Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Madd Money: Are We Really Living in “The New Normal”?

As we are watching people react to “The Great Recession”, there is a definite change in some people’s attitudes and approaches to things. I can truthfully say that I am one of them. Some time ago, I made a rather flip statement that I was not going to participate in this recession, and a few people asked me later what I meant by that? For the record, when I said I was not going to participate in this recession I meant attitudinally I was not going to give in to negativity and downer thinking, nor was I going to look to others to provide me a windfall or relief. It also meant that I was going to do what I had to so that I could thrive in a climate of negativity and pessimism, wherever possible. I’m not a really big or motivated spectator of “the Economy”, but I am a very motivated active participant in *MY* Economy, i.e. the one that effects my family and me every day.

A phrase that is being used a lot right now is “The New Normal”, and it’s often spoken about with pessimism. However, there are many that are taking the opportunity to say that “The New Normal” need not be a doom and gloom scenario. There is even a blog and site called The New Normal, written by Roger McNamee (and he has a book with the same title :) ), and I’ve had a good time reading the entries and thinking about the ideas in it. Note: The New Normal in this case is of a technology and development aim; makes sense because I work with software and technology, this would be the avenue I’d think of first for these things. Also, many of the areas he talked about were from four years ago; his last entry was written May 13, 2005. Still, the ideas he presented, and their impacts on our lives, deserve to be explored and considered.

According to McNamee, the hallmarks of “The New Normal” are:

1. Technology is changing just about everything.

2. Globalization is changing the nature of economic opportunity.

3. Every individual is on his or her own. We have more power than ever before, but no safety nets.

4. None of us has enough time to deal with life.

I think that these sentiments are accurate for many of us, and that they do reflect the reality of our day to day lives. There are many that are scared of this “New Normal”. We live in an age where governments, companies and institutions are losing steam at an amazing rate. The days of one or two countries calling the shots with regards to the economy are fading quickly. Globalization is real, it’s here, and it’s a permanent part of our landscape. Automation of work and processes, and the commoditization of that work and those processes, is reality. If I cannot distinguish myself from another person who can do the same job as I do, whether they be in San Francisco or Sierra Leone, I better not be surprised if my work or my job goes elsewhere.

The key is planning, and that planning will take time. We grew conditioned to the idea that success comes quickly in the 90’s and this past decade. It’s rarely the case, but that’s what we have been led to believe. For most of us, we need time and a plan to develop our skills. Information and accessibility do not translate to mastery (it’s taken me awhile to wrap my head around this one, but I think I’m finally getting it). We can read everything, follow everything, learn and see the latest and greatest trends, but the fact is that there is no replacement for the necessary wood shedding required to actually get good at something. If you want to become an excellent musician, you have to practice. If you want to become an excellent engineer, again, you must practice. If you want to become an excellent money manager (personal or otherwise), you have to practice living in a way that is long term sustainable And allows you hte ability to account accurately for where your money goes.

With the realities of “The New Normal” what can we as individuals do? I like McNamee’s list, and I like his approaches to them, with some tweaks of my own:

First, move on from the 90s. The conditions that made it such an explosive and profitable decade have matured and become part of our lives. It will take another paradigm shift to make something like it again. Feel free to work to see if you can make another one, but don’t passively wait for one to come along, you may be waiting a very long time.

Second, work at a company you believe in. Put your efforts into things that matter and with people that matter to you. Making money but being miserable is rarely a long term method of success, and the resulting things that end up cluttering your life may very well prove to not be worth it in the end.

Third, establish a balance between your professional and personal lives that you can sustain for five or ten years. I remember when I was younger I thought I’d love to be a clinical psychologist, since I love talking with people and analyzing things. I gave up that pursuit because the idea of a bachelors degree, then a Masters Degree, then various internships and externships, and the notion that I wouldn’t really be doing any work until I was 30 turned me off to the whole thing. What happened was that I fell victim to the idea of “get results quickly” instead of following through with my plan, which would have taken much more time. Today, I have come to see that large scale changes take time to bring to fruition, and they require patience and a lot of very small goals that can be chained together to large scale objectives. Theory is great, but you have to make time to put some doing in so that you can get good at the thing you ultimately want to do.

Fourth, remember the three Ps: priorities, planning, and participation. We can’t do it all, at least not all simultaneously and hope to be stellar in all areas. There just isn’t enough time. There is no shortage of important things that we all can and should be doing with out time and our resources, but we have to come to our own conclusions about what is most important to us. Many have asked me how I became successful at Scouting, and the answer is, I don’t really know if I am successful, but it doesn’t really matter; I do it because I love it! When you love something and you are willing to put your all into it, opportunities abound. It’s not because I had opportunities handed to me, but it was because I enjoyed doing scouting so much that I was willing to jump into new avenues and try new things, even if they scared the living daylights out of other people (LOL!). For me, my ability to give back to my community and the net generation is ultimately what drives me. I get my sense of joy out of watching kids learn, seeing them smile when they prove that they have mastered certain skills, and then can grow up to be productive, moral and ethical stewards of their worlds. In a nutshell, that is what I am passionate about, and that’s where I choose to put my emphasis. At the same time, I enjoy doing what I do for a living, and realize that, if I want to reach higher in that area, I need to apply the same level of focus and attitude as I do to those areas, too.

So for those out there who are hearing this “New Normal” for the first time, or you have anxiety about it, I encourage embracing it, and growing with it, and doing all you can to align with it rather than fight against it or wait for a return to “the good old days”... because there’s really no such thing as “The Good Old Days” coming back, just a never ending and moderately changing sequence of “New Normals” that we will all face as time goes on. I’m looking forward to embracing and working with those times when they get here, for better or worse. How about you :)?

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