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some thoughts on dealing with tough times

by Bill Harris

Is all the financial turmoil - not to mention the already-existing political/election and terrorist/war stress - getting to you? We’re all connected to the financial system, and though many people have become complacent again after the bailouts, and because no huge institutions have failed in the last couple of weeks, many experts say the worst is yet to come. So what can you do? Are we facing a depression like the 1930s? How bad will it get? The real question, though, is how can you prepare yourself, financially and emotionally, for what might happen. I’d like to offer my advice, for whatever it’s worth.


First, though I think things could get very bad, the world isn’t going to come to an end. As things get worse, some people WILL say that it’s coming to an end, but when and if you begin to hear that, it will be a signal that things are about to get better. Such comments invariably come when things have gotten as bad as they’re going to get. Second, though it’s tempting to do so, I would avoid finger-pointing and trying to figure out who to blame. Though there are some people who ARE to blame, in other ways this debacle is a universal cultural event, not something caused by mean and greedy people in some smoke-filled back room.

For the entire lifetimes of most people reading this, buying whatever you want, but before you have the money, has been the accepted thing to do. Everyone else seemed to be doing it, and the idea that it might not be the smart thing to do (spend money before you actually have it) just hasn’t occurred to a lot of people.This has resulted in many people ending up in debt, which means you spent tomorrow’s money yesterday. When tomorrow comes, you either have to live on less money, or add MORE debt, which just forestalls the inevitable payback.

To keep the game going, credit markets become more and more leveraged. The bankers did just what they always do, and what the public wanted them to do - they figured out better and better ways to allow people, corporations, and other institutions to buy things before they actually had the money to pay for them. The criteria for who actually had the ability to repay became less and less realistic.

Anyone in the financial industry who didn’t provide this sort of easy credit to people was at a disadvantage, so the game continued until people who had no money were buying houses they couldn’t afford to pay for. No one, though, can live on credit forever, and the chickens are now coming home to roost.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we’re facing a massive and fundamental change in the way money works in this society, and it’s going to involve a period of tough times. So, what can you do?

First, I would suggest focusing on what you can do to improve your own situation, rather than finding someone to blame, as tempting as it might be. People who feel helpless blame others. Don’t be helpless. If you focus on what you can do, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and aggravation. If you like to feel angry and frustrated, then by all means blame everyone in sight.

Next, realize that as things become more uncertain - financially, politically, and in other ways - people will begin to feel helpless. They will feel more isolated and separate. When this happens it’s easier to become more self-involved. Instead of thinking only of yourself, become more aware of other people and their needs. Yes, look for your own opportunities, and then help other people see their opportunities - the positives in their own lives. Become a source of inspiration to others.

Crises feed on fear. Help others to look for the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit that exists even in the worst situations. If you do this, others will look to you for leadership, and your own fortunes will improve in ways you can’t even imagine.

In terms of your finances, search for solutions for your customers or your employer. See the other person’s point of view and figure out a way to solve the problems they face. If you do this, your business will thrive while others are failing. If you are an employee, you’ll have a job when others are being laid off.

My next suggestion is to let go of your attachments to things. Instead, emphasize the value of your relationships. Material things are nice, but life is really about love and friendship. If you have these things, and cultivate them, your life will be more meaningful, no matter what the economic conditions.

From a business perspective, focusing on your relationships will strengthen your ability to survive no matter how bad things get. Sincerely think of the other person and his or her needs. In good times it’s easy to succeed and even the worst-run business can at least make some money. In tough times, those who really care about their customers or their employer, and do their best to discover and meet their needs, succeed while others are failing.

If you’ve lost money, or customers, or a job, instead of focusing on what you’ve lost, focus on potential opportunities and what you can do now. Leave the past in the past, whatever it was, and look to what’s next. And, be willing to be flexible enough to change, to do something different.
Who knows? Perhaps your losses are the doorway to some amazing new endeavor or adventure that will change your life for the better - and which might never have happened if those losses you’ve experienced hadn’t happened. Forget about who you were and begin to dream about who you can be.

I’d also encourage you to get rid of “what if?” thinking. Focus on what you want, and what you can do to get it. There’s no value or benefit in worrying about the future. Yes, think of the potential challenges, but only to help you generate plans and solutions that you can take action on now. If there’s something you can’t do anything about, surrender to it, and then move on.

When something dreadful happens - and it might - move immediately to, “Okay, that has happened. What are my options? What can I do now?” Focusing on what has gone wrong has no value. Focusing on what to do next has great value.

You say you don’t have the tools, resources, or help you need to move ahead? Resolve to do the best with whatever is available. Take action anyway. This will give you confidence, and this additional confidence will allow you to find and utilize additional resources - even when it initially seemed like there are none.

Spend time every day - before falling asleep and when you first wake up is an excellent time - thinking about what you have to be grateful for. Gratitude can make you happy, and happy people seem to attract what they need.

Look for ways to help others, especially those who don’t seem to be able to help themselves. Do it without expecting anything in return. Do it just because we’re all in this together. Go the extra mile for your friends, your customers, your employer, and even for total strangers. People so want someone to really care about them. If you do this, you’ll never be alone - and your life will be fulfilling no matter what is happening.

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