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Landing On Our Feet: What Does It Take?

February 6th, 2011 by Alison · 2 Comments · work

How versatile and resilient are you? What would you do if, like Joe Logan here in Portland, and for that matter, President Mubarrak in Egypt, your world changed, and your livelihood disappeared?

Would you resist endlessly, hanging on irrationally like Mubarrak is doing  to his now discredited leadership, creating reverberations of suffering and danger for his nation in the process?

Or would you land on your feet like Joe, who has figured out a new plan despite being unhappy about no longer being able to flip houses here in Portland,  Oregon, where he has lived for 25 years?

Joe is an artisan, a builder who buys and lives in one older home after another, taking about three years with each one, renovating, repairing and remodeling each house with such exquisite results that his finished products could vie for the pages of Architectural Digest.

But being self-employed, Joe can no longer get a loan for his next home project due to conservative bank policies in the wake of the economic real estate debacle of recent years. He is frankly bitter that the government bailed out the banks that loaned money for years to unqualified people in order to make fast, short-term profits. Anyone could have seen that such loans were foolish and unsustainable, Joe says. He’s angry that responsible people like himself, who always repaid their loans, are now being harshly penalized while the guilty parties (bankers) get to retain their jobs and usual lifestyle.

Joe’s new plan is to move to Arizona, where he has no friends, but where homes are so cheap he can buy one or more with cash.  Why doesn’t Joe just  find a job here in Portland, given his exceptional skills?  The answer is that his versatility and resilience don’t extend that far. Specifically, he can’t stand taking direction from others, and has some emotional challenges that make self-employment his only realistic option (Joe Logan is a pseudonym).

Tens of thousands of  loggers in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest went through the same type of wrenching job dislocation in recent decades as the timber industry dried up. Some logging families were versatile and resilient, finding new ways to make a living. Some were not.

The bigger picture is that throughout human history, livelihoods have constantly been changing, and the imperative has always been to adapt and evolve. For example, hunting and gathering gave way about 10,000 years ago to raising crops and livestock. Imagine the woe, back then, of the skilled hunter-warriors; all of our original ancestors are those very people. Fast forward to the 1800′s: the agricultural economy gave way to the Industrial Revolution, meaning farmers had to become factory workers. (I think that was a mistake, but that’s a topic for a different article).

How versatile and resilient are each of us? Mubarrak would do himself (and millions of Egyptians) a kindness if, at 83, he would let go of what he has been doing for the last 30 years. All of us would do ourselves a kindness, and be ready to land on our feet,  if we develop a robust repertoire of  vocational, social and practical living skills — because our world will keep on changing, and it won’t ask for our permission in the process.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • grnpwrguy

    Joe may also feel victimized now that the “easy” mortgage money is no longer available. The financial community along with the housing industry was on a drunken bender from 2003-2007 with any one no matter what their financial background being qualified for a mortgage loan or home equity line of credit. All this “easy” money sloshing around the economy was very addictive to many folks. Perhaps Joe who now can’t get a fix of the “easy” cash for his next flip feels like he got screwed.

  • Alison

    Green Power Guy,
    I like the metaphor of the drunken bender to describe our nation’s earlier financial behavior. The sobering up process is often the painful downside of a long bender, and Joe, who hadn’t been especially drunk but had been moreless along for the real estate ride, is in the sobering up process. I hope he can find a good quality of life in Arizona. Incidentally, the Economist wrote that Arizona’s poverty rate is now second only to that of Mississippi.

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