Boom and bust are the rhythm of the construction business, and even the more-stable maintenance industry feels the rhythm of the overall economy with its cycles of expansion and contraction.

As I write this column, it looks like we are headed for another trip down the negative side of the sine wave. The business community is understandably worried about constricted world economies and a likely recession and deflation next year. No, that is not good; but how much does it really matter to you as an individual?

Do bad times affect your livelihood? Certainly. Do bad times control your livelihood? Not without your consent.

Opportunity is what you make of it. In good times and bad, there are people who make money. Remember, recession means business slows down; it doesn't stop altogether. Plenty of people did well even during the great depression. I used to work for a contractor who made a lot of money during those years. He said it was very tough, and the company had to conduct business on a cash basis. But somehow he adapted, kept trying, kept adapting, and came through it looking pretty good.

The fact is: You can control no one but yourself. If a recession comes, there is nothing you can do to stop it; the things that caused it already occurred. You are faced with the economy as it is. Your only choice is what to do about it.

All things considered, we are in the best position we have ever been to weather hard times. We have traditional power work to follow (and whether business is bad or good, people always want power circuits to their lighting and appliances). We also have a palate full of high-tech businesses springing up all around us. This is new and different, and most of us have not properly appreciated it. There are literally a dozen specialties sitting in front of every electrical professional waiting to be picked up.

What do these require of you? Not much. Almost all of this "specialty work" entails installing cable and connecting equipment: the things we do every day. To learn a specialty only requires spending some time learning the details of wiring types and connection schemes. You could do that by studying at lunchtime for a couple of months.

Regardless of your place in the electrical industry, your worth to your employers and customers is based upon what you can do for them. The best electricians always work, and the best contractors always get jobs. Improving your skills is relatively easy and pays very well.

Is there any good reason not to learn a new specialty? Pick one you think will make you more valuable to your company, and get started. (There are plenty to choose from: computer networking, control work, fiber optics, security, power quality, and others.) By spending a few hours a week, you can become an expert in one of these areas by summer.

Maybe we'll get lucky; maybe there won't be a recession. That would be nice. But remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can never cheat reality for long. Get ready for slow times now. If by some stroke of luck they don't come, you'll be at even more of an advantage.