Imagine for a moment that you work for Lehman Brothers. One day this week you find out the firm has declared bankruptcy and your job and your retirement fund — poof! — gone. Your daughter left last week for her third tour in Iraq. Your son started college two weeks ago, and now your nest is empty. Your wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Oh, and you live in Galveston.
Let’s hope that doom and gloom scenario I just concocted didn’t really happen to anyone. But if you pay attention to the news these days, it seems as if everyone is living that kind of life.
Last night I watched so-called experts shout at each other about our global economic situation. One said, “This is the end of the world as we know it.” I thought: Really? You Wall Streeter in your groovy $800 eyeglasses, your bespoke $2000 suit, your trendy haircut delivered by a manicured ego-maniac who is known solely by a two-syllable, vaguely French first name. How exactly is your life going to change? Only going to make $2 million this year? Poor baby.
Another guy said, “This is a lot of ado about nothing. The fundamentals of the economy remain strong and this is merely a minor correction.” Guess he doesn’t live in Galveston. If he did, he might have a different perspective. He might just be freaking out.
So what’s what? If you’re freaking out about… oh, everything at the moment, how do you start to get a grip and find a way to cope? Are the pessmists right? Or the optimists? Where’s the truth?
Voltaire suggested in his satirical novel Candide that “tending one’s own garden” is the antidote to both unbridled optimism and destructive pessimism. So, can you step back in this moment of uncertainty and look at your own plot? Because that’s where the truth of your own situation lies.
How’s the health of your employer? Your industry? How’s your retirement account? Do you have too large a percentage of your assets tied up in your company’s stock? Need to shift anything?
How’s your personal financial health? Are you making your mortgage payment every month? How are home values in your community? How’s your spending? Are you paying your bills? How’s your insurance set-up? Enough coverage?
Check the health of your own garden so you can compare the shouting match hysteria with your own reality. If your house is still standing and it still has value; if your employer is sound and your investments are spread out; if you are managing to pay your bills; if you and your loved ones are healthy — you’re going to be fine.
You can stop freaking out.
If, however, you’ve got stuff going on, tend your own garden, sweetheart, and tune out the hoopla. Work out a refinance on your home, if possible. Arrange payment with your creditors. Take a second job if you need to, while you get your business off the ground. Drive your spouse to chemo. Send a loving email to Iraq. Move in with your best friends while your house is re-built — hey, it’ll be an adventure no one will ever forget!
It seems to me that the only people benefiting from debating the “worst financial situation since the Depression”, are the folks who want their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame. These people are not reporters or journalists, who are, by and large, a responsible and ethical crowd. The shouters, in my opinion, fan the flames of frenzy just so they can get more and more opportunities to be famous.
And we don’t have to listen to them. All we have to do is tend our own gardens. And remember: this, too, shall pass.