The Good Side of Bad Times

for the week of December 31, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Year 2001 has not been the best and kindest to many people. The United States is officially in economic recession, and its world-wide effects have been felt with a vengeance. Lots of people I know have lost their jobs in its aftermath. The horrible events of 9/11 have had an early destabilizing effect as well.

Nobody would wish for such a year. Nobody predicted its most harrowing features. And nobody whose career, family, or retirement savings have suffered during it is praying for 2002 to duplicate what has just come and gone.

The good news is that there are silver linings to the dark clouds of loss, war, and negative headlines. A recent article in USA Today (12/18/01, p.1B) carried the headline "Bad times spawn great start-ups." It documented some of the notable successes that have been generated out of the ashes of economic downturns. Did you know, for example, that 16 of the 30 corporations in the Dow Jones industrial average trace their origin to times of recession?

Walt Disney lost an acting job as a movie extra and started his famous cartoon company in a garage during the 1923-24 recession. William Hewlett and David Packard teamed up in Silicon Valley in 1938 during the Great Depression. And Bill Gates dropped out of college to launch Microsoft during the downturn of a recession in 1975. Crisis seems to spawn an entrepreneurial culture.

What about you? Are you a thermometer or thermostat? Thermometers do nothing more than reflect their environments. Thermostats change theirs! If you have had a bad year, been laid off, or exist in a generally horrible environment, you have a choice. You can be a victim and whine about your fate. Or you can do some serious introspection, set some positive goals, and start moving ahead.

In the business world, laid-off and unfulfilled workers have changed the world by taking action in hard times. The same thing is true in other settings. Individuals, families, and churches who sense that something is wrong always have choices. The single most important choice is between passivity, grumbling, and dejection on the one hand and exploration, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm for new challenges on the other.

Choose your path for the coming year on the basis of your passions and priorities, not your circumstances. With God's help, you can go from being a melancholy thermometer to a difference-making thermostat in your world.

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