Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Not Down, So Don't Count Me Out!

Today, an article appeared in Asheville's local free paper titled "Down And Out in Asheville". I was a bit disappointed in the tone of the article – especially since I am one of the people featured in it.

I am anything but "Down And Out"! And I'd hate for my interview to be construed as a whine-fest about my personal challenges.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was torn about doing the interview. There's so much shame involved when people are faced with financial problems. I inherited a lot of that shame from my family, who to this day think the topic of money is their biggest taboo.

I did the interview because I strongly believe that if everyone refuses to talk about financial problems, those suffering from them will be in greater despair because they'll feel like they're the only ones in trouble. But if we have the courage to come out of the shadows and share our stories, we can better help each other find hope – as well as solutions.

I think in general, the article is helpful because it challenges the media claims that the economy is turning around (maybe the economy has rebounded for the richest among us, but not for the common American). And the article offers a little piece of hope at the end, including a cursory listing of some of the social services available in Wester North Carolina.

My hope is that the Mountain XPress follows up with future articles that offer additional tools and resources for people in economic need.

It's important to realize that people need much more than financial assistance:

People need to feel like they are still valuable members of society. It's tough to feel valuable when you're having trouble finding employment - and not just any employment, but employment suited to their talents and abilities. If you have a masters degree and you're serving macchiatos at the local coffee shack, you're not going to feel very fulfilled.

People need emotional assistance. When you've lost a home, a job, a lifestyle, it's difficult to be grateful for what you have. But that's exactly what we need to do: live in the moment and notice the people and things around us that bring us joy. After I lost my home and much of my business, it was easy to pace around the house and fret. At first, I had to force myself to go outside and sit in a chair, even if just for 10 minutes. After listening to the birds, feeling the sun warm my face, I felt better. It's now part of my daily practice, and I find that I worry a lot less these days.

People need to figure out how to adapt. As I mentioned in the the Mountain XPress article, I have a lot of spare time on my hands. Part of my challenge has been to enjoy the spare time without wasting it by fretting - and also to use some of that time wisely to find new ways to put my talent to use.

I am lucky that I can still call myself a graphic designer. I still have loyal clients who value what I do. However, the digital age is forcing me to change the kind of work I do. I may not need to find a completely different career, but I need to make some drastic changes in the way I work. That means transitioning from expert back to novice, and learning new technologies. Taking such a retrograde step sometimes feels like a disappointment. So when I feel daunted, I have to remind myself that my value comes not from my expertise, but from ability to adapt and learn new tricks when required.

So even though the Mountain XPress article focused more on the negative aspects of my town's financial challenges than I would have liked, I think it's a good first step. I hope it leads to more conversations that help lead us out of the selfish, consumerist fog we've lived in for decades, and back to a greater sense of community and toward a new paradigm for prosperity.

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