Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reminiscent

Seat 8B, middle seat right before the exit row. Cramped quarters with non-reclining seat, something familiar to what was once a common occurrence in my days as a management consultant. The band Keane playing on the headset, the game Bejeweled jangling on the portable media player. Something seems to feel the same as what I once knew before, something nostalgic.

What happens to us as we age? For some, there is utter resistance, mid-life crises and “boy never grows up” syndromes. For others, there is utter resignation, “wise before your years” and “old soul” designations. For most, there is a waxing and waning between resistance and resignation, resulting in a push-and-pull of youth and age, often settling uneasily at an "up-to-the-minute" current yet ever-evolving state of mind.

For me, my settling is into another life far beyond what once was this experience so reminiscent in seat 8B. No longer single but happily married. No longer restless but settled. No longer wandering bachelor but breadwinner. Yet the words strangely flow again like they once did, emotional pangs registered through emo stirrings that Keane is apt to produce. The life I once led is still nearby, and I am reminded that we never grow old as much as grow deeper and more complex as the years pass. I don’t know what to make of this rumination, but I will settle for the comfort that this feeling brings: connection to my former self and completeness to my psyche.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Great New Adventure

History parallels the leadership aspirations of generations. The triumphant few who establish the zeitgeist also determine the resulting outcome for their civilizations. The process is constant and ongoing but is revealed most plainly in times of marked change. This current period in world history is shining illustration of this process.

We are living through a dynamic period where surreal has become the new reality, best measured in economic results:
  • US stock markets have fallen over 6x faster than long-term growth trends (51% drop in the Dow Jones Index over the last 18 months)
  • Governments have spent trillions of dollars to stabilize results ($787B in the new US government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on top of $700B Troubled Asset Relief Program established by the old US government)
  • Unemployment has increase unabatedly (8.1% in March 2009 for the US economy, double its rate from 10 years ago)
  • World economies have experienced similar impacts nearly simultaneously, from North America to Europe to Asia Pacific and the supporting economies in between

The rapid shift, particularly downward, causes a societal “re-set” on perspective and behavior. Values are questioned and habits are scrutinized with the goal of finding the root cause of such marked changes and the things that can be “fixed” to return to normalcy and growth. Those who feel that their handle on the rapid shift is well-grounded – or prescient from accurately reading the previous “all-too-telling” signs – make their voices heard more loudly than before. And most importantly, a new cast of triumphant few seize their opportunity to establish the zeitgeist that will determine the resulting outcome beyond this current state.

In this period, we are free to craft new visions for what the zeitgeist might contain:
  • New concept of home – less a financial investment and more a family investment
  • New concept of transportation – less an environmental enemy and more an environmental friend
  • New concept of environment – less as conquered and more as preserved
  • New concept of business – less about “getting rich quick” and more about “rising all boats”
  • New concept of government – less about taking orders from the people and more about giving orders to the people

We are also free to wallow in what has become of our old visions for what the zeitgeist once was and could have been. In both freedoms, there is implicit choice and votes cast for what will ultimately become of our shared world. It is in this context that we must battle our fears and hopes to forge a new imperative that re-sets our perspective and behavior in a healthy manner.

As a student of history, I am struck by the increasing parallels this time maintains with the 1930’s. Global recession and economic nationalism, the residue of optimism from the 1920’s ultimately pummeled by the escalating fears of depression. Hope replaced by fear, not fully undone until nearly every nation tired itself from hostility and aggression in either world war or civil conflict.

As we stand on the precipice, a great new adventure awaits. I am hopeful that history’s recurring patterns can be undone. The future is not yet written. The present offers ample opportunity to craft new visions that promote posterity over personal and national glory. As always, the road is long but never as long as the thread that increasingly binds us together as citizens of a connected world. The question becomes what we will do to ensure posterity triumphs.