Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Benefits Of An Economic Crisis (No, Seriously)

The housing crisis. The auto bailout. A different newspaper going belly up each week. A soaring unemployment rate. Not to mention countless examples of the current economic crisis experienced by each of us, in small ways, during the course of our daily lives. Even if your job is secure and your home is not in danger of foreclosure, the current perfect storm of economic conditions is enough to rain on anybody's parade or, at least, make life a bit more challenging.

Even grocery shopping, for example, is more of a challenge. On a recent trip to the grocer, I bought a bottle of honey that cost me nearly $10 dollars. Let me be clear: I didn't buy a bushel of goji berries imported from Tibet or a sushi platter big enough to give Jeremy Piven mercury poisoning. I really, truly bought one measly bottle of HONEY for a whopping $9.45 (and I wasn't even at Whole Foods!). Sure, this is completely trivial in the scheme of things, but it's a tangible example of just how bitter the situation has become: even the buzzing, industrious honeybee, a universal symbol of productivity, seems to be afflicted by the economic slowdown. Sad.

But, wait . . . Is that fair? To join the public outcry of people claiming that the world, as we know it, is collapsing before our eyes and we are helpless to stop it—let alone sweeten our tea in any kind of conscionable manner? Could there be a glimmer of opportunity buried in all this buzz, a sweet little dollop of perspective to help navigate our way through the negativity?

With all these leading questions, you can bet I'm headed somewhere. Hence . . . The Benefits of An Economic Meltdown (No, Seriously).

Smarter spending. With boom times comes a propensity and implicit permission to spend exorbitant amounts of coin on unnecessary things. In recent years, conspicuous spending became the standard, trotted to the fore on the heels of Manolo Blaniks and driven to popularity on the wheels of massive SUVs built to tackle muddy ravines on safari in Kenya—which is no different from a mall parking lot, assuming your local mall is located in a muddy ravine in Kenya. Call me old-fashioned; call me low-budget; call me a throwback to the days of our parents and grandparents who maintained their frugal sensibilities long after the Great Depression passed, but I think spending your money on stuff you actually need is an advisable way to allocate your quan, at least, for a while. Maybe you genuinely need a big, bruising vehicle to ferry around children or lumber or whatever, but maybe you could stand to downsize a wee bit. Indeed, non-essential purchases make life a little brighter, cozier, better accessorized, and more fun, but, there's no harm in revising our financial ideology to reflect the cash-flow we actually have , rather than the cash-flow we wish we had. Remember: your worth doesn't reside in your wallet, and, thank heavens for that. I’m not saying it’s time to sell our earthly possessions and wear only clothing we can weave ourselves; I’m simply suggesting that an emphasis on smarter, more sensible spending might do the country some good.

Dining in helps fatten your wallet and slim your waist. Any diet is apt to dish the same advice: the more you dine out, the harder it is to keep an eye on your nutrition, which is actually good news during a recession, wherein people dine out less. So, channel your inner Top Chef; save your pennies, and soon enough, you’ll be dropping unhealthful eating habits faster than the Dow drops points.

Unemployment initiates introspection. With the unemployment rate climbing to its highest level in decades, many people find themselves without jobs or anxious that they might be without jobs in the weeks and months ahead. It’s a scary prospect. Believe me; I’ve been there- during the economic crisis that followed 9/11- however, it’s also fertile ground for discovering and redrafting your ideal career path. Over the holidays, I caught up with a recently pink-slipped pal at a holiday party who is doing just this kind of self-evaluation. “I didn’t even like my job anyway! I just wasn’t ready to quit on my own” she confided. During recessions, people are more likely to change careers or go back to school, which is another way of saying that they get better aligned with their true talents and passions. As my friend's statement suggests, unemployment can bring a new found freedom to make career moves that previously seemed too brazen. The security of a steady job is a blessing; however, without it, there’s often more room for new opportunities to unfold.

Ideas percolate and later: prosper. While a recession is fun for no one, it just might provide enough of a respite from the hustle and bustle of busier economic times for you to develop the brilliant business plan that’s been knocking on the back door of your brain for years. Intellectual currency is even more valuable right now because, put simply, an idea that can withstand the scrutiny and lack of resources that characterize our chilly financial forecast is destined to heat up down the road. In other words, the old adage rings true: “scarcity is the mother of invention." So, get cracking, Edison!

Time and energy remain the most valuable resources. We all have less money than we did a few months ago (although the losses vary greatly from person to person and family to family). Nevertheless, we still have the same number of hours in the day (24 the last time anyone checked); therefore, let the tightening of some of your resources (i.e. funds) underscore the importance and potential of the others (i.e. time and energy). In other words, treat your time as a precious commodity. Share it with those you love. Skimp on spending money on nights out, and rejuvenate “game night” or get-a-good-nights-sleep-night. Having less is NOT synonymous with being less loving, interesting, creative, caring, compassionate, or happy. In fact, sometimes it’s just the opposite.

How are you weathering the chilly financial forecast? How can we make the best of the recession? What helps you look on the bright side when the financial news is bleak?


Anonymous said...

Hi Omgal. It is a tall order indeed to find any sort of silver lining out there, but in your always elegant voice I think you've found a few small things we can hang our hat on. Thank you for reminding us to stay positive in these times - god knows the media takes the opposite approach it seems. Have a safe and happy new year- and let's stick a fork in 2008- it's done!

looking forward to more of your thoughtful outlook in 2009 :)

dfg said...


These are difficult times indeed but I give my people an old english proverb...

"A calm sea never made a great sailor."

In fact, my team are risk takers to the core and my instinct in these trouble-some waters is to take on more challenges. Turn into the wind and into the waves and damn the torpedoes.

If you go down, you go down laughing - perhaps the laughter is a bit mad but leadership is always a fine dance between the impossible and the absurd. Always asking for more from those you have to inspire.

We've started a new company this year and our product comes out in the spring, a mobile magazine. My entrepreneurial peers are sitting back and watching, a bit in disbelief - for me it's like performing a Shakespeare soliloquy up on stage, one of the long ones from Hamlet. You're saying to yourself, wait, wait, wait, ok, now, applaud, and you hope to god that the audience hasn't left in the middle without you noticing.

Right now I feel like I'm dining in a field cleared of chaff. The capital is there, the talent is there, the technology has arrived, all it needs is the spark of confidence.

Bonne Année !