08/08/2011 08:29 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2011

Here We Go Again! How Afraid Are You This Time Around?

Financial train wrecks, economic meltdowns and bonehead political moves appear to have become the new reality. Perhaps you have noticed. Financial prosperity, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy now seem part of a similar mythology, with the primary difference being that the financial well being myth brings with it fear and trembling while Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy come wrapped in hope and enthusiasm.

If you find yourself concerned about your well being, and I know I am concerned about my own right about now, please forgive the blunt approach here -- my premise is that your experience of well being has little to do with what is happening around you, whether you have lost a job, a house, or virtually all of your worldly possessions.

In simple terms: your experience of well being has less to do with what happens to you, and more with how you choose to respond. If you have been reading these columns for a while, I'm sure you recognize the theme. You can choose to blame all the guilty parties and remain paralyzed by your fear and anger, or you can choose to find your way forward regardless of the circumstances. Make no mistake: There are plenty of guilty parties out there. The only problem is that anger and blame will do precious little to alter your circumstances and even less to improve your experience of well being.

No matter how calamitous your circumstances appear, if you are going to find your way through this mess, you will do so by dint of your own determination and willingness to take whatever steps you can.

Paul, one of my readers, sent me an interesting observation recently about fear and uncertainty juxtaposed with some amazing opportunities that came out of similarly uncertain times. Amongst his observations, which I have edited slightly to add some references:

The financial panic of 1873, which set off a severe nationwide economic depression that lasted for six years, included The New York Stock Exchange closing for 10 days, 89 of the country's 364 railroads going bankrupt, and unemployment as high as 14 percent. In the midst of the panic, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Edison started a company called General Electric.

Between 1929 and 1939, the Great Depression produced some of the scariest statistics ever. According to the FDIC, industrial production fell by 47 percent, US GDP plummeted by 30 percent, the stock market fell 75 percent from its 1929 highs and unemployment hit 25 percent by 1933. 5,700 banks and savings and loans failed in 1933 alone.

And during these dark days, DuPont created new products and industries including rayon, enamels, and cellulose film. RCA invented television. And a little company called IBM started pouring research dollars into something called the computer.

The 1970's are commonly remembered as a dark period for America -- stagflation, negative stock market returns for the decade, and hits to the national psyche including Vietnam, Watergate, and the hostage crisis. It was also the era that two ambitious and visionary young men named Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got their start.

According to the Conference Board, the Great Recession starting in 2007 resulted in America losing more than 25 percent of its collective net worth, the stock market declining more than 54 percent from its high, and the housing market down on average nationwide more than 30 percent from its 2006 peak.

And oh yes, during this last financial crisis the next generation of technology companies saw their most rapid growth, with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter growing from somewhat novelties into part and parcel of global life and business, and fast on the path to other-worldly returns for their early investors.

Two main points to be made here:

Adversity creates opportunity. Always has, always will.

The world can easily be separated into two kinds of people -- those who comment and complain on how things are and those who do something about it.

Since time immemorial, the town criers -- those that comment and complain -- have been heard more clearly because it is only human nature to be more easily scared by negativity than it is to be inspired by possibility.

Yet luckily for all of us, those who really matter aren't wired this way. Paraphrasing Robert Kennedy, the Thomas Edisons and Thomas Watsons and Mark Zuckerbergs and Reid Hoffmans amongst us invest their time dreaming and doing things that never were and saying why not?

The question, of course, is what about you? Will you be on the couch with the criers and the critics? Or will you be in the game with the dreamers and the doers?

To your success,

Paul - June 21, 2011

So what if your name doesn't happen to be Edison, Watson or Zuckerberg? What if you're not the next Facebook, Twitter or Google? Is there anything you can do to improve your lot in life anyway? As any good engineer will tell you, the answer is "it depends."

In this instance, "It depends" simply means that your current and future well being will be largely determined by how you respond to what's happening. Next week, I'll dig deeper into the difference between what happens to you and how you choose to respond.

In the interim, consider Paul's underlying observation here: even in the face of adversity, you have choices about how you respond.

So, here's a challenge for this coming week: Simply notice how you respond this week to what's happening around you. How does your focus change the quality of your experience? If you choose fear, anger or blame, how does that impact your experience? If instead you choose to look for opportunities to improve your experience of well being, what choices will you discover that make a difference, no matter how small?

I'd love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life, how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)