Intentional actions can frequently define your future

June 7, 2009
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When faced with a swamp full of alligators, far too many people worry about treading water and keeping the ’gators at bay than about what they are going to do once the swamp is drained. People tend to focus “on the moment” rather than taking the moment to prepare for the inevitable future.

There is an important difference between reacting to your situation and responding to where you are based on where you anticipate being. It is this difference that we must integrate into our attitudes, our actions and our essence if we are going to truly matter.

Dealing with today’s economy is much like wading through a swamp. There are major distractions, disclaimers and detractors circling you as you try to move through your daily activities. People personalize the misfortune of others or anticipate the potential of someone else’s hard times befalling them to the point that seemingly competent, confident individuals become completely debilitated, unable to act on their thoughts or take even one step forward.

Whenever we worry so much about “what is” that we cannot envision “what could be,” we become mired in our swamp and inevitably fall victim to its alligators. 

While we do face unprecedented economic times, I’ve found five things we can do to keep ourselves focused on where we are going rather than becoming bogged down:

Visualize success. If all you think about is where you are, it will be nearly impossible to visualize yourself elsewhere. Where do you WANT to be? If you can think it and dream it, you can do it!

You must first, however, let go of your ingrained visions and beliefs — of those things holding you back or keeping you down — before you can become what you have only begun to imagine. Start with thoughts of your destination, and the road you choose — whether well traveled or dusty and winding — will transform itself into a path to success.

Forgive past mistakes. Forgive past hurts and the people who may have hurt you, to make your burden lighter. Do not forgive others out of kindness to them but rather out of kindness to yourself. You will only sink deeper into the swamp if you carry extra burdens on your shoulders.  To move on, particularly in today’s economy, think of what must be done to march forward rather than placing the blame (thereby establishing excuses) on others.

Trust your ability to prevail. Chances are that you’ve been in tough situations before and survived. What resources did you call upon then that you’ve blocked out now? What brought you success on your first job? Your marriage? Being a parent? Taking tests in school? We have all faced seemingly impossible situations in the past and moved beyond them.  It’s not good enough to THINK you can get through your swamp; look back on your experiences — your successes — to KNOW it!

Accept support. Too many people feel that the only way to succeed is through self-sufficiency. This is so far from the truth that it is laughable! We all have helped others at some time in our lives — and gained immensely from the opportunity to share. What is different about accepting the help that others wish to give freely? Without “receivers,” there can be no “givers.” It is not wrong to seek help, accepting what is offered with an open heart and a curious mind. What is wrong is to isolate yourself within your swamp, refusing to accept a lifeline and sinking when help within sight is denied.

Project ahead. While taking one step at a time, always think about where your efforts are taking you. Do not dwell on the insurmountable mountain that stands between your swamp and your destination; rather, think about how much closer each step is taking you to its summit. Don’t think that every stroke you take will bring you closer to your goal. We sometimes take one step forward only to slide back two, but we must always progress in our journey.

The Phoenix did not rise from the ashes to soar on the wind without the intentional actions of another. People often need the same kind of help to rise from the depths of their swamp to the heights of the mountains around them. They must plan, act, rely on their own resources (as well as on the help of others), and truly believe that a brighter day is coming. They must prepare to accept the opportunities that tomorrow brings rather than finding a distorted comfort in “being like everyone else” today.

Making excuses and placing blame is NOT the way people can make a difference. We make a difference by excusing ourselves from the grasp of a negative situation — refusing to acknowledge its hold — constantly seeking higher ground around us from which we can climb toward a brighter future.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resource solutions since 1939.

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