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Archive for the 2009 Challenges Category

Stop Talking, Start Doing

If I had ten dollars for every time someone has come up to me after an event and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” I could be retired. I’m serious.

It is a sad refrain because, almost every time someone says it, I can tell that the book will never be written.

If you really want to write your book, you write your book. If you truly want to go back to school, you go back to school. If you want to take off a year and travel, you take off a year and travel. Whatever. You shut up and find a way. I’m one of those people who believes that, if you really want to do something, you make up your mind and do it. One of my mentors was a single parent who, when left with two small children, drove a taxi to get herself through law school and went on to become a much-admired judge.

We are capable of accomplishing so much if we just dare to commit and get started. When I hear the “I really want to write a book” line, I tell people of Rick Light, the service manager at my local Goodyear store. Rick once saw a box of books in the back of my car and mentioned he was writing a novel. Every time I see him, he tells me how it’s going. He spends every single lunch hour in the public library. He takes index cards and writes several paragraphs or phrases and perhaps sketches out a scene. Then, he goes home and types it all into his computer. He’s been doing this for a few years now, and I’ve always known he’d finish his book, which he did. Unfortunately, a break-in by vandals left him with no original and no backup. Did he give up? No. He started all over and will not stop until he has a new, better draft. He bolsters his vision with the kind of determination needed to create success.

This is an era where millions of people are rethinking what they will do with their careers. If you’ve been pushed to the edge by a layoff, you probably feel like you are staring into the abyss. But, how you rise out of this adversity depends entirely on whether you can do what Rick did.  Figure out what you want to do, make up your mind to do it, and persevere — through anything by doing it one small step at a time.

I know it is easier said than done — and that’s the point. If it is worth doing, and if your success is worth having, you’ve got to suffer the pain to earn your reward. Don’t judge your success by what comes easy — judge it by what comes hard. My motto is “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” It comes from a Chinese proverb that so simply sets the course that one must take in life because the obstacles are inevitable. They just are. When I started writing my first book, I hoped I could have written, sold and published it in six short months before it exploded onto the best-seller list and made me rich and famous. Things didn’t play out that way at all. I suffered humiliating rejections and obstacles that repeatedly tested whether I had the mettle to earn my success. Getting up every time I fell down required me to find strength when I had none.

Fortunately, I had a support group that kept cheering for me when I couldn’t cheer for myself. Count on your friends to keep you moving forward. There were so many key moments when I felt like giving up, but others inspired me to stay in the game. If you don’t seek out that kind of positive energy, you’ll get stuck in the defeatism that destroys dreams. If you’ve been stopped along the way, don’t give in to bitterness. Reach out to your friends and tell them what you need in order to continue toward a positive outcome.

I recognize that many of us feel like we are stuck in the 2009 vortex of negativity that makes it impossible to break through to do what we really want to do. The old notion that we should do what we love seems to be a luxury in a time when people are worried how they are even going to pay their electric bills. But, I still believe that we can do what we are meant to do — if we really want to do it. The challenges of this hard economic year may mean our steps are smaller and our progress slowed. Still, we can do what we truly want to do.

I always tell the aspiring authors the same thing. “If you write a page a day, you’ll be done in a year. You’ve just got to start it and finish it.”

The question is the same for them as it is for you. Do you really want to do it? And if so, what’s stopping you from getting started?

Stepping From Despair Into Transition

Two days ago, I wrote how cynicism and negativity were defeating a former co-worker’s spirit in the midst of sudden unemployment. Leave it to Rosemary Goudreau to add another dimension to it.

“Maybe more than cyncism, what your friend faced was depression,” wrote Goudreau, who I worked with a million years ago when we were both reporters for The Miami Herald. “There’s a lot of it going around these days as journalists, even optimistic journalists, face the loss of their occupation…Few of us find the perfect opportunity out of the box. But as we explore this and that, we will find our way…Defining small steps might help your depressed cynic find a sense of direction again.”

Goudreau was laid off last November from The Tampa Tribune as its editorial page editor, but quickly regrouped and positioned herself as a communications consultant specializing in public policy and advocacy. She got her first contract two weeks after she lost her job.

And, she’s right. Instead of pointing out how destructive cynicism is, I should break down the re-invention process into manageable steps.

 So, that’s what I’ll do here. If you want help figuring out what you need to do with your life, check out the column I wrote earlier this week. I really believe the answers are really “out there.” But, so much of the re-invention process comes down to making the decision to play to win — then positioning yourself to actually do it.

10 Steps from Depression into Career Transition

1. Get dressed in the morning. Look good. Feel good so you can deliver. 

2. Exercise. Do you stop exercising because you get depressed or do you get depressed because you stopped exercising? Do whatever you need to do in order to keep your depression at bay. Take your meds. Pray. Take care of yourself so you are able to deliver at your greatest level of performance.

3. Take charge of your brain. If you put negative in, you get negative out. Put positive in, get positive out. You have tremendous power to control what you are thinking and, when you start hearing the negative tapes, just give yourself a verbal “Stop” cue. Deliberately replace your negative thoughts with something positive. It’s easier if you have a list of five positive things to go to for those low moments. For example, “I’ve been so successful in the past. I’m smart enough to get through this.”

4. Know that these tough times will not last forever. As much as it feels like you are sinking into a bottomless pit of quicksand, you aren’t. Don’t let yourself slide into the mentality that says you may never get another job, that you may never make as much as you once made, that you will have to work until the day you die. All that does is make you struggle more.

5. Remember who you are and who you are not. I see a lot of people who experience rejection and then process it as failure. They forget how talented and viable they are, so it becomes harder to project themselves as desirable. That poises them for more rejection. You have not lost your talent. And your setbacks have not erased your successes. They are just obstacles. You have succeeded in the past and you will succeed in the future.

6. Choose your friends carefully. If you surround yourself with hopeless people, you’ll lose hope. This can be hard if most of your friends are former co-workers who were also laid off. And, that can be even worse if you are competing for the same jobs against your friends. You’ll constantly wonder why someone got an interview or job that you didn’t. For the time being, be around people who will propel your success.

7. Network. Duh. We’ve all heard “It’s not what you know but who you know.” Well, it is also how you know them. Don’t network to make business connections. Network to make relationships. It is more important that you know that somebody likes to watch Grey’s Anatomy and loves pizza with anchovies than it is that you know their job description. Make important people fall in love with your personality and leverage those friendships so they take care of you professionally.

8. Listen. What are you supposed to do with your life? The universe will send you many prompts. Great turning points often present themselves in passing.

9. Don’t limit yourself to the classifieds. Executives are constantly asking other executives, “Do you know anyone who can…” They don’t want to advertise jobs because they don’t want 8,000 resumes. Network, network, network. Figure out where you want to work, then start writing key people to introduce yourself. There is a lot more on this in my book, Finding the UP in the Downturn. 

10. Know your weekly goals and achieve them by setting daily tasks. Then, DO THEM. Do something every day to move you closer to your goal. Whether you spend time networking or writing letters or taking classes or attending job fairs, do something to keep yourself in the game.

The most important thing is to have faith. Things will work out. I am not being flip. I am not shrugging off your pain or uncertainty. Things do have a way of working out. I don’t want to minimize anybody’s suffering or delude myself into thinking that hope conquers all, but the truth is that there are very few of you who will wind up eating out of garbage cans. There’s so much you can’t control, so give it to the wind.


Confused about what’s next? Listen up.

Today, my favorite server at my favorite beach restaurant sighed and said, “I need to do something different with my life, but I don’t know what it is.”

Yesterday, the exasperation came from an acquaintance who e-mailed, “I’m still trying to find my passion – envious that you have found yours!” 

I am asked the “What should I do now?” question all the time. I always say, “Put it out there and the universe will send you a signal.”

My life’s most pivotal changes occurred because I listened when somebody made a remark that could have easily been lost in passing. For example, in 1991, my friend Betsy Cannon suggested I rehab from knee surgery by training for Ride the Rockies, the classic Colorado bike challenge sponsored by The Denver Post. I did that bike trip and have taken a cycling vacation almost every year since. I cycle almost every day. It is my sanity and my salvation.

On top of the Molas Divide in Colorado on that first Ride the Rockies.

On top of the Molas Divide in Colorado on that first Ride the Rockies.

In 1998, as I struggled with my duties as a manager, I went looking for a book that would teach me how to succeed as a strong woman in a harsh work environment. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, a friend said, “Well, you’re a journalist. Why don’t you write it?” That led to my first best-seller, Hard Won Wisdom. As I waited for that book to finally find its publisher and make its way into print, another friend threw out a suggestion. “Hey, you ought to be a professional speaker,” she said. It had never occured to me that I could have a career standing up in front of people and talking. That was the most significant and rewarding prompt that the universe ever gave me.

Those three remarks led me to my three strongest passions today: speaking, writing books and cycling. Although my friends made the suggestions, I had to be open to them. I had to follow-through with action. The cycling in the Rocky Mountains took endless and exhausting hours of hard training. My life as an author began with constant rejection and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And my work as a speaker began by me doing things like driving six hours to Miami for an unpaid event where only 19 people showed up.

Even when I have been on my path, there have been countless opportunities for detours. Several years ago, I was courted for a job that came with a really fat weekly paycheck, great benefits, good vacation and a secure future. It didn’t feel right for me, and I continued on my more uncertain route of self-employment as — gasp! — a motivational speaker. I had no idea that my route would ultimately prove much more stable and lucrative. I kept growing my business, and two years after I turned down that job, all the senior managers at that company were booted out.  Some sought advice from me.

It’s important to know what you love and be mindful of the subjects or activities that are so exciting to you that you get completely lost in them. You’ll often find the roots of passion there. But, also, listen up. Hear what others suggest and dare to take the steps to check things out. Try new things, but don’t force the universe. You won’t find great success by forcing yourself to love something that you don’t even like.

And, if you are confused about what to do next, take heart. So are millions and millions of other people. The answers are out there. You just have to hear them — then act.

Cycling the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado on that 1992 trip.

Cycling the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado on that 1992 trip.

Go with the flow — even if it means going upstream

Dean Krakel is one of the best photojournalists in America. Period. I say that, having worked with him for eight years when I was a reporter in Denver. His images captured the West like no one else.

Dean Krakel. Friend of Fawn.

Dean Krakel

So, it was devastating to hear that he had taken a job cooking Chinese food for $8 an hour after the Rocky Mountain News went under earlier this year. Fresh out of a heartbreaking and financially ruinous divorce, he was forced to re-invent himself at age 57. He did the wisest thing he could possibly do.

He blew the rest of his severance and booked a trip to Africa, where he will spend a month traveling down the Omo River.  He wrote in a recent blog post, “In times of trouble I have always turned to moving water for comfort and answers. Rafting or kayaking always seems to put things in perspective for me. Despite the cliché, it really is true, life is like a river. You learn to go with the flow, even if that means sometimes going upstream; life’s challenges are a bit like rapids, you study the current, pick your line and then paddle or row like hell. One way or another you usually come out the other side.”

There is so much to learn from him. The biggest lesson is to stop trying to force the universe to solve anything. Live your life and it will solve itself.

It’s funny that I’d reconnect with Dean today because, just yesterday, an acquaintance told me the story of the near death experiences of the business she and her husband have built. She jokingly wrote, “When I get finished maybe I will write a book How I Survived Losing a Million for the Third Time. The only problem is that this million is our ONLY million and we have not one thing to fall back on. The last two times at least we at least had property and other things to fall back on. This time we have lost EVERYTHING!”

Like Dean, Deb has stopped trying to force things to work. Her situation is made perilous by customers who owe her business a lot of money but won’t (or can’t) pay up. The bank came after her and recalled a $100,000 line of credit. “When the bank says ‘You have to give us $100,000 in 10 days,’ what can you do? Its so outside reality you can only say, ‘Okay, come on. I called the guy and said, ‘How do you feel about running a steel company? He’s in a bank in Orlando.’ I had to laugh.” When she laughed at the absurdity of her bad luck, the seas parted. Payments have been delayed until November and there is hope.

The common theme here is that you can’t force the universe. This whole saga of 2009 is going to unfold the way it is going to unfold. You just have to go with it. Especially now, go with the flow — even if it means going upstream, like Dean said. Live your life. Things do have a way of working out.


Now, to give you a moment of absolute tranquility, it is my honor to present some of Dean Krakel’s West.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.


Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith

I was having a particularly stressful day last week when I read Gregg Smith’s blog, reminding me to “Let go and let God.”  I believe in that. But it hit hard coming from a guy who’s bio says he is “a 55-year-old, HIV-positive male human being, looking to share and uplift other human beings to deal with the day-to-day struggle of survival.”

Gregg’s story is powerful. His wife of 30 years died in 2002 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Next, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She then had a stroke. Last year, he started showing symptoms of what he thought was rosacea, and dismissed it as the aging process. He finally had it looked at and was also given an HIV test. That’s when the diagnosis was confirmed that he was positive.

 “I believe in following the path I have been given,” he told me. “The doctor said, ‘You’ll have to do the medicine.’ I was okay with that. He said, ‘You’re so calm.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t feel uncomfortable to me. I’m not shocked by it.’ ”

It’s not that he’s gay or straight or bi or anything. He’s human, he says. Don’t get caught up in the label.

After the diagnosis, he was surprised which friends closed ranks and which ones dropped off. Some were afraid to be near him. Have we really learned so little in nearly 30 years of AIDS?

“People live in fear,” he said.

Fear is what creates our stress, he said. But, when you just let it go, the fear subsides.

“I run into friends who are depressed and in crisis and they don’t understand how I stay so content. They say, ‘How do you stay so happy?’ It’s because I know who I am. There is a higher power that guides the path. The only time that crisis occurs is when you don’t follow the path. You should live accordingly. Listen to your heart, listen to yourself and you will know.”

He said his insight didn’t come to him because he is HIV- positive. “This is how I have always lived. The HIV is what was meant to be, so I will take that path.” He shared a quote that begins, “We worry as if we have a thousand years to live.” And he’s right.

We do that. We don’t realize what worry takes away from us. We don’t get to re-live today, and if we sacrifice it to worry about work or relationships or money or the future or an illness, we don’t get the time back. Gregg’s answer is so simple. Let go. Let God. Travel your path. Be happy.

Simple enough.

Winning With the “New Normal”

I came home from the Executive Leader’s Forum last week with a negativity hangover. News on the business front is truly harsh these days. The bottom line is, if you are waiting this recession out and hoping you’ll just hang on until things get back to normal, you are making a mistake. This is the new reality. It’s the “new normal.”

It’s not all bleak — especially if you can grasp the seismic paradigm shift and adapt quickly.

The conference was for 120 of the nation’s most senior business executives. They are people I admire and enjoy tremendously.

Their point was that people’s values and habits changed in an instant — and aren’t going to change back. Society isn’t spending like it used to — and it won’t. People and companies are deliberating before buying. They are contemplating whether they actually need what they are buying, rather than just buying because they want something. Buying for “want” symbolizes excess — and that is now seen a gauche. The leaders at the conference don’t see the trend ever switching back, which is why retailers are having to dance fast to figure out how to service their changing customers. If people are opting to buy store-brand cheese and canned goods over the tried-and-true brand names, what can a brand name do? That’s the challenge.

Especially since, as individuals in the marketplace, we are all our own brand name products.

It’s also the opportunity, something that fits with the theme of my new book, Finding the UP in the Downturn. The daily dose of bad news is so bleak that people are giving up. But, for those who don’t, there is a huge opportunity to succeed. Like Shelley Broader (president of Michaels) told us, there is no better time to start a business than when the price of real estate, labor and equipment are at rock bottom prices. Instead of contracting, we have to figure out how to smartly expand by exploiting the new reality to our advantage.

All of this involves a personal awakening and acceptance. We have to accept that the rules have changed, and brainstorm ways to fit our talents to the new demands that have been created. We have to be relentless.

If you are looking for an excuse to give up, you don’t have to look far. But, if you give up, things aren’t going to suddenly return to normal when the recession ends.

This is the sobering new reality, and we’ve all got work to do to decide where we fit into it. That means studying our industries, our clients and our competition. It means learning our technology and knowing where it is going. It’s taking action without being 100 percent sure of the result because there is no more 100 percent certainty in anything. It’s having the confidence and courage to know that we are moving forward and, when we are doing it wrong, we can change quickly and right our course.

Bad news can wear down our confidence, but only if we let it. This is the time to make up our minds that we will be winners in the new reality.

What’s your first step? Open your eyes. The challenge isn’t going to go away, so what do you need to do?

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of five books, including one that was an Oprah pick. She is a four-time, Pulitzer-nominated journalist and an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker who has been hired by some of the world’s largest corporations to share her message of opportunity and leadership.

Poverty Sucks. Sometimes.

My old friend Billie just moved in her mother’s home so she can keep her real house in pristine condition while she tries to sell it. The home is worth a fortune, and it must sell because she is a single parent who was laid off — another victim of the demise of daily newspapers.

I’ve known her for more than two decades, and I reminded her of the filthy apartment I helped her clean at the beach before she moved in. We were both in our 20s. She was my editor, mentor and friend. We made no money. But, we lived at the beach. We didn’t go to fancy restaurants or take expensive trips. But, we lived at the beach. We drove old cars and didn’t have any expendible income. But, we lived at the beach.

At the time, I was making $15,000 a year. I remember going out for payday dinner to Quincy’s steak house and ordering the hamburger because it was the cheapest thing on the menu that came with the salad bar. I remember countless camping trips to the barrier islands in North Florida and South Georgia. I remember walking over a beach dune on Cumberland Island one night as the wild horses ran through the water, silhouetted by the heat lightning. And boating on the Okefenokee Swamp, surrounded by a million alligators. And tubing on the Ichetucknee River. Plus so many nights of youthful revelry with our cohorts.

Those were truly happy and fun times. I had so little money and so few things, but I had so much fun. I know I laughed more in those years than any since. We were so young and carefree.

So, here we are. Years later, with nice houses and nice things, eating in fancy restaurants and enjoying the “best” of life. Looking at it now, I realize that we had the best of life when we didn’t have very much at all.  

Granted, Billie’s situation is challenging because she is so devoted to her daughter and wants the best for her. It’s so unfair — she’s truly brilliant. But, she’ll get through this. She just will. And, if she scales back, maybe she’ll remember how much fun it was when we didn’t have so many “things” to worry about.

Last night, she reminded me how I once “punked” her when I sent her a letter  that I’d forged on our publisher’s letterhead. The letter told her that he’d heard she was complaining about her low salary and, while he couldn’t give her any more money, he did want her to have a small token of his appreciation. Inside the envelope was a round button that had been wrapped in paper. Billie felt that package, figured it was a make-up compact, and the publisher’s allegedly sexist gesture infuriated her. But, when she unwrapped it, she discovered a button that said, “POVERTY SUCKS.”

She found the letter recently — and the button. About “POVERTY SUCKS,”  she wrote: “I’m beginning to get the msg. :)”

Maybe the message is that the poverty of our early years didn’t suck all that bad. When did we get so grown up that we forgot how rich we already were? I don’t think I have ever been as rich as I was, way back when I was poor.

Your Place in the Universe

It’ll All Work Out

I have a friend who is on the brink of losing everything. Her home. Her savings. Her retirement…

It isn’t pretty. She says it’s a matter of weeks before she bottoms out.

This year, we are learning to redefine “bottoming out.” I have had several friends give up their homes, spend down their savings and drain their retirement funds.  On paper, they have nothing. But, they are showing a resilience that is profound. They are finding out what they are made of, and counting on support from people who love them. As bad as things get, they still hang in there to fight another day. At some point, the days do get easier.

We’ve learned so much about loss and sacrifice this year, particularly when it comes to a concept like “security.” Most people deluded themselves into thinking their secure jobs meant secure futures, but their jobs were not secure. The only thing any of us can really count on is our own resilience. Let go of the things that don’t matter and build your own security once more. There is security in the knowledge that, the less you have, the less you have to fight to protect. You can downsize yourself out of a lot of headaches.

Sure, the future is uncertain — but, it always was. Just get up every day and have faith. It’ll all work out.

The Slog.

I’m hearing from so many of you who so depleted by the economy and so worried about how you will make it through this year. This is such an obstacle course.

It is hard to stay up when you constantly feel your efforts are being beaten down, but your ability to get up every time you are pushed down is what will get you through this. Keep trying. Don’t wear your suffering on your face.

I have several clients who are truly struggling because they still haven’t found work months after being laid off. We hear so much about the economic crisis, but this is a very human crisis that has forced once-successful professionals into depressions because they keep “losing” at everything they try. Here are some simple suggestions on what to do to keep your mind in the game. It really is much easier than it seems:

1. Circumstances are beating everybody up — not just you. Don’t take things personally, no matter how many times you are passed over, rejected or ignored. There are millions of people in the same boat.
2. Stay optimistic. Do not EVER worry that the troubles you have now will last forever or they will last forever. Tell yourself that you are tough enough to outlast any crisis.
3. When you fall down, get back up. Every time.
4. Don’t give yourself brain damage trying to “force” a fix. Sometimes, things fix themselves if you stop pushing so hard.
5. Don’t sacrifice this year or any other to misery. Find something in your world that makes you happy and make time to enjoy that whenever you can.
6. Don’t show desperation. It doesn’t help anything and people, for some reason, don’t like helping desperate people. Desperation makes people uncomfortable.
7. Count your blessings the first thing in the morning and the last thing in the evening.

Hang in there. You’ll get through this.

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