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Realistic Optimism

28 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Realistic OptimismAs 2010 winds down, I can’t help but reflect on the year’s events, both good and bad. As a business owner, this year has certainly presented its share of challenges. It’s also brought about opportunities. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. My experience is that it’s purely a matter of perspective. There are always cycles in business, as in life, and those cycles are mostly out of our control. What we can control is how we deal with them.

Flash back to 1987. Our business had been booming for several years and of course we expected that it would continue that way. Silly us. The economy changed and, like many other businesses at the time, ours started to tank. As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” We had grown to 2 locations and more than 50 employees. It became clear that our revenue streams were drying up, and something had to give. We continued forward with blind optimism for a short time, leaning on our reserves and hoping to weather the storm. But that wasn’t going to fly any longer. So we had to make some hard choices—the hardest being to lay off fifteen people just before the holidays.

There is nothing more difficult in business than having to let people go for reasons other than their own bad behavior. This economic downturn wasn’t their fault, but they were the victims.  I remember thinking at the time that this just isn’t fair! But as my father so eloquently pointed out, if we didn’t take these steps, we were going to find ourselves selling pencils on the street corner. That didn’t sound like fun. Pencils weren’t in great demand at the time.

So we did what we had to, and survived the crisis. That wasn’t any fun either, but it was a huge learning period for me. Crisis management is truly a test of one’s character and resolve. We ultimately found new opportunities, new ways to generate revenue, and better ways to manage what we had. Through it all, we found a way to maintain our sense of humor, keep our focus and trust that we could find our way back to the “promise land.”

I know that for many, 2010 has been tremendously difficult year, and I feel for them. However, what I admire most is the optimism I hear in the voices of other business owners. Yes, times are tough, but they are committed to fighting through it and getting back to the business of doing business. To me it’s not blind optimism, it’s about accepting the things we can’t control, having the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Yes, there’s a prayer in there somewhere.

So I for one will enter 2011 with a renewed conviction to grow and prosper; to seize opportunities, to face whatever challenges come our way, and to remember to find joy through it all.  Otherwise, what’s the point? Pencil anyone?

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