How’s your level of anxiety right now?  If you are like most people, this COVID-19 pandemic is not making it easy to keep calm, feel safe, take care of your family or get your accounting work done.

Everywhere we turn, we are being updated with statistics of people getting sick and dying, of businesses closing and of stricter precautions to take in order to keep our families safe.  The planet is being affected by a virus that those in healthcare are struggling to manage, understandably creating a lot of fear and anxiety.  

Right now I want to help you, my fellow female accountants, to not be completely burned out once this pandemic is over.  As accountants we are already susceptible to burnout on a good day, especially during tax season, but throw a worldwide crisis into the mix, and you could have the recipe for a total breakdown.

Now more than ever, you need to understand how to manage fear, and how to feel safe.  Your family, and the clients you serve, are going to need you to be calm and rational, and when the dust settles, we will all need to get back to a new normal. 

It’s important to point out that every generation has had their share of major crises to deal with, whether it was a war, an economic depression or a deadly illness.  How we deal with our latest challenge is going to set the tone for our mental, emotional and physical health in the future.

Author and successful business strategist, Dan Sullivan, has lived through his fair share of difficulties during his 75 years, but after the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th, he decided to create The “Scary Times” Success Manual for his entrepreneur clients at the time.  It was so helpful that word spread, and businesses were asking for millions of copies to pass along to their clients.

What began as a way to help his entrepreneur clients to deal with fear and uncertainty after September 11th, has now become a manual for anyone during challenging times.  Although these tips were written almost 20 years ago, they are as relevant today as they were then; maybe even more so.

I suggest (and I’m sure Dan Sullivan would agree) that you take this current crisis as an opportunity to show up in ways you’ve never done before.  Look at this time as a chance to become stronger, more resilient and more in control of your life than ever before.

This week I’m going to discuss the 10 tips from The “Scary Times” Success Manual and how you can apply them, personally and professionally. 

Tip #1 –  Forget about yourself; focus on others

When fear is present, it’s natural to focus on yourself; you are hardwired to place your safety above all else.  However, this can then become a “fear loop” in your mind, where the only thing your brain can focus on is more things to be afraid of.

As I have discussed in previous episodes, by changing your focus from what’s going wrong for you, to what you can do to make something right for someone else, you can stop the fear loop.  The more you can focus on helping others, the more you can be an example to those around you.

For example, over the next week, call a client, a friend or a family member each day and ask them what’s one thing you can help them with today.   This will also help them to just focus on one thing at a time as well, instead of getting caught up in everything that is swirling around in their own minds.

Tip #2 –  Forget about your commodity; focus on your relationships

It’s understandable that at times of economic uncertainty, focusing on making money would be a major concern.  However, what this tip suggests is that, times of economic uncertainty are the perfect time to build stronger relationships, without having a monetary agenda.

When you show that you truly care and that you can be the calm in the storm, you are building a much stronger foundation for yourself, your business and your family.  People remember less what you say, and more how you made them feel, therefore, now is the time to focus on improving your personal and professional relationships.

For example, before you pick up the phone to call a client about offering to help with the PPP loan process, think about who they are as a person, rather than as a customer.  Bring compassion, clarity and confidence into the conversation, letting them know that you’re there for them, not just as an accountant but as a working mother doing her best as well to keep her family safe and secure.

Tip #3 –  Forget about the sale; focus on creating value

Whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee, you have an incredible opportunity to focus on creating value right now.  It doesn’t matter whether you sell a product, a service or you provide your talent and expertise, accountants are needed now more than ever.

Dan Sullivan suggests “What people want at all times is value creation—that is, solutions that help them eliminate their dangers, capture their opportunities, and reinforce their strengths. When you focus on providing these three solutions, the sales will naturally follow.”

This tip is not suggesting that you don’t get paid for your services, but it is suggesting that you think of ways that you can provide value by asking “What’s in it for them?” as opposed to “What’s in it for me?”  Again, when the dust settles, the value you created will come back to you in many different forms.  

For example, if you are an accounting employee, check in with your coworkers and boss on a regular basis, being a “soft place for them to fall”.  Let them know they can reach out to you with their concerns and frustrations, and that you are there to support them in any way that you can.

Tip #4 –  Forget about your losses; focus on your opportunities

We’ve all experienced big upheavals of our “normal life” and it can be difficult to not look at all the things that were planned, but aren’t happening – trips that needed to be cancelled, graduations that need to be rescheduled, retirements that need to be postponed, etc.  We have all been experiencing losses in various forms.

One of my favorite quotes from Dan Sullivan holds the key to this tip – “The problem is not the problem.  The problem is that we don’t know how to think about the problem”.  Right now we can choose to see problems, or we can choose to see decisions.

The key to this tip is understanding that your brain is negatively biased towards focusing on the losses, and filtering out opportunities; it will naturally focus on what’s not working or on what’s gone wrong.  That’s why it’s even more important than ever to pay attention and manage your mind.

For example, it may be true that working remotely has been difficult and that the kids needing to be schooled from home has been challenging, but it’s also true that due to the invention of the internet, accountants have the ability to work remotely and that we have been afforded the opportunity to spend much more time together as a family.    

Tip #5 –  Forget about your difficulties; focus on your progress

When things are changing so quickly, it’s critical to focus on your progress.  Embracing change, as opposed to resisting it, is going to help you achieve success when the dust settles on this current crisis.

Dan Sullivan has a rule – whether he’s meeting with one person or with a team of people, he starts and finishes each meeting with the question “What are you excited about?”, giving everyone a chance to focus on what’s possible.  You can also do this with your family, especially with your children.

Since everyone is getting bombarded with more bad news on a daily basis than ever before in the history of humankind, it’s important to give equal time to things that are going well.  While we need to keep informed right now, we also don’t need to ONLY focus on the difficulties all the time.

For example, instead of focusing on what you can’t do right now, start to focus on the areas of your life that were being neglected and what you might be able to do about them.  Maybe prior to this, you were stuck in the office 15 hours a day, and now you can get outside more often and take a walk with your spouse after dinner; something that wouldn’t have been possible before.   

Tip #6 –  Forget about the “future”; focus on today

The reason that the word future is in quotation marks, Dan Sullivan explains, is because we all make up the future in our minds.  The future is everything you planned to do or believed was going to happen before this current situation.

Since that version of the “future” has probably changed, you need to focus on today and what CAN be done, rather than on what CAN’T be done in some future moment in time that you imagined was going to happen.  The “future” is your creation anyway, so when faced with uncertainty, put your attention on what’s possible today, in this moment.

For example, by focusing on what you can do in the next 24 hours, you give your brain the chance to be creative and resourceful.  In the past, you may have never planned on creating a client newsletter, however in the next 24 hours you can begin to send simple and helpful information to your clients that will also help you focus on creating value as suggested in Tip #3.

Tip #7 –  Forget about who you were; focus on who you can be

Most female accountants define who they are based on their roles like daughter, wife, mother, employee or entrepreneur.  When things change abruptly in your life and in the lives of others, it’s important to see the possibilities that these changes can bring for you.

Focusing on who you can be, especially in terms of your roles and your relationships, can be a time for reinvention.  Just like graduating high school and going to college offered the opportunity for a blank slate to recreate yourself, this is also an excellent opportunity to show up differently in many ways in your life.

For example, you have an opportunity to show confidence, calm and clarity to anyone you come in contact with, even if that’s not who you’ve typically been in the past.  You can push the reset button on anything that hasn’t been working for you or your family, and focus on a new and improved version of who you can be.

Tip #8 –  Forget about events; focus on your responses

Since we don’t have control over most of the events in our lives, especially a pandemic like COVID-19, it’s important to focus instead on what we do have control over.  Now more than ever it’s important to improve your ability to respond to unplanned, surprising and difficult things.

During challenging times, you really do have an opportunity to show up in ways that aren’t necessarily needed or obvious in non-crisis times.  You get to become aware of and respond in more ways than you’ probably knew you were capable of.  

For example, if you are listening to this podcast, you are already ahead of most people in your awareness of ways to handle challenging times like this.  You can help by taking one of these tips each week and putting it into action, doing your part to focus on how you respond and teaching others by example.

Tip #9 –  Forget about what’s missing; focus on what’s available

There are so many changes happening so suddenly, that it’s understandable to be caught off guard.  But if you really pay attention, there are more things that are available than not available – the key is paying attention.

Dan Sullivan says “Don’t neglect the things you do have available to you right now.  You can have just as full of a life with new things as you had with the missing things.”  This offers you the opportunity to be more resourceful and creative than you would have if this current situation hadn’t happened.

For example, the fact that we have the technologies that make it possible for us to work remotely and to talk to loved ones via video conferencing, are some of the capabilities that we didn’t have 20 years ago.  Take this time to explore even more technologies that you may not have considered before, and how you can use them personally or professionally once life gets back to “normal.”

Tip #10 –  Forget about your complaints; focus on your gratitude

Since writing The “Scary Times” Success Manual, Dan Sullivan explains that his thoughts on gratitude have shifted a little.  He now encourages focusing on appreciation, more than on gratitude.

As accountants we all know that in the financial context, appreciation is increasing the value of an asset.  This is why he likes the idea of focusing on appreciation, because it increases the value of what you focus on, in your mind.

He explains that complaints are focusing on what you believe is going wrong; appreciation is focusing on what’s right about what is going on.  Complaints are all about what’s not going right for you; appreciation is all about what others are doing to help. 

For example, you could focus on people taking advantage of certain situations and how unfair certain things are OR you could focus on the heroes that are risking their lives to help others and how to show your appreciation for them and to them.  

Although Dan Sullivan wrote these tips in response to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, they are an example of the timelessness of uplifting and empowering suggestions.  My personal tip is to take a minute to choose your favorite tip and put it into practice this week, helping to make this a less scary time for you and your family.

Summary  

  • As accountants we are already susceptible to burnout on a good day, especially during tax season, but throw a worldwide crisis into the mix, and you could have the recipe for a total breakdown.
  • Author and successful business strategist, Dan Sullivan, has lived through his fair share of difficulties during his 75 years, but after the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th, he decided to create The “Scary Times” Success Manual for his entrepreneur clients at the time. 
  • What began as a way to help his entrepreneur clients to deal with fear and uncertainty after September 11th, has now become a manual for anyone during challenging times. 
  • Although these tips were written almost 20 years ago, they are as relevant today as they were then; maybe even more so.