Moving Beyond the Recession Part I

My daughter Joanna, who is attending university in England has the month of April off to study for exams that are to be written in May (the English school system is quite different than ours in Ontario where for example her success is 100% dependent on passing the final exams in each of the seven subjects she has studied). Like every good student she thought it a good time for her mom and dad to visit with her because we only saw her for a few days over Christmas since her departure from home last September.  So we connected with her in London and then spent a few days in Ericeira, Portugal. One day I checked the weather forecast posted on the hotel lobby wall and it said “starting cloudy but clearing with sunny periods in the afternoon”.  Having no control over the weather I could only hope the forecast was true. I went outside and sat on a bench overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and in a moment of reflection as the chilly winds pierced through my poorly chosen jacket, the thought hit me. Surviving this and any other recession is less about managing money but more about managing expectations. We know through experience that life is filled with its crooked turns and cloudy days. But eventually we always meet a long stretch of road that never seems to bend and those days of cloud and rain always turn to sun and warmth.

 There is an old parable that says “learn to be content in every situation”! But how do we balance contentment with ambition? 

Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries of the many I have visited. The people are friendly, the streets are clean, the geography is awesome and the history enlightening. But of the many wonderful impressions I enjoyed, what caught my attention was the simplicity of life. Simplicity of life is not to be confused with simple people. For a country of 10 million people, and an economy driven by wine making, cork production and tourism, it is a model of what can be done with little, how culture and tradition can be maintained but not imprison the mind, how ambition to become a modern state in the European Union is balanced with values for the family and your neighbor. 

Picture two men on the shore’s edge with fishing poles in hand and  lines fully cast, waiting for the sea bass to be caught, while the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash on the protruding rocks drowning out the surrounding noise allowing both of them to enjoy peace and solitude . Or imagine a half of dozen ladies sitting by the seashore with a deck of cards in hand, using them as a tool to initiate conversation and laughter.  In the town centre, as dusk beckons, couples strolling hand in hand, men and women with children line the town benches bidding hello to all after enjoying their regular daily fix of espresso and pastries. How have they managed to find such balance in a world where material gain, position and status are the rule of the day?

What this recession is appearing to teach us is how quickly those things we have valued so much in life can be so quickly swept away. Yet those things that really matter in life have received so little attention. It’s not about the equity on our personal balance sheet, but the equity we have built in our relationships with each other. What allows us to survive a recession is the strength we receive from each other.

For many the clouds have not passed; there is job loss, significant destruction of wealth, and even worse despair. But the clouds will pass and the sun will shine again. We all know by experience that nature seems to have a sense of order even when things seem out of control. The storms rise but eventually subside. It gives us hope for a better tomorrow. Surviving this and other recessions requires a hope for a better day. When we don’t have control, it requires a faith in others who will make sense out of the economic chaos we find ourselves in. It requires a value system that focuses on being content in every situation while exercising an ambition to achieve our greatest potential. It requires a greater investment in personal relationships that become out future sustenance.

Surviving this recession is more of an inner struggle than an external battle. When we come to grips with our own priorities in life we will be able to deal with whatever is thrown our way. Our confidence is not then based on what we have, but who we are. And the best part is we will find our way through the storm so that we can really enjoy those sunny days.

While attending Queen’s University, I met Hans. We went our separate ways, but one day through circumstance we reconnected at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport en route to different locations. We tried to maintain a friendship that unfortunately business demands interrupted. While he became president of a health care company, I moved into consulting which took me to another part of the world separating me from family and friends. It was this recession that brought us back into fellowship. Hans is no longer president, and in his search for a new company to build and grow he reached out to his friends including those he hadn’t seen for a while, like me. Fortunately, even though the glamour of travel and working with uniquely different clients and projects are behind me, my steady job at CMA Ontario allows me to do things that otherwise I had no time for - like reconnecting with my friends. Hans and I met recently and while the years had passed, the bond of friendship had not. We agreed to meet more often now and not allow work to rob us of what matters most. The time we spent building companies is gone and also a big part of the companies we built. We are both ambitious, career minded individuals, wanting the best for ourselves and our families, but now realize “best” may have a different definition and meaning.

I don’t know what situation you find yourself in, but if you are going through tough times as a result of this recession, the first step for survival and a positive outcome is re-evaluating your priorities so that all your decisions and supporting actions are executed within the proper context of life.