Lighthouse

Happy New Year!

I guess a lot of people are very happy to see the year 2008 passed by, just like myself. What a dramatic year! First we witnessed the house value dropping and foreclosures in the neighborhood, then the crisis of the subprime mortgage. Soon, the bad news crawled all over the financial sector. Investment banks, insurance companies, commercial banks, even big names like Bear Stearns and Leman Brothers burned down into ashes overnight. The darkness, like cancer, continued to spread into other industries, such as automobile and even high-tech. The stock market crashed. The unemployment rate soared. The words we heard most in the past several months are “great depression” and “bail-out”, not what we usually heard even in a bear market.

And the worst part, it’s not over yet. Although debating among each other, the economists agreed the economy won’t recover until the later half of 2009. And that’s from the most optimistic point of view.

With all the negative news, it’s very easy to feel depressed or stressed out in this unpleasant time.

Kind of like feeling depressed in the winter in the northeastern United States (where I am living), chilly, heavy wind blow, cloudy sky, crooked tree branches and yellow grass, no sign of life.

But, wait! We still got Christmas in winter time! Even the darkest nights were lightened up by the holiday lights!

Where can we find hopes and opportunities in the depressing days like now? Here are four directions to look:

History

Whenever we feel it’s the end of the world, we can read about the history. Most likely, the history will tell us the challenges we are facing now is hardly as big as the ones faced by our fathers and grandfathers.

If they can survive the Great Depression, the World War I and II, the Oil and Energy Crisis, and the Vietnam War, why we cannot survive this one? After all, we already got over with the dot-com bubble, in 2001. (List of Recessions in the United States)

The average recession will last 17 months, so we have reason to be optimistic about 2009.

Success Examples

Even in the hardest times, there are winners.

Dale Carnegie attracted thousands of peoples to his self-improvement training courses in the 30s, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Why? Because people were desperate to hear about how to become successful at their lowest points in life!

Another good example is Barack Obama, our president-elect. If Bush did a better job in his second term, if the Iraq war ended gracefully, and if the economy wasn’t so bad, we probably will wait longer for our first African-American president.

The hardest times have the best opportunity for ones know how to grasp it.

Change

Ancient Chinese believed the “new” will be born out of the “old”. When one force goes to its extreme, the reverse force is already born inside.

Take a simple example. Look at the high oil price we were facing at the beginning of year 2008. Everybody hated to see the price of gas continues to soar. Every time to the gas station feels like being robbed. But, there is a reason behind it.

We all knew that oil is not limitless in world reserve. Some scientist forecasted that we are going to running out of oil in several decades. But, since the oil is so cheap in world market (yes it’s still pretty cheap considering how rare a resource it is), there is not enough incentive to start looking for alternative energies. (source)

It’s the high oil price that eventually put the energy on the center of the agenda for the government. We heard that both president candidates talked seriously about energy in the campaign. After elected, Obama soon appointed a Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu his energy secretary to carry out his campaign promises, “New Energy for America”.

What we can learn from this is the greatest challenge calls for the biggest change. Or in other words, dramatic changes can only be born out of the hard times.

Nobody will even think about change in sunny days. Why fix it when it’s not broken? People seldom have the vision to change the course until they hit the hard wall. But once they hit the wall, it’s much easier to persuade them to switch course than before.

Here come the opportunities. Be the leaders and advocates of CHANGES! That’s exactly what Obama did and why he succeeded in the hard times in November, 2008.

What changes are needed by the businesses in bad economic conditions like this?

It’s as simple as do more with less.

If you can provide an idea, a service or a product to increase the market share, profitability and productivity while cutting the cost, you will be the winner in hard times like now.

Here are just some of the common ideas:

Improve Productivity:

  • Process Re-engineering
  • Automate manual processes
  • Upgrade the tools

Cut Cost:

  • Outsource non-critical operations
  • Re-negotiate the contracts with employees and suppliers

All those changes will be easier to carry out in hard times than in good times because people reset their expectations in doom days.

Opportunities are abundant now if you know where to look.

Self-Improvement

Unfortunately, some of us have already been heavily affected by the doomed economy, e.g. lost the job, lost half of the investment, lost the house, etc.

Why didn’t lights shine upon us?

Well, first we need to accept.

Suffering is unavoidable. Otherwise, it’s won’t be called “hard times”. The sooner we “accept” the fact, the faster we can pull ourselves out of it.

To accept, we need to understand.

Why this misfortune happened to me? Think in terms, “What did I do wrong?”, not in terms “This is all somebody else’s fault”. If we think it’s others’ fault, we will find ourselves powerless and helpless. Since we are not responsible, there is nothing we can do to change our current situation.

On the contrary, if we are determined our destiny is in our own hands, we can take control and get ourselves out of this hole we fall into. We can learn from the mistakes and start improving ourselves.

This is the best time to start deep thinking. In good times, we are too busy or too proud to think. We just follow the trend, believing everything will be fine. Now, we have time and motive to think deeply about our life, our priorities, our goals and the future strategies.

When we think everything through and have a plan for the future, we can move on to carry the plan out. Once the plan is accomplished, we are surely improved, if not totally reborn. We will have better jobs, better home, better investment portfolios, in summary, a better self, if we learn from our mistakes.

“Arise from ashes”. That’s the gift from the disaster.

Year 2009 is here, with dreams and hopes.

It’s time to raise our heads and look for the lights shining upon us. The dawn is coming for all of us who can learn from the history and the successful examples to bring changes into our work and lives, with the help of the darkness.

Have a happy and prosperous new year!

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