Oswald Letter

Surviving the Recession: How to Cope with Tough Times

All right, I’m officially over the recession. I’m tired of reading, writing, thinking, and talking about it. Most of all I’m tired of having to deal with it every day in our business. I long for the good ol’ days. For our industry — publishing — that was the go-go ’90s. But at this point I’d settle for anything pre-2008. But for some reason, even though I’m tired of it, the recession is undaunted by my feelings. It continues to rage on, taking its toll on all of us.

No one is exempt. Earlier this year Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, an executive recruiting firm, released data that showed 1,484 CEOs left the corner office in 2008. That number was the most since Challenger began the survey a decade earlier. Of course, some of the executives retired, others just walked away, and many were shown the door because of the poor performance of the companies they led. But it’s no coincidence that a record number of CEOs exited the corner office during the worst economic downturn since World War II.  No one in the current workforce has ever managed through anything like it. It’s not easy, and it’s not fun.

Whether the recession has caused you to feel beaten or dejected, exhausted or frightened, it has been very tough on every American worker. And it appears that the business environment will continue to be this way for some time. That means I’m not sure we’ve see the light at the end of the tunnel quite yet.

So how do you cope with walking into the office every day to face the work at hand while, apparently, many of those who made it to the top have decided to throw in the towel? Here are two ideas:

Be realistic
Your numbers are likely not what they were before the recession. No one’s are. You can’t compare today’s results to what you were able to accomplish a couple of years ago when the economy was expanding. Your boss or board members or shareholders might tell you that there’s only one direction and it’s up, but that’s not realistic.

Try this one on for size. I read the other day that second quarter profits for the S&P 500 are expected to be down 35.7% from a year ago. And, depending on the industry, it can be much worse. Earnings from the financial sector are expected to drop by more than 50%.

Unrealistic expectations will drive you crazy. If you come in every day and beat yourself up for not being able to accomplish what you once could, you’ll soon be so frustrated you’ll want to quit. There is a new reality. You must adjust your expectations to what is going on around you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t push and stretch and reach, but you do it knowing that even though you’re working harder than ever it might be years before you get back to where you once were.

Find a support group
There’s something about talking to others who are facing the same challenges and frustrations you are. You don’t want to be the lonely “Maytag guy” sitting there by yourself. Reach out to colleagues in your industry. Talk to other businesspeople who are fighting the same battles. Call your mentor. Confide in a trusted co-worker. Heck, talk to mom, your spouse, or your priest. But you need to talk about what you’re facing. You’ll soon learn that you’re not all alone. Others are dealing with the same issues, fighting the same fears, having the same doubts.

Many of us belong to associations or participate in other professional groups. Typically we’d attend a conference and be able to network with our colleagues. In these times when travel is being limited, finding creative ways to reach out to others who do the same job is important. Try getting on an e-mail listserv or participating in an online forum. Social media is another way to connect with your colleagues, so don’t forget tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace. But staying connected is critical.

Winston Churchill said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” How right he was. Many executives thought that they had succeeded. They’d made it. And the recession was a huge wake-up call. Success wasn’t final. But failure in business isn’t fatal either. Many of us feel like we’re failing because the results of our efforts aren’t what they once were.  But having the courage to persevere is crucial. Keep trying and continuing to believe. With the right perspective and a strong support group, you’ll emerge from this recession better and stronger than ever.