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Is there a bright side to this economy?

Sometimes the hard times show us what we're capable of achieving.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 19, 2011 10:50AM
Seattle has had mostly cool, cloudy weather since May. The produce at farmers markets hasn't been as plentiful or, in my opinion, as tasty as in previous seasons. Free local blackberries are scanty and none too sweet; instead of being able to stand in one spot and fill quart containers with wine-rich fruit, I'm ranging far and coming home with substandard pickings.

All in all, a bummer of a summer. But a Seattle Times headline reminded me to look on the bright side: The cold, wet weather has greatly reduced the number of wildfires in the region.

(Caution: Pollyanna moment ahead.)

I was glad to see even a somewhat bright side to a bad situation. This led me to think about looking for any positive impact of the economic downturn.

Let me be clear: I am not saying we should be chirpy-cheerful about our national financial slump. Plenty of people can't find jobs, and plenty of those who still have jobs struggle to meet the rising costs of basic goods. Recent graduates with huge student debt and entry-level incomes are really up against it, especially since they're expected to save for retirement.

So don't misunderstand me: I am not saying that we shouldn't be worried. What I am saying is this: It's the tough times that show us what we're made of and what we're capable of achieving. Personal financial crises might even point us in the direction of the kinds of lives we never knew we wanted.

What if things don't go our way?

Maybe your dream was to have the newest and best of everything, to upgrade constantly, to trade a starter condo for a McMansion within 10 years of finishing college.

These days that dream might not pan out. But maybe it shouldn't. Maybe success can be measured in ways other than relentless acquisition. Certainly you'd have less stress if you weren't lying awake at night wondering how to pay for all that stuff.

As partner blogger J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly puts it, you can have anything you want but you can't have everything you want. Personally, I think that's a pretty sane way to live. Trying to get everything you want is like drinking salt water when you're thirsty: You consume and consume but you're never sated. There's always going to be a cooler gadget, a niftier car, a prettier piece of jewelry. When will it ever be enough?

What if change is scary?

Perhaps you dreamed more of position than possession: being an investment banker, an Internet magnate, a partner in a top law firm. Perhaps these things will still come to pass.

But will your life be wasted if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you'd planned? Can you not find value and personal satisfaction in less-lofty positions, in entrepreneurship, or even in jobs you never knew existed?

I once interviewed a young man who worked his way through college and worked as an engineer for a couple of years. Ultimately he left that field and began working for a nonprofit -- a job that was much less lucrative but that fed his soul in ways engineering couldn't.

Seven years ago I left a long-term marriage and went broke. I could see no future for myself at all. Circumstances forced me to move in directions I couldn't have imagined, with results I could never have predicted. I will always be grateful. At the time, though, I was pure-D terrified.

What if there are no easy answers?

Sometimes I'm still scared. I'm not alone in that. Anxiety is rampant among just about everyone I know: What if I lose my job? Can I help my kids through college? Will I ever be able to retire? Everyone wants the government to do something, anything, that will promote prosperity. Post continues after video.

And here's my anti-Pollyanna moment: I don't think times will get noticeably "better." Times will be different. Times will be challenging. But for most of us there will be no Easy Street, no simple answer, no single stroke of a president's pen that will fix our lives.

Economically, we're in a very tight spot. But rather than being stuck in the "I wish things were the way they used to be" mindset, use anxiety as the impetus for change. Talk with your spouse/partner about goals that truly matter. Learn new skills for free. Redefine needs and wants, then brainstorm ways to meet them. Keep looking for cost-cutting strategies.

Call it frugality, call it living intentionally -- but don't call it deprivation. Taking charge of how you use money is actually a power move. You may not be able to get your old boss to rehire you, but you can choose how you'll live on available resources.

Believe it or not, that's a positive impact of the recession. Knowing what you can live on, and live without, is incredibly freeing. You might find out that you don't need things like designer clothing, high-end electronics, two cars, two incomes.

And if personal prosperity does happen? You can still have some of those things. But here's the beauty part: You may not want quite so many of them. That, in turn, may lead to a deeper appreciation of the ones you decide to get. That's pretty positive, too.

Readers: Has some aspect of the economic downturn (including job loss) created a positive impact? Have you started a business, gone back to school, changed careers?

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Aug 22, 2011 10:45AM

Like the young engineer in the article many of us left better paying positions for less pay to feed our souls, lived frugally, and we saved our money.  Now we find ourselves unemployed, going into debt, and questioning the values that made us 'feed our souls' in the first place.


Contrary to many articles on this topic there is plenty of money in this country because the financial shakedown and recession took from the middle and lower classes and redistributed the wealth to the banks and the wealthy.


I still hold many altruistic values, but we need to be realistic and recognize there are crooks in this world.  The power brokers need to be held accountable, and I need to feed my stomach before feeding my soul again.

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