Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living with Uncertain Times

Life is hard for so many of us right now. When I watch the news and hear of thousands being laid off with little prospect of jobs, I am reminded of the painful times my own family went through. I learned at a very young age that we can depend on no one but ourselves and on nothing but the abundance of the universe.

When I was a sophomore in college, my mother called to tell me that my father, 60 years old at the time, had been laid off from his executive job with the large paper manufacturing company for whom he had worked for 15 years. There would be no more money for college and they didn't know what they were going to do.

As a young man, my father survived the Great Depression by working at his parents gas station, single handedly building his own home (which still stands and is lived in today), and supplementing his young family's budget with a thriving vegetable garden. He fixed everything. At a young age he became convinced that hard work paid off. And so, as a college graduate, he embarked on a career as an electrical engineer in the paper manufacturing industry. He made conservative, yet steady strides up the corporate ladder, developing his skills as a computer programmer along the way.

He did not foresee or anticipate the volatile nature of the paper industry and when he was laid off, without a pension or health benefits, I watched him crumble under the shock of what had happened and the weight of unemployment. He was too young to take early social security but too old to get another job. He sent out 100's of resumes, while he and my mother moved into the finished basement of their home, renting out the upstairs. I dropped out of college and got a job. I slept on the couch in their one bedroom apartment, listening to the pitter patter of little feet overhead of the children that now occupied the bedroom I had re-decorated for my 16th birthday.

My mother, who had never worked, got a part time job and with savings, they were able to survive the year he was unemployed - using up a large chunk of the money they had saved to live on after he retired at 65 - which was mandatory back then. His saving grace, financially, though definitely not psychologically, came when the company hired him back and reinstated his pension and benefits. However, he was hired back at half the pay and his boss was now the young man he had hired and trained prior to his departure. This was the pay off for his hard work. Over his desk at home he hung a stack of small white squares of paper, numbered by hand, to count down the days until his retirement. He did make it to retirement and received his reinstated pension, but had a stroke a year later. What was I to make of his hard work theory?

What I learned from his experience was that hard work does not necessarily pay off and that you can't rely on others for your survival. There's no sure thing except death. When you work for someone else you always run the risk of becoming dispensable through no fault of your own. When you work for yourself, financial stability can be I have found out from 20 years of self-employment. I have always felt more comfortable being the master of my own destiny as much as possible, rather than leaving it up to the whim of my employer.

I am not advocating self-employment but rather self-dependency. We need to recognize from day one, regardless of what we do to support ourselves that we can and must rely on ourselves. We can find a way to survive through our own ingenuity. Hard work will pay off, it does not matter where we work, we realize we are, in the end, responsible for ourselves.

When we feel discouraged and frightened, which so many of us do at this precarious time in our lives, we need to take a moment to look around us and become aware of the abundance of the universe. We have nothing to do with its just is. There is enough in the world for everyone. More than enough. There is certainly enough for you and me. We just have to look to ourselves and our abundant world and figure out a way to harness what exists for everyone, and avoid living in the illusion that someone will rescue us. What this means to us as individuals is something that we must each discover. But the abundance is within us and around us and it is up to us to find it. Faith, hope and trust will give us the strength to go on.

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