Being your best at the worst of times

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English: A group of acorns.
English: A group of acorns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard a story once about how a sales manager in the depression years encouraged his salespeople to make their daily sales targets. He would tell them to put five acorns in their left pocket and that they could only go home after they had transferred each of those acorns into their right pocket. To transfer an acorn, they had to call on a potential customer.

This sales manager rose from a young boy selling newspapers on the streets to become the eventual owner of a large short-term insurance company. On the streets he learnt human psychology. He learnt how to motivate salespeople crushed by the depression to go out and make sales calls so that they could put food on the table.

You see it on streets nowadays – people who once had promise but lost their jobs and drifted for lack of any system or plan. In this economy people have not only lost their jobs but they have been robbed of their dignity. Some young people have educated themselves but are close to their 30s and still haven’t found a job.

For some small business owners this bad economy has been life changing. A footwear factory owner in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal was forced to shut down because of competition from cheap Chinese imports. In his mature years he has come to Johannesburg to start his life all over. He’s opened a Portuguese-style restaurant only six months ago. The whole family is involved in the restaurant, a risky business in any economy, to support its survival.

Bill Bonner, who dubs himself as the “Rogue Economist” says that the “middle class” has atrophied into the 10% of households just below the top 10%. “The truth is painfully obvious: A middle-class lifestyle is unaffordable to all but the top 20%.” But how many new entrants are there into the middle class nowadays? Can the many unemployed youths, even though graduated from top universities, aspire to the middle class?

Where do you go to earn an income? The large companies take the best graduates but what happens to the rest? Government employment has exploded as if hit by gigatons of atomic matter and is now the largest employer in the country. Yes, you might say, well, go for small business jobs or entrepreneurship. People who sprout out things like that don’t realise what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They have little idea of the skills, experience, creativity and risk management and expertise you need to run a small business. And if you don’t believe that just look at the statistics of how many businesses fail in their first year, second year and third year. Also, just look at the pathetic support given to small enterprise development.

Yes, it’s hard. But no matter what happens to you in this economy you have to “keep carrying on” and even some. The survival drive to get up the next morning and start anew, start afresh in an industry or marketplace that is totally foreign to you, where you have to call on customers that are complete strangers, where you have to have a razor-sharp mind to sell your story about providing value to potential customers.

For those who still have the fight left in them, the will to succeed, the youthful passion that won’t die, you can still turn setbacks and problems into challenges and opportunities with the right attitude and training.

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