Sunday, February 15, 2004

Make plan to help yourself

Shed comfort zones

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

When it comes to figuring out how to succeed, many business owners remind me of the man in this joke:

A flood was threatening a town, forcing everyone to evacuate. But Joe thinks, "I'm a devout man. God will save me," and stays put.

As the waters start rising, Joe's neighbor comes by. "Joe, come with me. We've got to go." But Joe declines. "I'm a devout man. God will save me."

The waters keep rising. Joe scrambles to his second floor and out the window. A firefighter in a rowboat comes by. "Get in the boat or you'll drown," he says. Joe again declines. "I'm a devout man. God will save me."

Finally, the floodwaters are so high that Joe is forced up on his roof. A police helicopter comes by and throws down a rope. "It's your last chance, climb up or you'll drown," the policeman yells. "No," Joe says, "I'm a devout man. God will save me."

Soon, Joe drowns. He arrives in Heaven and challenges God. "I'm a devout man. Why didn't you help me?"

"What do you mean?" God replies. "I did help. I sent a neighbor, a firefighter and a helicopter."

Many of us are like Joe. We keep waiting for something to rescue us while we miss opportunities to help ourselves. Whether in our business lives or personal lives, we hope for a lifeline, a "transforming event" - a terrific new customer or rave reviews of our product, a great relationship or better family life - to just show up. Where, we wonder, is our Fairy Godmother?

Alas, life isn't like that. While we sit there waiting for success to fall in our laps, real life keeps trudging along. But like Joe, if we want things to be different, we must learn to recognize opportunities and seize them. We have to do something.

But where do we start? How do we learn to recognize an opportunity when it's being thrown our way?

• Make a plan. Form a vision of what you want to achieve and then develop a plan of how you can make that vision a reality. Developing a plan gives you a framework for making decisions.

• Get accustomed to making choices. Moving forward means seizing some opportunities but allowing others to pass by. Entrepreneurs have many great ideas on how to improve their businesses, and life will present you with many tempting prospects. You can't act on every good idea.

• Recognize that the "perfect" solution is never going to come along. Often we fail to act because we're waiting for the perfect opportunity or the perfect timing. Life doesn't offer perfection; it offers chances.

• Get out of your "comfort zone." Sure you're comfortable doing what you're doing, but if it's not bringing you the results you want, you're going to have to change.

• Make a commitment. Get used to saying no. Get used to saying yes. But whatever you do, do it with commitment and conviction.

Like Joe, we have to learn how to recognize opportunities to survive and succeed and then grab on.

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies" and the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and other tools for business planning.

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