Scared Witless

by wonderfullyrich on March 3, 2009

Last week, I was informed I would be yet another of the growing unemployment ranks. Unlike many, my company is kind enough to give me a month of work to find another job, in addition to giving me some months of healthcare and etc. I have to admit though, I’m scared a bit out of my wits.

I told this to a friend of mine. She’s similarly scared, but for slightly different reasons. She was applying for a Fullbright and it fell through and now she’s scrambling to make life happen in the mean time. The thought of trying to enter this job market has me thinking irrational thoughts. “What ifs” that cause a level of anxiety I haven’t felt in some years.

Yet I’ve been in far worse positions. I’m worrying about the debt I have and how I’m going to pay it off, plus rent, plus food, and the logistic of a likely move to South Africa… and then I remember those days in my early 20’s where I was unemployed living in my own apartment paying rent some months by dipping into my business line of credit, when my sole proprietor business wasn’t able to keep up with my costs. I think about those times where I had my license revoked because I was a speed demon in a 1999 Subaru Impreza RS that was a beautiful blue, which I bought new and then found out what it meant to need Guarantee Asset Protection insurance and not have it. I’ve been in the frying pan so many times it’s hard for me to consider my current position bad at all. I’ve got friends, with viable job opportunities, and have been diligently working at my debt to the point where I’m almost out from it.

I haven’t even begun to mention either Angela who is in Rwanda where her shower involves a bucket of sometimes hot water, sleeping on a foam mattress, where she doesn’t speak the local language, and where she hasn’t much in the way of local friends. And lest I fail to at least mention Andrew and his not quite so bleak situation in Burundi, or the people in either Burundi or Rwanda.

It’s crazy to consider how relative life is sometimes. Some researchers say if it happened more then 3 months ago, then it’s a distant memory. We live in the here and now, comparing our lives to those around us, and we are not programed to be rational when it comes to any of this.

When I went back and listened to a history book about America, this statement really struck me a simple truth. It reverberated and gonged my head into reality about how much of a psychological feedback loop of our current economy is. This history book, Made in America by Bill Bryson, sort of a linguistic history of American English which is fun and intriguing. He describes a scene of the Mayflower and it’s passengers, whom nearly 50 of the slightly over 100 died within a year of landing due to sickness, famine, and stupidity. We now live in a time where bad things do happen, but where the relative badness of these things are–if put in perspective–minor irritants. Here in America we don’t worry about the flu killing us, witches hexing us (for the most part), whether the local inhabitants are going to scalp us, or if your the local inhabitants whether they are going to set loose the dogs on your wife/daughter, if locust are going to consume our crop (as with industrialization, we wiped locust out), etc.

Even having said that though, I still feel scared because of the state of the economy. I’m scared witless about going back to Denver because I feel it’s a failure and I’ll be stuck there. I’m afraid of what this little bit of left over debt is going to do to my life. I’m afraid of how this depression is going to affect my ability to work. I’m frustrated by the cyclical nature of my moods and my inability to master it. I’m afraid of not succeeding in being happy. Yet I also know that all of this is an irrational feeling, one that is based on our irrational programming.

When it comes to rational verse irrational, irrational generally wins, and that’s why you have markets that panic and cause devastation. That’s why people irrationally do things (like save money) when the best thing for our market is to spend money. (Assuming that our market is sustainable and sensible, which I won’t stipulate.) We are stuck in a negative feedback loop that is hard to break, but requires a certain understanding of psychology to comprehend.

My advice to you, and advice I’m trying to repeat to myself, is “Don’t forget to take the broader view.” Put things into perspective and don’t get bogged down in the anxious feelings of fear and doubt. These are forces of our instincts and are irrational, yet we live in the most rational times ever. We need to be thoughtful beings and use our brains–plastic adaptable as they are–to survive in these times.

One quick example of how instinct doesn’t always work best is military basic training. Human instinct is to panic and freeze or flee from loud noises like gunfire, but today that’ll just get you killed faster (you become an easier target). Part of basic training rewires the brain to hit the deck and think, so you can survive and react in a modern world.

Keep the perspective that humanity has come a long way and likely will keep going. What we (especially here in America) are experiencing is really a minor dip in the road and not likely to kill our race, nor likely kill you. Keep on trekking and you’ll get through it.

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