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It’s not like there’s too many walls.
It’s not like I don’t have the balls.
It’s just that I, well, I don’t know how
to live my life in the here and now.
– Matthew Ebel, This Too Shall Pass

A few folks have lamented that whenever I blog about economic issues, it’s never positive. In fact, it can be downright apocalyptic in tone. I make no apologies for the twitter stream and pile of blog posts that highlight just how unstable our economy is, but a few other folks have asked for something more than just paralyzing fear. What can we do, they ask?

That’s a good question. On a macro level, not much. The market has to correct itself, and government meddling (particularly to save preferred investors) will only prolong the misery. We’ve essentially poisoned ourselves, economically, and the only cure is to flush the poison out. The longer we take, the longer we wait to make hard choices, the more it hurts and the more permanent damage the poison does. Ultimately, I believe as I mentioned in the past that this economic downturn won’t hit bottom for a few more years – we took years to climb to the top of an absurdly overinflated peak, and we have at least the same amount of time on the ride down.

I’m punching out, it’s time to go.
My days are numbered, this I know,
but as it turns out no one burns out
’till they think they’re in control.
– Matthew Ebel, This Too Shall Pass

On a personal level, you can do a tremendous amount. First, close to home. Pare back spending. I mean it. You may or may not be feeling the effects as drastically as your fellow citizens, but pare back anyway. Learn to cook. Learn to make a decent cup of coffee at home. Learn to do more with less – and you may be surprised when you do that you’ll uncover skills, aptitudes, and pleasures you’d bypassed for convenience’s sake. I recently made strawberry mint jam with my wife and for the price of a few jars of commercial swill, we made 20+ jars of the most incredible thing you’ve probably put in your mouth recently.

Teach and share as much as you can. If you find a great bargain, tell your network about it. If you discover a new trick, or a new way to optimize something in your life, share. Teach, share, trade. Got a super low cost recipe for a great dish? Blog it. Know of a good deal coming up? Tell us all. For example, I’m a huge advocate of Craigslist and Bargainist, both of which have terrific free sections.

If you’re religious, this is a great time to unplug the television, filter out some of the distractions of daily life, and give some study time to your faith. As things get worse – and they will, before they get better – people in every community will need pillars to lean on, and those pillars aren’t just the guy or gal up at the podium. If faith sustains you and those you care about, focus on learning how to power up and recharge fast.

Help. Help as much as you can, in any way that you can, even if it’s something as minor as retweeting something. Get out of the digital world if you can and go help in the real world. Raise money for a non-profit like Second Harvest or the charity of your choice. Tutor a kid in the local school. Volunteer for a campaign like College Goal Sunday. If you’re a social media maven, change your focus from the fishbowl to using the power of the tools you have to effect change and make your patch of the world a better place.

Plug into some uplifting music and have it handy. Music is incredibly powerful and can change your mood instantly if you let it.

Most of all, understand that this is an end of an era, but not the end of the world. There is and will be a great deal of need in the days, weeks, months, years to come, a great deal of suffering and pain – as it has been for millennia, and as it will be for millennia to come, long after we’re gone. The periods of relative prosperity are tempered with periods of relative pain, but as long as we focus on the things that really matter – the people we care about and who care about us, our community (virtual and real), our patch of reality that we can call our own – we can be rocks, mountains of strength against the maelstroms of uncertainty.

I work all day and
take my time to smell the grass.
I’d run away but I know
I can’t run that fast.
Life may be short,
but boy is it a blast
and all this too shall pass.
– Matthew Ebel, This Too Shall Pass

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