Competition, Tough Times, and Thriving

15 08 2013

CompetitionThere is healthy and unhealthy ambition in this world—in commerce, in government, in social circles, in sports, and all sorts of other areas of human endeavor.  It is something of an art to discern the difference between the two.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” has become proverbial, highlighting the emptiness of meaningless competition with our neighbors.  If one is not careful, however, one can take this to a level that is unprofitable.  And not just in a monetary sense.

There is such a thing in this world as healthy competition.  We’ve seen the benefit of this in northern New York where I live.  For many years, this region has been tough economically.   (It was not always this way, Watertown hosting significant wealth in the early 1900’s.)

When Camp Drum expanded and became Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, an economic boom ensued, with waves of continued opportunity, development, and prosperity to come in subsequent years.  The first of these took place in the years 1983-89.  There have been a number since, as more troops have been reassigned here when foreign-based U.S. military bases have closed over the world.  Northern New York looks nothing like it did when I first moved here in August, 1987.

The upshot of this has been a proliferation of businesses, especially in the service industry.  Restaurants, specialty stores, boutiques, home improvement outlets, and wineries.  All sorts of new places to spend your money.

The net result of this growth is this:  It has increased competition and caused established companies here to change the way they’ve historically done business in Jefferson County, especially in the crucial arena of customer service.  It has put them on notice that they have to be on their A-game to stay afloat and prosper.  Copping a “we’re the only game in town so deal with it” attitude no longer works in this part of the state.  Businesses resting on their laurels with this kind of thinking will not be in business very long. And that is a good thing.  If you treat customers like dirt, you deserve to go out of business.  You exist because of those who trade with you.  They don’t exist for you.

What is true of commerce is also true for our careers.  Right now, we are in turbulent air in the economic sphere.  It’s an employer’s market.  The employee pool is loaded with capable people who need jobs.  Gone are the heady days of Clinton years, when the economy helped make many wealthy.  These are tough days indeed.  It is now quite common to hear that many of our fellow citizens with degrees–graduate and post-graduate–are unable to find work in the fields for which they’ve prepared.  The student loans must be repaid, job or no job.  It ain’t easy.

Here’s the challenge for us: To win in a tough economic environment like this, we’ve got to improve.  The competition is stiffer now than fifteen or even ten years ago.  No, it’s not a time to be afraid.  It is a time to step up and take our skills to another level entirely, in terms of increased knowledge, networks, productivity, and overall competence.

How have these times helped you to increase your focus and your net worth?  What tips would you share with our readers?

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