Monday, December 6, 2010

This Present Fog. A Prescription for Challenging Times

If you’re anything like me you’re probably having a hard time “feeling it” this year. I think sometimes we get lost in what’s happening immediately around us. What’s going on with our lives. Is it a struggle to just pay the bills? Does business feel harder and harder? When things are harder we humans tend to have a shrunken world view. Why is it so hard for me?

This is when I think community forums and other personal and professional connections can be so valuable. The truth is that we aren’t alone in our struggles and the one gift I think the internet has given us is the ability to connect with people we’d have never met otherwise who’s experience so mimics our own that we can’t help but listen when they say, “here’s what I did and it worked for me.”

I also think it is important to point out that the current economic environment is incredibly wearing. It seems like every time we hear a shred of good news it is accompanied almost immediately by bad news. Stuff we couldn’t possibly have any control at all over seems to be impacting our own livelihood. (If you actually have ANY control over Greek or Irish banks, could you please stop reading now and go and fix them so I can have a better Christmas?) We keep hoping that tomorrow will bring better news, but we keep finding the same thing around time’s bend. The track keeps going, but it continues in a murk. When will we punch through?

In this business, a business that serves not the necessary but the desired, these weights continue to hold especially true. When people are having a hard time covering the necessities, paying a professional photographer is a long way down the priority list. For working professionals there are fewer jobs and they are farther between. This environment has been made more challenging due to the emergence of so many new photographers.

So how do you keep going? How do you maintain your creative vision? How do you keep your business afloat? Isn’t it easier to just give up?

At this point you’re probably ready for some pithy statement that makes you smile and makes it easier. I don’t have that for you. In fact, what I have may not help at all. It depends on you.

In times like this I have to remind myself that I do not, by myself, determine all of the outcomes. There is nothing I can do to change the world economic situation. There is nothing I can do to change consumer sentiment. The impact of the challenging economy is pervasive. It even impacts our moods. We get one more “no” and we think it must be us. Look, sometimes it is us, and so a vigilance around our business is a good idea. Are we communicating in the best, most efficient way? But just as often that “no” has nothing to do with us.

Ships captains of old dreaded few things more than fog. Fog obscured vision. It forced the world around the ship to close in. The lives and safety of the crew became an obsession. Several days in a mid ocean fog could drive men toward the edges of sanity. Every morning they rose hoping for a glimpse of the sun or a star to reckon by. Every night when they crawled into their berth, they wished or prayed the same thing. Lift the fog.

In that fog there was little the mariner could do beyond stare at the compass, keep the ship’s heading true and trust the charts created by those who’d gone before. Ships with lesser captains foundered on rocks or shoals when they went in search of shelter, to wait it out until the fog was gone or they found themselves run aground or hopelessly lost when captains recklessly pressed on without proper vigilance. Being too careful or foolishly courageous could get you killed. The best course was simply to carefully press on, knowing that the fog would eventually lift. It was to trust the compass and the other experts on board, make solid, informed decisions, and go.

It is the same for us. We can’t control the fog. We can’t change the economy. We can’t be too careful, or our lack of progress will be a self-fulfilling prophesy, and we can’t press on too hard or we could easily run aground. We simply need to trust what we know and forge ahead with enough conservatism to make it through but enough careful progress to be where we want to be when the fog lifts.

The only good news is that the fog will lift. I’ll leave the conjecture about when that is going to happen to others (and frankly I couldn’t care less what the “experts” have to say these days) but I’ll make sure that we’re moving forward in a way that both ensures progress and keeps us solid in challenging times. Perhaps that will also work for you and in a bigger way, perhaps the knowledge that what you’re feeling and seeing isn’t unique to you will help.

What’s next is what’s important.



Emily said...

I needed to hear that today, so thank you!

Barbara Mastro said...

Thanks Jim.
Pressing on-