These are hard times. The government’s broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment was nearly 23% in April. Our economic future is unusually murky. Robert Kramer, a pioneer in the senior housing industry and founder of the advisory firm Nexus Insights, captured the moment well in an interview. “There will come a time when we’ll see the pandemic in the rearview mirror,” he said. “There will not come a time when we will return to the old normal.”
That also holds for many individuals. We won’t return to the “old normal.” But what does that mean? The uncertainty is reflected in recent conversations with people who say they have tried carving out time during these weeks of stay-at-home to pursue questions about their lives and choices, including:
What would I like to be doing two years, five years, 10 years from now? What about that entrepreneurial idea I’ve had? Let it go or test it out? How can I better live my values? How can I sustain the good parts of the stay-at-home experience, the realization that what matters is purpose and connections, engagement and creativity?
On a practical level there are two tactics to suggest. First, take the time for introspection. Steve Jobs once highlighted an important aspect of knowing yourself. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” he said. “So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” How do your dots connect?
One trick is to keep a diary. The notes are there to help you think through your likes, strengths, weaknesses and goals.
Second, your encore should be a social enterprise. Involve your family and friends. Tap into your network (digitally for now). Ask what they think you are good at. How are they changing their outlook and habits?
In other words, you need to create a plan. Even a loose blueprint will help keep you focused in coming weeks and years. “I like to think of men and women as artists of their own lives, working with what comes to hand through accident or talent to compose and recompose a pattern in time that expresses who they are and what they believe in,” wisely wrote anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson.
What is your composition? Personal finance is critical to the answer. Personal finance is how you put money behind your values, your goals and your beliefs. Personal finance is critical to composing a good life.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”; commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.