How to Stay Focused on Your Goals and Succeed When Times Are Tough

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I may not have a crystal ball, but I can tell you one thing for certain: The economy never stays the same. As a mentor once explained, within any 10-year span, two years will be amazing, two years will be awful, and the rest of the years will be “meh.” In other words, you don’t have to feel overwhelmed when you read about stagflation, inflation, or an uneven job market.

Of course, you probably will. After all, you’re human and you’re ambitious. You want to achieve your career goals. However, you have to face the fact that you can’t control downturns.

There’s a bright side here, though. You have plenty of things you can influence even while the world is adjusting to a new norm. One of the biggest things is you.

Control What You Can Control — Leave the Rest on the Backburner

I’ve been in this situation before. In 2005, my employer told me we’d need to let go of members of our team. Not because we weren’t talented; it was a necessary evil of the business cycle in the financial industry. 

As a professional early in my career, my first instinct was dread and uncertainty. Fortunately, my second instinct was to reframe the uncertainty and risk before me to chart a new path. After reflection, I saw it as an opportunity to explore what was best and next in my future, and it ultimately evolved into a start-up. 

In 2008, I ran into another predicament which could have been seen as an obstacle. I had hit the ceiling and felt I was stuck in a situation with limited growth potential. I decided that I would be creative (and a little bold) and offer my skills differently. I floated the idea of collaborating with the technology team to innovate something new for the company.

My gamble paid off. I had the chance to deepen my value because I tweaked my own thinking rather than staying steeped in worrying about my limitations.

Often, we get caught up in the negativity of moments. I credit the positivity of my parents for enabling me to stand up in the face of career challenges. Don’t get me wrong: It was stressful. Yet it showed me that I had the power to create the right path forward for myself. You have that power, too.

Forging Ahead When the Economic Waters Are Turbulent

It’s important to realize that your career or business venture is unlikely to have any kind of linear pathway, especially in our modern global economy. It’s more apt to go up and down in the long term over and over again. 

The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to adapt when you’re heading south instead of north.

This is really all about naming your fear (of failure or uncertainty) and asking yourself “How will I get where I want to go?” Once it’s named, it doesn’t have the same hold over you. Instead, it floats “out there” and frees you from its grip. At that point, you can take steps to define what you do know and strive for your desired future, always guided by four principles.

The first principle…grit. With grit, you dig down and persevere. With grit and determination, you’re able to move mountains. Angela Duckworth is the world’s leading expert on “grit,” the much-hyped ingredient in personal success. As Duckworth defines it, grit is passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It’s the ingredient needed for your 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year (and beyond) ambitions.

The second principle is resilience. I liken resilience to non-stick Teflon. Resilience allows you to shake off your fears and worries and bounce back from things that don’t go as you’d hoped. 

Of course, having courage, which is the third principle, is critical. Courage gives you the strength to take action in the face of unknown, or known, risks.

As Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach®, a leader within the entrepreneurial space, states: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s being afraid, acknowledging your fear, and pushing ahead toward your goal anyway, knowing that along the way, you’ll gain the necessary capabilities to achieve your goal, which will result in greater overall confidence.”

Fourth up is curiosity. I credit my quirky curiosity for what’s gotten me to where I am today. When you’re curious, you’re always open to learning, growing, and discovery. And then using newfound knowledge and experience to propel yourself forward.

Once you’ve set your mindset for grit, resilience, courage, and curiosity, you are ready to build momentum. While you’re navigating the economy and uncovering possibilities, keep the following truisms in mind. They’ll bolster your spirits and keep you from backsliding too often. (It’s okay to backslide a little. I sure did and we all do. It’s understandable. Just remember to pick yourself back up and keep on keeping on.)

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” — Elizabeth Edwards

1. The worst thing anyone can tell you is “no.”

My dad shared this advice with me a long time ago. Now, I’m passing it along to you. Never allow yourself to hold back just because you could hear “no.” Certainly, it doesn’t feel good when someone turns you down, but it’s just part of the normal process of business. It’s not easy when clients or bosses say “no,” but there are always others that want to work or collaborate with you. You must always believe in yourself and that it’s just a matter of finding the right people.

2. Positivity is a gift you can give yourself.

If you’ve tuned into this article, you may be feeling impatient and driven. Those traits can be assets — or liabilities. Temper your desire to make everything happen immediately by staying positive and focused on your goals. Yes, you’ll be experiencing emotions (frustration, disappointment), but don’t get into a cycle of toxic thinking. Tell yourself that no matter what, things will work out, if only just one step at a time. Possibilities are ahead. You simply need to rely on those four above-mentioned principles to get started on getting from here to there.

3. Opportunities are often hidden in plain sight.

Feel like you’re just never going to be able to share your talents or live your passions? Maybe you’re just not identifying career or partnering opportunities. For instance, I recently met a woman who helps underprivileged women get their education in Costa Rica. I was riveted by her goals and got in touch to find out if I could help her. I don’t know how exactly, but I’m hopeful that this becomes an opportunity for us both. In other words, I’m open to what tomorrow could bring without feeling the need to know exactly what that might be.

It’s not easy to have big career dreams at a time when the economy isn’t playing nice. Nevertheless, if you stay focused, optimistic, and determined, you’ll be able to get to the next logical place in your career journey.

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