2011’s Biggest Lesson: Resilience

Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.
– Muhammad Ali

2011’s Biggest Lesson: Resilience
Reflecting on 2011? Resilience is the BIG lesson for business owners.

What a year 2011 has been! As it draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned in the last 365 days. I learned much, for example, about the strategic use of content marketing, social media and mobile applications – all best practices that I am sharing with my consulting clients.

But as I reflect, I see there is a much bigger, more important lesson from 2011: you must get up when you’re knocked down.

This was a rough year for small and mid-size business owners as well as the broader U.S. economy. We faced, for example:

Uncertainty. Health care legislation plus crisis after crisis in housing, banking and the European markets and the Middle East took their toll, creating a shaky business climate that left many business owners uncertain about where to turn and what to do next. Many chose to do nothing at all.

Unruly weather. Winter blizzards, hurricanes and October snowstorms meant economic loss for many businesses and property owners. Hurricane Irene, for example, dragged down the New Jersey economy, inflicting over $915 million in property damage alone.  Many NJ business and home owners struggled to recover and rebuild in towns such as Cranford, Paterson, and Wayne.

Unclear employment picture. With unemployment in the U.S. hovering just over 9% for most of the year, many consumers changed their spending patterns, impacting large and small businesses alike. There was a glimmer of good news, however, as the labor market strengthened in November and Black Friday and Cyber Monday retail sales reached record levels.

Overwhelmed by the year’s turmoil, some business owners chose to close up shop.  One Dallas, TX, business owner I heard about recently is a good example. He was in the promotional products business for more than a decade. This year, the business climate and fiercely competitive nature of his industry finally wore him down. He shut his firm and is now seeking a corporate position in marketing management.

Choosing resilience

Barry O’Donovan, owner of Cranford, NJ’s Kilkenny House Restaurant and Pub, chose to be resilient – to pick himself up and move on after a disaster.

Hurricane Irene wrecked O’Donovan’s three-year-old Irish pub in late August. At the height of Irene’s flooding, 20 feet of water engulfed the pub’s basement and half of the bar, according to The Star Ledger. All told, there was about $300,000 of damage – an amount that would force many small businesses to close their doors permanently.

But O’Donovan was determined to rebuild. He and his contractors faced a huge task, replacing the pub’s electric, floors and subflooring, and repainting the 2,800 sq. ft. space. “We had no choice but to rebuild,” O’Donovan told the Suburban News. “This is what I know how to do. I had a responsibility to my staff to get up and running as fast as I could.”

Kilkenny House
When Cranford’s popular Irish pub was destroyed by Hurricane Irene, its owner was determined to rebuild

He re-opened Kilkenny’s in record time – six weeks after Irene – and became a symbol of resilience to the local community.

Hitting those curve balls
Life throws all of us curve balls. So how can we learn to be more resilient – like O’Donovan – when things go wrong? To find out, I asked Donna Leyens, Certified Professional Coach and president of True Potential Coaching, LLC, a New Jersey-based small business coaching firm, for some advice. What she had to say can help you smash life’s curve balls right out of the park:

Stop whining about what went wrong. A key part of resilience is understanding that it’s not about what happened to you, it’s about how you respond. Instead of thinking, “Poor me, why did this happen to me?” say to yourself, “This may not have been a good thing that happened, but I’m going to make the best of it.”

It’s all about the stories you tell yourself. It’s hard not to buy into the negative stories, especially when that’s all we seem to get from the media.  Instead of focusing on the negative, say to yourself, “Where are the opportunities in this situation?” To help change your mindset, surround yourself with positive influences and people who can help you create positive stories. What kept O’Donovan going, according to the Suburban News article, was the tremendous support he received from friends and neighbors in the Cranford community.

Find the humor. When you can finally find the humor in a situation, you are step closer to controlling your response. Laughter is like medicine; it prompts your body to release endorphins which make your happier. Laughing can reduce stress and raise your positivity. This helps you to become more resilient.

Move forward. It’s useless to look back unless you can learn from it. But then learn your lessons and move on. Ask yourself, “How can I move forward?” and then take positive action. O’Donovan got his pub operating in record time because he quickly sought the resources – loans from the Small Business Administration, local contractors willing to work nights and weekends – to help him rebuild.

Focus on what is going right. Even in the worst situations, focusing on the positive can help you be more resilient. Set positive goals. O’Donovan, for example, promised his wife that he’d have his restaurant up and running by her birthday – well ahead of initial contractor estimates. As O’Donovan told NJBiz, “My wife’s birthday is October 15, and if I didn’t have it opened before then, I’d be dead.” O’Donovan re-opened Kilkenny House on October 8, to much celebration in the community.

In the New Year, choose to be resilient. It may not always be easy but you will be in charge of your own destiny, like Barry O’Donovan.

Continue the conversation. What situations have you faced that called for you to be resilient? Please tell us about them in the Comments section below.

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