Time-Tested Cures for Recession Misery

Last Updated Apr 16, 2009 4:42 PM EDT

Dear Stanley,

I'm having trouble getting motivated. There will be no raises around my company this year. The general attitude is that we're all lucky to have jobs. Same goes for promotions. I wouldn't dare to ask for anything, actually. Sometimes I feel guilty not working on weekends. You read the news and every five minutes somebody posts something horrible. But I can't really do a decent job just moping around all the time. I'm a sales person. I need to be positive, even if the trends aren't. Is there any hope, or do I have to wait until everything turns around, if it ever does?

Dejected in Des Moines

Dear Moines,

Well, my depressed friend, there are two ways of looking at this. The first is productive. The second is not. Let's start with the second, because we'll try to put it out of its misery quick:

We're all on the Titanic. The ship is going down. Half of it is below the water line already. There aren't enough life boats, and even Leonardo DiCaprio is about to get a good salt bath. You are standing on the top deck, still relatively dry. "Gee," you say to yourself, "Why am I so low? I'm all right. True, things seem kind of bleak right now, but what's the point of moping around? I should cheer up and try to have more fun."
Does that sound like a reasonable position? Of course it's not. It's what gloomy short-sellers of our economy call "a realistic point of view." Perhaps it is. But it's no way to live. People who see things "realistically" at junctures like this get very little done, feel very bad all the time, and are horrible at cocktail parties.

The problem with this form of "realism" is that nobody knows if we're on the Titanic or not. Nobody knows how deep or long this terrible economy will go. I believe, therefore, that as an operating strategy, it is much better to assume that we are NOT doomed, that things will turn around, and that people who bum you out should be avoided at all costs. If that's you, either change your attitude or avoid yourself at all costs.

This leads us to Option No. 1, which I'm taking second because it's more interesting. It looks like this:

Things are bad right now. They may be bad for a while. Like all hard times, there will be winners and losers once the crash is over -- and it will be over, as they all are. I intend to be one of the winners, even if it means buckling on my armor and fighting it out with no food, no water, and no bathroom breaks for a while. As I do, I should cheer up and have more fun."

Now THAT is an attitude you can build a strategy around. For me, it looks something like this:

  1. Eat right. That means at least one big steak a week, but certainly no more than three.
  2. Drink right. Certainly no more than three cocktails a night.
  3. Work hard. Whatever that means on a given day.
  4. Have as much fun as possible. The means avoiding as many meetings as I can.
Whatever strategy you come up with to keep you going, start with the assumption that everything is going to be all right in the end and that you'll be there, in one way or another, to see it. Then hammer together the actions that will get you through. Remember: Even a bad strategy is better than no strategy at all.