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Continued: Just worrying doesn't solve anything

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 21, 2009 - 4:16 PM
One of our two cats is quite hefty. Not so big as to cause concern, but certainly of a size that we often confuse her for one of our dogs when we hear her traipsing around the house. While it may seem obvious, we discovered that she achieved this state by eating her own helping of cat food as well as much of our other cat's portion. This proves the adage, "What you feed grows."

The news is filled with economic horror stories. Unemployment in Minnesota is nearly 7 percent, our state deficit is more than $5 billion, companies are not only downsizing, but some are disappearing.

Are you paralyzed in front of your television, radiated to a sickly pallor, numbly watching stock quotes cascade along the bottom of the screen as pundits above describe the impending apocalypse? Are you grabbing a paper bag into which you take deep breaths when you open your monthly brokerage statements?

Let me ask you two simple questions: What are you feeding and why are you feeding it? Many of you are gorging on fear and disappointment, feasting on the unknown as if it were haute cuisine. There is not a soul on earth who knows how TARP, TALF, or any other governmental acronym is going to turn out. Commentator of the day Peter Schiff may have predicted much of the current economic malaise, but his investment accounts in 2008 were still rumored to lose around 40 percent. That's like Wile E. Coyote breathing a sigh of relief as he avoids being hit by a truck only to be run over by a train.

The point is not to pick on Schiff, but to remind you that no one will consistently have all the answers, and frankly, that is not what's really important, anyway.

It's time to stop dining on disaster and to figure a way to make the most of what's on your plate.

Dale Carnegie wrote his classic book, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living'' in 1944 -- the year after the worst 15-year period for returns in stock market history. His advice is as timely today as it was then: "The best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today's work superbly today." Figure out what you can do and do it well. Focus on your own piece to create your own peace.

Working hard at what you do best will feed your sense of fulfillment. Rather than worrying about losing your job, make yourself invaluable by demonstrating a tremendous effort. If you have lost your job, use this time to determine what a new career could look like or network like mad to land something else. Look for emerging sectors that may be more viable now. Things could certainly get worse for you, but tough times do not last. Most importantly, if you are not feeding worries about what could go wrong, you are instead creating a new game plan that gets you ready for the inevitable upturn.

A person I knew in high school recently wrote me to say that she had just lost her condo to foreclosure. The stress of trying to make payments while weaving a negative story about what losing her home would be like made things emotionally unbearable. After she lost the condominium, she was shocked at how she actually was able to adjust to her new life. Of course, it was not ideal, but she discovered that she could adapt. Her imagined doomsday scenario never matched the tenable reality of it.

For most of us, the worst is never going to happen. Carnegie quotes the 16th-century French philosopher Montaigne: "My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened." If things bounce back in a couple of years, ask yourself: Did you improve your life by obsessing over what could go wrong? In the meantime, think of concrete, creative ways to prepare yourself if they don't bounce back before you need your money. Evaluate your spending, review your investments, enjoy your work in case you need to work longer, and focus on helping others less fortunate.

No matter what, we will work our way out of this economic predicament. I say this not because of a belief in governmental steps being taken, but in an abiding belief in equilibrium. Things stay good for a while and then go bad for a while. Rather than continuing to think about how awful things could get, pay attention to what is going right. The best thing that you can do today is to enjoy your own heaping plate of "now." It frankly is the only thing over which you truly have control.

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Inves-tors Inc. in Edina. He is a certified financial planner and author of "The Wealth Management Index." His Gains & Losses column appears on the fourth and fifth Sundays of the month. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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