RECESSION – Reinventing Ourselves in Times of Trouble
December 16, 2008 § Leave a comment
In the background of how the current economic and financial crisis is impacting individual lives and families, a leading Indian newspaper had recently asked me to write a short piece on some thoughts around reinventing ourselves in such challenging situations. The same is reproduced below.
Every time we are faced with a real personal crisis — loss of job, onset of a terminal illness, divorce or financial crisis — some of the questions that cross our mind are: Why did this happen to me? Will it ever get better? How will this impact my social position? It is only natural to start feeling down and feel anxious about the future. However, people who have weathered such storms, and whom I have had the opportunity to meet during my corporate career and my life coaching practice, usually say that the crisis was the best thing that happened to them. It made them to get off their treadmill of maddening activity and do some real soul searching towards creating a better and happier future.
Drawing from those experiences, it may be useful to look at ways of dealing with such crises in multiple dimensions.
First, it is critical to maintain a healthy sense of optimism about the future — not because we want to psyche ourselves into positive thinking but because things do get better from points of high pessimism. Surveys of people faced with a personal crisis demonstrate that the same people generally feel much better about themselves and life in general just a year after the initial event. It is equally important to have a strong sense of self-belief — the belief that not only will things get better, but that I will also have a meaningful role to play in it. As Graham Bell said, “When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
If the crisis involves some form of financial impact, it may be useful to also reflect on our needs and wants. In today’s consumerist society, we constantly want more — a bigger house, a flashier car, a new cellphone. Very often, unfulfilled wants may be the biggest source of disappointment and stress in our lives, and this is accentuated during adverse times. It may be pertinent to ask ourselves whether we need all these gadgets. In most cases, our needs are usually much simpler than our unending wants.
Further, crisis tests the strength of character. What differentiates the outstanding from the ordinary is not how well they do in good times, but how resilient they are through a crisis. As Albert Einstein said, “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Committing to living with core personal values in all aspects of our life builds character, which provides us with the inner strength to keep forging ahead, and the courage to see our failures as mere stepping stones in the quest for larger goals.
As they say, the Chinese characters for crisis mean both danger and opportunity. Indeed, a crisis may be an opportunity for unparalleled personal growth. We can easily spend a disproportionate amount of time ruminating over our losses or being anxious about the future. The question is when things do get better, will we be well prepared to take advantage of the new opportunities? Adversity offers the luxury of time to learn and hone new skills — enroll in hobbies or educational courses we always wanted to pursue but never had the time for, perhaps reflect on our true passions and give them shape — this may mean anything from starting a new business or community initiative to discovering latent writing skills.
Finally, such times also provide us with a unique opportunity to reflect on what’s most important to us—who am I and what is the purpose of my life? Am I pursuing a job, a career or my true calling? Do I want that investment banker job because of its lucrative prospects or because I find true purpose in that work? Engaging in our calling can inspire us to operate at a much higher level and away from the delimiting struggle around external success and recognition. As Patanjali, the great Indian sage, said, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”