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Face the Wind and Adjust the Sails

December 1, 2008

While the economy has been touch-and-go since the beginning of the housing and mortgage meltdown starting in August 2007, the overall mood of the public has changed dramatically since post-Labor Day this year with the financial crisis and subsequent government bailout leaving uncertainty in the economy.

This has prompted a decrease in retail sales, a general business slump, some selective bankruptcies (business and personal) and increased unemployment due to job cuts.

Okay, no secret and not fun. So what to do about it?

One response is to be overwhelmed and frozen with a loss of a sense of control. It is a natural, human reaction but not going to help much. I know. I have been in that space before and I have detected it in others recently.

A second way is to somehow deny it. I read a letter to the editor today in the Orange Country Register, my local paper, and it opened with the comments, “I am not in recession. I refuse to be part of the problem. I choose to be part of the solution.”

The writer then went on criticize the “relentless assault on people’s minds” by the media that basically, in his opinion, spreads fear and negativity. He also included “negative government pundits” as part of his charge.

While I admired his attitude to take personal responsibility and push ahead I have never been one to lump together the media and blame it for the doom and gloom. The media (as a whole) reflects what is going on in both the micro and macro aspects of society-good and bad. Besides, blaming third parties helps you little (okay, really not at all) because you do not control them.

A third approach, more realistic and more personally productive caught my attention during an interview with Ted Turner, the noted entrepreneur and founder of CNN, this morning.

Turner was interviewed by Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press” about life and the interview touched on part of a new autobiography from Turner.

Turner, an avid and competitive sailor, has a quote about the approach to life and challenges as basically, “Face the wind and then adjust the sails.”

So if times are bad, acknowledge the reality and adjust accordingly with what you can do to work through the issues as best possible and have faith it will be okay in the end.

Considering CNN often faced financial demise in the early years, Turner has some weight to add to his views.

I certainly do not want to treat the current economic problems lightly, but as we look at the situation most of us are very fortunate and, if we are in good health, are likely to get through this okay.

It might mean some financial hurt. It might mean trimming some expectations, at least for the short run, but it does not mean we are individually defeated nor is our opportunity cut off in the future.

So often we think more about the potential downside of a scenario and it does not come to fruition anyway.

We wasted time and energy when we had the opportunity to be more productive for ourself, our family, friends and coworkers.

So step back, breathe, and then push ahead.

And if you need some moral support (we all do at some point) let me know.

Someday I may be looking for it from you.

Either way we will get through this.


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  1. Steve:

    I appreciate very much the tone and intent of your piece here. As a therapist, I’m trained to be as empathetic as possible to my clients’ issues and challenges. The current economic downturn appears to be crashing down on everyone’s head in some way or another. I have never seen such genuine and realistic disappointment and dread from normally upbeat people. While they all hope to see this thing turn around, the pain is visceral right now. 401k plans in steep decline, postponing dreams of retirement and enjoyment of precious golden years. Parents with seniors in high school, and 529 plans falling way short of the huge financial commitment to send their hard-working, eager, and worthy kids to the school they picked out last year. Seniors who are now worried about out-living their retirement nest eggs. As their partner in this journey through all of this, including their justified recriminations towards the Wall Street firms that squandered their futures, I reinforce and share their rage. There is no sugar coating this disaster. We should be processing our hurt and disappointment that others created this storm that is swamping our metaphorical financial boats. Mr. Turner’s yacht is much better suited to stay afloat than my friends, family members, and clients’ boats.

    I’m counseling my clients to find the non-financial meanings in life right now. Enjoy a crisp walk around Greenlake here in Seattle on a brilliantly sunny December day. Do the project that you put off. Spend more time over coffee with friends, shooting baskets with your kids, and watching a good movie with your partner.

    Most importantly, try not to be in such a rush to get to work, bust your ass for some executive who is deciding which pink slips go out this week. This is a massive renouncement of free enterprise and deregulation. The just thing would be to have more executives take a pay cut to $1/year. We need symbolic gestures from those who have had a great time betting our money on things like collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps. One idea is to put in prison a number of Wall Street and other financial titans who presided over this activity during the past decade. If possible, spit in the wind, and hope that it hits the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, square in the face.

  2. Joe L. permalink

    Great advice and well written Steve! Handling adversity straight on is certainly the way to go.

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