In a previous post, I looked back at instances of stagnation - in IT systems, careers, relationships. In this post I'll talk about why difficult times should be welcomed as a way to spark creative thinking and good habits. In the next post I'll share some ways I've found to keep those habits.

Looking back on my 10-year career, the times I was most proactive about networking and skill-building were when I was most scared. When you're in a desperate situation, excuses don't matter, outcomes do.

Situation 1: You're an immigrant grad student without a job. The companies you wanted to work for have an HR policy of "We don't sponsor H1B visas".

Strategy: What if I bypassed HR altogether and made my case to the company's CEO?

Outcome: It took a special company and a special CEO for the strategy to work, but it worked.

Situation 2: You're working 16-hour days working on a Windows app and managing an offshore team. The world of web development is passing you by.

Strategy: What if I got a PluralSight subscription and listened to videos during my commute?
Outcome: It cost me an extra $50 a month in cell phone data overages, but I grew my skills as far as possible.

Strategy 2: What if I started applying TDD, BDD and architecture skills on the Windows app?
Outcomes: A job offer from some of the best consulting companies out there. I also gained lots of experience teaching this stuff to other devs, which were very useful in later projects.

That's the first key: Do whatever you can right now, with whatever you have at the moment.

Want to be an executive but don't have time/money for an MBA? How about a nanodegree? How about an altMba?

Want to grow your network but don't know where to start? How about seeking someone out who you can help?

Of course not all your efforts will succeed. Of course you feel fear and frustration. It's part of growth, it's part of where the great ideas come from. To break out of a rut requires extraordinary effort - which is what tough times are for.

And that's where the second key comes in: Don't backslide once you get past the tough times. Keep the habits that you learned during the bad times. Don't repeat the mistakes that got you into the mess in the first place.