Negotiating The New Normal, Part Seven - When You're In Dire Straits
It would be wonderful if all it took for all of us to get through this economic upheaval was a little bit of belt-tightening. Hey! Just-don’t-spend-so-much-for-a-little-while! Get-a-new-job! Problem solved! Not always that easy, is it?
If gaining clarity has shown you that a likely path ahead is going to compel you to make big changes that you’d rather not make, I want to acknowledge that that sucks. I wish I could offer you something that would make a real difference, like say; a job, or a new market niche for your small business, or a rent-free house. I can’t. I can only offer this: however bad the truth is, hiding from it will only temporarily dissipate your anxiety. Avoiding the situation is understandable, but not sustainable. Accepting that the situation is what it is, and making decisions on that basis will get you through in better shape than hoping that things will change all by themselves. Begin by doubling-down on self-care. If your financial picture is really bad, you are most likely going through a whole range of extreme emotion (when you’re not feeling numb, that is). All of which make total sense - anger, fear, shame, self-doubt, wild optimism, wishful thinking, disgust, sadness, outrage at the unfairness of it all – sometimes one at a time, sometimes several at once. Followed by times of feeling nothing, because you’re exhausted.
Communicate how you’re feeling, have that validated, and ask someone to be beside you as you look at your financial situation. Now is not the time to go it alone either emotionally, or when planning out the worst case. Lean on others. When you’ve got the strength and support, my recommendation is to not only face up to the likely situation, but to work through it in detail. What are the things you can control? What is your bare-bones absolute minimum budget? What would you do if you had to sell your house? What steps will you take if you have to re-locate to find work? What could you do if it proves hard to find a new job? How do you access government benefits or NGO support in times of hardship?
The Stoics have known for years that knowing steps you’ll take if the worst happens is calming. Being calm helps you to face the situation, and to do the things that are within your power that may prevent the absolute worst from happening. Sometimes the worst is not what happens, but what it does to our view of ourselves. To go from being a homeowner to renting; from being a small business owner to being unemployed; from standing on our own two feet to being someone who needs support.
This change in our self-view can bring us feelings of shame and defeat. And because our default mode is to imagine that the way things are right now is the way they will continue to be forever, it can be hard to imagine a future that is better than the present we are in.
It can be empowering at times like these to look to your cultural and family history to see how people before you have coped with hard times. Every family and culture can point to times when they suffered hardship. How did they come through? They did. You will, too.