being fired from a job that you really cared about – that crisis helped you discover something under-developed within yourself that you needed to work on. No crisis, no catalyst, no significant life change.
“But how can I stay positive when I may not have a job in six months?” I have been asked frequently over the last few months by some of the CEOs and executives I coach. First of all, what’s the alternative? I don’t think you want to go there. Second, being positive tests your resolve. You only know how strong a dam is when there’s water trying to push it over. If you want to integrate any value you hold dear into your character – including being positive – then you must practice it in good times and bad, rain or shine, regardless of the current state of your job or the stock tickers floating across your screen.
Having a positive outlook underwrites your happiness. Both stem from appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. And there is always something to appreciate if you are only willing to step off the treadmill you’re on long enough to take a look around. Fewer customers may free up your time to diversify the products you offer and develop higher-touch strategies to build a more loyal customer base for the future. Less time on the job may mean more time to reconnect with your loved ones. Being abruptly thrown off what you considered your track to career success may give you the time to question whether you were running in the right lane in the first place.
Find something to be positive about each day while simultaneously learning from the adversity you are currently experiencing, and you will find a better path forward. If we all rise to this collective challenge, we will build an economy that is not only robust but founded on sound practices. Also, and just as important, we will enjoy life a whole lot more.
Anthony Silard is a leadership coach, the president of The Executive Leadership Institute (www.execleaders.com) and the author of two leadership books that will be released in 2009, Full Alignment: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Life Vision into Action and The 11 Principles of Values-Driven Leadership.