The news lately appears to be written by Chicken Little. "The Sky is Falling! The Dow is Falling! Our Profits are Falling!" It's enough to make you swear off poultry. However, few things can prepare you for the day when your children ask about the headline: "Worst financial crisis since the Great Depression!"
"We don't have any stocks, do we, Mom?" asked my eighth-grade son with trepidation. I soft-pedaled the danger to his college fund to stop the panic in his face. I wasn't lying about it, just drawing on my own experience with financial turmoil. My parents, who were farmers, had to file bankruptcy during my first year in college, and I learned that there are many ways to get an education if you want it badly enough. I briefly explained that it's all cyclical, and that it's wise to never let current events cloud the knowledge that the only constant is change.
Ever since Alexander Hamilton advocated that we actively pursue national debt, our country has built itself around "buy now, pay later." Credit cards were invented to allow citizens the same privilege. After all, when the car breaks down for good, most people don't have the extra $30,000 in the bank to pay cash for a new one. Small businesses need to have access to capital if they are to grow, and so on.
Still, I'm amazed at the lack of working knowledge people have about money management and investing. Since money is at the heart of so many things, why are we so afraid of it? Studies consistently show that the happiest people in the world are those who have the least, yet Americans tend to be fixated on what we don't have, rather than what we do have. Self-esteem has become inexorably linked with how much something costs. The reality is that no matter how hard you try, you can't buy your way to a contented soul.
My favorite saying these days is: "This too shall pass." I even had a friend create a bracelet for me to remind me to maintain perspective. Many people fall back on this phrase when bad things happen in their lives, knowing that ultimately better days are ahead. But I've been concentrating on it when in the midst of that perfect, glorious day that I wish would never end. It always does, so I do my utmost to enjoy every single magnificent second. Bobby McFerrin had a very catchy tune many years ago called, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." It's a rather Pollyanna-ish song that many disregard as a slacker mantra, but I look at it as a reminder to find joy in everyday events.
We made it out of the crisis in the 1930s, and we'll make it out of this one, too. Long-term leadership strategies made the difference then, and lots of personal sacrifice was required as well. Yes, we will all have to pay more taxes, make do with less and suffer indignities such as not getting the latest fashions and walking to school. Some will still find ways to succeed, while others will succumb to the doom-and-gloom mentality that pervades the news.
Accountability, both personal and national, needs to become the mantra, since we all worked the system to get to this point. Regardless of which candidate wins the upcoming election, we will eventually do what Americans have done for generations: Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and improve the outdated notions that aren't working. And maybe this time, we'll remember the lessons learned.