What you think you cannot do…
Q: I’m in my mid-20s, working, and now living back home with my parents. I’m scared about the future. Will we go into a depression, and what are we supposed to do about it?
A: Fear is one of your worst enemies! Slay it now. Don’t wait. Take out your shield of faith and your sword of trust, muster up all the spiritual energy you can, and drive that sword straight into the heart of fear and watch it evaporate up into the sky.
OK, that’s a little dramatic, but I actually am serious about needing to confront and conquer your fears, or they will keep growing stronger and eventually threaten to overpower you and paralyze your life. Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy, timid girl who grew to be one of the world’s most powerful speakers and ambassadors. My favorite saying of hers is, “You must do the one thing you cannot do.” In my world this translates to conquering the things that scare you.
But, back to you. I’m seeing you as someone who’s really smart and quick to figure things out. You’re creative and like to come up with unique ways of doing things, but you aren’t in a very fulfilling or productive job. It’s a little above minimum, with some room for advancement, but not much. It’s a dead end. Which may be OK for right now, but I wouldn’t spend too much energy in trying to go very far because there isn’t anywhere “up” to go.
And it’s OK to be living with your parents for the time being. In my generation (sheesh, that makes me sound like an old geezer) not many people moved back home once they moved out, but the world was a different place. There were more opportunities, no such thing as a national debt (can you imagine that?) and no such things as personal debt (heck, we didn’t even have credit cards!).
In that sense it was a safer time. But now? Your luck and the economy can turn on a dime, and even if you had invested $10,000 toward your retirement already, it’s probably down to $6,000 today—volatile is the word. And if you think of it that way, it is a scary time right now if you put your faith only in the tangible things, like a portfolio, a mortgage, a second mortgage, a third mortgage. We get this false sense of security by imagining this “wealth” as a cushion for us, protecting us against the big, bad, scary world of what-ifs.
Luckily, I see your parents as prudent, conservative folks who didn’t overextend themselves, so they don’t have the same worries as a lot of other people. They may not have that fat retirement fund anymore, but they’re not in debt, either.
That’s my first piece of advice: stay out of debt. Don’t overextend, don’t use your credit cards, don’t buy that new iPod (sweet though it is) or take that trip to Italy right now. Save your money, and keep it in cash. As long as you’re able to live with your parents, you save a lot in rent, utilities, phone, etc., so hold on to all those savings. Build it up. Then, when you’re ready to move out, you’ll have some capital and won’t be starting at a deficit.
Will we be in a depression? The definition of depression is “a pressing down, a lowering, a lowering of vitality or functional activity.” So, if that’s the case, we are already there. Overall, people feel pressed down, their energy lowered, their vitality or activity not as high as before, but I don’t think it has to do with the economy alone.
Again, I’m back to the energy thing, which is what I know. What is the basis of most of our troubles? When I take a step back and look at the broader picture, I would have to say greed. We bought those second (and third and fourth) homes, got zero percent mortgages, and maxed out all our credit cards, always expecting that someone would magically come in and make sure we were always taken care of. Except so many of us were greedy little brats that there wasn’t anyone left to bail us out. It’s affected us all.
So, if greed got us into this, what will get us out? Prudence, moderation (no, it’s not a swear word), and simplicity.
Ask yourself this: is everything OK right now, are you okay right now? So, what changes that peaceful feeling to that scared feeling? Projecting into the future as to what might happen to you. But it hasn’t happened yet, has it? So, one way to slay the fear monster is to keep yourself in the present moment (check out Eckhart Tolle’s classic book, “The Power of Now”). It’s amazing. That way you don’t borrow trouble or worries. You’re now freed up to take whatever action is necessary to propel you another step.
Then ask yourself this: what’s the worst that can happen? Well, the absolute worst that could happen is, I suppose, you lose all your money (or your parents lose all their money), you lose the house, and you end up homeless on the streets. Could you live with that? It’s hard to believe that you could, but I bet you’d find your way if that were to happen.
There are a lot of possibilities if that’s your future: living with friends, relatives, going overseas to volunteer…the list is endless. But you see? There are options, no matter where your life takes you, and it just doesn’t pay to borrow trouble when it’s not even here yet. What I’ve found in my many years of worrying—yes, I worry—is that usually the scenarios I try to predict are never what eventually ends up happening, so even though I’ve tried to prepare, in the end it doesn’t help anyway.
We can all help our current “depression” by cutting back: Don’t go out as much; watch what you buy; try to buy secondhand; recycle; help others; smile; go to the library; learn to knit and cook; make s’mores in your fireplace. I’m not corny. I’m serious. This overindulgence and greed have not made us happy. From what I can see, it’s made us miserable, broke, and scared. So why keep doing it?
Yes, I admit it: my favorite hobby used to be online shopping without the intent of buying (and also included some extra buying), but in the last two months, I’ve lost the urge to spend money. The result? No credit card balance, extra money socked away, less clutter in the house—all win-wins. And all because I chose to be less greedy. Ask yourself, do you really need that thing you’re desperate for? If not, let it go.
Concentrate on other things, things that don’t involve buying. This is a great opportunity to discover more about ourselves, especially if we realize we have more free time now that we aren’t going so many places or distracting ourselves with shiny things. Work some meditation time into your day (you know you have the time), work a walk in, or have reading time. Our family has started family movie night on Saturdays and family game night on Sundays—priceless and free.
Ask yourself what makes you happy, then do it (preferably something that is free). If you can’t come up with any free things to do, then have that be your next project: finding free things to do. If you tell me there’s nothing to do in Fargo, I will put you in a time-out young man. That’s just not true, but I’m not going to write a list here. That’s your job. So, get to it. Tighten your belt a little and find the fun in the free, then feel the fear fly away and be replaced with that deep calm that comes from knowing everything will be OK, in the end, because it always is.
These difficult economic times will pass, and when they do, I hope they will leave us richer and deeper and better human beings than we were before, more appreciative of each other and ourselves, and more equipped to handle difficulties. Because life can be difficult, but in the end, we all need to just grow up, delay our gratification and find other meaning to our lives besides what we own and how much we’re worth. There’s so much more to us than that.
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