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Senior Correspondent

For Fred, the toughest part of losing his job was that he had also lost a part of his self definition. Who was he today? What was his role in his family? How would he fill each day after checking online for jobs, sending out resumes and making calls to acquaintances who might know of something? But those questions just scratched the surface …

Over the years, working at the same company, his salary had ratcheted up gently. And the little perks made life pretty darn comfortable. He and Margie didn’t deny themselves much. The years had lulled them into a false sense of security: they never thought about whether the gravy train would ever end.

Margie had a part-time job, but mostly just to keep busy since the kids were grown and out of the house. Now, after 11 months with no income other than her earnings, there is no way to avoid the truth. The 401ks are drawing down rapidly and their savings are vanishing even faster. The value of their new house has tumbled so there is no equity to draw on; in fact, they are upside down on their mortgage.

Seven months passed before they even admitted to each other that their original lifestyle was no longer affordable. No matter how much they tightened their belts, Margie’s income barely put a dent in the monthly bills. But they had savings …

By then, Fred and Margie had run out of excuses of why they couldn’t keep up with the dinners and regular weekend trips with their friends. Fred had hoped he’d find something before they could no longer hide that they were almost broke.

One morning recently, Fred woke up with a nasty, empty feeling in his chest. He realized that he had been living a lie. And that lie was pulling him further and further from his original role in his adult life: as the person responsible for keeping his loved ones safe and away from harm.

As he dug down to find the values that had been driving him for years, at first he had a hard time defining them. And then he felt no pride in what he found.

He had been living an incoherent life. A life out of balance with his original beliefs and values.

An Incoherent Life

After 2008, the economic turmoil and slowdown resulted in lost jobs, shuttered industries, upside-down mortgages, foreclosed houses, anemic portfolios and decimated retirement accounts.

At first there was a feeling of “community,” as the repercussions spread throughout a large part of the population.(Remember, misery loves company.) Some people were impacted quickly, others gradually.

Today, some have rebounded. Some have redesigned their lives to reflect their reality. Others are still trying to touch bottom with their tip-toes.

And still others are trying to figure out why their lives feel so out of balance.

Those are the ones for whom the band-aid has been ripped off of the make-believe lives they were leading … and who haven’t been willing to revisit what’s important and what’s not. They’re probably still living the lie Fred was.

A Coherent Life

The greatest lesson to be learned from the events of the past five years is that no one is immune from having “life” shake things up.

The question is how fast and how effectively we can tear away what we had perceived as reality and get back to our real values and beliefs. And how fast we can get our lives in alignment with those values … leaving behind false pride, self-recrimination and judgment.

The journey back to reality has marked many people permanently. Many have chosen to maintain a simpler life … a less material life … a more purposeful life … even if finances no longer require it. These are the people who have come out the richest of all, the most free of all: those who are truly living their life choices.

What about you? Have any life reversals led you to revisit your priorities? Are you living your deepest values? Are you living a coherent life?

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