Tom is a good man. He has worked very hard. Indeed, he tasted the fruits of his innovative and energy sapping efforts by becoming a successful businessman. He was an example to his community for many years. When you work hard you’ll be successful and then be happy. Or so we were told. At one stage only a few years ago he employed 23 people in the building supplies sector. He moved into a magnificent house in the autumn of 2009. People used to slow the pace of their driving to peer through the thick hedge at his mansion. His children were sent to fee-paying schools for their secondary school education. His wife drove a jeep. She wore sunglasses into the shopping centre! They were bubbly people. They were enjoying their success. Out from a very ordinary and humble rural background an extraordinary entrepreneur was born. He treated staff brilliantly and was a pillar of his community. He was generous and sponsored many local community initiatives. He was particularly open-minded about hiring people with disabilities and was convinced that with adequate training they could make a real and meaningful contribution to the workplace.
Tom got good advice from good people during those crazy years of the drunken celtic tiger. In retrospect, that advice has turned out to be bad advice. By trying to create a pension for himself by investing in property he finds himself nowadays in a very different place. His business is gone. That sector has crumbled. His customer base evaporated very quickly. He owes money that he will never be able to pay. He and his family have vacated the mansion. The bank have it now. Rumour has it that his dream home is about to be sold for a fraction of what it cost him. His fortunes have taken a huge tumbling. He has two apartments that will never sell in the current climate. The spring has gone from his step. His head hangs low. He is in a very dark place.
In recent weeks he has been feeling unwell. He sleeps poorly. He has lost considerable weight. His face looks gaunt. He has dark rings around his eyes and is unshaven. There is increasing tension within his relationship to his loving wife, Helena. Both of them are too stressed to help each other. Indeed, that is exactly what they need to be doing. In times of challenge we have to dig deep and tap into our own resources. But Tom seems to have surrendered. He feels that he is slipping into a deep depression. He has been engulfed by a profound sense of hopelessness. His life is shattered. He tells me that he has lost everything and that his future is all a big blur. What has he left now that the Celtic tiger has slumped over on its side?
My heart goes out to Tom. There are so many frightened people around these days. I have never met so many frightened people in my whole career as I have in the last six months – people lost in the fog of the recession. Maybe he made mistakes. Maybe he should have known better. Possibly he got tempted. Having lots of money sometimes makes us want to have even more. But Tom is a good person. He is deeply loved by his wife and two daughters. He is approaching sixty and was probably beginning to tire anyway. Running a business is very hard work. He mentioned to me the fact that he regretted never getting to know his teenagers as they were growing up. He was too busy. The adrenaline was pumping all the time. Too many meetings. He was blinded by endless targets, projections, outcomes and trends. Maybe he was lost in the fog of life long before the recession came.
When Tom was telling me about his demise he said something that threw me – “I have been left with nothing. I am a failure. I find myself back where I started. Living over my elderly father’s pub is humiliating and soul destroying.” We will all encounter dark times. Life is a wonderful journey but we will all inevitably face crises and challenges. This is a reality of life. Tom has been humiliated. But sometimes when we are humbled we ask better questions about this life. It’s a short journey and we all have to live the best possible life despite the challenges and crises. When we are stressed we can allow the darkness triumph. It so important to keep a candle of hope lit. We need to mind ourselves and show ourselves some compassion and love. We need to make the best possible sense of what happens to us.
Tom has not lost everything. He has a beautiful and healthy wife. She loves and needs him. He has two gorgeous daughters and both of them are working in this country. Many parents have said goodbye to their loved ones at the airports in the last few years. Is it not wonderful that his generous father still has the pub and house and is so welcoming? Thank God it was never sold! Indeed, right under Toms’ nose is a project. He always loved projects. Can he get the crowds back into the pub? What about trying out some food? Helena is a great cook and always talked about having a coffee shop. Maybe she has a project under her nose too. There is no doubt that a chapter has closed in the book of life for him. But maybe Tom and Helena will have more time for each other now. Indeed, he can make up for the lost teenage years and get to know his daughters as the beautiful and successful women they have become. And Tom did taste success. Many people only dream of success and never come close to knowing what it’s like. And for years he helped so many families with the incomes his business generated. Maybe its time to slow down a little and get in touch with his inner-self. To see the world around him. To realise that thousands of people are experiencing challenges. The truth is that Tom would not have to walk far to find someone going through much worse than him.
When we encounter crisis we have to dig deep. We can easily spend all our energy talking about the things we have lost or listing out the things we need. Sometimes we have to count our blessings too. It can be hard but doing so lets the light into the dark room. Each day is a gift and we can colour today brilliantly even yet. By parking ourselves in the past or planting ourselves into the future we can blind ourselves of the gift of ‘now’. Things will never be the same again for Tom. But often it is not the life event but the meaning that we attach to it that is crucial. He can only pay the bank what he can pay the bank. That’s the way it works. But he still has a life to live. Indeed, maybe he has thirty of more years left on this planet. This new chapter that has just opened could be one of the best chapters in his life. Often when we find ourselves back where we started we can see the world differently and maybe make more room for the things that really matter. It’s important to keep the candle lit. Maybe when we think we are losing everything that is when we are actually finding ourselves!
(c) Shane Martin
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The Moodwatchers community course will be coming to Sligo and north Dublin in March 2013. Dates for the north Dublin event have been confirmed. The introductory talk (free admission) will take place in the Skylon Hotel on Tuesday 5th March at 7.30 p.m. The course will commence on the following Tuesday and run for eight consecutive Tuesdays. As this will be the final time that the Moodwatchers course will be delivered in County Dublin it’s important to book as soon as possible. Email to confirm your interest. No deposit required.