These are a few lessons that the recession should have taught us; actually, they’re more akin to advice your grandma might have given you at one point in life.
“Nothing Lasts Forever.” A few years ago, we swallowed the illusion that the good times would just keep going on and on. We bought houses we couldn’t afford, assuming that they would increase in value by 10 percent every year. A self-proclaimed financial expert told me that the Dow would break 14,000 in a few months. That was three years ago. I should have listened to my grandma.
“The Joseph Principle.” Do you remember Joseph from the Bible? He advised Pharaoh to save during the good times and spend during the bad times. According to the story, God revealed to Joseph that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. So Joseph told Pharaoh to institute a countrywide savings plan during the plenty years; that way there would be plenty during the lean years.
It might be counterintuitive, but not to my grandma. “Save for a rainy day,” she would tell us. “Save for a time of drought,” Joseph said. During the good times, she would save. And by save, I don’t mean invest. By save, she would put money in a savings account or a CD. Three years ago a thousand dollars at 1 percent would not have looked very good. Right now, don’t you wish you had put some money into a savings account at 1 percent?
Joseph saved during the good times, so he had a lot of “cash” on hand to spend during the bad times. That’s wise, for example, because, during the bad times, you can buy a house for a lot less than you can during the good times. That is, if you can get financing. If you have a large down payment, though, financing is not a problem. In fact, you can live like royalty during the bad times, as long as you saved during the good times.
“Good follows bad, follows good.” Like the weather in Chicago, the economy – and just about everything else in life – will change. It follows the principle “nothing lasts forever.” So the spiritual challenge is to be kind of out of sync with what’s going on around you. That is, when the world seems to be going down the tubes, cultivate hope; and when everything seems to be going well, devote some energy to being prepared for a crash.
“It was worth the ride.” What do you have control over, ultimately? In the end, you don’t have control over whether your business will succeed or not. Most small business startups fail. What you can do is embrace failure – if it comes – and say, “It was worth doing. I didn’t fail, really, because what I was working for transcended making money, even if I did not succeed in the end. I contributed something besides taxes to my community.”
“The common good.” In the end, it’s not all about me. It’s about the common good. And those who only possess narrow self-interests lose in the end. It takes a village not only to raise a child but also to sustain an adult. We’re in this together. I don’t think that’s naïve. It’s a lesson my grandma taught me, and after 63 years of trying to practice her wisdom, I have to say – from experience – that she was right.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.