Friday, February 4, 2011

What Are You Doing to Live Your Life as Best You Can?

I’m in the real estate business, amongst other things, and though we are now at what I believe is the beginning of the end of the real estate meltdown, a lot of people are hurting. I look at foreclosures and notices of default on a daily basis. I see the names of people I know who are behind on their mortgage payments. I see their houses about to be auctioned on the courthouse steps, contractors, realtors, business owners, and others. 
I’m impressed with how people press on, with how they deal with their losses, with how they are trying to reinvent themselves. One guy I know, a real salt of the earth kind of guy, made most of his income from setting tile. That got tough, so he opened a deli. That was pretty tough, so he took some classes, hired the right crew, bought a back-hoe and now along with tile he’s doing driveways, walkways, and walls, and he’s getting by.
But it’s not easy.
Another contractor I know is having challenges with his blood pressure. And there has to be many more like him
Though things are getting better, these are not the best of times for a lot of people. If you look at the news and hear what people in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere have had to put up with because of corrupt, unfair, and unworkable political and economic situations, you see that your situation is not that bad in comparison.
Yet it’s tough.
People have to cut themselves some slack during the hard times. I hear clients continually berating themselves for having taken out second loans on their homes, and how they wish they hadn’t done that and so forth. This from a guy who still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in his house, and yet he often wants to chide himself for what he could have done, should have done, might have done.
I sometimes find myself in the same situation.
“What was I thinking when I did such and such with my money?” or something to that effect.
I’m fifty-three. Up till recently I never thought about a pension or retiring. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, mostly buying and selling real estate. I always thought I would be able to make all the money I needed in ways that were relatively easy and appealing to me. An electrician client of mine shared that he never had to go out to ask for work before, and that he was always able to pick and choose his jobs. He now finds it very difficult to go out there and ask for work.
Some friends of mine from chiropractic school shared how, “It really sucks. We got used to making more money each year. Our income went up and so did our lifestyle. That’s all changed, now.”
They live in Florida and own property in Michigan, two very hard-hit places.
You have your own stories and you have friends who have their stories, friends with no work, or who are going bankrupt, or have lost their home.
            You have to give yourself some credit for hanging in their during the hard times, for holding on, for finding ways to live and get your bills paid, for breathing through months, if not years of unemployment. I know a skilled architect who is happy painting houses and putting in landscaping. The physical pleasure of the work is new to him, but you have to know his heart is longing to get back to the drafting table. But in some ways he’s better than he’s ever been. He’s meeting the challenge of the hard times, some days better than others, but he’s doing it. He, along with many others of us, is having his mettle tested as never before, and surviving, even thriving. And that’s a good feeling.
            It’s not easy. I wish it were over, but as long as I can keep on keeping on, I grow and learn. And I like that. To me, that’s a lot of what life is about.
How do you keep the faith? How do you keep breathing? How do you recreate yourself? What are you doing to grow, learn, survive, and thrive?
            A client of mine has gone back to school to become a Latin teacher. I’m serious. He loves language, and it seems in top-notch schools there’s a need for Latin teachers. Another client of mine who cut his teeth in the real estate business managing construction projects is retraining for health care management, where there is a need for his skills.
Not everybody is being affected by the downturn in the same way, but there are commonalities. A buddy of mine is doing work on the BP oil spill out in the gulf. He’s a hydrologist, a water specialist, and though his work has been steady throughout the downturn, he still has to deal with his house being worth significantly less than it was a few years. The same is true in all fields, whether you’re a doctor or a high-end attorney. About one in every four households owes more on their house than it’s worth.
            I find myself stressed by what’s happening, but I also must confess I like it. I also like hard uphill climbs in the Sierras that make my lungs burn and my thighs ache. These trying times have forced me to reach further into myself. I haven’t had it this hard before, (I still have it way better than most.) and I’m finding the resources and the strength to do what I need to do. I take encouragement and support and inspiration from those around me who are finding ways to reinvent themselves and thrive.
            I’m much more appreciative now. One gift I gave my son for Christmas, I didn’t even tell him about. I promised myself I would play chess with him often. And that’s what I’ve done. It wasn’t that it was free, but something about trying financial times made me think about what was really valuable and memorable to me when I was kid.
What I remember after my dad died is that my father’s best friend, my Compare` John Santoro, would sit with me for hours playing the Italian card game Briscola. He never ever let me win, but I didn’t mind because he was treating me like a man, and spending time with me, though I was only seven. In retrospect, he seems to have had the card-playing capacities of a saint. I don’t remember ever winning, but I’ll never forget the two of us playing together.
That’s something money could never buy. I remember that now when I play chess with my son, or sit with my family watching a movie. There was a time I could never fully relax and just sit there laughing at some silly movie with my family. I was too busy. I had things to do, things to learn, important things.
Now, I can’t really think of anything more important or enjoyable than sharing a few hours with Syd, Mateo, Lisa, and Iko. It’s as pleasant as pleasant gets. It’s what life is about, at least as far as I can tell.
I’m the type of guy who can remember, while watching Ironman 2 that we’re living our lives on a speck of moist dust called Earth, hurtling through incomprehensible expanses of space and time, and that my entire life will pass in a flash, and that no matter how widely I travel, I will always be stuck, at least physically, in a very, very tiny corner of this wild universe, but in this context nothing else really seems to make sense other than to do what Jesus and all the other great teachers taught me, which was to love and care for those around me, to be as gentle and as compassionate as I can be, to be tolerant, to learn the ways of my own heart and mind so that I might be free of prejudice, greed, unnecessary suffering, limiting beliefs, anger, fear, sadness, and that I live a life open to the beauty, the mystery, and the sacredness of life, even though my bills are piled high on my desk, and thousands are in the streets in Egypt and elsewhere struggling and yearning for the most basic of freedoms and the most inalienable of rights.
            It’s tough, and beautiful. It’s the only life we have, at least for this leg of the journey. So look around. Take heart from those around you. Try to live well and wisely. Give what you have to give to those who could use your help, a smile, a kind word, a game of chess. Live now, while keeping an eye on the eternal.
          And if at all possible, be happy.
          Email me and let me know what's working for you.
          I can be reached at or 805/680-5572. Namaste

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