Difficult times define us

How we respond to challenges shows us who we are

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. -Helen Keller

In more ways than most of us could count, from the economy to relationships to the weather to global unrest, to ever more intrusive and complicated, if not menacing, technology, our challenges seem to multiply and fragment into even more pieces, and the principles and guidelines that worked so well (for most of us) for so long, don’t seem to fit, or are painfully irrelevant, if not counter productive.

I would argue that times like these require even more “ear to the ground” attentiveness as to underlying currents and developing fault lines underneath the ever modulating surface features of life now.

The best entrepreneurs and explorers of new terrain intuitively use difficult times to lean in and listen even closer to their market and customers, innovating and responding where necessary, and making their companies more resilient and (appropriately) responsive than ever before.

A few principles are more true, or at least more compelling, than they used to be.

The bottom line is that, when you think about it, we are all self-employed

That’s what a friend told me several years ago. We may work for various companies or agencies or even have a variety of “side-hustles”, but the bottom line is that we are all on a trajectory of our own.

Decisions and circumstances take us various places, and down unexpected avenues, but the one constant is that our life and career journey is ours and ours alone.

Paying yourself first is one way of putting it. Investing in your future is another, but the principle is the same; we are working for ourselves first.

Watch where your money goes

There’s an old saying that budgeting is deciding where your money goes, instead of wondering where it went. No matter how much you make, money has a way of disappearing when you weren’t paying attention.

Many expenses are “fixed” (as in constant and non-negotiable), but many are not.

Much of our spending is what is called “discretionary”. In other words, we have choice about how much we spend. Some financial advisors, for example, recommend a maximum of 20% of income or investment revenue should be dedicated to “the three “F’s”: food, fashion and fun.

And when it comes to those areas, think of clothing, food and even vacations as their own category of investment. After all, they are the ultimate investment in yourself and those around you – and, of course, are the ultimate contributions to your own well-being and life story.

Be on the right side of interest rates

You might think of interest rates as a force of nature, like gravity. Interest rates are semi-invisible, but their impacts can be dramatic. But the most important principle is to have them work for you – not against you.

Interest rates can sap away the largest financial base – but, when they work for you, they can literally create fortunes.

You could consider inflation as a variation of interest rates. Inflation will eat away at any budget, large or small, and, as with interest, inflation working for you can add up.

You get inflation working for you by investing in (relatively) inflation-proof assets. These can be hard to find and are not always the same in different economic contexts.

One reliable inflation proof asset is home ownership. If you buy a home, you have fixed payments at a static interest rate. And relatively speaking, when adjusted for inflation, if the dollar decreases in value, your house payment (adjusted for inflation) does as well. This is not true for renters. As the dollar shrinks in value, housing costs them more.

In other words, if you are the owner, with inflation, your renters pay a higher and higher percentage of your house payment.

Gold, art and precious coins have, at times also been relatively safe inflation hedges.

The ultimate goal for any difficulty, financial, relational or otherwise, often comes down to just getting through it. That, in itself, is something approaching victory.

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them. -Steve Maraboli

In just about every arena of life, from personal health to politics and business and much more, resilience and resourcefulness have become rare to non-existent.

Responding effectively to the unpredictable vagaries of life is the sign of success – for a business, an individual and even a species. But responding effectively is not something we often see in public.

What we do see all too often is blaming, evading, public pouting and, perhaps most of all, paralysis.

Wilting in the face of challenges has become a hallmark, go-to reaction in our times.

I have a four year old grandson who has absorbed this life philosophy. When he scratches his knee (which is, of course, almost every day), besides insisting on a band-aid, when he is required to get up and go somewhere, he says that he “can’t walk”.

So I respond, “If you can’t walk, you can hop”.

To a four year old boy-brain it made sense. He eagerly hopped across the room, until he forgot his injury entirely.