Monday, February 8, 2010


After months of limiting my shopping to necessities (save the occasional squander on a used book), I'm quickly learning how much less "stuff" I really need.

The process of shedding material objects from my life has been much easier than I thought it would be. And I'm enjoying the spare time and the ebb of tension in my shoulders that are the fringe benefits of a  humbler lifestyle.

But there's still one aspect of the big downsize that is far more challenging than giving up all the material trinkets: rebuilding my self esteem.

In February of last year, Russian-born Dmitry Orlov (an engineer and writer now living in Boston), gave a humorous yet ominous lecture predicting the decline of the US as a superpower. Olrov spent a great deal of time in Russia in the 1990s and witnessed the meltdown of Russia's economy first-hand. (Orlov believes that all the factors that precipitated Russia's collapse are present right now in our country.) Orlov stated, "When times get really, especially — successful, middle-aged men, bread-winners, bastions of society — turn out to be especially vulnerable. And when they completely lose it, they become very tedious company."

Since the short sale of my home and the reduction of my business by 75%, I have tried my best to avoid completely losing it, though I'm certain there have been moments when the people close to me would have been charitable to describe my company as "tedious".

I don't want to be tedious. I want to be one of the people who is able to view these changes not so much as a failure, but as an opportunity to change, grow, maybe even become something better than I could have ever imagined. Such aspirations are very easy to tap out on a keyboard, but they're challenging to put into action.

There have been mornings when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror half expecting to see the word "LOSER" or "INSOLVENT" tattooed on my forehead in some very bold font like Futura Black, 96 point, (easy to read from 10 feet away). When those moods arise, I tuck myself away, fearing other people might notice the tattoo, even though I know that it only exists in my the fatalistic portion of my imagination.

I think there's another factor that contributes to my social withdrawal: When I was a kid, if I didn't feel well enough to go to school, but later experienced one of those miraculous after-school rallies, my mother would lay down the law: "No school, no play." In other words, if you didn't do the work, you don't deserve to enjoy yourself afterward.

As a grownup, how can I reward a job well done when there's no jobs to be had? Therefore, I don't allow myself to go out, attend parties, take a hike in the woods, or do anything beyond watching a little TV at the end of the day. It's almost as if I have a strict inner parent who has grounded me for screwing up my finances.

So during the past year, I've hunkered down and licked my wounds - quietly, privately, out of sight. But the real truth is: all the material wealth I accrued during the past 23 years of career work is gone. I feel ashamed about it, and I'm hiding out.

I'm not blogging this because I want to continue pulling the lever on the virtual kicking machine whose steel toe is pointed directly at my psyche. I'm blogging this because I know there are other people out there going through the same challenges.

My hope is that if you are reading this post, and are going through the same struggle I am, you'll realize that you're not alone, and that the feelings you're having are perfectly natural. When I screw up, I retreat and hide out. Others kick the dog, yell at their family, binge drink, lose themselves in the latest season of Lost. Please don't do those things.

I hope that you'll realize that you're not alone in this - that we're not alone in this. Shame is a concrete wall that keeps us from moving forward. Reconnecting with friends and the resources we need for support are the wrecking ball that will bring it down.

For myself, Groundhog Day has come and gone. It's time I come out of my hole and face that pesky shadow.

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