Changing the System of Living

By Charla Hawkwind Hermann

    There’s been a lot of press lately about the climbing unemployment rates. The nightly news makes it sound like corporate cut-backs and budget freeze situations just suddenly begin. It makes me wonder where they have been for the last four years. The unemployment numbers we are seeing right now have forgotten a couple of segments of our society; the homeless and those who have been laid off longer than unemployment benefits would last. There's also another segment of free-lance contractors creating an "alternative lifestyle" that has been taking form while nobody was looking. The work is sporadic and sparse, but it does seem to keep this group alive.

    This could be your year to find an "alternative lifestyle" of your own. Here's how it works... you make it through college or business school and then you work your way up the corporate ladder. You become supervisor and then manager or your department. Before you know it, you have the private office and your own secretary. The business trips are matched with the excitement of dinners with your boss and your own company credit card. You spend several years basking in this new position and power. You figure it will never end, after all, you're good and always have the strongest productivity records. Your annual review keep. a steady increase in your salary and you are always striving to hit the annual bonus program. Your stock options are the security for the future education of your children. You are living in a nice home in the burbs and have a dandy overpriced business car. Your kids take ballet and have expensive athletic equipment to make them the top performers of the team. You have six credit cards with expanded limits on your line for those special vacations and expensive dinners out on the town. Okay, so one of them is for Penny's to keep the kids in clothes and household items working.

    It's as good as it's ever going to get except for the stomach aches or headaches when you are under stress. Statistics show Americans losses to be over two billion per year due to stress in the workplace. As many are looking for another career move up the ladder in the near future, many things can change before getting there. Out of nowhere someone comes in from a bigger company. The talk is merger/aquisition. It happens to nearly 1/3 of the major corporations in our country. The other side of that story is that suddenly the Japanese can produce your company's product for less, thus you are expected to compete with less people, tighter budgets and more work than ever before. The process begins as they lay off some of the nicest people you've ever known. Your workload gets heavier, the long hours and stress seem to go hand in hand. After you leap tall buildings in a single bound, perform miracles beyond the bosses wildest dreams, you find out that your job is the next one to be cut back! Once the initial shock and depression wear off, you really think it through and say, "Hey, I'm nearly 40 years old. I'm smart and creative and this is merely an opportunity for me to start that business that I had always dreamed of..." You know the old adage, "This isn't a problem, it's just a challenge and opportunity".

    And so it goes. First you decide to take a few weeks off to evaluate life and figure out what it is that you always really wanted to do. You look at the home budget and the savings account and try to figure out a good plan B. If you are really lucky, you received a good severance pay. Most have very little in the savings account to fall back on. The next thing that happens is the search through the old rolodex to see who owes you favors. Your first consulting gigs will definitely come from friends, IF THEY HAVE THE BUDGET. Then there's the unemployment lines. Your weekly paycheck that held four digits, drops to $160 - $180. When you get into line for HOURS, you'll find lots of your old friends who used to hang out at the executive clubs and health spa. It's a scene out of a bad movie. Your ego is not going to let you take a job for a lot less money right off the top. When you meet an old friend in the lobby to interview for the same job, it's like a scene out of the movie, "Mr. Mom". You figure the other guy needs the job more than you and you are about to interview with your old arch enemy, "the competition” only now you would have to be nice to that snake that put you out of work in the first place. So you blow the interview to hold out for something better. Two years later, the 40K gig that got away seems like big bucks. You face having to move your family to a new city, loosing money on the sale of your house and giving up your cat. It is definitely a serious transition. And you are not alone, not by a long shot.

    The press doesn't know about us. We have become creative survivors. After being turned down for more than fifty jobs because of being over-qualified, we have developed new systems of living. We have figured out how to pare down our budgets, trade goods and services to get what we need, we grow our gardens and make our clothes. It's a far cry from the expensive beauty parlors and designer outfits of just a few years ago. We found out that we can drive older cars and it’s easier and cheaper to find a mechanic and insurance isn't raping us each month. We've made it through the ego transition with hundreds of friends. We've watched each other go bankrupt, get divorced, take the kids out of private school and we've changed our sense of value along the way. It's a lot like it was for Mom and Dad. Many of us have formed buying co-ops and the Saturday night potluck dinner has replaced expensive restaurants.

    Maybe this shift is good for us. It has definitely put us in touch with the other side of living. It has changed the perspective of what is really important. "Power-Lunches” take a back seat. With any luck, the rest of you who join us this year won't struggle with this transition as much as we did. Maybe your ego won't take a basting, because NOW there is an alternative waiting for you. I want you to know that you'll make it. Your kids will live without $90 tennis shoes and you'll feel stronger for each of the days you find a new way to survive. You will have the opportunity to clean out your garage and get rid of the tons of things that you bought and never used. You will have the opportunity to work with your hands and your heart again. It's important to keep your head straight. Sow some new seeds in your own garden and follow your real dreams. The whole world changed this year and it's only natural that your part of it changes some, too. Look at the alternatives and stop relying on the old system to give you all the answers. Be brave enough to create some of those answers on your own. You will be amazed at how many of the co-workers that you leave behind will speak to you with great envy of your freedom and ability to cope. You will get used to not having a weekly pay check and you can change the way you live and buy to accommodate a more modest lifestyle. You won't be throwing glamorous cocktail parties anymore, but you can find happiness in stimulating your own creative process.

    Just remember, this transition in your life is not about failure. It's about success. How much have you learned along the way to put you to work today? Mix your talents as an asset and add those new dreams. Commit to your change and follow through. One day you'll look back at the greatest gift the corporation could give you was the one they gave you when they set you free.

    Now you have time to look at the environment and the people around you and see what you can dedicate your energy to that will support a positive and healing change. Funny how cleaning up the environment has now become a 3 billion dollar a year industry and stress costs industry over 100 billion a year. The list of potential clean up, fix up services for the planet and her people is endless. Now, you can take those skills that the corporate cult taught you and put them to work for something real. There are many new occupations available that will benefit the next seven generations. You won't even go home feeling guilty. You'll still be angry about all the lies they fed you in those "get ahead" corporate seminars, only now you can get even, you drop out and still make a living. The only thing different is that now you can do it in jeans and from your own home while actually enjoying your family and getting your life back.

    The day I moved to the mountains, was the day that I bought my soul back from the devil. When I took on the path of service to the planet and all her children was the day I stopped feeling like an empty suit and became a human being again. Since that time I have watched thousands go through the pain of the transition, loss of material possessions and the ego that made them the top producer and bonus winner each marketing season, only to find pride when the first garden feeds the family, the sewing machine is dusted off and you find out that a $100 designer skirt costs $15 to make. The new rewards are real and don't come with a pump you up rally, be a team player and everything will always be secure con. These rewards come in feeling your own heartbeat, in finding your own truth. Most of all in knowing that the work you do each day has more meaning than someone else's bottom line. Give it a try, become the hidden statistic that is not on the 6 o'clock news.

Copyright (c) by Charla Hermann all rights reserved.

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