“Nothing succeeds like success.” I’ll grant that the phrase captures how people judge each other, but that is like judging a book by its cover. The best way to judge a book is by reading it, or at least by listening to someone else who has read it; but, at a recent Whidbey Island Writers Conference I was told that 98% of books are sold by the front cover. 1.5% are sold by the back cover. Only 0.5% are sold from what was inside. The writer probably didn’t know if the book would be a success when they were writing it. All of that work could be effort wasted except for the joy of writing. For success to breed success, there must be an initial success, and the middle of that process can feel very unsuccessful. Latent success is like a latent image on film, invisible.
Yep. These times are tough for many. I’m sure someone can analyze it in terms of the seven stages of grief. I’m simpler than that. I’ve noticed that people’s reactions are shifting from shock to reassessment to action. Whatever came before, career, environment, politics seems to be retreating into a golden era of satisfying employment (baby boomers); clean water, air and food (pre-industrial revolution); and competent, compassionate governance (ah, let me get back to you on that one). It is hard to imagine an economic system that works for all, a sustainable and thriving environment, and competent compassionate government. Yet, I think we are heading that way.
The main difference between semi-retired and unemployed for me is assets. How many months or years of living expenses are available if it all turned to cash? Even retired merely means being confident that there is enough to pay the bills indefinitely. If those assets were in a Madoff fund, the slide from retired to semi- to un- can happen quickly. As recently as two years ago I was more than halfway to enough, the number where my confidence kicks in. I didn’t have everything in a Madoff-style pot. I had a moderately diversified portfolio that was hit by a triple whammy. As regular readers can tell, I have decided to act unemployed as a prudent measure in case the portfolio doesn’t recover quickly. Even if my portfolio or a windfall improvement returns my confidence, I’ll probably continue to find good, fun work that pays well as a way to take care of delayed maintenance, or even buy back into the market. Buy low. I doubt this is high.
Being unemployed is hopefully a temporary and transitory step. In the midst of it though, I have found lots of unsolicited advice. The basic assumption has been, if I don’t have a job, I must not be looking hard enough. It is the same assumption behind the advice I’ve received about my books and my photos. If they aren’t selling, I haven’t been selling hard enough. As I type this I realize that I’ve heard similar advice about weight, health, and romance. If the goal hasn’t been reached, do more, and more.
The human body and the length of the day have limits. More, more, more is unsustainable and unhealthy whether success is involved or not. Balance is required. Balance may not be in every moment. It may be delayed for days, weeks, months, or possibly years, but eventually balance will happen and the longer it is delayed the sharper the correction. Work too hard trying to find work and an involuntary permanent vacation can happen.
Finding a job, making money, reaching retirement, finding love can all happen quickly, and that quickness can be interpreted by others as simple and easy. I suspect that most of the time success was latent, with energy and substance being added without apparent external effect, but with obvious internal effort and consideration. The butterfly suddenly emerges after all the work it did as an out of work caterpillar.
People are emotional and I am too. Until that job offer comes in, I can feel as if it never will. Until my portfolio recovers, it is easy to be dismayed and feel like a fool as I extrapolate the trend line into the ground.
Despite advice of more, more, more I started today with a walk instead of a job search. I’ve seen what happens when life is in anxiety and out of balance. It physically hurt and took months for my recovery. My walk was a half hour of noticing the llama (or is it an alpaca) that guards the neighbor’s goats, a friend walking a herd of very short dogs, and myself enjoying an uncommonly warm, muggy autumn day.
On my way home I thought about this blog and what to post. Thinking about posting I thought about what I’d posted over these last three years. Within that time my fortunes have fallen, run up, dropped down, run up and dropped down again. At the bottom of those dips, which were within $20,000 of where my portfolio is now, it was easy to imagine a continuation into perpetual slide. At the peaks, I was cautious enough to not spend as if it would continue – though I did allow myself to dream.
I’m not going to assume that the market is rational and will properly value my companies and their stocks based on conventional criteria. Eventually rational thought returns, but fear has become an entrenched theme in our media, politics and culture.
“. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Roosevelt
Rather than a reason to work past fear, we’ve collectively decided to linger within it.
In the meantime, I’ll look for a job. You see, I now know that books that are suddenly successful, art that is suddenly applauded, more than enough wealth, love, and probably even a good job, can happen with luck but that luck is usually enabled by years of effort that latently build. But it is hard if not impossible to time the end of latency. The success may appear sudden to others afterwards. What goes through the mind of the caterpillar in the cocoon? Sometimes only the caterpillar understands what went into making the butterfly.
When I got home from my walk I checked my garden. A rose bush has been growing behind a fence for years. This rose blossomed after a recent storm blew away all of the other petals, and its first sunlight of the day had yet to light more than half and hadn’t evaporated the dew. None of the beauty happened suddenly and I’m sure that by now it is in full, glorious sunshine.