Financial Turmoil: Working the New Puzzle

It’s a strange new world, financially, for so many, one in which creativity, adaptability and an innate sense of self worth are the new gold standard.  I read some years back that every ten years or so, the financial ‘game’ changes and if you look at a graph for the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past 100 years there is a reflection of that conventional wisdom.  The rules change and the people who make the rules – bankers, hedge fund managers and global corporations – generally skim the cream off the top, make record profits, change the rules in the play book and a new game begins.

In this particular case the game change has resulted in many people losing their houses, their jobs, their retirements, their nest eggs.   It feels like this change has left many dazed and confused.  Personally, I feel like I’m picking up the pieces of a puzzle that I once felt somewhat competent at working and trying to make the pieces fit together in a new frame.  For about twenty years prior to this economic downturn an individual with a good credit rating but no W-2’s could get a loan.  Now, unless you have the ability to show steady income – even if you have money in the bank and solid equity – you will likely not be granted a loan, a previously understood means of growing one’s wealth.

Those who found themselves without a seat at the table when the music stopped are having to learn new rules, reinvent themselves, make concessions about their living situations and let go of previously taken-for-granted lifestyles.  What I notice most in this time is that the shake up has shaken people out of their comfort zones. It has prompted reconnection.  It has prompted an acknowledgment of community as opposed to what before was an oft-articulated longing for community.  People who lived alone before are living with others. Some who lived in a kind of self-satisfied disconnect are having to find out who is actually there among their acquaintances, their families, their colleagues.

When I lived in New York City it was always delightful when there would be a huge snowfall.  People would come out of themselves in a way that was rare and warm and authentic.  Façades would disappear and spontaneous connections would happen. People would venture into Central Park at night because the entire tone of the city had changed, fear was replaced with wonder.

In a way this period of time feels a bit like that but in slow motion.  As the financial downturn unfolded and people were affected one by one there was this really lovely dialogue that began to emerge among those who had to surrender and become more supple in the face of the new normal.  I heard things like “I’m learning to live on the wind.” “I’ve never had to surrender so much in my life”, I’ve had to release the need to know how this is going to turn out and live more fully in the now”, “Appearances matter less to me than ever before” and the big one “I’ve realized that having money doesn’t mean I’m a greater master.”

It seems to me if we can approach this financial game change like a natural disaster and allow ourselves to come out of our fixed identities to reach out to others, spontaneously connect, offer our help, but more importantly offer our most authentic selves, then we have a greater chance of enhancing our creativity and adaptability. Certainly a sense of self worth is never so apparent as when we reach out to others.

I, for one, am using this time as an opportunity to reassess my values and understand more deeply what I am doing here on Earth.  I believe this is the challenge of these times and it can be met with an attitude of fatalism as though we are in a fin de siecle or it can be met with an attitude of curiosity and enthusiasm as though it is a brand new puzzle placed before us that, when worked, will reveal an astonishingly beautiful landscape.


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