This is the story of two sisters, raised in a traditional Jewish home on Long Island, New York – one whose life reads like a Judith Krantz novel and the other whose life was turned upside down one rainy Friday afternoon. When my husband got fired, I turned to my sister looking for advice, but how was I to know she would turn my “crisis” into a new business venture? Or that it would ultimately result in both of us becoming authors, newspaper columnists, public speakers, and, most importantly, teachers.
I was 40+ years old and had gone from living with my parents to living with my husband. And although we traveled the world with his career, I had still managed to lead a sheltered life in that someone else had always taken care of me. However, my husband getting fired was the catalyst which forced me to face reality and take control of my life.
When I turned to my sister, aka Black, a successful corporate businesswoman with an M.B.A. from N.Y.U. and London Business School, looking for answers, all I got was questions. It was extremely frustrating at first, but over time I realized the wisdom of her decision. She couldn’t tell me what to do, as my decisions had to be based on MY personal values and priorities. I have two daughters. She has two race cars. (Not your typical family tree!)
My husband was initially shell-shocked as he had worked for the company ever since graduating business school. (He and my sister had been classmates at London Business School.) And he knew I did not go from being a cookie-baking mom, to financially literate, all by myself. However, since he had turned to my sister over the years on various matters, he seemed relieved that I was getting involved rather than expecting him to shoulder the entire burden.
Looking back, I can see how our Jewish upbringing established our basic values and, in reality, my sister could have made many of my decisions for me. But I needed to learn to take control of my own life vs. having my life control me.
During my crisis, I put together a list I could review whenever I needed help remembering the glass is half-full. It's as applicable today as it was when I first wrote it. Hopefully it can help you navigate any crisis you find yourself in.
1. Take My Head Out of the Sand
Whether financial or personal — avoiding the truth won’t change the facts. It certainly will NOT make the situation better. Nor will it make the situation go away. Problems will lie dormant only until such time as they’re too big to continue ignoring. Acknowledging a problem (and the earlier, the better) is a HUGE first step towards doing something positive.
2. Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time
This applies to many large issues or projects. Situations which become bigger the longer I delay addressing them. Which then can become another excuse for not dealing with them. A vicious circle! But I can tackle/deal with/solve anything; I CAN eat an elephant, just not all at one time. I initially applied this concept to our financial situation and later used it for less urgent projects, such as my daughter’s scrapbooks. Now I find myself using this concept whenever I have large tasks to tackle that in the past I’d have kept postponing, such as the growing mountain range of paper in my “workroom”.
3. Communication Includes Dialogue
My sister and I talk a lot about communication in our book, and there’s no question that it’s absolutely critical to any relationship. But now I’ve added the word “dialogue.” A cooperative spouse is great, or a close friend, a sister — anyone who will listen and be available to bounce ideas around. Few of us want to go through life alone, but communication becomes even more important during a crisis, yet often that’s when we feel most alone. I’m lucky to have Black in my life, but if I didn’t there are support groups. I would never try to get through a crisis alone.
4. Be Honest with the Mirror
I made a commitment that I’ll try to be honest with myself — about what’s important to me, what will make me happy (I don’t mean winning the lottery), what I want from life. I need to be open to the thoughts of friends and family (NOT society at large) about what’s important to them, but I treat them as a “menu of options” — not definitive answers. And I remind myself that when I think the grass might be greener somewhere else, in reality I may be looking at Astroturf.
5. It’s Just Stuff And Fluff
Spending time and money chasing “things” is a waste of time and money. (Beyond basic needs, of course.) Besides, it isn’t a good example to set for children — especially since they learn more by “Monkey see — Monkey do” than they do by “Do as I say, not as I do.” At the end of the day, the most important things are my beliefs, my values, my priorities, my loved ones, my memories. The things money can’t buy. The rest is just fluff.
6. Slow Down and Enjoy
Life can change in an instant — a spouse gets fired, a family member gets seriously ill, a loved one dies — so I have to enjoy what I have and the people in my life. Spend less time “doing” and more time “enjoying.” Read one less e-mail. Play a game with the girls. Shut off the TV at dinner and have a conversation. Have coffee with a friend. Make sure to take the time to unwind. And to dream.
7. Crisis = Opportunity
Finally, I have given myself the gift of believing that everything happens for a reason, even if I can’t understand why at the time. If I allow myself to treat a crisis as a potential opportunity, I might find myself one day in the future saying, “I’m so glad that happened because if it hadn’t then: I might not have learned something. Understood something. Gotten to the place where I am today.”
When this crisis first happened, my sister told me it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought (a) she was crazy; (b) I had no time for her sarcastic remarks. But now I admit she was right. For not only have I taken control of my life, but most importantly I’m teaching my daughters invaluable life lessons. I may have been an ostrich with my head in the sand, but I’m determined my daughters will not be. And if, along the way, my story has somehow ended up helping other people, then that’s a truly amazing gift that I never could have imagined on that rainy Friday.
Visit www.redandblackbooks.com to order your copy of What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! a real approach to personal finance and prioritizing your life, By Red (Tina Pennington) and Black (Mandy Williams).