Earlier today, I emailed a friend with some of my thoughts from this post. It was that email and her reaction that inspired the post. I’d mentioned the portions about what I’d read on Craigslist and how heartbreaking I found it to be. Her reply was to tell me, sarcastically, how optimistic I was being and then she went on to say that she did agree that we were heading for a depression.
First let me state that my email was neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It wasn’t negative or positive. It was merely the reality of what is going on right now, all over this country. Her response shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I’ve known her for more than a decade and found her to be firmly grounded in reality.
I think the reason there has been such a glut of “reality” tv shows about those in truly unfortunate situations (think Hoarders) is that it enables us to deflect attention from the reality of our individual situations. We can look at a show like Hoarders and pat ourselves on the back that while we may be messy and somewhat of a pack-rat, at least we’re not that bad.
I think my friend’s reply to my email hides her very real and present fear that it could be her. It may well be her, if things continue the way they’re going. No one wants to confront that kind of fear, so they shove it into denial; they become sarcastic, and sometimes they get blatantly angry.
Sarcasm can be an extremely good smokescreen for anger. Generally, when one replies in a sarcastic manner, what they really want to say (because they don’t like what you’re saying) is “will you shut up already???” It’s easier and more socially acceptable for us to display anger than it is to display fear, just as it’s easier for us to cast about attempting to find a scapegoat for our situations rather than own any portion of accountability that is ours.
I’m here to tell you, right smack in your face, that I’m very much afraid. I don’t allow that fear to govern me, but I am not ashamed to admit it. I do my best to see the positive in things – sometimes so much so that I’m a bit like Pollyanna. I am an idealist at heart, but I’ve learned not to allow my heart to rule my actions. When I say I’m heartbroken by some of what I’ve read lately, it’s true. I’m also realistic about it. I can’t get mired in that. I can’t allow someone else’s situation to govern the way I think and feel about my own situation.
I made a statement to a family member recently to the effect that if I’d listened to the parental unit when I was a teen, if I had done things their way instead of thinking I knew better, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The reality of my situation is that what has happened to me may well have happened whether I’d listened to Mom and Dad or not, all those years ago. The reality of my situation is this:
In the past two years I have been downsized, found a job, moved out of state for that job, downsized before I could start my new job, found myself unemployed for 3 months during which time I was uninsured and had to have emergency surgery, found a job, got transferred to where I live now because the office in the state where I had the job, announced, a week after hiring me, that it was closing, offered me a transfer, so I moved 450 miles, and one year later I’m downsized again. Is any of this my fault? No. Does it matter whose fault it is? No.
What matters is that I am left holding the bag, and I’m actually grateful that I have a bag to hold. That means I’m alive. Being alive means I have options. Sure, some of them aren’t all that palatable, but I’ve choked down worse meals. So have you. I’ve also learned that you can make a mighty tasty meal from what’s in your kitchen already if you learn how to cook.
I have been on unemployment since February of 2011. I just got a 48 week extension, and if I still don’t have work at the end of that period, I may qualify for something…or I may not. I’m afraid. That fear has driven me to downsize my life. I’m moving almost 100 miles to an area in-state, that has a lower cost of living so I can lower my living expenses. Once I make this move, my budget will have to squeeze out $700 less than it is squeezing now. That money will provide me breathing room, and if I’m scrupulously frugal, I will be able to save that money. That’s $8,400 over 12 months. That’s a lot of money.
During the next few months, I’m using my fear as a motivator. I am going to position myself so that I can make a living doing what I do best and that is through creating and teaching. I have already investigated the probability of becoming an after-school educator in the arts for a local co-op gallery in my new town that provides after-school programs and summer art camps. I will become a part of the co-op so that I can have space to work and sell my creations. I’m a silversmith and I make jewelry. I teach jewelry-making, and I also teach just about any other kind of imaginative art process. So, at 50, I’m reinventing myself.
I’m also not greedy, and I know that an item is only worth what the next person will pay for it. That’s essential for everyone to keep in mind. Don’t buy into the current media fad for antiques and junktiques; for turning shabby to shabby chic and thinking you will be able to then sell it for top dollar. Those people aren’t making their money from their products – they’re making their money from their cable and network TV shows. I know a lot of people all over this country, and I know of only ONE couple who makes their living buying storage lockers.
If you’re crafty, and can learn to market yourself well online, there may be a niche for you, especially if you have an unusual product that is priced to sell and it is something you can produce quickly. Of course, if what The Web Bot Project says has any validity to it, we may not have access to electronic anything from December 2012 to May 2013. Ahem. It also predicted a huge earthquake for Vancouver in 2008 that never happened. If the Mayans have anything to do with it, we’re all going to die on December 21, 2012. Or maybe they just didn’t feel the need to extend their calendar any farther. If the Hopi Tribe is right, we’re going to be hit by a blue star…at some point. That’s the only REALITY to any of the 2012 mumbo jumbo out there. Yup, we will be hit by something at some point, but scientists predict that it will be thousands of years before that happens and I think I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then.
This isn’t about Armageddon or the end of the world. It is, however, about the end of the world as we have known it for the past few decades.
I would advise everyone to take time to take stock of what skills they have outside of their job, and to improve upon those skills as quickly as they can. If you are a woodworker who can’t find the time to “indulge” your craft, find the time. If you are an at-home carpenter, get your skill set up there so you can sell your skills if need be. If you crochet, knit, sew, or do any handcraft, the time might be coming when you may need to fall back on those skills to put food on your table.
I’m not being alarmist. It’s happening all over the place. Don’t ever think your company can’t do without you because they can and will do without you if the executive committee sees their bonus pool shrinking. You will be gone and your job will be farmed out to three other people who are already doing the work of two or three people.
Don’t function under the assumption that you will be downsized with some sort of package, either. Unless you are downsized through attrition, or are at an executive level, the odds are very good you will get two to six weeks pay and an offer to keep your health insurance through COBRA.
Do you know how much COBRA will cost you? If you have a family it could be more than your monthly mortgage. I am not being alarmist or pessimistic. I’m being real. Corporate America demands loyalty from its employees but the return on that loyalty is…add it up…a big, fat, glaring ZERO. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I hear people talk all the time about how “good” their company has been to them, allowing them to take paid time because a family member was sick, or paying them for sick days after they used up all they had to tend to sick children, etc. Do not ever believe that the company with which you are currently employed will sacrifice or has sacrificed anything for you.
Function under the realistic assumption that the corporate executives at your company will get what their avarice tells them is their due and you will pay the price. They do not care about you. That is the reality.
Find a way to earn money outside of what you currently do as a job. Multi-level marketing is not the answer, so please don’t fall for any of those schemes. Think about your passion. What do you truly LOVE? Find that passion and turn it into something that will put food on your table if you find yourself without a job.
Stop using credit for anything. Buy your clothes at thrift stores. Recycle, repurpose, reinvent. Be real about what is going on. Find your long-dormant survival skills and hone them. Use the coupons in the newspaper and match them to sales at grocery stores. Get rid of any elitism you may have about material goods because it will be your undoing.
If you own a gas-guzzler, sell it. Trade it on something more economical. Eat before you go to the grocery store and don’t go unless you have a list. Don’t vary from that list. Plan your menus and shop accordingly. Learn some DIY skills. Learn to barter.
If you don’t start thinking about doing these things, and then DOING them, you may find yourself in a nosedive you can’t pull out of.
It’s all well and good to sing “Tomorrow” (there’s an earworm for you!) and talk yourself into believing that the sun really WILL come up tomorrow. Usually the sun does come up, but sometimes tomorrow is a very long way off. I believe America’s tomorrow will come, but it won’t be what we normally think of as tomorrow. Tomorrow, for us, is going to be quite a bit longer than 24 hours.
Nope, not being pessimistic. Not being optimistic. Simply being real.