The art of sailing in rough financial waters
Posted January 8, 2009on:
Yesterday, I was talking to a young man who apologized for his loss of confidence. He has had the spectacular privilege of being shipwrecked not once, but twice, in the grand drama of the 2008 financial crisis in the UK.
“Of course your confidence has been knocked”, I replied. “But you’ve lost confidence in the world rather than yourself. You just don’t get that yet.”
The earth is moving under our feet and I am seasick
The first time I went on a cross-Channel ferry, I found myself suddenly feeling immensely ill, almost as if I had woken up in the middle of the night with food poisoning. I was wide awake though. I sat down abruptly, quite alarmed by the sensation of being critically ill. Fortunately, my companions were experienced sailors and they realized the cause of my distress. “We’re moving”, they said, very gently. I would have worked it out eventually, but their kind words saved me from several minutes of worrying and the magnification of my physical discomfort.
I still get seasick, though I pride myself on my ability to puke neatly, to lie down quietly, and to take the discomfort without disturbing the rest of the party. Yachting in the Caribbean last year, I resolved this has simply got to stop. If I want to go on boats, and enjoy swimming in a warm sea, I have to learn to cope with ‘the earth moving under my feet’.
The unknown and the unknowable
I would rather not be made redundant of course, and I would rather this had not happened to my young friend and many of his friends. But it will happen. To many of us.
We have no way of knowing how long the recession will last. This recession fits into the category of unknowable rather than unknown. I learn all about it that I can. I am collecting good explanations on the page Financial Crisis Visually.
But it is not knowable. Not even the experts know what is happening, or how long it will last.
So how do I cope with this ‘unknowableness’ and the equivalent feeling of being very seasick?
I need to plan for the very short term and keep lots in reserve.
- What can I get done right now, today?
- What are the wide range of choices of things I might do tomorrow?
If I can keep those two in balance, I’ll do OK.
A practical plan
- I need to spend some time every evening going over what I achieved each day, and adding it to my resume.
- I need to be on top of my finances, to the last penny, and know exactly what I’ve spent and what I owe. I also need to collect what is owing to me, promptly.
- Then I need to list all my opportunities in a file or a loose leaf binder.
- My fourth evening task is to pick out what I must do and will finish on the morrow. I want achievements in-hand and on my resume.
- Lastly, I leave plenty of time for the unusual and the unexpected. About 80%. That’s what’s needed in uncertain times.
It’s OK for me
Yes, I know. When we are facing a crisis, all of this feels like busy work. We just want it done. We want it over. Look at my posts from yesterday and last week. I was in a blue funk myself.
But if you are in a ship wreck, the last thing you do is start swimming madly hoping to chance on another boat. You must get clear of the boat that is sinking, but it’s best to get in a lifeboat with as much food, water and safety equipment that you can.
You can bring the sense of panic, or sea-sickness, down by sitting down every evening and doing the exercise I listed.
And if you miss a night, don’t beat yourself up. This is not a religious ritual. It is a process which helps you get the results you want. Get back to it the next day.
And let’s do it together
Let me know how to improve the advice. When all is said and done, we are in the same boat, on stormy seas.
Plan for the near term, finish today what can be done today, put it on your resume, and keep lots in reserve.
See you on the beach!
UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.