With the economy still faltering in many parts of the country, companies making cutbacks, and your financial future at stake, you might be feeling pretty grim.
But don't even think about throwing in the towel. There are lots of opportunities out there — opportunities to make loads of money and put more happiness back in your life. When you've been beaten down by anything, it's natural to want to quit.
But quitting is a blind alley. There is another way to go. A way that will take you past your troubles and toward your best life yet.
A few years ago, I read about this topic in the Harvard Business Review. A company called Adaptive Learning Systems did a pretty comprehensive study of the qualities it takes to be successful in life. They looked at all the expected things: education, motivation, connections, etc. But they concluded that resiliency deserved to be on top of the list.
"The ability to bounce back from disappointment and even disaster," Adaptive's CEO Dean Becker said, "counts more than education, more than experience, and more than training."
Resilience has always been an important factor in my career. Business ventures in my past had placed me with a lot more debt than I would like. I woke up one day and realized that I owed a lot more than I owned. My net worth had dropped from a meager but healthy number to well over four times that on the negative side.
That realization freaked me out. I imagined losing everything I owned. I imagined living in my car or, worse yet, living on the street.
It was hard to concentrate on work. All I could think about was running away from my responsibilities. I had this fantasy about changing my name, moving to a different state, and getting a job as a check-out clerk in a supermarket. It’s fortunate for the people that would have been in my grocery line that I didn’t follow through with that.
In short, I was beaten down and I wanted to quit. In fact, I DID lose everything, escaping with not much more than the clothes I was wearing.
Luckily for me, I had an experienced friend who had suffered several major setbacks in his business career and knew how to help me get through this one. His advice has helped me get past that and move forward and he’s been there many times since with sage advice and help.
"The first thing you have to do when times are tough," DLK told me when he saw the dark circles under my eyes, "is take care of your body." He reminded me of the famous line "Fatigue makes cowards of us all," and encouraged me to get back to my exercise program and get plenty of sleep. I did. He still beat me at Racquetball more often than not though. Especially when he got that “look” in his eye. I don’t think there was anyone that could beat him once he got that “look”.
Recognizing that I was now mentally and physically ready to deal with the challenge I was facing, I sat down to draw up a ‘survival and prosperity plan.' "
Just the sound of it filled me with hope. I had no idea where to begin because it was the first time I'd been in that particular situation! But I was sure I could come up with something. For the better part of a week, I sat and worked on a plan. As near as I can remember, it included the following elements:
- Keep a stiff upper lip, regardless of what happens.
- Fire unnecessary or unhelpful people.
- Get rid of unprofitable products.
- Eliminate wasteful habits.
- Focus on core marketing strengths.
- Keep working.
Gradually, I started to see results. I got back to work and doing what I loved to do, and applied principles that had stood with me through the test of time. Some marketing efforts began to pay off. Then, about six months after the bottom, an advertising campaign hit big. A week after that, another one did. A year later, the world looked a little rosier.
That was my first lesson in the value of resilience. But it wasn't my last. In the almost 30 years that have passed since then, I've run into trouble dozens of times. But having overcome adversity once, I was able to bounce back again and again.
Still today though, my first reaction is often "Screw it." It’s hard to break the oldest habits.
I recall an instance where I pushed staff on what I hoped would be a brilliant brainstorming session. For days I did all I could to guide some very bright and creative people that I work with — pushing and prodding, asking questions, and making comments. The concept began strongly but started losing steam almost immediately. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them engaged in the concepts.
It was an embarrassing and somewhat dispiriting experience. I felt as if I had made a bit of a fool of myself, trying to pull out input with a brainstorming technique that I should have known wouldn't work.
But the next morning, I woke up with a new resolve to try again. Bring the group back together and try something else. Forget about the failure and my leading role in it, and get back to what we were there for — to create a breakthrough idea. So I wrote a memo (my staff knows what’s coming…) suggesting just that. And since then, the ideas have started trickling in — better ways to get the work done, different approaches, new questions. The frustration immediately started to subside, and a sense of positive expectation set in.
Faith, guts, and the willingness to work. That's the combination you need to overcome obstacles and bounce back from failure.
But where does the faith come from? For Andrew Carnegie, one of the world's biggest successes, it came from an overriding belief in the power of God to intervene in men's lives. For me, the faith must come from myself — from the self-confidence developed by making success a habit.
Carnegie said, "The first thing to do about an obstacle is simply to stand up to it and not complain about it or whine under it but forthrightly attack it. Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven't half the strength you think they have. Just stand up to it, that's all, and don't give way under it, and it will finally break. You will break it. Something has to break and it won't be you; it will be the obstacle."
But not all obstacles can be extirpated (look it up). Some are best dealt with in more subtle ways. A wise man once said, "If I can't get through a trouble, I try to go around it, and if I can't go around it, I try to get under it, and if I can't get under it, I try to go over it, and if I can't go over it, I just plow right through it."
That's the course of action I recommend.
First, ask yourself if the obstacle can be ignored. Eighty percent of the problems you face will go away the moment you stop paying attention to them.
Next, see if you can get around the obstacle by using your wits. If you can accomplish the same goal by using cleverness instead of brute force, why not?
If you can't get over, under, or around the obstacle, stand up to it firmly. This won't be easy, particularly if you are not used to confrontation, and I know some struggle with that. But the more you do it, the easier it will become.
Thomas Jefferson had a similar idea about how to handle difficult situations. He put it this way: "Always take hold of things by the smooth handle."
This resilience thing is something you may have to struggle with all your life, but it’s a grand adventure and certainly makes life interesting.
As I write this, I’m reminded of a phrase that I first heard maybe 40 years ago…
It's a quote from Winston Churchill: "Never give in. Never give in, never, never, never..."
Thanks for reading.