Be very quiet. I don’t want to jinx the trend, but within the last few months I’ve been able to pay bills as they came in – as long as they didn’t involve the words mortgage or homeowners dues. Life is improving. My changes are happening amidst the changes we are all experiencing. Few expect our old way of life to return. Many expect a change, but there are so many possibilities that there is no consensus. Our institutions and even our philosophies that we thought were an interlocked and self-supporting society are disengaging and rearranging, with some significant renovation and reconstruction going on. What we thought was stable and secure land is showing itself to be a flotilla that is breaking up and reforming into – what we don’t know. But for any of us planning a future, we have to be open to our selves and possibilities.
We’ve had some torrential rains in the area lately. Yes, the Seattle area is known for its rain, but until recently that was usually eternal drizzle, not dynamic deluge. The return envelopes in my bills have come presealed by the humidity, which means I’m using regular envelopes to mail my checks. I’ve been happy to do so. The extra anxiety that comes from knowing unpaid bills are sitting in the inbox waiting for the money to match them is a persistent drain on responsible psyches. Partly from clients asking for more time and partly from a small buffer created by selling some stock, my mail box anxiety has diminished. It hasn’t gone completely away because I continue to receive reminders that I am tens of thousands of dollars in arrears to my mortgage company, but that may be the next thing to pass. The world that supported me several years ago dismantled itself with a Triple Whammy, and now seems to be reintegrating itself in a new form that is a mix of investment, work, and new frugality.
One of my main clients is the New Road Map Foundation, an organization that champions values-based financial literacy. The basis of the work is a Nine Step Program made popular through seminars and books by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Your Money or Your Life). The program works because each person learns how to manage their money based on their values, not values defined by New Road Map, not values defined by marketers, not values defined by any other authority. Individuals can decide to adhere to someone else’s values, but they are more likely to do so consciously and based on critical judgment instead of rote obedience. From my position as Information Manager I witness what news resonates with such a diverse crowd. The diversity is diverse, yet centered around an emergent theme of self-reliance, living in community, and using the fewest resources possible – all while enjoying life far more than before. Self-reliance is frequently tied to an acknowledgement that relying on institutions is possibly anachronistic; and that supporting to old institutions means supporting things counter to confirmed values. Make food, not war is a common theme.
A few years ago I regularly attended a gathering at the Hollyhock retreat center up on Cortes Island in British Columbia. A few of us had an unofficial morning ritual of tea before breakfast. The folks that got up early were the yoga crowd and the business crowd. Yoga folks greeted the sun by going indoors and exercising. The business folks greeted the stock market opening by sitting on the deck and watching the light and tide flow by. Each of us had a different perspective. I suspect you already are familiar with mine. Steve Smolinsky is a corporate and philanthropic consultant who blogs excellent rants about injustice and inequities while providing actionable insights into business and charity. Mike Brady is a portfolio manager who helps people invest their resources in more than just money by also emphasizing generosity. His videos are definitely timely and worth watching. Steve’s commentary on the state of America; “As it gets worse and worse I find that we are beginning to remind me of some of my favorite places to visit in Africa.” Mike’s commentary on the state of the American economy is basically paraphrased as, “Run For The Hills? No. But I understand why you feel that way.”
Trolling the Internet for New Road Map’s news feed exposes me to analyses like the one from James B. Glattfelder: Who controls the world? The summary is that there is no over-arcing conspiracy surreptitiously ruling the world’s economy; that the actions of a few hundred control the world’s economy; that the few hundred are a consequence of our monetary system; and that such a concentration is inherently unstable. Living within an inherently unstable system is a very good reason to establish self-reliance. Helping others establish that independence is one reason I am an advocate, past-board member, and current contractor for New Road Map. Whether our systems fragment or not, self-reliance is empowering.
Within my life and within the news feed, I am witnessing many transitions. Old worlds are dispersing, yet we rely on the financial institutions and established currencies for investment opportunities. New worlds are developing, but we can’t know if they’ll be familiar. The more things change the more they stay the same, but will that be true this time? As a Mission Planner with Sea Launch I was able to see The Ukraine as it went through the transition that was the dissolution of the USSR. People adapted readily, which merely made the struggle more bearable. We watch as other dysfunctional or distressed societies persist beyond logical expectations. North Korea persists. So does Cuba and much of Africa. Western civilization may be dysfunctional and may be unstable; yet, it may persist effectively unchanged for decades. Or it could all change tomorrow.
My book that is the basis for this blog, Dream. Invest. Live. is based on the assumption that individuals with a high enough risk tolerance (definitely not everyone) have the opportunity to make money from their money, and that investing well enough enables a lifestyle based on personal needs, wants, and dreams. There are no guarantees, and there are inequities in the system, but there are ways to ameliorate those effects. Diversification and long term investing are cheap and powerful tools. I suspect, but can’t know, that my most of my basic assumptions continue to be valid despite my misfortunes. I demonstrate that belief by continuing to invest in the stock market. I am also conducting most of my life as if current currencies and financial institutions will persist long enough to define how I make and spend money, how I trade value for value.
Amongst the doom and gloom, and predictions of the dissolution of our civilization, I also am witnessing hope, progress, and a resurgence based on a redefinition of the kind of world we want to live in. Look at the headlines in Yes! Magazine. For each problem there is a possible solution. For each cry about the end of the world, they describe a new beginning. Our old worlds are changing and reforming as new worlds, and as long as we continue that trend then the end of the world may simply be the beginning to a new and better world.
My microcosm of a world is obviously in motion. A new stability and convention has yet to define itself. Maybe my world will find a new harbor. Maybe I’ll just have to be open and aware, live according to my values, and dream and plan and live. In the meantime, I will celebrate the fact that the bills are paid (ex. mortgage et al) and that I have a check to deposit. The sun is shining. It is a nice world.