Friday, January 16, 2009

What Will 2009 Mean to You in the Long Run? You Decide

You may not be able to control all the events of 2009 as they seem to be lining up just beyond the horizon – like storms in the Pacific, or planes lining up to land at SFO. But you have absolute control over what they will mean to you in big picture scheme of things. Will 2009 be remembered as the year of despair and anxiety? Or the year of absolute amazement, miracles and inspiration to last a lifetime? Same year. Same events. Two different interpretations. You get to choose which one will best carry you and your family into the future.

The other night I was listening to a lecture in which Jack Canfield was talking about how one year he and his wife decided to assign a theme to that year – in his case it was The Year of the Family. And so for those ensuing 12 months, the two of them took on specific projects to help them appreciate their children more and to more intentionally set their kids up for their own future.

The theme itself isn’t as important as the intentionality of focus that is assigned for that year. So that got me to thinking…the way we’re going right now as a nation (probably even the entire world) the year 2009 could be the Year of The Financial Fecal Matter Hitting The Proverbial Fan.

But that doesn’t have to be the theme of 2009 for you. However the financial events unfold, that train, as they’ve been saying on TV, has left the station. In the big picture scheme of things, we as individuals have no control over the macro-economic state of affairs -- or even the Madoff-economic state of affairs.

I recognize that most of us have lost a lot of money. And some of us have lost our jobs, or are having a harder time finding work. And I don’t mean to make light of very serious events in our lives right now. We’re all suffering to some degree.

But even though the financial aspect of the 2009 story may be out of our individual control, this is a great opportunity for us to remember that the story of our life is more than a financial, material, or even a professional one. Let other people assign financial dominance over the way the story of 2009 will be told. But we can choose a much better story to tell of who we will become as individuals during this time. That’s within our control.

Here are some ideas for 2009:

The Year of Relying on Our Own Judgment. Personally, I made some really stupid financial decisions over the last couple of years, because I listened to the wrong people. I figured that the experts knew more about these things than I did and I should just follow their lead. So I ignored what my heart was telling me and chose to do the “smart” thing. Well. That didn’t turn out so well, did it? A few years into my regrettable commitment I read something in an Oprah magazine that hit me between the eyes: “When in doubt, don’t.” That’s my new mantra from now on. Well, at least one of them.

The Year of Recreational Frugality. This past summer a client of mine took her family on vacation to the United Kingdom. Her teen-age daughter was appalled that a hamburger in a London McDonald’s was over $8 and challenged her mother to a game of, “let’s see how cheaply we can live while we’re here.” What could have been a fretting endurance trial of watching money slip through their fingers (totally spoiling a trip that should only have good memories), her daughter turned it into a fun game and source of pride. How inspiring! How cheaply can we live while the financial situation shakes itself out? It could be fun to find out. We can turn that into a game, if we wanted. And, in the end, it could be a great source of pride for everyone because this is a game in which no one loses.

The Year of Using What We Have. We all have stuff we don’t use. When it comes to books, I’m a huge snob. And over the years I have looked down my nose at poseurs who filled shelves with books they would never read. Somehow, “I bought it but haven’t read it,” didn’t translate in my mind as someone who was actually well-read. Well-bought, maybe, but not well-read. But over those same years I discovered that I was getting into the habit of saying the same thing. My problem: I’d buy a book that I discovered, regardless of whether I had the time to read it right then and there, because I didn’t want to forget about it later. Now I’ve got tons of great books in stacks, shelves and piles, all of which are squeaking, “read me!” I could actually go a whole year without buying another book (heaven forbid!), and still have plenty to read. What do you have that you don’t use to its full potential?

The Year of Turning What We Have into Cash. Everyone’s looking for a bargain these days, and those bargains often come in the form of used stuff. Where does that used stuff come from? Well, from us, of course. A friend of mine routinely makes as much as $600 holding periodic garage sales. I wonder if I can make so much selling some of my books – the ones I’ve read, of course.

The Year of Strengthening Our Faith in Whatever. God? Humanity? The Laws of Attraction? Karma? The Way the Cosmic Cookie Crumbles? Our own resourcefulness? I’m not so sure about the power of positive vibrations. But one thing I do know is that a negative mindset is completely self-destructive. It shuts you off from innovative thinking, appreciating the good things in life, connecting with other people, and seeing opportunities when they come flying at you. Personally I’m fond of deus ex machina stories – those stories of God coming out of nowhere and pulling my personal fat out of the fire, just in the nick of time. I’ve got tons of those. They make me feel better and strengthen my faith.

The Year of Recognizing When We’re Being Emotionally Hijacked. One of the books I haven’t read yet (but I’ve got!) is Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. But I think I understand his concept of emotional hijacking. That’s when someone else manipulates you (intentionally or not) into an emotional frenzy about something that really isn’t about you and then causes you to make choices and decisions that may not necessarily be in your best interest. When you think about TV and other vehicles of advertising and news delivery, that’s a model of emotional hijacking. We’re in a heightened state of anxiety by the time the commercials come on. That makes us more inclined to buy things we wouldn’t otherwise even consider. Or our friends give us well-intentioned, but emotionally charged, advice, causing us to go against our best judgment.

The Year of the Pleasant Conversation. I know things are pretty crappy right now, but there’s always something crappy to talk about…even in the so called “good days.” And it’s just not healthy to dwell on that stuff. As Nigella Lawson said when she was criticized for throwing lavish parties and hosting a silly cooking show while her husband was dying of throat cancer: “You just can’t live in that lane all the time.”

I know I’m not alone in the general yearning for “can’t we just talk about something pleasant for a change?” I’m not so much of a control freak as to try to dictate what gets talked about in social gatherings. But I have learned to keep my mouth shut more often than not.

Some friends of mine are throwing their annual gumbo party in a couple of weeks. And the hostess has said, “Yeah! Only pleasant talk this year!” I hope she’ll be able to pull it off!

The Year of Learning New Skills. Pleasant conversation, for one example, is a skill. How much easier it is to succumb to the gravitational pull of complaining and bad news. Learn a new language. Learn how to cook. Learn how to break 400 in Scrabble. Learn all the ins and outs of Microsoft Office. If we’re going to be stuck at home, we might as well make good use of that time.

The Year of Caring About Something That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do With Me. There is plenty in this world to get excited about that doesn’t affect our economic state or job status -- things we can actually do something about regardless of our political affiliations or financial security. Isn’t it true that we really appreciate our own situation when we roll up our sleeves and help someone else out in theirs? Which leads me to…

The Year of Helping Each Other Out Just Because We Can. We all have strengths, skills, networks, areas of expertise that ease the burden of life for our friends and neighbors. How rich it makes us feel to know that we can help someone in a really important way just by coming over, picking up the telephone, giving some advice (good advice), sending an email. It costs us nothing but it’s worth the world to the people we help. And, of course, vice versa.

Whether or not you will end up saying, “That was a very good year,” depends on the vision you make for 2009 right now. And that’s entirely within your control. You still hold the power in your life.

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