“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought we had a little more time …” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan
We always think we have a little more time, don’t we? After all, why do today what we can put off till tomorrow? And, if it’s not that important, why do it at all?
Yesterday, we experienced the passing of the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She held the throne for the better part of 71 years, longer than any previous monarch. She was queen when I was born and when I was but a child in the 1950’s. She was queen for my entire life: when I was born, when I was a young adult, when I was middle aged, and now, at retirement age. She was queen until yesterday, but now she’s moved on to meet her maker and perhaps to have other adventures on another plane of existence. She’s no longer a part of this world, although she will never be forgotten here.
The old Biblical preposition, ‘…and it came to pass ….” Comes to mind, for in fact, it all comes to pass and not to stay. Even those things that seem permanent are not.
I don’t mention this out of a desire to create fear or anxiety, but rather, so that we can all make decisions and plans that are the most beneficial for ourselves and our world. Realizing that nothing lasts forever then, how should we proceed?
Back in the 1980’s, before I moved to Colorado, I was married to a construction contractor. During the late 1980’s, he was making LOTS of money. Southern California was in a second building boom at that time. The company mostly did residential “hardscape”, or landscape construction; specifically, concrete, brick and block work, patio covers, decks, and so on. Eventually we expanded to “softscape” where we subcontracted to people who designed and installed things like grass, flowers, trees, and bushes. The business was high stress, but very profitable. We had a crew of 15 to 20 workers going at any one time, and, during the summer months anyway, several jobs going at once.
Being young and stupid, it seemed like this was a never-ending supply of endless riches. The amount of money that we allowed to slip through our fingers every month was truly impressive when I think back on it. The truth is, we could have paid off our house in about 4 years’ time and still had plenty of money left over to save or invest. But, of course, we didn’t do this. The idea of being highly leveraged was popular at that time and we absorbed it, as part of the background noise of the popular culture. Also, we were young and stupid.
So, when the storms of life intensified, as they inevitably do, we were completely and totally unprepared. My husband was eventually unable to continue the pace, suffering from mental and physical incapacities from which he has never fully recovered. Our home was foreclosed on, our trucks in danger of being repossessed, and we had to declare bankruptcy. I took my kids and we fled for our lives, starting a new life in a new state.
Sometimes an idea seems like a good one, (living a highly leveraged life for example) so that you can live high on the hog and spend your cash elsewhere. Over the years I’ve learned to be a bit more careful. When you don’t have as much to work with, you learn to be more conservative in your spending habits.
The absolute truth is, we weren’t invincible back in the ‘80’s, and we’re not invincible now. Credit and leverage can be a real trap. Just because you’ve got a good job now and can make those credit card payments easily, doesn’t mean you always will be able to. You may be delaying your retirement by doing this too, because once you get into debt, it can take a while to get out. You may feel you have the monthly income to afford this stuff now, but this is not without its risks, and unless you’re the queen, you probably will have to pay a little closer attention.
Sometimes it’s not just our personal lives and decisions that end up affecting us either. According to a White House report, the U.S. economy suffered one of its largest contractions ever during 2020, the first year of the Covid 19 pandemic. Many large businesses had to file bankruptcy that year, including NPC, the company that owns Pizza Hut. Now you would think that Pizza Hut would have done just fine, especially since people were still having food delivered, but their bankruptcy suggests to me that perhaps they were over-leveraged. They didn’t go out of business, but they did reorganize under Chapter 11. Other companies that had to do the same were Hertz, Brooks Brothers (who needs a new suit when you’re working from home?) Gold’s Gym (who wants to work out with a bunch of Covid infected heavy breathers?}. I’m guessing that these companies, once again, were highly leveraged before the pandemic hit, and when it did, they couldn’t make it. Warren Buffett, one of my favorite billionaires, once quipped, “when the tide goes out, you can see who was skinny-dipping.”
Today, I’ll leave you with a less than 5-minute clip of one of the funniest episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, ever recorded. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a risk, or believing you can fly, or funnier yet, when you really believe turkeys can fly. Except when they can’t. With some imagination hopefully, you can see the similarities in thought.
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Journey in Joy