Winter 2009

Dear Catherine,
In the recent economic crash, my family lost a great deal of their wealth. It was not just on paper (or, more accurately, the computer screen) since we sold at great losses to prevent a total wipe-out because my parents are old and we couldn’t wait for the market to turn around in what could be years from now in case we needed the funds to care for them. Our entire family is depressed, as though we have suffered the death of a relative. I know that we should count our blessings and that others in the world are worse off. I know all those spiritual platitudes, but the loss seems overwhelming and represents real sacrifice in our lives now and in the years to come. As it turns out, our personal losses seem to trump consideration for what everyone else is dealing with, no matter how heavy their burdens may seem. Do you have any perspective on this?

Nouveau Poor,
San Francisco

Dear Nouveau Poor,
What you have lost is the dream you were dreaming about your future. It looked a particular way in your mind’s eye, embellished by habitual thoughts that fed that picture over years of time. Those pictures now have no basis in reality, it seems. My recommendation is to live here in this moment. The now is almost always good (there are, of course, very difficult moments in a life in which the experience in the now is genuinely awful, such as sudden and overwhelming pain, or the shock on hearing of the loss of a loved one, but those moments are rare compared with all the moments that are just fine). Living in this way, it is as though one is riding a wave of life. Who knows where this wave will lead? Who knows how your so-called future will now unfold without the dream you had practiced for so long? Living in present awareness is good in itself, and does not rely on special circumstances beyond a basic level of comfort to experience a sense of well-being. When in this awareness, you will naturally appreciate your blessings without even having to deliberately count them. To wish that the past would be different in the hope that the future could be as you had imagined it is a huge waste of time. These precious moments called your life are your actual wealth. Don’t squander those.

Dear Catherine,
I read your column regularly and have a sense of how you are going to answer this but here goes. My boss has been coming on to me in subtle ways. There is nothing really specific or “crossing the line,” but let’s say that he has made it clear that he would like to spend private time with me. I have managed to ignore his hints and laugh off his vague suggestions, but I think there will come a time when he gets more specific. I have no intention of anything other than a professional relationship with him, but I am worried that I could lose my job. In these difficult times, a good job is hard to find. And I wonder if he might hire another woman as his assistant, one who might be more willing.
Worried,
Portland OR

Dear Worried,
There are several ways to approach this situation. One is to have a talk with your boss and tell him your concerns about his suggestive behavior and your subsequent fears about your job. If that is not appealing to you, it might be useful to document moments of his behavior that seem inappropriate to you. I am not suggesting blackmail, of course, but just a record of situations that have made you uncomfortable. Should he fire you for what you feel are unfair reasons, this record may be the basis for negotiation about moving you to another position or giving you a fair leaving package. But finally, if the circumstance is consistently uncomfortable for you, it may be time to find other employment, even in this competitive market. Have confidence in yourself and know that you do not need to put up with veiled and inappropriate pressures, whether in a job or in any other walk of life.