Moving Beyond the Recession Part II

My son Richard graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a double major in Communications and English in April 2009. As many of us have done, the graduating ritual is to “get out of town” for a while with friends. The agreed upon destination was Costa Rica. So, he had to fly to Miami then from there catch a flight to Liberia, CR and then rent a SUV for a 4-hour solo drive to Montezuma, CR to meet his friends. It all seemed simple enough. In his preparation, he printed off what seemed like a binder of maps to give direction on his solo trek. He would have no means of communication with anyone. The roads were known to be rough; with parts being washed out during the May monsoon season and limited signage for regular check points. But he was confident given his preparation that all was in order for the 4-hour journey. We dropped him off at the airport at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning confident that by mid-afternoon he would be safely in Montezuma. He checked in with us after he arrived in Miami and we were expecting him to do the same once he landed in Liberia. But Saturday afternoon arrived, and then Saturday evening passed on. Sunday morning there was still no word from Richard. We were worried a little but given Richard’s extensive travel experience we thought nothing about the silence. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, a day after Richard was suppose to have arrived in Montezuma with his friends, his friend Dan called the house and his Mom answered the phone. Dan said “Mrs. Hillier, there is nothing to worry about and I’m sure there are many reasons why, but Richard has not arrived here yet and we were expecting him Saturday.” She said “Nothing to worry about! No one has heard from him, no one knows where he is, he is travelling solo through Costa Rica, anything could have happened, so there’s lots to worry about!”

Let’s just pause for a minute. We have all heard the news reports on TV and radio of children being abducted, killed or just disappearing for no apparent reason. Imagine what goes through a parent’s mind! Immediately our minds went there and it was an awful moment. For me it was crisis management time. I plotted what needed to be done; cancel all my appointments; get the next flight out to Costa Rica; rent a car and follow his path; call the police to alert the authorities in Costa Rica…..etc…etc….etc.

Five minutes after Dan’s call, Richard called. He had just arrived. He said to his Mom: “Happy Mother’s Day Mom and my gift to you is ’I am alive!’”. We asked what happened and he simply said “I got lost”. A 4-hour drive turned into a 12-hour drive with an overnight stay in a small motel in the middle of nowhere. He video taped much of his journey and has placed it on Facebook with the title: “Lost in Costa Rica”. It is quite a story that gave us for five minutes one of the worst moments a parent can experience.

Richard showed us his video and other pictures. The map he copied off Google showed a highway from Liberia to Montezuma. After traveling part way, that section of the highway did not exist. So he had a choice to make. Unfortunately, given his limited knowledge, he made the wrong choice and of course the consequence was not just getting lost but causing his friends and family to have an unwelcomed experience as well.


Some choices are easy to make because they are black and white. Other choices are more difficult because the direction one should take is not clear, there isn’t enough information, or each direction one can take appears the right one. When there is a decision to be made where there are opposing views it becomes even more difficult. In these cases the decision to be made takes a tremendous amount of courage.  Sometimes the right choices are the most difficult because the short term consequence is painful even though the long term benefit is immense. Since we are a “short term thinking culture” many of our decisions are influenced by this mentality.

As I witness the efforts of our governments to tackle the recession and the economic challenges associated with it, I watch carefully to understand if the choices made are for short term political gain or long term economic growth. 

As I read how companies deal with shrinking revenues, is the choice to restructure made for short term cost savings to drive a higher share price or to create a new business model that provides long term sustainability?

As I try to empathize with individuals and families who are suffering because of downsizing and have no job, no money and no future, I wonder if the attitude was “live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow”!

But it all comes down to choices. There are many who have been affected by this recession but are dealing with it well because the choices they made were with a long term view in mind. They:

-invested in continuing education to ensure their marketability was at the highest level
-applied the 80% rule: saving at least 20% just in case the unexpected happened;
-retired debt quickly rather than enjoy life foolishly;
-maintained a live network of friends to help them relocate;
-learned that happiness can be obtained with much less.

We will survive this recession just like we did many others. But will we have learned anything from it? Someone once said that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste!”

If we, that is governments, businesses, families and individuals, do not change our behavior as a result of the poor decisions we have made for which we are now paying the real price and experiencing the consequences, then can we truly say “we have survived the recession”?

At CMA Ontario, in spite of the recession, we have made choices to invest in the future to ensure our members are equipped with the competencies to be successful. My hope is that our members at all levels in their careers will make the right choice to avail themselves of the new resources and tools being developed and provided so that each member’s value to their community, to their business, to their families and to themselves is maximized. Then we can all say “we have more than survived the recession!”