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Fear Itself

If you are running from a wild carnivore or a burglar with a blunt instrument, fear will serve you well. Beyond that initial reaction fear is damaging. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones dulls the senses and leads to exhaustion and paranoia.

Like you, I am ready to wrap up my work week and begin my weekend. And if I’m not in the mood to write a pertinent business insight or share a particular business philosophy, that’s fine, because you’re probably not in the mood to read those things either. But we all have a lot on our minds, don’t we. 

What kind of weekend will it be? If today’s news headlines are any indication, it will be a weekend of families worrying about job security, staying home or engaging in otherwise free activities. The Sunday papers will likely be filled with gloomy analysis.

I invite you to ponder two thoughts over the weekend. I’d like you to think about the effects of fear, and the benefits of action.

Let’s start with fear. If you are running from a wild carnivore or a burglar with a blunt instrument, fear will serve you well. It will send adrenaline surging through your body, and assuming you don’t have the reflexes of a rabbit, it will help you outrun – or at least provide a respectable chase for – your adversary. Beyond that initial reaction fear is damaging. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones dulls the senses and leads to exhaustion and paranoia.

So do yourself a favor. Go have some fun this weekend. The human body cannot be simultaneously stressed and relaxed. If you are completely engaged in having fun you won’t be stressing, and your body and mind will benefit from the break. If you are tired enough when you go to bed, you’ll fall asleep and likely stay that way. And if you’re busy all day Sunday, tackling the honey-do list, going on a hike, swimming at the health club or the Y – whatever it is you do – you won’t have time to read the Sunday paper or sit around watching the news.

Some of the benefits of action have been outlined above. But there’s more to productive action than just being physically busy to reduce stress. You may actually be facing a sharp business slow-down, worries over your current financial commitments, or the loss of a job. 

If you are facing those concerns now, you will benefit from taking creative action to address them. Business owners need to do more than austerity measures to get by right now – they must analyze their entire business premise and identify opportunities for renewal and growth. We are experiencing a financial crisis on top of a cyclical recession. What does that mean? Historically, that means that when the fear lifts and the financial markets settle, the economy will return to where it was before the fear and craziness of the crisis set in. For us, that means we’ll be staring, not at a full recovery, but at the recession we were gearing up for in the middle of 2007. Layoffs and cutbacks in capital spending are temporary – and fairly damaging – reactions. It’s time to take a more creative approach to ensuring your business viability.

People worried about their ability to meet financial commitments need to put a financial work-out plan on paper. Making a plan won’t solve the problem, but there’s no solving the problem without a plan. Most people in financial trouble are pleasantly surprised to discover that putting a plan on paper sends them running toward financial solvency. Plans work.

People facing the threat of a layoff – or who have already lost a job – need to do three things immediately. First, they need an updated resume, and they should have that resume reviewed by someone knowledgeable about the difference between a strong resume and a weak resume. Second, they must conduct thorough job-market research. Most people are unaware of the job opportunities right in their community. Conversely, if there is no job opportunity in their field, they need to know that quickly so they can either look where the jobs are or figure out how to qualify for the jobs that exist. This leads us to consider job training. 

Thirty years ago this country spent 3.5 times more on job training per year than we spend today. Before you say, “great – we need less government,” consider this: We are in the process of a massive restructuring of our economy. The jobs in retail, manufacturing, and financial services are not going to recover. What are those workers going to do?

Competitive folks will be figuring out job retraining for themselves, ideally before their jobs are gone. Even if the markets settled on Monday (which they won’t), this economic restructuring is going to march on. Each person must take a good hard look at their skills and figure out which skills will translate to other jobs and which skills they must develop to be more successful in the job they have or to be more competitive for a job they need.

I know, I started off by telling you to have fun this weekend. I don’t think this information undermines that. Any time we do something meaningful to advance our lot in life, we feel better. So getting outdoors, out of the house, out of your head this weekend will do you a world of good, whether your worries are right here right now or just out there on the horizon. Getting to work on solving problems – rather than just worrying about them – will make you feel better too. When we don’t do the things we need to do – the things that add value to our lives – it’s usually because we’re scared. Tackling your problems – with a business workout, with a financial plan, or with a job change plan – may feel daunting (check out the MentorWerx post today, which addresses why we avoid doing the important things), but once you dive in you’ll discover you feel better just for taking charge.

So, this is my way of telling you to go have a great weekend. Go, take charge of your life. You might as well pursue optimism and self-empowerment. After all, the fear is killing us.

© 2009. Andrea M. Hill

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