How To Deal With Difficult Times

In 2008 I started a business on the day that the financial crisis started. Having poured all my savings into a new endeavor and seeing the economy crumble in front of my eyes, was one of the most surreal feelings I ever had. Being a true optimist, instead of pulling out, I decided to go through with it. Investing over €250,000.- at the age of 23, telling myself, everything from, “this will have no impact on my business”, “people still need to eat during recessions”, “if I can make it through this, I can make it through anything”, “if this fails, at least I am young enough, so I can always make it back”.

In the following four and a half years, I navigated a challenging economic market, a reduction in spending, and a lack of financing. But instead of giving up, I pivoted and adjusted. Instead of spending thousands on advertising, I consistently dropped leaflets in every mailbox in a 5-mile radius around my business, I learned how to work with a lean team, I sold off assets that I wasn’t seeing an immediate return on, I spoke to other entrepreneurs and asked them what was working for them. Eventually, I grew that company to become profitable, acquired an additional location, and sold the company. Since then, I have pivoted and adjusted my own career as well, going from entertainment to food and now working in data science and fintech. 
In this blog post I want to share some of my insights about how you can deal with challenging times no matter if you’ve ever lived with or if it’s unprecedented.

Three Types of People

When it comes down to it I believe there are three types of people; those who do nothing, those who are prepared, and those who adjust and pivot. The first is people, who basically just freeze up, don’t take any responsibility, and just hope that if they stand still long enough, the threat of the problem will go away. The second one has prepared for a situation like this, not by confronting it head-on, but by being able to get in front of it long and fast enough, so it won’t catch up with them. Finally, you have the one who takes on the challenge and fights through it, learning how to take a punch (set back), defend (adjust) and punch back (pivot), coming out stronger on the other side.

Challenging Times

Depending on what you read, or who you listen to, we are currently going through and will possible go through a challenging period for a sustained period of time. There are very little among us, who can fully grasp the depth of what is going on, but knowing that the current pandemic will lead into an economic downturn is pretty much certain, knowing which one of the three people you are, and what you can do to get through these tough times is crucial.

Below I have broken down these types, and share some insights into how I believe you can deal with these challenging situations.

Those who do nothing

Currently, a lot of people are at home watching the news and continuously looking for updates about the current status of the pandemic, from how many people are infected to the rising death toll broken down per country, and what their government is doing to help them through these tough times.

Those who do nothing, consume all of this information and essentially go into a freeze mode, they feel as if there is nothing they can do about and end up doing, well, nothing. The outside circumstances have impacted them into submission, so they listen to what they are told without thinking for themselves, they stack up on supplies (especially toilet paper) and find ways to escape their current reality.

When things were normal, they are the same people who are continuously looking for something to do, to escape their everyday life. From spending hours on social media, going to the mall or the movies, or spending every weekend in bars and clubs, even when they have nothing to celebrate. During current times, they are the first to complain that they are bored, spend countless hours watching all the Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon shows, keep up with vloggers, who share how they are going through the quarantine, and put in overtime trying to figure out how they can get unemployment benefits to avoid finding a new job or helping out in these challenging times.

Those who are prepared

I have a lot of admiration for survivors of extreme circumstances, from those who had to endure a war to those who got stranded on a desert island and made it out alive. Especially survivors, end up being the ones who are prepared the most for when it happens again. By saving up an emergency fund that will last them at least 12 to 24 months, stocking up silver and gold for when the currency ends up in hyperinflation or having a pantry full of food to last them through any scarcity that may happen.

For those who are prepared, they know that doing nothing doesn’t end well. From having experienced that the government won’t be able to support them, a job can disappear in an instance or how people behave in times of uncertainty.

So ever since their last experience, they have been preparing for the next time it happens again. From saving a big portion of their income, developing all-weather investment portfolios, or living well below their means that any financial distress won’t bother them.

When everything blows over, the economy recovers and life continues, they pick back up where they were, restocking for the next time it happens.

Those who adjust and pivot

Finally, you have those who adjust and pivot. In times of uncertainty, there is no better mindset to have, than being able to adjust and pivot on a dime’s notice. No matter if they’re an accountant, blogger/vlogger or entrepreneur, being able to assess the reality, seeing it for what it is and adjust accordingly, can be the difference between success and failure. Especially now, those who adjust and pivot, don’t waste time spending days thinking about what they should be doing, but actually brainstorm, decide and execute. From accountants, who become proactive in providing their clients with information about how to apply for grants and loans, to bloggers/vloggers who focus their content to help people stay informed or deal with these challenging times, to entrepreneurs who find ways to utilize their assets and continue to generate revenues even though everybody is working from home. Those who adjust and pivot, also use the “extra” time to learn new skills that they never got the time to focus on. Instead of spending hours on Netflix or Disney+ they use their downtime to learn to program, sell via video or social media advertising.

So how do you deal with challenging times?

In my opinion, there is no standing still. Don’t get me wrong at the end of a working day I don’t mind turning on Netflix and turning off my head for an hour and just getting lost in whatever television show I’m watching it at that time, but throughout the day I focus 100% of my time on improving my business and career, no matter the economic conditions. So what can you do to deal with these challenging times?

1. Be as real with yourself as possible

Don’t worry about what happened, don’t worry about the past or all the things you should have done to be prepared for such a situation. At this moment, the only thing you can and should be doing is to assess the situation and be real with yourself. Do you have savings or do you need to get a loan to cover at least the next three to six months? Can you quickly reduce some of your expenses or collect outstanding funds? Once you have figured out your finances, be realistic in if you expect to continue working at your job or in your business, despite the circumstances. If you can, that is great, make sure you show up every single day. If you can’t, you need to be realistic about it and take inventory of what you need to do. From applying for unemployment to figuring out what you could be doing during these times to generate an income.

2. To identify the skills that you have

Often times we think that the only true skills come from a four-year university degree, besides being a doctor or lawyer, pretty much every skill can be learned, especially with the wide range of platforms like Linkedin Learning, SkillShare, Udemy, and others.

By identifying which skills you have, you can quickly assess if you could make a change, even temporarily, to ensure that you secure the income you need. From people applying to jobs for local supermarkets and Amazon to engineers applying their skills to develop breathing machines out of car parts. Your job does not define you, your willingness to adjust, and pivot does.

3. Decide on what you want to do and do it

After being realistic with yourself, and having identified which skills you have and what you can apply them for, you need to make a decision and take action. Unlike other times, when the world seems normal, you can either do nothing or actually take action. In these unprecedented times, you don’t need permission from anybody. If you want to deliver packages, you can apply for the many companies who are looking for drivers, or you can take your car or van, reach out to those in need of your services and start doing. If you believe that your self-taught Data Science skills, can help better understand COVID-19, apply it to the published data sets, or reach out to companies who are looking for data scientists who can help them.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed it, feel free to share it with your network or subscribe to my newsletter. Let me know what you think by reaching out on Twitter, Linkedin, or at DataBright.

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