How to Navigate This Economy

Things have changed. You can see it all around you, in the empty store fronts, the friends or relatives who have lost jobs or homes or businesses. Maybe you’re underwater on your home, or you’ve lost money in the stock market. Maybe your business is off. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched in one way or another.

And the things are not going back to the way they were any time soon. Consumer spending is 70% of the economy, and we’ve gone from having a slightly negative savings rate (people were not only spending everything they made, but also their savings and/or borrowing to spend) to one that is 5 – 6 %, and might approach 8% in the foreseeable future. More savings are great on an individual level, but if those savings are not lent out by the banks (which aren’t lending what they were in the recent past), there is less spending in the aggregate.

If you run a small business, you set the tone for your employees. You set the structure for your business, even if it’s just you. If you can’t keep your own act together, how will your business succeed? A lot of us small business owners are, as a friend of mine put it, ‘working harder for less’.

If you have a job, you know that you are being expected to produce more with fewer resources. This often translates into working more hours for the same pay. Or actually having your pay cut. This can feel like you aren’t appreciated, even if it’s happening company wide. And it’s hard to stay motivated when you feel unappreciated.

If you are looking for work, you know that finding it is basically a full-time), unpaid job. And it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re working hard for literally nothing. On top of that, you’re probably worrying about your financial situation.

But there are lots of things you can do to keep up your motivation! Here are three, and I’ll add to the list periodically:

  1. Accept reality without blame. Blaming never put you into a positive, creative place, and it never will. Try this now: think of a situation you’re unhappy with, and decide who is at fault. Now, imagine that person (or a person representing the institution) is standing in front of you, and point your finger and really accuse that person. Doesn’t feel very good, does it? Now, let that go, and just notice the details of the situation. Feels a bit better, right?
  2. Forgive yourself. The situation is what it is. Even if you had a hand in creating it, you were doing the best you could, given the information you had, and given the rules of the game as they were constituted at the time. Too much credit card debt from using the credit cards to pay medical bills? Did you have another choice? Maybe, maybe not, but you were doing the best you could, given your resources. That should feel a little better, too.
  3. Forgive everyone else. They were doing the best they could, given their situations and the rules of the game.

This should get you to a neutral place, so you can look clearly at where to go from here.

  1. Analyze the situation and decide where to go from here. Is business off? What can you do to improve it?Where can an increase come from? How can you apply what you do to things that people need? How can you lower your costs while you are rebuilding your business? What are you doing that isn’t bringing you business? Let go of it!
  2. Control your costs — which you have much more control over than you do over sales, or any other sort of income. Are there services you are paying for that you’re not using, like extra bandwidth on your ?
  3. See what you can learn from it. There are 2 levels of this:
  • First, the personal: Maybe you did something out of ignorance. Got into an exploding mortgage? Next time, you’ll read all the loan documents, and not sign them if you don’t like them or don’t understand them.
  • Second, the rules of the game: The rules of the game recently included huge, short term incentives on Wall St. for a series of asset bubbles (dot.com, real estate, etc.), and an increasing intertwining of big business (the military-industrial complex, big media, big pharma & health insurance companies) with government through campaign contributions. (Did you know that upon retirement, your Senators and Congressional Representatives get to keep unused monies in their campaign funds?) You may decide it’s now appropriate for you to work to change the rules of the game.