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Hold On Tight

I'm no better at predicting the future than the next guy. Probably much worse than some. Marginally better than some others. But I don't believe that life depends upon anyone's ability to accurately predict the future. We humans remain interested in prediction even though it's kind of an anti-life occupation.

There's probably no better way to undermine the present than to stick your head far into the future. Time spent focusing upon there is necessarily time spent not being present here. We live only in the present.

Yesterday, I was negotiating with a potential client and discovered (again): the notion that we somehow manifest our future based upon how well we envision it is nothing like a universal law. The engineering class of manifesting might be enabled by accurate, attractive envisioning, but other classes are undermined by it. In a work context, insisting upon clear requirements and measurable completion criteria as a prerequisite for approving pursuit causes at least as much harm as good, and probably more. Anyone satisfied receiving just what they expected often finds their partner dissatisfied by the very same thing. Sometimes, in retrospect, we discover that our insistence on pursuing what we believe we must achieve causes no end of suffering all along the way. So much suffering that even fully achieving the objective can't extinguish the awfulness of the experience.

We are always creating our present while we chase our future. The great tragedy at the end of a pursuit, the end of a project, happens when we realize that while we achieved or even exceeded what we said we wanted, at the end, none of us want to do another one anything like that one together again. Our success destroys our ability to succeed together again because we ignored our present, not because we failed to achieve our future.

One of the Tarot cards advises to consider how you want it to feel, not just what you want to achieve, to avoid hollow victories. This counsel also might help avoid hollow failures.

Last week, I took a short trip to visit some in my community. As a possible sign of our times writ small, no one I visited with expected to be employed full time a year from now. Most are currently unemployed or underemployed, but even those employed full time were facing the certainty or high likelihood of layoff, slowdown, or shutdown in the near future.

One friend owns a twenty year old rare book business. Volume fell 50% this year. His wife, who has held the stabile, non-entrepreneurial job in the family, works for Washington Mutual and will be made redundant by next September. Another, the Chief Technology Officer for an e-business, will be laid-off this month. His wife has been unemployed the past year and has so-far experienced several bait-and-switch job offers, where the advertised position was downgraded between offer and acceptance.

Yet another, an experienced event planner, can't find any but volunteer work. Her new husband, a successful contract data architect, learned last week that his contracting firm was downsizing him out the door. An attorney admitted he was helping a friend structure a buy-out, but beyond that, no work looms on the horizon. Another couple, world-class consultants, have no idea what they will be doing after the first of the year.

Just this morning I learn that a friend with decades of executive experience in the Pharma industry, who transferred to a spin-off start-up, will lose his job this month.

None of these folks predicted --- or could have predicted --- any of this. None of these people can or could collect unemployment or pass muster to receive food stamps. Most of them have some equity in their homes, and some are already trying to maintain their lifestyles by bleeding value from underneath the roof over their family's heads. Each understand that this strategy is even less sustainable than they believed their former success was.

So, we can live in dread of the future, it seems, or hold on tight through these troubles. To the extent that we focus upon the apparently certain future, we might miss the gifts our present brings and disable the value our presence might bring. The rules change. When the paycheck no longer appears, do we stop doing our work? Our work is complicated by the absence of the familiar financial reinforcement, but not---unless we insist---eliminated by it.

This posting is the first in a series focusing upon a new phenomenon in our culture, where systemic unemployment is not centered on the industrial working class, the under-educated, or the traditionally disenfranchised. The new bread line cannot be satisfied by bread alone. Our national empathy might increase as a result. We might find reason to hold on even tighter to each other than we ever found reason to hold on tight before. Our choice?

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