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Business Success During Economic Downturns

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Everyone seems to be feeling the pinch. Sales are down, tensions are running high. Depression has deepened the creases on everyone's faces as they wonder who in their company will be the next one on the chopping block.

On the new business side, people are fearful of putting money into anything that has any risk (which most new businesses do), and so plans are delayed, procrastination, tension, and depression rule the day.

Though statistically we have seen similar numbers in the early 1980's to the ones we are experiencing now, few of us under retirement age can remember a national fear like the one we are experiencing now. We hear it reflected back to us by our political figures, our news media, as well as in day to day conversations. All of those inputs confirm that our current paralysis is justified.

Throughout my life I have observed groups of people as they've gone through difficult times of all sorts, including economic. Some of these were brought on by poor business decisions. Some have been brought on by labor strikes, and some have been brought on by physical injury or various infirmities.

In each group however, there always seems to be those outstanding individuals that exemplify the indomitable American spirit. While everyone else has been put on hold these people do incredible things. They are often looked up to and sometimes written about. The one thing they all have in common is that they seem to have what I can only call, a "ferocious" determination to get to where they want to go. If you throw one object in front of them, they will throw it back at you. If it's too heavy, they will find a way to go over it, around it, under it or through it.

Some of these people are the obnoxious sort that seem to have come out of the womb fighting. With others there is a quiet resolve that if you could measure it, you wouldn't even consider getting in its way. For some it springs out of stubbornness. For others it springs from a refusal to be dominated. I think for others, it is a strength of will that is convinced that the path that is being taken is the right one, and that it's end is worth whatever it takes to get there.

In the sports world we have seen many stories of this spirit. We've heard of golfers that would swing a club at a ball literally 1,000 times a day, every single day, six days a week, rain, hail, or brutal sun. They knew they would have to do this to be the best. We see Lance Armstrong who has refused to let cancer beat him down and instead has beaten his opponents down and has risen to the highest levels in his sport AFTER almost dying from cancer.

Personally though, I have seen this spirit in a number of people. I think of my Uncle Hank (Henry Kazmark) whose leg was blown off in the Korean War. I would only be speculating as to what drove him to excel in so many of the things he did. He was a better snow skier than most of the people on the mountain using his prosthetic leg (and no outriggers). He looked like a torpedo when he body surfed and could catch waves and ride them further in than almost anyone else out in the water. But what I saw on the beach at Lake San Antonio, California one day, really inspired me on what it means to persevere. He had seen other people performing waterskiing "beach starts" to get up on one ski. The technique involved standing on one leg and holding the other ski above the water, throwing a coil of rope out in front of you and yelling, "Hit it!" When the line goes taut, you fly forward and step up onto your now planing ski.

Since he skied with only one leg it didn't seem possible for him to do a beach start because he lacked a leg to stand on while he held the other ski up in the air. He wanted to do a beach start nevertheless, and rigged up a beach chair next to the water. You almost hated to look. It seemed like it would either rip his arms out of their sockets or launch him head first into the air. It was an incredible sight. The line went tight and yanked him out of that chair, through the air, in at least a 20 foot arc, without him even coming close to landing on his ski. He came up out of the water, signaled that he was alright, got out of the water, and quietly hopped back to the chair, to try it again. I couldn't believe it. I don't know how many times we saw him get launched out of that chair but he would not give up. Every time he hopped out of the water, everyone thought for sure that that would be his last try. Yet he returned to that chair, gathered up the rope and yelled, "hit it" again and again. I don't remember if he ever got the method to work or not. It didn't really matter. The only thing that impressed this pre-teen kid is that for those that want something bad enough, they will buffet themselves and do absolutely whatever it takes (morally) to achieve their goal. They will not give up as long as there is an ounce of strength left in them.

I have met people who were as determined to succeed in their business goals as my Uncle Hank was in his athletic endeavors. People like this don't seem to accept "No" or "Can't" for an answer. They beat their head against the wall until they find a way to make it work.

A noted business leader Nancy Dornan talks about crises and how a champion reacts to them. On Network 21's "Driving the Miles" tape she is quoted as saying the following:

"In crisis a champion does not give in to that wave of, 'I just want to run.' A champion redoubles their efforts. A champion says, 'No! I will not give up. I will not give in.' It's awful. It's painful. But that's what champions do."

Why is succeeding at our businesses so important and why do some seem to have this laser beam focus on what they want to achieve. A blind high school student expressed it this way, "Success is possessing the capability for self-determination. Self determination is the ability to decide what I want to do with my life, and then to act on that decision." I think that is what drives so many of us in this bad economy.

You may have heard that you are not going to be able to retire when you planned or not at all, that you aren't going to be able to send your kid to the school best suited for him or her, that your child can't participate in the activities he or she loves because you can't afford it, that you can't take a family vacation together for another 5 years, and that you may have to put your family pet down because you just can't afford the treatments. Some of us hear all of that, get depressed, and accept it as "just the way it is." Others of us think about those options for a few seconds, stand up, square our shoulders, point our finger straight out and yell loud and long, "NO" at the top of our lungs. Then we hunker down and figure out what it takes to make sure none of those things happen. And we do whatever it takes.

When that doesn't work we try another way, and another, and another. We evaluate what we're doing, we read, we study, we humble ourselves and talk to others who are further along than ourselves at what we want to do, we evaluate our business and ourselves to find weak points, or points that can be improved, and we redouble our efforts until we succeed. Everything is out there that we need - the ideas, the techniques, the people, etc. The real challenge is ourselves. There are people who are going to do amazing things in this economy. They will look at this as the best time in their lives because it brought out the creativity and the fight they never had before. They are the ones writing next year's incredible story with their lives even as you read this. You can decide right now to be one of them.