Regardless of the personal challenges the recession has thrown your way, one thing is certain: you cannot control current market conditions. Market forces have aligned in unprecedented ways to create a problem more powerful than any one individual. Unemployment stands at 8.9 percent nationally and is likely to exceed 10 percent. Worldwide GDP is contracting and no one is sure when it will hit bottom.
This economy is like a riptide. You can’t swim against the current and survive. For those who have experienced serious setbacks in their career or in their business’s performance, staying afloat in today’s economic environment requires a healthy perspective. Through my years of management experience in expanding and contracting economies, I have witnessed firsthand the difference between individuals with healthy, productive perspectives and those who are so weighed down by career setbacks they can’t recover. You must keep the shore in sight and remember things will eventually get better. You must foster a healthy outlook through setbacks.
Begin by shedding the emotional baggage that could weigh you down. Whether or not you are to blame for your current situation, there is nothing productive about holding on to the guilt, fear or shame often associated with business struggles or a serious career setback. Ask yourself some tough questions. Make a clear-eyed assessment of what happened so you can learn from your mistakes. Then move on. Holding on to unproductive emotions can interfere with your ability to be effective.
You may need to redefine what success looks like. This economy has presented today’s business world with a new reality in which to operate and it can be difficult to get your bearings. Take a careful look at your business and then look outside your organization at the performance of other businesses in your industry as well as those related to your industry. You must come to a clear understanding of what is within your ability to control and what is not. This will help you to better understand your options and define new goals and objectives.
Attempting to meet pre-recession metrics by simply working harder may not be possible. When faced with tough situations there is a tendency for hard-driving professionals (accustomed to being in control of their destiny) to go into default mode—meaning they rely heavily upon the very characteristics they attribute to their success and career advancement. They push harder and demand more from themselves and those around them in an effort to sustain previous performance. In other words, they are swimming against the current. Stay afloat with smart proactive measures, but don’t wear yourself out and those around you by fighting what is out of your control.
You also may need to rebalance your priorities. How do you define yourself? Are you a CEO, CIO, Director, Manager, Programmer? If your title goes away, how would you introduce yourself? What else are you good at? If you have never defined your existence beyond your job, rebalancing your priorities may be a difficult task. Finding meaning beyond the straight ascending line of your career path is critical, because chances are before we recover from this recession many individuals’ careers will look more like a sine wave.
You can view a career setback as an opportunity. Make this a defining moment. Tough times and how you deal with them will define you in new ways. Staying afloat during the current recession will necessitate learning new skills. The way you operate in a burgeoning economy is different from how you must operate in this recession. The uniqueness of what you are faced with will provide you with experience that you would have never otherwise gained. When recovery occurs, you will be able to leverage your new knowledge into greater success.
The recovery will happen. In the meantime, adopt a perspective that will enable you to swim with the current and keep the shore in sight. Shed the emotional baggage, redefine what success looks like, reprioritize and look at what the economy has dealt you as a defining moment in your life. Formulate a healthy outlook that will help you come out of this trying time having gained invaluable experience.
James E. Thompson is president and CEO of The Insource Group, an information technology resource provider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.