Saturday, February 28, 2009

Independence in the time of Recession - 12+1 Ideas

Last Sunday was St. Lucia’s 30th Anniversary of Independence and leading up to it I had been mulling over what Independence meant to me, with the idea of writing a blog post. Then a question in the Friends of Ireland group at LinkedIn provided me with one of those ‘Aha’ moments that propels you forward.

I realized that in some ways I have a certain feeling of independence from the effects of recession and I believe that arises from the personal growth I’ve experienced from enduring a good number of years of pretty rough times.

This realization, that despite the poor financial times, I’ve experienced in the past years, I have still managed to grow and have actually greatly enriched myself (albeit in non-cash ways), gave me more confidence to push ahead now, and use the tools and skills that my experience has given me.

So I’d like to share some of the things that I keep in mind -and try to practice- that I’ve come to value and found useful. Many I know have been said before, but I hope that as I say them, they’ll provide an ‘Aha’ moment for a few out there who need a boost.

The question that I answered was “Where are you NOW in these economic times?”

It took me a while to think, but my answer was:

“No job, no pension, no health insurance, no investments - knew I'd be doing the best I can and working till I kick the bucket before the recession, so nothing's changed! Wry laff!

I chose to go freelance just before things really bottomed out, and I still feel positive that this move was right and will put me on a surer footing for a more secure future - I guess there's something in not having to worry about what I lost in the recession, can't lose what you don't have!

But more than that, I think it's been said before, the more you have to lose, the harder it hurts; but for me, I'd been enduring years of eking out a living and part of dealing with that and getting over the challenges, was learning to be positive when there seemed to be no reason for it - it's a useful skill and keeps you open to much more opportunity than you'd otherwise be seeing. So I think relatively, I'm in a better place right now despite the recession.”

Now, there were many answering the question who are not so ‘fortunate’ as I feel I am at this point and part of what’s positive about my situation is that I am lucky enough to have a family home to stay in; granted, I don’t own anything – no property, no car, you know, no assets, but that is also what makes it possible for me to feel my balance is positive right now. I don’t have anything like that to lose; but there’s also much more to it than that.

It is really, having had to ‘do without’ and ‘create without’ over the past years that has taught me what I think are some useful skills for being independent in life. I know nothing about investments and financial asset building, these are just simple things you can do, that I hope might open some doors for you be more independent especially in this time of recession:

I) View any and all measures you take as improvement of your lot, not as things you are forced to do because of bad circumstance.

I’ve come to believe that mentally and emotionally controlling our outlook is the bulk of the battle in life. If you look at a habit change as something you are forced to do, you’re much more likely to resent it and experience negative outcomes from the change. If you see it as an opportunity to change for the better and believe that you have more to gain than lose, you’re much more likely to benefit in all positive ways.

2) Don’t watch/read the news of disaster and misfortune – watching is not going to solve those problems or yours

It was during the fleeting time I dabbled with Quixtar that I gleaned this one useful morsel of advice (see there really is something to be had even from the worst of things – I don’t like MLM)

Now, I’m not saying don’t be aware of these things, awareness is, I believe, essential to achieving some level of reality, but there really is no point in spending your time =money poring over news reports and making yourself depressed – that will not earn you or them anything positive.

3) Instead, invest your time=money in any of

a) getting on with existing work
b) finding new clients
c) figuring out ways to better service clients – whether it be cut costs, offer more, or deliver faster
d) product development – new products, new ideas, new avenues
e) cost cutting/profit margin increasing measures

4) Find things, however small, that make you smile, things that lift your spirits

Yes, even write one of those “Things to be Grateful For” lists. Then invest a little time=satisfaction in being truly grateful.

It’s amazing how your outlook can change when your focus is on the positive. Focusing on negative all the time is all too easy and I think most of us have experienced the exponential growth of negativity – well, it’s that same for positivity, it has a way of multiplying itself.

5) Learn how to fix / do / make some things

This isn’t just about saving money because in some cases, you may earn more with work that you can make and sell in the same time. But assuming also that the customer base is a little weak right now, learning skills that help you reduce your cash outflow might be a timely thing and it will help you feel more independent of the cash system.

So whether it’s how to change your own oil in your car, fix a leaky faucet, take in a waistline, or make your own meals, or washing detergent; learn how to do a few things - not so many that your income earning time is threatened, but enough to save you some cash and pay you some personal-development pride.

6) Think of one thing each week or month that you can cut out or at least reduce.

Nothing new here, one less cup of coffee a day, no more doughnuts, walk the last leg of a public transport route or something in that vein. Try to make it something that will benefit you in some way as well – better health is always a good one to try for.

7) Make a personal prayer or request to the universe, whatever fits your beliefs.

Okay, these are very personal things, but I’ll tell you my only one and hope that it may inspire you.

For a long while I felt that my life had way too much that was out of my control and not going well and it all seemed to demanded immediate attention - all at once. I’d spend ages lying in bed with my mind racing and when I did finally sleep, I’d be tense as, well, whatever is really tense. So one night I decided to try to do something about it and I started by saying to myself “Peace”. Over and over. Then when I got used to that, I added “Serenity”, as I felt that I actually needed a bit more than just peace. That was soon joined by the request for what I really needed, “Clarity”.

So I’d settle myself to sleep and to ‘The End of the Day’ – a mental, emotional and physical stop point for work and worry, with “Peace, Serenity, Clarity”. I felt that the order of the ‘requests’ was correct, as the first need was some Peace from the hullabaloo of demands in my head, then that would grow to a higher level and become Serenity where I would then finally be able to see more clearly and have the Clarity that would allow me to sort the important from the rest.

It was more than a request, more than even a belief, it was a statement of fact and a willing into being – a fully held knowledge that it was what I needed and what I would have, and that this would provide me with the ability to make headway.

This was my first attempt at finding any kind of affirmation or mantra and I still use it now and then when things get a bit out of hand. Finding and using that mantra made a world of difference.

8) Buy into the Positive Visualization / Law of Attraction – at least to some extent.

Okay, long after I did #7, I read The Secret, and while I remain extremely skeptical of the extent to which the book and other sources on the same subject take this to, the value of Positive Affirmations and / or casting out to the Universe / God, your request for what you need and deciding with every fibre of your being that you will get what you need, does, I believe, work. Note: We’re not talking about millions and billions falling into your lap, we’re talking about needs fulfilled here okay?

Whether you “Put it in God’s hands” or you take a more specific approach is, I believe, up to you, but there’s a lot of self empowerment in casting aside doubts, opening yourself to opportunity and good fortune or blessing and embracing the knowledge that good can and indeed, will come your way.

I feel I must clarify that I do not encourage things like wanton spending in the belief that riches are on their way to you – I think that level of ‘belief’ is just ludicrous detachment from reality.

I’m talking about getting on with normal everyday work and having your innermost being focused on believing that your positive efforts will be rewarded by opportunity coming your way, your noticing that it’s there, and being able to take it.

9) Understand that life goes on

It’s amazing what we can survive – I’ve by no means survived even a patch on some people’s survival challenges, but I’ve done and seen enough to believe.

It is very liberating to be able not to cry over spilt milk; Accepting that something unexpected has happened, whatever it may be, a misfortune, a breakage, a loss, and that you can’t do anything to undo it, but you CAN move on, is a powerful thing.

We really have no idea how much adversity we can handle until we actually handle it. But if with each thing you handle, you really can let it go then move on, and better still, you make a mental note that you did manage to move on, your capacity increases. Practice may not make perfect, but it hones the skills and strengthens the spine alright.

10) Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

Well okay, we did Reduce already in #6, but lets look at the other two;

The first good news story I read about the Recession was about some Miami cobblers whose business was now booming due to people realizing they couldn’t buy another pair of $1000 boots, but they could get them re-soled and cleaned up for $40. So, if you don’t have $1000 boots, you can still do little things to cut down the number and cost of new things you ‘must’ have.

• Wash out plastic containers that came with supermarket food instead of buying purpose made ones,
• Use a strong shoebox as a storage box and label it instead of a snazzy seethru plastic one. Plastic grocery bags for the garbage
• Printed paper on the unprinted side for your note book/sketch pad

There’s lots more of course, these are just some things that everyone can do with hardly any effort. Do whatever you can, whatever you’re comfortable with and works for you.

Recycle – whether it’s hand-me-down clothing for kids or clothes swapping, taking your recyclable waste in to a recycler and getting a little cash for it, or perhaps setting up a compost system for home gardening; recycling very often makes a lot of sense and often once you get the habit, it turns out not to be the big hassle we thought it was.

And there’s always the possibility of producing goods for sale from recycled materials – check out these links for some ideas.

Not only are the 3Rs good for the environment, they save your pocket and in some cases, do so by supporting other businesses that maybe don’t get a chance when everything’s all rosy and bullish. So not all belt-tightening has a negative effect on the economy - could it be, there really are silver linings?

11) Make your life more enjoyable.

Recession is by its nature a depressed time. Avoiding the clutches of the depression seems to me to be very important in the fight to rise above it and maintain your independence. So, see what you can find to do close to your work or home neighbourhood, that is free or nearly so and will enrich you in some way.

Where do you live or work - do you really know what’s there? Is there somewhere that you can explore just for the fun of it? A park where you can take a moment to breathe, a street full of interesting architecture that you can admire, galleries, museums, libraries you haven’t been to? Or perhaps you can just sit on your balcony with your cup of tea…sketch the view on some scrap paper, there has to be something free, or nearly free you can do to add enjoyment to your day.

12) If you find yourself without a job, try as hard as you can, to be active

Don’t let joblessness screech you to a halt – see what’s available in the way of courses to learn new skills, or at least use the Internet to learn and make sure you record/catalogue what you’ve done.

Fill your time with things that not only keep your mind active and help avoid depression, but also increase your value and marketability and that put you in situations where you may make connections – volunteer if you can.

If you can get out and learn, you not only are acquiring new skills, but you are meeting new people and making new connections - you can also of course, network online with a focus on people and groups that are work oriented, so don’t let the cost of getting somewhere stop you.

And granted, this may indeed not lead a direct line to paid work or new ways to make money, but at
the very least, it’s a good longer term strategy – when things get better - and they will, you will not have remained stagnant, you will have demonstrated proactivity and have expanded your skills and be ready to grasp the opportunities that arise.

13) Share what you’re experiencing in a positive way with others

This not only does the obvious thing of helping others find their way, but it also helps you not do the destructive thing of complaining, but rather, the constructive thing of focusing on what went well and what worked. If you believe in any form of Karma, you’ll know that the good you put out there will come back to you too.

Well, I know mine’re not original ideas, there’s very little that hasn’t been thought or even said before, but they are ones I’ve used and found useful so I hope this list gives one or two some inspiration.

Please do add in suggestions, personal experiences, links to resources you may know of. Throw in your 2c worth and help someone make a dollar or pop an unexpected smile.
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  1. can link up with to help those ladies in canaries st.lucia thanks.

  2. It's about time I add in some links isn't it - Canabelle are definitely a group worth supporting - so those of you who read this - do pop over and see their work - they make lovely soaps and baskets

  3. Really enjoyed reading this post, as a freelancer myself I can appreciate reading about a similar approach that am taking towards successfully positioning myself in this time of economic uncertainty.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. thanks Leon - see you're from Trinidad - good to have new a fellow Caribbean Creative checking in

  5. You've covered absolutely everything that I can think of to stay centered and even happy in the midst of what looks like chaos - and in an authentic and comforting way, too. It works for me and now, after years of practice, seems second nature most of the time. I wish I could bottle the results and just give them to people - instant "okay" feeling - just breathe it in.

  6. thanks Dana - there's a lot of comfort had in knowing others have found positive things from hard times - was great chatting with you via LinkedIn too, hope we can generate good ideas and more in the future!