“We have nothing to fear but fear itself. “
We could use a little of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era grit right now.
This so-called recession is actually a systemic crisis that covers the entire world economy. We will all be deeply affected, if not today, then next year or the year after. All signs are that things will get worse – probably much worse – before they start to get better. No debating: change has come.
We’ve had a pretty long run of peace and prosperity, so long that we have taken them as reality itself. Most of our personal coping strategies were honed in this favorable environment. Ironically, many of us learned to cope with stress by spending the money that seemed to be plentiful and unending.
So how do we cope now? The problems are tougher, and we don’t have the money we once did to make pain go away.
Fear makes people do strange things – go on spending sprees, take impulsive action to stem losses (like selling stock abruptly), drink to excess, rail against the “stupidity” of our leaders, get absorbed in blogs and twitter to the point of distraction [my personal favorite] and so forth.
There is a strain of denial in all of these strategies; denial that something has been lost, and that it isn’t coming back. Scrape back that denial, and our old enemy, cold hard fear, is not far from the surface, with its cold fingers tight around our throats. Many of us are literally “frozen in fear.”
How can we best handle ourselves as this economic crisis unfolds?
We can’t bring back the past, but we can create the future. I’ve found a strategy that works, regardless of the nature of the loss, because it is the deepest possible antidote to fear. It is soft, tender even, so it is probably the last thing a fearful person would think of.
It worked for me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer early in 2008, when 9/11 crashed the foundation and charity world, source of my clients, when I lost everyone close to me within a few weeks in 2003, and now as I cope with my fear about this economy and what it means to me, my new husband, our family, and my friends.
It starts with a basic principle of human nature: If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you fail to do so, what is within you will destroy you.
“What is within you” is what you will use to create your own future. The key question to ask is: What opportunities are there for me to become stronger, more true to who I really am, in this crisis?
I doubt very many of us will become homeless or lack for meals. I expect that many of us will see significantly worsened financial situations now and perhaps for the rest of our lives. I am suggesting that this question, what is within me that I now have the opportunity to bring forth, is the foundation for your own effective coping.
I don’t mean this trivially. I don’t mean trading dinners out for strolls in the woods if that is not your thing. I don’t mean rediscovering the joys of homemade meals and crafts (these are tedium to many, me included).
I do mean a rigorous, continuous, and honest look at who you are, what you really want, and how you can be even more of who you really are, as this crisis unfolds. And I mean applying that deepening knowledge on a moment to moment basis as you make decisions. You won’t be chasing dollars quite so hard in the years ahead; what else is there to being you in the world?
Such a strategy gives you two advantages:
First, it makes it far more likely that the decisions you make will result in personally satisfying outcomes (e.g., happiness) for you. You will likely enjoy watching your choices weave into something new.
Second, it gets you used to finding your own rewards, and insulates you from being manipulated by advertising- generated rewards and separated too readily from your money. There will be less money to go around, that is one certainty. There already is.
I’ve done this, focused on bringing out what is within me when a crisis hits, and it works.
When, through death and desertion, I lost the 5 closest people to me within a month, what I found within me was a deep desire to connect, to relate, to not be alone in the world. This was new – I was a single woman who liked being single. But something changed. I am now married with 4 step children and part of a large extended family.
When I lost my job at a dot-org that lost its funding after 9/11, and the DC economy tanked, I reluctantly took a low-paying job at an SBA-funded Women's Business Center. That turned out to be the start of a new career in small business development that has brought me more intrinsic rewards, friendships, and sense of purpose than any of the work I had done before. I felt I was tapping into something deep.
More recently, I enrolled in a mentoring program to write and speak about small business. Shortly after it started, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the course of treatment (now completed), I stayed in the program as best I could.
What happened was that I began to understand my interest in small business more deeply. It stemmed from my upbringing in the Rust Belt, in a state of constant recession. I left to escape the hopelessness that a weak economy creates. In the process, I learned that life -- and making money -- had far more possibilities than the fear-soaked culture I grew up in ever imagined.
My book – and this article is part of it – will now be much deeper and I hope more useful. There are hard times and real losses ahead, for the country, for business, and for many individuals. I hope I can help people mourn the passing of one stage of our national and personal economic journey, and get on with creating the next one.
What is in you that is ready to come to the fore? I’m all ears.