Facing Times of Stress and Change

Times of stress and change can derail the process of recovery. And what else can you say about the tough times we’re living in now, with our economic woes and fears of job losses? With every news headline sounding more alarming than the last, and doomsayers coming out of the woodwork, I was encouraged by a letter forwarded to me by consultant and speaker Alan Zimmerman. I’m going to quote him at length here, as there are some good reminders for all of us here.

I’ve been speaking on change for a long time. In fact, many of you have brought me on site to talk about “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.” But there’s a new twist to the program. A lot of you are asking me how you can survive this brutal, unfair economic change that has been thrust upon us by other people’s stupidity. You are asking me to emphasize those resiliency strategies in my programs. So let me give you a few of those tips right now.

1. Doubt the doomsayers

And there are a lot of them out there. Perhaps you’ve seen the e-mail floating around the Internet that says little has changed for the better since 1980. It reported that 80% of the world’s people still live in substandard housing; 70% are unable to read, and 50% suffer from malnutrition.

Well that e-mail intrigued author Philip Yancey who wrote “Fearfully And Wonderfully Made.” He spent a great deal of time tracking down the statistics from authoritative sources … only to find out that e-mail is downright wrong. In fact, the world has made major strides in the last 30 years.

According to the best estimates, 25% — not 80% — of the world’s population lives in substandard housing. Thirty years ago the global literacy rate was 53%; now it’s 80% The percentage of people suffering from malnutrition has dropped more than half … to 20%. And 75% of the world had no access to clean water; now 75% do.

As Yancey puts it, “Such good news rarely captures the attention of the media, which continue to portray the world as teetering on the brink of cataclysm.” The news focuses on gloom and doom.

In fact, the media … by their own admission … say “If it bleeds it leads.” In other words, they’re going to report the most dire, gruesome news first and foremost.

Of course Yancey’s research found out there’s a lot of good news out there. But you seldom read it or hear it. So maybe it’s time to doubt the doomsayers.

One more example. When I was in college back in the 60’s, the rage was Paul Ehrlich’s book on “The Population Bomb.” He predicted huge famines would occur in the 1970’s and 80’s, with hundreds of millions of people starving to death. That simply did not happen.

Doomsaying population “experts” used to tell us the world population would hit a high of 20 billion, causing an intolerable strain on the Earth’s resources. We would simply implode.

But then the prediction was lowered to 15 billion, then 11 billion, then 9 billion. Some “experts” now say the world’s population will peak around the year 2050, and then possibly decline. In fact, the birth rate has fallen so dramatically in Europe, Russia, and Japan, “experts” are now worrying about the dire consequences of an aging population unreplenished by younger generations.

As Crawford H. Greenwalt, the president of E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company, said, “When anyone attempts to predict the future, their forecast turns out to be hopelessly shortsighted and pessimistic.”

So you and I need to add a bit of healthy skepticism to all the gloom and doom news out there.

And then …

2. Put things in perspective

I had to learn how to do that. Years ago, I found it too easy to complain when things didn’t go my way. Then I visited several refugee camps in Thailand during the 1980’s … where thousands of Cambodians and Laotians were running from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. I soon realized … by comparison … I didn’t have that much to complain about.

Yes, these are hard times. But do keep things in perspective. Things could be worse. You could be shot at when you leave your house for work. Or you could be imprisoned or beheaded for not worshipping the way some people think you should.

Just remember, wherever you are, you’re not going to stay there. As John A. Simone, Sr., indicated, “If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry; it’ll change. If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry; it’ll change.”

And Robert Frost, one of America’s greatest poets, said he could sum up everything he learned about life in three words: “It goes on.” So keep things in perspective.

And finally …

3. Say goodbye to the way things used to be

Your past may have included a certain lifestyle, a particular vacation spot, or even a specific position in your company. Well, those things, and a host of other things, may have to be put on hold for a while … or even let go.

Don’t waste your time bemoaning what could have been or should have been. To resist change, to refuse to adapt to it, or to deny it, is like holding your breath. If you persist, you will kill yourself.

Peter Drucker, perhaps the greatest management expert of the 20th century, said people fail because of what they will not give up. They cling to what has worked in the past, even after it has clearly stopped working.

What about you? Are there things in your life you have to let go? Are there behaviors, expenditures, or experiences you need to say goodbye to?

What kinds of things are absolute necessities in your life … that you absolutely must hang on to? And what kinds of things are merely nice-to-have wants you could live without? Make a list.

And as you make your list, remember Sandy Ewing’s comment, “Sacred cows make the best hamburgers.” In other words, just about everything … in the way your life used to be … is up for examination and possibly cancellation.

You see … the past is a library from which to draw information, but it’s not a roadmap for living tomorrow.

Ideas for next actions:

Monitor who you are listening to. Are you hanging around the doom-and-gloom crowd too much of the time? Are you tuning into the grim-and-dim media way too often? Then, at the very least, limit your exposure to those negative inputs and balance them with more positive inputs.

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