External events are dramatically altering our world. Our only choice now, is the story about how we respond.
Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri says, “Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
I became acutely aware of my own stories during the 08-09 recession. The short version of my story is, we bought a small manufacturing business right before the recession started, it went down quickly, taking most of our life savings with it, and we had to declare bankruptcy.
The longer version, the story I told myself, is bigger than that. While I didn’t handle everything perfectly, one thing I did well was that I decided to write a new story for myself. I decided that I would be a person who can handle a crisis and come back from it stronger.
I wasn’t perfect, but during that time, I helped my family stay happy (mostly) and a decade later I have a very successful business. Here are the questions I asked myself back then, and what I’m thinking about during this crisis:
What kind of safety net can you give yourself? You don’t make good decisions when you’re afraid. The first priority is to quiet your fear monster. After our bankruptcy, I was left with a small retirement savings. I kept it in retirement, but moved it into an account I could write a check on, in case I was desperate. I also confirmed with my father, if everything fell apart, we could move into his basement. Was raiding my retirement and moving into my dad’s basement the best plan? Hardly, but it did tell my brain, you’re not going to die. A back-up plan enabled me to think clearly. Fortunately I didn’t have to do either of those things, but knowing that I could, calmed me down.
What am I good at? The faster you let go of your old plan, the sooner you’ll be able to see possibilities. Before our bankruptcy, I was writing inspirational books and pursing a speaking career. During the recession, no one was paying for inspiration. Instead, I leaned on what I was good at, sales training. I identified the bare minimum I needed to live, figured out how to get it fast. Doing that in the short-term enabled me to pursue my bigger aspirations, on slower timing, with less immediate financial pressure.
What is still the same? A bankruptcy or financial setback can feel like an epic life failure. But when I looked at my own situation, I realized, 80% of my life is still the same. I was still eating dinner with my family, I could still go for a walk, I had the same friends. Sure it was mac and cheese dinner, but a lot of joy in my life was still
there. This realization enabled me to tell my kids, and myself, we’re the same people, and we still have what matters.
What’s your story? Fear brings out, people’s insecurities, if you have a story in your head that says, people in our family fail, I fail, I’m not good enough, etc., that story is going to come out right now. This is a good time to look at where you got that story, and how you can rewrite it.