Rich people talk about ideas. Poor people talk about other people. I doubt it would come as a surprise to anyone that successful people – and by successful I mean happy, or rich, or respected – concentrate on ideas and the future. Unsuccessful people – poor, unhappy, dissed – concentrate on what others have or don’t have.
I fall far more often than I’d care to admit into the “poor people talk about people” category, but I’m going to do it now. It’s easy, now that times are bad. Wondering how this family manages or that family doesn’t is an easy pastime, and it serves a purpose – in examining others’ failures and successes I’d like to get an idea of how I can achieve those successes and avoid those failures. People who looked like they were living the high life are reduced to desperation – after a layoff they seize the first available job with a massive paycut. Others who seemed to be struggling are calm, patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
During The Crisis (we can all-caps it now, right?) the distinction between the narrowly rich and the stable middle class is on display in stark black-and-white – with few shades of gray. I know much better today which of my neighbors are TRULY rich and which of them were just spending themselves into appearing rich. The lifting of the curtain surprised me. An old saying says that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t. I’m sure that many of our neighbors thought we were struggling before The Crisis. My old Pontiac sat in the driveway in the midst of Mercedes and SUVs. We have a punky little 21″ TV we bought with American Express Membership Rewards points.
But now I am nervous, but confident that everything will turn out alright, while neighbors seem to be panicking. I don’t think I’m gloating, although I’m human and probably am, a bit. I am no poster boy for frugality, for sure, but I make (well, made) six figures, didn’t buy things I didn’t need, and did my best to manage my money. I don’t have the latest phone. I took public transportation instead of driving and paying tolls and parking. I didn’t go into debt for anything other than my home.
I still lost work due to The Crisis, just like all of my neighbors. We will all suffer as the money dwindles – some sooner, some later, but we’ll all have things we’d like to buy that we can’t. It sucks, because we were all middle managers in the Wall Street world – finance managers, audit managers, salesmen, IT guys. None of us deserved to be beaten down because of the idiocy of our executives, but so be it – we lived and died by the sword. And in tough times, your financial weaknesses – which could be kept hidden in good times – are laid bare for the world to see.