Weathering the Storm – how to stay aligned in turbulent times

Over the past few weeks the number of people who have lost their jobs, filed bankruptcy, had their homes foreclosed upon, dipped severely into their retirement nest egg, etc. has grown to epidemic proportions. I have met with a least a dozen individuals and clients who are simply at a loss as to ‘what to do’ in this recessionary time. These are smart, enterprising, successful individuals – who just by the nature of the economic situation – find themselves without income, associated career direction, and, in some cases, an increasing loss of morale, confidence, and gumption. All this – and right here at the holidays!

The reality is that the numbers of individuals facing hard times will continue to grow over the coming the months. The number of 1 million+ unemployed will probably dim to the numbers we will experience by this time next year. Even if we are fortunate enough to be working today – there are no guarantees that this will continue.

So what do we do? How can we stay focused, centered and aligned while the ground below us is shifting at such an unsettling pace?

I want to offer 10 easy suggestions. They are, indeed, basic; thus, as with all things, the power is not so much in the ideas – but in the execution of the ideas. In down times, we may actually have more time to invest in areas which take the back burner when business is kicking. So, what are we waiting for? A few ideas to ‘kick start’ our efforts:

Idea 1: Create a plan and hold the vision

We don’t get anywhere if we don’t have an idea of where we ultimately want to be. As we embark on a new year in a few weeks, what a perfect time to reassess ‘where we want to go’ and ‘what we want to be’ in the coming year; and outline the few steps we can take to start the journey. Creating a plan doesn’t have to be some long, drawn out process that ultimately becomes what I call ‘credenza wear’…. only to be referred to annually, if even then.

No, we can simply take a sheet of paper, and write down ‘where we would like to be this time next year’; complete with visionary details. What would the ideal day look like for you? What would you like your life to have ‘more of ‘or ‘less of’? Just capture that vision – it could be as simple as: “I want to be in a position to spend more time with my family, gain more visibility in my professional field, and earn enough money to afford a trip to Machu Picchu by the end of the year”. Then outline 2 or 3 things you could do right now to help move you closer to that goal. It is as simple as that. Once our visions are established (‘the what’), the steps to take to achieve them (‘the how’) most often reveal themselves. This can be a very empowering process – and reaffirms to each of us that we really do have ‘control’ over our choices and behaviors (even though so many other things are out of our control); and this creates ,and positively directs, our energy. Give it a try!

Idea 2: Stay organized.

When things ‘go to the dogs’ so to speak, we often let our own constitution lax, as well. Letting mail pile up, not paying bills on time, not calling people back promptly, not working out, drinking and eating too much (or the wrong things), etc. You know what I mean – we may be ‘just fed up’ and getting motivated to stay organized, disciplined, and committed is simply just too much to ask! What I want to suggest is that when we take control of our time, our ‘desk’ work, or just our ‘daily plan’ – it gives us a sense of direction and associated accomplishment. For example, I love making a list every night before I leave the office – it is ‘my plan’ for the next day. And then checking it off throughout the next day – is a fabulous B12 shot! Even if the list consists of presumed ‘mundane’ tasks – like going to the post office or completing a weekly forecast for your manager or updating your database with that weeks’ business cards…..Completing these small ‘to dos’ can be just enough fuel to get us through the day. Then, we have new energy to focus on the ‘big stuff’.

Idea 3: Give back – Volunteer.

When we are in a slump, the easiest and best way to change our perspective and our attitude is to put the focus on someone else. Sometimes this is the last thing we want to do – we tend to want to withdraw into our own cave of despair. I will promise you this: when we decide to get off the couch and volunteer – at a soup kitchen, a Boys and Girls Club, the Ronald McDonald house….you name the place….you will absolutely get more back than you give. It is impossible to stay in a ‘funk’ when you are putting your time into service for another. Especially during these unprecedented recessionary times – and during the holidays, the outlets for which we can volunteer are numerous. All it takes is 1-2 hours a week – and the impact will create a ‘ripple effect’ – and we ultimately create the gift that keeps on giving.

Idea 4: Stay relevant and compelling.

Bottom line: when times are slow, this is the perfect time to invest in ourselves! Take a course, attend a seminar, a workshop, join a study group…..continue to learn. Update resumes, websites, marketing materials. Create new channels to market – audio, podcasting, e-articles. Start writing the book – one page at a time. Study the trends in your industry. Learn a new software program. Update our contact database. Hire an executive coach, to help stay focused, accountable, and fully ‘aligned’ to our ‘next steps’. Make a commitment to ourselves to ‘improve me’ by just 5% – and when the market turns around – our ‘package’ will be ‘new and improved’ and this proves to our personal and professional circles that we have ‘game’.

Idea 5: Be smart with money.

Ok, I know this touches a nerve – as for those of us who are invested in the market, it is completely unnerving to open your 401k or portfolio reports. Again, we don’t control the market; however, we can control our own habits. Saving is not easy when money is somewhat drying up.

I get it. So what can we do?

We can re-think how we spend our money. Believe me, I ‘get’ that it is not easy to break habits we started when money was more ‘free-flowing’. The Starbucks Grande no-fat latte morning start, or the ‘let’s meet for a glass of wine’ – which turns into a bottle and dinner evening, or the ‘there is a party on Saturday and I want something new to wear’….the list goes on.

So, a suggestion for all of us: re-think where and how we spend our hard-earned cash. Take a walk with a friend, in lieu of a $100 dinner. Meet at someone’s house, pop popcorn and watch a movie. Give a charitable donation in someone’s name in lieu of material presents. Write a poem or a letter as a gift – versus spending money on something they may/may not want. Make it a priority to pay down debt by mid-year in 2009. Consider re-financing your house. None of this is rocket science – it just takes a shift in our mindset. And, by the way, I still think we can save….maybe not as much as before, but if we truly build a ‘new budget’ for 2009 – we can put aside a percentage of what we make – try 10% minimally to start. Suze Orman has a very relevant and helpful book on managing finances – Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan which is worth reading. I, for one, am going to do each of these things – and I plan to welcome a simpler and more ‘down-home’ lifestyle.

Idea 6: Reach out to others every day – even if just baby steps.

Business development, or ‘job hunting’ or just staying engaged in these times can be tough. When our ‘psyche’ is down, it is really hard to be ‘up’ when engaging others. Again, there is no magic pill – we have to listen to the Nike commercial and ‘Just Do It’. There are a few hidden techniques to staying ‘engaged’ in down times. Consider offering ‘pro bono’ work – ‘giving’ creates incredible energy. Attend association or organizational meetings – in whatever fields or groups you participate (Rotary, IMC, Technology Associations, etc.). Offer new information to existing clients. Don’t be bashful to ask for referrals from friends and colleagues. Every week send 3-4 emails to new contacts, phone 6-7 prior/existing clients and colleagues, contact 6 new prospects, work on your blog one afternoon or focus on updating your website content. The name of this game is positive momentum and direction. Just move forward, even if in baby steps – this is better than being stagnate.

Idea 7: Eliminate the ‘Trance of Scarcity’ from your mind.

There is a great book: The Trance of Scarcity: Stop Holding Your Breath and Start Living Your Life which has been very helpful to me over the past year. Often, we succumb to the ‘half empty’ philosophy (versus ‘half full’); that we are ‘not enough’, don’t ‘have enough’, or can’t ‘get enough’. There is a marvelous chapter (Chapter 7: Aligning and Attracting) which encompasses how to ‘get into the flow’ of life; which by that very action and mindset, attracts abundance into your life. I absolutely believe that. How do we get ‘into the flow’? Well, for starters, read this book – as it has many incredible suggestions. A few to ponder: take a long walk, sit quietly in church, meditate, take a yoga class, play music, listen to music…you get the drift. Whatever ‘calms your mind’ so that you can listen. When we listen – how to ‘get into the flow’ reveals itself naturally. Things become easier. We are not ‘pushing the rope’. We love what we do – and a new way of being happens. Try it.

Idea 8: Hang with positive energy people.

As the saying goes, there are ‘zappers and sappers’. We need to hang with the zappers! Find folks that give the B12 shots we need! Steer clear of ‘victims’ and the poverty mentality. Sure, times are tough; however we will get through this. Together. Smile, even when there is a question as to whether we are ‘happy’ at that moment. It is contagious and someone will smile back – I promise.

Idea 9: Be grateful.

My blog before Thanksgiving highlighted my thoughts about our universal blessings. We do have much for which to be grateful. Sometimes, though, it is just easier to focus on what ‘we don’t have’ versus ‘what we do have’. Anne Lamott, whose writing I love, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith writes that every morning when she swings her legs out of bed, when the first foot hits the floor she says “thank” and when the second foot hits she says “you”. Every morning that is her ritual. Easy, positive, and ‘in spirit’. I love that.

My executive coach gave me a gratitude journal which I have integrated into my weekly routine. I write ‘for what I am grateful’ today, in the present moment; and then I write ‘what I am grateful for in the ‘future’, as if I already have whatever it is, so as to positively put my gratitude and intentions forth in a positive way. When I practice this routinely, it transforms the way I look at things.

Any ritual we can put into place to help us stay mindful of our blessings, when going through tough times, can be life-altering on many levels.

A final thought: Weathering the storm is for the strong. Thriving in the storm is for the enterprising and fully ‘aligned’. Stay true to you. Stay true to your values. Forward momentum…..chin up! The light ahead is not another train!