A mother talking about her child; “Can’t I just skip a few steps and see how they turn out? That way I wouldn’t have to worry in the meantime. – Assuming everything turned out right, of course.” Patience is a virtue, but that doesn’t make it easy. There’s a lot going on and the interim is messy at least, scary for many, and unfortunately necessary – usually.
The past and future are ideals. Selective amnesia clarifies the past. An inability to guess myriad details simplifies the future. Things were simpler then. Things will be simpler after we get through “this”. The present sits between them, and in the present we are aware of annoying imperfections, troubled by unknowns, and eager with anticipations. There is great uncertainty about where the present will lead, and yet, the present is the only place we exist.
A few conversations were inspired by my semi-annual portfolio review. The difference between the current stock prices and what I think they should be simultaneously raises eager anticipations while also inspiring cautions about the credibility of my opinions. Regardless of what any analysis looks like, if it is about the future or what should be, it includes assumptions; and assumptions are basically arbitrary, opinions not facts. Of course, what people want to do is skip ahead and see how it comes out. “Tom. So, do you think I should buy some stock?” That may be one of my most frequently dodged questions. I don’t hand out stock tips, though I do enjoy having conversations that help people decide what advice they want to give to themselves. Logically, everyone knows there are no guarantees, but the question gets asked anyway.
Questions about global warming, political evolution, alternative economies, and technology advancements all play out over months, years, or decades. Knowing what to do now would be so much easier if we could skip ahead to check on what worked or didn’t.
For months, ever since I stopped paying my mortgage, I’ve been asked about my plan. If I want to keep the house, how do I plan to find the money? Despite writing it out in a thousand words or so, the question is continually asked. If I could skip ahead, I’d know which plan to work and which plans to abandon. That would’ve saved me a lot of time, and probably even a relationship. Yet here I sit, working my business, talking to people about jobs, keeping my house on the market, and wondering when my portfolio is going to recover or even excel. If I could just skip these steps in the middle that require negotiations with the foreclosure community, then I’d have more time to enjoy things like the art fair going on outside my office, and the various authorities would know what they should do and when.
Foreclosure update: For those of you following the story of my housing situation, I have yet to hear any formal word about the forbearance of the foreclosure, but the Notice of Trustee Sale hasn’t been posted on my door (when last I looked). I have been assigned a new housing counselor, who seems inexperienced and seems more likely to parrot the mortgage servicer’s perspective instead of the homeowners’ advocacy I’d witnessed earlier. The servicer (the organization that actually initiates the foreclosure, or not) has decided to not correct the errors in the legal documents, dismissing them as typos. We’ve sent a letter to the State Attorney General asking them to enforce the legalities, requiring the servicer to start over and do things right. Both the forbearance and the Attorney General action processes would suggest that there’s nothing official required of me for months, but my counselor went ahead, contacted the servicer and then advised me to apply for mediation that will be scheduled within weeks, which requires me to produce an enormous set of documents, pay $200 for a mediator, and attend (and probably abide by) a meeting with the servicer, the mediator, probably the counselor, and ironically probably not the mortgager who had suggested the forbearance. Do you think I’d like to skip ahead? All of those steps are required, but if I do all of those steps and don’t have the money, I lose my home. If I skip some of those steps, but find the money, I keep my home. The money is more important than the steps, but the steps are required.
Because I blog about some of my personal financial turmoil, I’ve been honored by those who quietly tell me their tales. There is a quiet otherclass developing of people who’ve found that they can’t get a job, may not be able to keep a house, can not carry health insurance, and basically can not reintegrate into mainstream America. The goal of reattaining the 1950s dream of house, family, career, and vacations is higher than the also unattainable goal of the 1990’s dream of steady income, stable housing, long term relationships, and some sense of a national identity. The steps required to reach those seemingly unattainable goals are being skipped by necessity in favor of innovative entrepreneurship, alternative housing, non-Western health care, and support from a community rather than only a spouse or family.
I’ve mentioned the Walk Away movement before, an unofficial unorganized trend of people walking away from the mainstream seeking what they can’t find there. Thanks to Stephan Schwartz, I read an article pointing out that less than half of American adults have full time jobs. Only 47% are living a life that fits the stereotype displayed in mainstream advertisements. Considering the fact I mentioned in an earlier post, that 58% of those with jobs are dissatisfied with their jobs, very few are working to the lives that government seems to be trying to sustain. By the way, since I posted that piece two bits of data have been updated. Instead of it being 58% dissatisfied, it’s 70%; and instead of there being 3,900,000 uncounted unemployed it is more likely 8,000,000. Which We The People does the government think it is governing?
Many of the folks who’ve told me their stories have also told me about times when they seriously stayed in bed for days, or cut themselves off from everyone because they felt so removed from “normal” life. Dealing with abusive bill collectors doesn’t help. Having to politely walk through displays of discretionary wealth without interacting with it, can become too much of a chore. They skip that step by only going into town when it’s quiet, and by increasingly finding other ways to meet their needs. The shadow economy must be growing.
Increasingly, millionaires are living such lives as well. They recognize that their needs don’t require extraordinary wealth, and that, considering the way the world is shifting, their wealth may have much less value soon anyway. There are many reasons to learn to have a backup plan that doesn’t rely on accumulations of abstractions.
In the meantime, that abstraction called money continues to be important. Ironically, I am optimistic about the probability of accumulating more than enough for myself. I understand my value as a consultant and teacher who enjoys listening while implementing pragmatic progress. I am encouraged by my semi-annual analysis of my portfolio. I am optimistic because, even though I’ve witnessed unexpected and extraordinary bad luck, I know I can experience unexpected and extraordinary good luck. But it is that meantime that is the present that is messy, that requires me to not skip any of these steps. But the steps I take don’t lead back to what convention expects.