Survival of the Fittest

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As hard as we try to control our environment, the reality is that things are always changing; things that are beyond our control.  Adaptability becomes the great separator between surviving well, getting by, and being destroyed.  How we choose to move forward, and how well we anticipate and adjust to circumstances makes all the difference to the outcome.  Those things we do control.  Survival mode isn’t a bad thing; it actually forces us to be more creative and look at our challenges with urgency (and perhaps, a fresh eye).  Consider examining your worries and see what creative solutions you can come up with.  Be an active participant in your life, and don’t wait for the ceiling to come crashing in before acting.  Anticipate well and make your move before you need to, in order to strengthen your chances for success.  Here are some actions you can take now:

Increase Job Security.  One of the greatest fears in an uncertain job market is being laid-off.  In addition, there are jobs that are being exported overseas.  Worrying and complaining about this won’t change the situation.  Take this time to formulate a Plan B, and be wise to the writing on the wall.  If your job (or your spouse’s job) is always dangling by a thread, it’s time to look at the skills acquired and the contacts made.  Can this experience translate to another industry?  For example, an unemployed teacher might pursue a career as a corporate trainer, which requires the ability to communicate and instruct.

Consider freelance or consulting opportunities available (provided your employer doesn’t forbid this).  Would an investment in more education or training improve your job prospects?  Is there a side business that can be started with little or no capital (ideally, that would allow you to keep your full-time job)?  Maybe you have been itching for a change and want to explore a passion. Or, maybe you see a need that isn’t being filled in the market right now.  Again, use the experience and skills you already have to turn this into something profitable.  Brain storm, and write down everything you can think of, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.  You may end up with a clear idea of where you should be personally and professionally.

Tap Resources.  Local colleges and universities and libraries have education and job placement counseling. There are small business development centers that offer free mentoring to start-ups, including assistance with fleshing out your idea, developing a business plan, marketing and management issues. Career Zone and Job Zone can help you match your talents with prospective careers.  There are resources for retired/mature workers looking to transition back into the workforce. Women and veterans have agencies dedicated to working with their needs.  The Small Business Administration, SCORE, and the US General Services Administration are some websites to explore.

Work Hard.  This sounds obvious, I know.  But, how we invest our time has a lot to do with our success.  Two hours of television watching could be better spent planning a new business, or going to school to get additional training.  Of course we all need to unwind and recharge, but find the time to invest in getting “fit” for the challenges that may lie ahead.

Budget Wisely.  A budget is only as good as the information you put in it.  That is why you have to keep track of everything that you spend and everything that you make.  Only by tracking every little expense can you see where the “fat” is.  Saving/investing must be a line item in your budget.  Make room for it by cutting unnecessary expenses.  Every month, you should aim to put away at least 10% of your income (more, if you can).  If you are contributing to a retirement plan at work, this money would count toward the 10%.

Refinance.  With fixed mortgage rates still at historical low levels, you can immediately improve your cash flow by refinancing.  The key here is to pocket the difference, not spend it.  This money should be used to fully fund your retirement, or to build up the emergency fund.  If you are branching out into a business, some of these funds can be used in that manner.  This money should strengthen you, and not be used to buy more stuff.

Pay Down Credit Card Debt.  Get healthy and shed as much of this debt as you can.  You should aim to pay off more than just the minimum and look to consolidate the debt to one lower rate card.  Talk to your card company and try to negotiate a better rate.  If you still have high rate cards, be sure to pay them off first.  Of course, stop using credit cards for any new purchases.

Delay.  Again, if you are nervous about job security, or debt is creeping up on you, put off purchasing anything you don’t really need.   Don’t eat out, don’t go on a vacation, don’t buy a new car, don’t indulge in anything that you would consider something you want (a manicure) versus a need (an annual check-up).

Difficult times provide a chance to examine your life and to truly grow and benefit from the experience.  Preparing for survival mode will strengthen you and, more important, give you confidence when you do rise to the occasion.  Suddenly you will see possibilities that otherwise you might have never considered.  Growing pains aren’t easy to bear, but they are necessary for survival.

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