Secret to Success in a Down Economy

Be proactive. If you've ever read Stephen Covey's "7 Habit's of Highly Effective People" you might recognize this topic as his first suggestion. Not second, not third, but first. The first thing that you must do according to Covey to be highly effective is to be proactive. What does that mean and why should you be proactive?

Being proactive means taking personal responsibility for your own life and choices. Covey states that it, "basically means that your life is a product of your values not your feelings. Your life is a product of your decisions not your conditions. You take the initiative to do whatever is necessary to make good things happen. It means that you take responsibility of your own life. Using the computer metaphor it is the awareness that you are the programmer. The only way to predict your future is to create it. The opposite of being proactive is being reactive, which basically means that your life is a product of your feelings--your moods, your anger, or taking out your frustration on work associates. You feel victimized or under the control of other peoples forces. Other people are doing it to you. Being reactive is not taking responsibility."

Somewhere between a stimulus and the response lies our greatest power, our freedom to choose. We all know that the economy is pretty tough right now, as there's thousands of articles to support this claim. In fact, many of you reading this might be looking for work or know someone who has been laid off. I find it encouraging to recognize that each week, each day, each hour, we have the remarkable ability to choose what we want to do next.

I spoke with an electrician named Ben, who has been out of work for a few weeks. He's in the local electricians union and typically is assigned to work wherever they tell him. However, in the present economic conditions there are no new projects in the Madison area until Fall of 2009. Of course that could always change if more jobs are booked. I asked what he might do if he doesn't go back to work for 9 months. "I'll just go out find some work elsewhere. I might have to move. Lately I've been working on projects at home, shoveling driveways, and helping friends as I wait for the call from the union." Aha, I thought. Here's the crux. He has to do something. He has to pro-actively seek out work.

I'm not part of a union so the concept of waiting for someone to call me before I can go to work is very foreign. I would imagine that waiting for the call from the union seems like quite a challenge if there's no planned work for 9 months. However, many others in this world don't wait for the union to call and are used to seeking out new work. I know of some budding entrepreneurs that are always seeking out new ideas and new ways of doing things.

The company that I work for is positioning it's agents to become proactive trusted advisers in the real estate world. In this regard, being proactive is taking the initiative to reach out to clients to talk about true market conditions, rather than sit in the office all day waiting for the phone to ring.

But being proactive is hard. Anyone who has worked in sales can testify that sometimes it can be hard to go out there and talk to people you don't know very well. If being proactive is such a good idea, then why is it so hard for people to do?

Matt Anderson who is a personal/professional coach in the Madison area told me about how he's constantly reaching out to people. As he's had more success in business, his confidence has grown over time. He said that when he first started his career, he would not have reached out to someone unless they had a really good relationship. Whereas, now he's moved past some of his fears and no longer hesitates to contact someone he thinks he might be able to help.

Being proactive is hard and can be scary. What if people hang up on you or get mad and don't want to talk to you? What if, what if, what if... Or, what if people are delighted that you called and happy to hear what you have to say? Perhaps I'm just optimistic. Author Keith Ferrazi suggests finding ways to constantly help other people succeed, and by doing so, it will eventually help you move ahead. Again, this implies that you have to go out and do something. Not simply wait for something to happen to you.

For example, imagine that a professional football team did absolutely no preparation prior to their upcoming game on Sunday. They didn't have practice, rehearse plays, study films, or work out. Now imagine if the opposing team practices before the game. Imagine if they study films of previous games, and determine a strategy to anticipate their opponent. Who do you think will come out ahead on Sunday? I would imagine that the team that proactively spent more time in preparation would come out victorious. This situation can play out many different examples in life.

If you were to go out and proactively find ways to add value to your sphere of influence, imagine how your life would change. If you were more proactively searching for a career how would your life be different. If you were more proactive at work or more proactive with your customers, how do you think your life would change. If you were more proactive with your spouse/significant other, family, and friends, imagine how your life would change.

As Colin Powell once said, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."

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