I also hope that by writing this blog, I'll help myself: it's cathartic to share my thoughts and feelings in this forum. I also hope to connect with people going through similar struggles so we don't have to feel so alone in this mess: if we can find each other, we can come together and help each other.
This week offered me an opportunity to tell my story to a wider audience. I learned that the Mountain Xpress, Asheville's local free paper, was looking for people to talk about how the economic downturn has affected them.
It seemed like a natural enough thing for me to do – after all, here I am baring my fiscal soul on Rich Richard's Almanac. But as I considered being interviewed for the Mountain XPress article, I felt some hesitation. Shame was creeping into the pit of my stomach.
It's one thing to share my stories on this blog. It's a relatively new blog that probably hasn't yet been discovered by many people. And, I don't really keep track of the readership, so I couldn't tell you whether this blog is visited by ten or a thousand people. That blissful ignorance makes it easier for me to share my information more openly in this forum.
The Mountain XPress is a different matter. It's a popular local paper, and the article will definitely be seen by most of my friends and colleagues, as well as thousands of people I don't know. How will they react?
Will some folks view my financial downturn as a reflection of the quality of the work I do and avoid doing business with me? Will friends think less of me? Will acquaintances look at me differently when they see me walking down the street? My parents grew up during the Great Depression. To them, falling from financial grace was about the worst social affliction that could happen to a person – a status blemish that should be covered up and kept private at all costs.
Naturally, some of my parents' shame about financial status was passed on to me. The subject of money was so tabboo that we never spoke about it when I was growing up. Consequently, I never learned how to manage my finances until I attended the school of hard knocks. I wish someone had taught me about money, about how to handle having it - and not having it.
If I truly believe in my reasons for founding this blog, then I have no choice but to continue to speak out. Really, the only thing that gets me into trouble is when fear or shame prevents me from speaking my mind. I want to break the chain I inherited from my parents, and not be afraid to talk about money.
The other reason I felt compelled to tell my story is to counteract some of the misleading economic happy talk that the mainstream media has been feeding us lately. The largest news outlets boast that the Dow-Jones has topped 11,000 (as if the stock market's performance has anything to do with the financial state of the average American), and that unemployment is waning. However, the larger media outlets are conspicuously quiet when Elizabeth Warren reports that there's no end in sight to the foreclosure problem. Maybe the stories of recovery sound rosy on the evening news, but I don't trust them yet. In my day-to-day life, I see too many of my friends and neighbors suffering still.
I agreed to be interviewed for the Mountain XPress article.
Understandably, the staff writer I spoke with told me that he was having trouble finding people who are willing to talk about their financial struggles on the record. I hope that by speaking out myself, others might feel more comfortable doing the same. If you live in the Asheville area and you want to speak to the Mountain XPress about how the downturn has affected you, email me and I'll put you in touch with the staff writer who is working on the article.
There's no shame in losing out to the corrupt bankers and financial manipulators who are causing so much suffering in our country today. Unless you are the laziest, least motivated bum on the planet, it's probably not your fault. Millions are losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their nest eggs, losing their pensions — not because they refuse to be self-sufficient, but because their jobs were moved overseas, because they suffered a major medical illness, because their mutual fund was destroyed by the infusion of worthless credit default swaps. Every one of these people would jump at the chance to restore their status as financially-stable, valuable, hard-working members of society.
I have never been afraid to dedicate long work weeks and focused attention to make my own success. I started my business on the West Coast in 1987, and survived the recession of the 1990s, earthquakes and even riots (during the Rodney King riots, it was too dangerous for me to go to my office). Throughout those calamities, I found ways to adapt. And I'm adapting now – though this time around, the downturn has demanded bigger changes than I've ever had to make before.
I know there are many others out there just like me: willing to make the tough changes necessary to adapt to the changing economy, wanting to make the right changes, wondering what those changes should be, others willing to stumble and fall, pick themselves up, and try again.
Our recovery and salvation may depend on people willing to speak the truth about their financial troubles. People who are struggling need to know they are not alone. They need to hear from other people like them who are simply trying to find their way, who are willing to help by sharing their struggles was well as their successes.