“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”
– John Churton Collins, 1848 -1908
English literary critic

During tough economic times there are certain psychological commonalities that hold true – fear, cynicism, pessimism, self-doubt and life-style reversal. As in the past, they are again present today. In addition, our hope has been hammered because many of the very institutions we thought were protecting us got caught up in the whirlwind of arrogance and greed that has led to massive layoffs, overwhelming foreclosures and shrinking portfolios. But now there is also something I feel is far more sinister.

David Brooks of the New York Times expressed it most succinctly when he wrote, “Millions are facing the psychological and social pressures of downward mobility.”

What exactly does that mean? Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I got what I believed was the perfect idea for a reality television show. I gathered a number of loyal friends and, using a fairly large chunk of my own money, we created our own semblance of a television studio, brought in an audience and created a prototype for my vision of a special type of program. The show was taped and, after I spent more than a hundred and forty hours in the editing room, was on a plane to Hollywood, show in hand, with the absolute belief that I would see my brain-child on network television, and achieve a dream.

Less than twenty-four hours later, I had enrolled a top agent at William Morris. In under forty-eight hours, I signed up with an extremely successful partner who had created two national television hits. The phone rang constantly. People repeatedly told me how clever I was and how big they thought this show was going to be. My ego was dancing on air. I was playing the game I had longed to play for years and, most importantly, I was part of a social system I had dreamed about. I took meetings at studios. I was wined and dined. To top it all off, the Sci Fi Channel bought the idea! Bingo! What could go wrong now?

To make a long, sad story short: everything that could go wrong- did. Due to circumstances totally beyond my control, the project fell apart.

Within an amazingly short period of time, no one would answer my calls. I didn’t “take” anymore lunches or dinners with the players. I was now excluded from a circle I thought I was part of. My new “friends” had disappeared as fast as they appeared. My once elevated place in the social structure of Hollywood was gone; the social network I thought I had created, disappeared. I was devastated until I understood that it wasn’t real in the first place. What helped heal me was what was real – my friends and family.

That is what is happening today. Thousands who have lost the status of the middle class are hurting deeply because they are the ones who are suffering the loss of their social networks, social identity and the material symbols that suggested and elevated their place in the social structure. The truth is that it does hurt when you discover some people only wanted you for your status or – the appearance of status. And the most destructive outcome of what may appear to be rejection is the knee-jerk, protective reaction of becoming isolated and closed off.

What can you do now?

  • Do a “friend check.” Develop and solidify your reality-based social networks.
  • Find out who your real friends are and whom you can count on. Cut through the garbage and realize that if someone is supposedly your friend because you carry a status briefcase, go to the best restaurants, drive an expensive car or care more about your couture clothes than your state of mind, your relationship was never a really true friendship in the first place. You will save your mental health when you choose to control everything you can and let go of what you can’t control.
  • Build a social network with people who care about – you, how you think and what you believe in. Spend more time with your family and friends. Make it simple. Do pot luck at home.
  • Choose activities that have nothing to do with social status. Join a local church. Help others at your local senior center, library or YMCA. They often have programs that bring people together.
  • Connect and reconnect with people that knew you before your so-called “exalted status.” You would be surprised how many people from my past have found me on the networking website, Facebook. In fact, Facebook is a fantastic way to create a social network of people with similar interests and beliefs and you can do it without leaving the comfort of your living room. That is only one of many networking opportunities the web offers you.
  • Simplify! This new world isn’t about living above our means. It’s about living wisely for ourselves and others. Learn how to live without material extravagances. Take five minutes every day to simplify your life. Clear your physical space, give your unwanted “stuff” to the needy and calm your mind – all at the same time.

It’s so very easy to become isolated and feel sorry for yourself. You have many other choices, so – Get Out & Reach Out!