Thanks to the global pandemic, millions are in mandatory lockdowns or voluntary shelter in place situations around the globe. While CNBC reports that China’s economy is normalizing and in Japan schools are set to open next month, in the US and elsewhere we are only now grappling with the outbreak. That means a wave of unemployed are hitting the streets – er, I mean, staying home. Economists predict millions unemployed versus the 800,000 during the Great Recession. Eventually though the quarantines will lift and our economy too will begin to normalize. When the lockdowns end, will you emerge battered and defeated or primed to grab life by the horns?
Here are 5 ways to use the down time to come out ahead for when the world dusts itself off and goes back to work.
#1 – Plan the Life You Want to Lead
The number one regret of the dying is that they lived the life expected of them, not the life they wanted for themselves. Many of us now face weeks to months of various levels of quarantine – whether called lockdowns or shelter in place. Many are losing or face losing jobs and income. I myself have had to shutter my Airbnb business. There’s not much we can do in terms of economic policy but that doesn’t mean we need to shelter in place in a fetal huddle, letting current events destroy us.
Don’t spazz out in your house in a downward spiral of fear and helpless depression. Start examining your life and how you want to live it once the quarantines lift. During the Great Recession, I didn’t sit on the sidelines in hopeless bleak despair. Instead, I looked for a way out of the rat race and wage slavery. To that end, I doubled my income in 20 months by learning Japanese so that I could compete for the lucrative and always in demand Japanese projects at firms. I also paired this with learning everything I could about finance and investing. This paved the way for semi-retirement ten years later at age 38 and a life I script rather than having it scripted for me. If not for the shocks of that recession and its wake up call, I might never have gotten my sh*t together to lead the life I now live. Even with the markets melting down, I’m secure because I planned for the inevitable recessions and hardships of life.
The same transformation can happen to you.
Now is the time to dream, self-evaluate and reassess. If we don’t go through another recession I’ll be shocked. If you are facing a furlough or economic uncertainty, use the down time to plan your way forward.
#2 – Learn the Skills You Need for the Future
Following on this, now is the time to take action, not shut down in inactivity and fear. Look at your skills and dreams. Look at the skills that are needed now or will be in demand, whether as an employee or as a self-employed person. Maybe what you find is or isn’t aligned to your dream vocation but it could lead to freedom and self-sufficiency in the medium to long-term that enables your dreams. Start making plans now.
Today and all through the lockdown is a great time to learn skills and gain knowledge for your chosen path – all from the comfort of your home for the most part. Innumerable resources exist online in various formats – from YouTube videos, to professional knowledge sites, apps, tutorials and more. Libraries have free electronic resources that put more knowledge at your fingertips than you can ever hope to consume. Meanwhile staffing agencies have free online skill development resources that can teach and sometimes even certify you in anything from database management to website development skills. Instead of only binging the complete series of Game of Thrones, take advantage of these free or cheap resources to get a leg up in life.
Someday the lockdowns will end like they are starting to in Asia. America and elsewhere will go back to work, some to better futures while others fall through the cracks. Position yourself for where you want to go.
#3 – Study Up on Personal Finance
Speaking of economics and income resuscitating at some point, use this time to finally get your head around personal finance and budgeting. We’re a culture that values hyper-consumerism and spurns being thrifty. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck and 32% run out of money before payday. That will make this recession, no matter how short or long, incredibly hard. Whether you have a rainy day fund or ran out of money last week, knowing how to manage any income level is key to financial health. This is true whether you are weathering difficult times or living in the boom days. They follow each other like night and day and you have to prepare for their opposite no matter the current circumstances.
Personal finance isn’t as hard as it seems. It’s fifth grade math at its hardest and you’re free to use a calculator when budgeting. Free resources exist online to explain how to develop and stick to a budget but also to understand investing – whether in stocks or in an IRA or 401k. Need a place to start? Check out my series on financial freedom.
You can’t get and stay ahead if you always run away from understanding basic personal finance. Beat the odds and learn this stuff. In the days ahead, even pennies will matter to some.
#4 – Learn Nutrition Fundamentals & Start Cooking Real Food
As Covid-19 is proving, people with underlying illnesses are more at risk for complications and death from the virus. Health is wealth and there are ways to be healthy. The main driver is nutrition. We are chemical beings and what we eat matters. We can’t build healthy brains, immune systems or cardiovascular systems, among others, if we only have junk food and bad carbs as building blocks.
By contrast, when we eat a diet centered around mostly whole foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and tubers, we live longer and in better health (see the research on Blue Zones). A good diet not only fortifies our bodies but also lends us immense amounts of energy. When you eat right, you feel vital and energized. Even your nervous system stabilizes and you experience less stress, anxiety and depression. What’s not to love about that?
Eat right, learn how to cook nutritious meals focused on real foods, and feel revitalized to take on the world when the quarantines lift – and boost your immune system in the process.
#5 – Go Inward
To get ahead, it’s important to go inside. And I’m not talking about going indoors. Instead, go on the inward journey. In this day and age, many people feel adrift, disconnected and alienated from themselves. Depression and suicide are at all time highs. The current global crisis only adds fuel to the fire.
Being stuck at home for weeks of social distancing amid fear and uncertainty can make you spiral into depression and hopelessness. Or you can find a refuge and reservoir of strength internally that acts as a light, compass and comfort in any time, but especially the difficult ones.
Whether this takes the form of organized religion or a quiet spirituality of one, go on the inward journey and learn to connect with yourself. We’re so busy chasing the outside world that we’ve forgotten that meaning, happiness and peace do not come from anything outside us.
When we stop and turn inward, we learn to make peace with ourselves, this existence, and develop joy and equanimity. We can find peace and happiness without ever leaving our home. Often when we go on the inward journey we find greater connection to others and develop a sense of purpose or meaning more profound and lasting than what society tries to feed us.
When you go on the inward journey, you find yourself and you find answers to how you best want to live this precious life. Don’t let this opportunity to sit and search your soul slip through your fingers. When the quarantines lift, you’ll be more at peace, collected and far-sighted than when they began. That strength, perhaps more than anything, will place you far ahead in achieving whatever it is you set your sights on.
This Too Shall Pass
Asia is starting to emerge from the crisis. China’s economy, a major driver of the global economy, is beginning to normalize. Japan, the #5 economy of the world is also recovering from Covid-19. Other countries will follow, including our own. Today’s uncertainty isn’t permanent, though it may feel that way. Eventually the lockdowns will all lift and you and I will once more be out in a restarting economy. Use this time to prepare yourself for those days. Your future self will thank you.
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