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Coping Skills: The Gift of the Downturn

Four years ago, I received an e-mail from a woman who saw me give a speech on risk-taking, then went to work the next morning and  quit her job. She had no employment prospects, no plan — not even a hunch of what she wanted to do with her life — yet she told me she felt liberated because she didn’t like her boss. Her financial planner was furious. I was horrified.

I never did hear what she wound up doing, because she disappeared after a month of correspondence.

I always wondered why someone would do something so rash. Sure, I’ve always been a huge proponent of risk-taking because none of us will ever know our limits if we don’t test them a little. I always say, “The worst thing that can happen is that you learn something.” But, I also have always said, “FORTIFY your risks.” That means having a plan. Or at least a notion. You don’t dive into the unknown without doing any homework.

Now, fast forward four years. It is 2009. Unemployment is horrible. The economy stinks. Every day, we hear of more layoffs and collapsing businesses. What do I say about risk-taking in this kind of climate?

Well, our greatest opportunity can be found in the risks you take. It can be a GREAT time to start a business if that is what you plan to do. There are plenty of ways to create success out of the downturn. But, you have to really put some effort into fortifying your risk. That means being ready. Having the resources you need. You can never be 100 percent sure that you are doing the right thing, but don’t be rash.

There is a push-pull in 2009. There is so much opportunity to be gained, but you have to cover yourself because there is a lot to lose. I have had to sit a few of my coaching clients down for a dose of reality. One can’t stand her boss. One hates her new job. The other is bored to death. All of them are tempted to bolt. All of their minds are stuck in negativity loops because they are miserable with their jobs.

I told them, “That is so 2007. You don’t get to be miserable with your job in 2009. At least you have a job. For the next couple of years, kiss your paycheck and find your joy outside your work.” That doesn’t mean they can’t look around or come up with their own Plan B. It means they need to make peace with a little unease while they do everything they can to find the right Plan B that will work.

Maybe we all got a little “soft” over the years. We expected to enjoy our work, be treated well, be compensated fairly and rewarded for our hard work. When things didn’t feel right, we went looking for change. The same went for relationships. If we weren’t happy, we moved on.

Our current difficulties are forcing us to acquire some of the patience and stamina that our parents and grandparents had. We are being forced to stop complaining and start coping. Earlier generations stuck together. They didn’t whine about bosses, didn’t spend frivolously, didn’t have credit card problems and didn’t expect to be coddled. They bucked up. In jobs and relationships.

I do agree that it was more fun when we could be a little less deliberative about our choices, but there is something powerful in the lessons we are learning today. There may be hardship, but what a teacher it is.

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