Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is this the worst of times? How do you cope?


I remember sitting in sophomore English class, in high school, cracking open a new book and reading "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." You'll recognize The Dickens. Our teacher expostulated what a grand opening sentence it was and naddered on about how that could be said at just about any time. Perhaps not as "bad" as the French Revolution ... or is this THAT BAD?

It meant nothing to me as a high school sophomore. It means a lot to me as an adult.

The full leading paragraph is relevant here:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Dickens, "Tale of Two Cities"

Many would have you believe we are in "the worst of times," which leads me to ways to cope with what is going on right now:

1. It will change.

This is a big 12-stepper mantra. 'Don't worry. If it's good it will change. If it's bad it will change.' This goes on within us as well, emotionally, because our physical body seeks equilibrium. It's a law of physics: What goes up, must come down. If you've ever experienced a tremendous letdown after a great high (an award, falling in love, an invitation) you know what I mean. Situations change, and so do our emotions.

2. Ignore the DRAMA, the superlatives (as Dickens put it).

I asked a 90+ year old friend of mine the other year if these times were worse than any other and she laughed and said, "No. Just different." She came over as an immigrant from Ireland, back when (as she will never forget), the Irish were not allowed an education.

Keep in mind that the press reports what sells newspapers. If nothing else, notice how each "low" or "high" in the stock market is reported with hyperbole. How can each one be "the economy bleeds," "all time low," "greatest fall in the history of ...". They don't go back and correct what was once an "all time", they just keep pumping it out.

Ask someone 10 years older than you, or 20, or 30, what the fears were at the time, and you will see that most of them, maybe even none of them, ever came about.

BAD NEWS SELLS NEWSPAPERS. (Notice that in a recent medical report, the happiest people said they did not read newspapers.)

Headlines like to catastrophize ... and you're a sucker if you fall for it.

Back in the 60's I became concerned as others did, about the population growth in the US and world, and I became the secretary of the local chapter of ZPG - Zero Population Growth. Their mantra was that the population of the world was out-of-control and would soon overtake food and resources IF NOT STOPPED.

Now the population rate is declining so much in some countries, they are giving incentives for people to have children and in the US we worry about enough young people to support the boomers in retirement.

3. Stay in the present. This brings perspective.

I was listening to someone when the gas prices first went up (and now they are going down!). At the end of his tirade I asked, "How has this effected you personally?" He said, "Not much. I only live about a mile from where I work. And I get a car allowance anyway."

In other words, the gas rise effected some people in a major way, but when you read about these things, stop and take a look at yourself and your own situation. Then forge ahead.

4. Talk with positive people.

Most of my clients who lost a major percentage of their retirement portfolios at 911 had gained it back (before this). Does that not indicate that this will turn around as well? Talk with positive people. And understand that if things were easy to predict, they wouldn't be problems in the first place.

5. If you look around, you might observe something (as said Yogi Berra).

Note that not too many years ago, the anecdote for a spoiled and unappreciative child was for their parent to take them somewhere like a homeless shelter.

A simple conversation with just about anybody today will show you that your own situation is a whole lot better than a lot of other people's.

6. Be willing to let go.

The past is over, as of one minute ago. If things are not the way they were before, that's ok and you are going to be ok. Unless you make a catastrophe out of it, or unless you rigidly defy the course of events. For instance, one solution to the gas crisis would be to give up cars and go back to riding horses. Would you like to do that? The past is only glorified by recollection. Let your own past go, and move forward.

I work with a number of clients who are adjusting to retirement. Retirement is letting go of a lot of things, things they liked and things that had meaning to them. Call me for coaching if you'd like some tips on adjustments you must make.

Take a look at my ebook CHANGING BELIEFS for more ideas.

If course we'd rather be in charge of our own changes, but lets face it, it usually doesn't work out that way. But there are beliefs you can have that can be sustained through change, and in fact make forced-changes easier for you. Why make it worse than it is? Give it a thought!

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