Finding the UP in the downturn. That’s a pretty timely title.
This recession has lingered forever. Inside, we’re over it. But, that doesn’t change the reality of the bad news that comes, day in and day out. I understand why so many people have given up. But, I don’t excuse it. We truly have our greatest opportunity to succeed in times when others have given up. I wanted to offer some sort of “intervention” from all the bad news that is really pounding on people’s psyches and minimizing performance. It’s very, very tough out there, but this is a great moment to gain ground.
How can you gain ground when you are afraid you are going to lose your job and every dime you have saved for retirement?
You stop telling yourself that you might lose your job and every dime you saved for retirement. Instead, you say “This is a time when I have to show what I am made of. I am smart enough to come out on top with this and this is my plan…” Those who are courageous and agile will be the winners. I learned some real lessons the last time we were told that the economy was in shambles — right after 9/11. That was when my first book was released, and I had to scramble in all that adversity to make it take off.
What did you learn that time around?
Well, I had a three-month window to make the book take off before it would be yanked off the bookstore shelves and replaced with the next season’s books. It didn’t matter that my publisher cancelled all author tours, figuring that there would be no media interest. I had to get out there and promote it because that was the only opportunity I had to make it fly. I rented a little Ford Escort and traveled the country from bookstore to bookstore, staying with friends wherever I went to save money. All the other authors had given up, so I was one of the only ones out there and I got a tremendous amount of media attention. The window was wide open for me.
You turned it into a best-seller and got it on Oprah in the middle of all that.
No, my friends turned Hard Won Wisdom into a best-seller. They actually had contests to see who could buy the most copies to prove how much they loved me. They all did it on my “buy day,” which drove up the sales numbers and made it No. 1. The lesson there is that you can do a lot when you count on the people who love you.
After that, I was pretty relentless about getting it in front of Oprah’s people. I have to think it was because I was so persistent at a time when other authors had given up. I sent Oprah’s people 29 letters. One of them worked. I always thought my second book was better, but Oprah didn’t take it. I think this is a great example of how we can find breakthrough moments in the midst of tough times because, in many ways, competition is less.
Even now when more people are competing for fewer opportunities?
Yes, because you have to look at how the people who are competing are operating. I don’t minimize the fact that there may be a thousand people who want one single available opportunity. But, so many of those people are moving forward with terribly low expectations and an unattractive degree of desperation. They move forward hoping something will work out, but knowing that their chances are slim and that the best outcome is not likely to happen. That minimizes them. The person who moves forward with confidence and figures out what it really is going to take is going to be the one who wins. You have to be confident, strategic and work like hell.
Explain that. Let’s say you are competing with four hundred people for a single job opening. How can you be the one person who gets the job?
First, you have to see it happening. Then, you figure out what you need to do to make it happen. Right now, the last thing you want is to blend in. If there is an opening, the person doing the hiring is dreading that resume pile. It is filled with people who run the range from being way overqualified to not even remotely qualified. It is filled with people who are all desperate. So, who is going to stand out in that case?
The person who is most qualified?
No! The person who has an “in” with the person doing the hiring. They’ve always said, “It’s not what you know, but who.” That is true now more than ever. If they know you — or someone who knows you — you have your in. Then you just have to make a powerful case on why you will do a great job.
But, what if you don’t have the right relationships in place?
I have a whole chapter on that. You can get those relationships by quickly and strategically building the right network , circulating it the right places, asking for introductions and references and counting on the basic goodness of others to help y0u along. People like to help other people. You just have to learn to ask for that help.
What if you are still employed, but things are incredibly stressful at work because of cutbacks and layoffs.
It’s the same concept. If you move forward expecting trouble, you will get trouble. If you move forward with confidence, knowing you will succeed no matter what, you will succeed no matter what. This is a great time to gain ground within the ranks because companies are crying out for good leadership and innovative ideas. All of our greatest leaders in history emerged out of adversity, so stand up and lead. If you identify a problem that you know how to fix, step up and offer to fix it. Put your name on it. And, work hard. Work harder than you have ever worked. You cannot afford to blend in or be average in any way. Make yourself so vital that you are indispensible.