I first met René two and a half years ago on a hiking trail in the desert mountain park near my home in Phoenix, Arizona. We arrived at the trail head at the same time and moved at the same pace up the mountain so we soon struck up a conversation. René was a recent transplant from Ontario, Canada, where he’d built a successful security firm, and now he was on a mission to grow his business in the United States. He joked that his timing had been lousy, what with the recession and all, and he confessed that business was not good. But he could still smile about it and along the trail I got occasional glimpses into Rene’s outsized personality and durable sense of humor.
As we wound our way through cactus and over rocky outcrops I learned more about René’s story. He’d been in Phoenix about a year while immigration snafus kept his wife and son back in Canada. It was clear as he chatted about them – his son’s sporting success, his wife’s warm personality – that he missed them dearly.
My passion is resilience – how people keep on their feet when everything in their lives is dragging them down. So I asked René how he stayed so up, without his family, and with all his business woes.
He told me he’d co-founded an organization of small businesspeople who acted as a support group, guiding each other through the shoals of operating a company in troubled economic times.
He told me, somewhat reluctantly, of his charity work. His father, it turns out, had been a big believer in helping others. Every Sunday he would round up his sons, René included, and tour the neighborhood to see if anyone needed help with chores (repairing that shed, cutting that grass) for no compensation. “It instilled an ethic in me,” René told me as we meandered on our hike, “that no matter what’s going on in your own life, you need to reach out to others”.
It’s clear we need to find ways to stay up. If you watched the news out of Wall Street these last few weeks there was little cause for cheer. The Dow dropped 500 points in a single day – the worst plummet since the depths of the recession – and many experts are predicting a double dip recession. It looks like more stormy weather ahead.
So, how do we cope when we’re in the midst of all this uncertainty? Most of us lean on our closest relationships; our marriages, our life partnerships, our families. In fact, in 2008 on the precipice of the recession, 65% of us said our nuclear families gave us the greatest meaning in our lives. By 2010, it was 75%.
It’s admirable that we reconsidered our values and reconnected with our families. But it may not be enough. René teaches us that we don’t just need relationships with our family. If we really hope to stay resilient, we need to rethink what relationship means. We need to expand the definition to include relationship with our community.
In early 2009 I identified a group of people who were hardest hit by the recession and yet doing the best – the most satisfied, the most resilient, the happiest. And each and every one of them was reaching out to their communities, upping their levels of charity involvement, while the rest of us, me included, battened down the hatches and shrunk our lives back.
And so I’ve given myself a marching order – to find a charity I can get behind and do something concrete, other than a monetary donation, to help them out.
I could match René step for step on the trail. I wonder if I can keep up with him on relationships and connection.
Andrew Shatté, meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer
In 2008 on the precipice of the recession, 65% of us said our nuclear families gave us the greatest meaning in our lives. By 2010, it was 75%.
It’s admirable that we reconsidered our values and reconnected with our families. But it may not be enough.