The most beautiful things are always besides the darkest.
Today, I seriously thought about killing you.
Kanye has reached the bat-shit-crazy stage of his creative genius.. but it doesn’t stop him from coming up with gems like that one. For me, those lines are a reminder to let your mind wander freely and not to be afraid of the darkness within us. Instead, explore what’s there and look to understand it. In my experience, the darkness was never what I had assumed it to be. More often than not, it represented my fear of the unknown. And through those experiences, I’ve gained a sense of calm while there.
I’m reflecting on this now because I’ve realized how many others are facing that darkness today. When I was younger, I kept this side of me buried. I was in this loop that went from challenged, to productive, to happy… and little did I know, that was only half the spectrum. As I got older, I learned about the other side.. being unproductive and unhappy. My initial instincts were to run back to what I knew.. but fate was not so kind. I was encouraged to stay there and rest for a moment… to find myself within the darkness so to speak. I’m glad I did.
I spent much of my life in a positive state of mind, and without much compassion for those who didn’t. It was easy for me to say things like ‘you just need to work harder’, ‘don’t be so negative’, or ‘get over it’. I hadn’t realized how backwards that all sounded to someone who was living the inverse of my situation. But as I started to venture out into my darkness, I began to understand.
Gratitude for being unproductive and unhappy might sound like a strange thing, but for me, it’s real. It’s given me a much deeper understanding of who we are as people and it’s made me a far more compassionate individual. It’s also given me the ability to relate to so many of those who are struggling today.
When we reflect on the great depression that began in 1929, we think primarily about the stock market. It’s when the market had it’s biggest crash, a ton of investors lost their money, and then everyone was poor for a while. But something occurred to me the other day… what was the mental and emotional state of those who went through it? I’d expect to find higher rates of suicide, anxiety, stress, and yes, depression. But we weren’t so keen on measuring mental health back then so we might be hard pressed to find that information. We measure those things today.
A couple years ago, I saw that the capital markets were overdue for a correction but couldn’t yet see the catalyst for what would cause it. With Trump taking office, I was confident that it would happen sooner than later, and probably as a result of Trump’s policies and corruption. Now with JP Morgan saying that it’ll most likely happen within the next 2 years, it seems to be an impending reality. I expect this correction to start with the US, but eventually turn into a global correction. I also think that this correction will be more significant than 2008, suggesting that we’ll reach levels similar to that of the great depression. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as the vast majority of wealth which will be lost, will be lost by the top 1% as the bottom half of the economy are still living paycheck to paycheck. As interesting as it is for me to try and understand how it’ll all play out, I can’t help but think more on those who are going through it… the depressed.
Currently, suicides are more common than homicides. Perhaps this is a sign of a civilized nation, but not when amid weekly mass shootings. And not amid historic suicide rates all over developed world. Having been at the point where I’ve toyed with the idea, it became important for me to understand what was happening. I think it’s a result of our failing mental health. Stress.. anxiety.. depression… these states of mind are becoming the status quo. I saw a tweet the other day which said something to the effect of, ‘imagine waking up after a good night’s sleep, having an awesome day, and then being able to do it again’. It made it to the front page of Reddit. I couldn’t help but find that relatable… I probably average 3-4 good sleeps a year. Days where I was consecutively happy? It was before my current venture.. before my career in wealth management.. before my dad died… that’s going on 8 years now. I was fortunate in that I had the tools to maintain my pursuit of happiness despite it all.. but the longer it takes, the more challenging it’s become. And how many have been at it longer than me? How many are going through it without the tools to keep their head above water?
When I see unemployment numbers at their lowest ever but I also see people struggling to afford the most basic cost of living, I can’t help but see something deeply wrong with how we’ve organized ourselves. So many of us are working excessive hours at low-paying jobs that we know will be automated within the coming years. Others invested the time and money into a post-secondary education, only to find entry-level work and seemingly inescapable debt. And those of us who have found well-paying jobs.. we have to recognize our good fortune and appreciate that it isn’t just a matter of hard work. Everyone’s working hard.. or at least everyone is willing to work hard when they’re doing something that matters.
The problem that I see, is that we’re quickly running out of work that matters. Many of the jobs which exist in the economy today only exist because of cheap labor. If people were being paid a rate which would allow them to afford a standard cost of living, businesses would have to accelerate their path to automation. A $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers? Have fun ordering from a touchscreen. Increased wages for warehouse workers? More robots. Increased wages for taxi drivers? How about automated cars. And for those already in those positions, they know this is coming. Entire industries will be swallowed up by automation.. and that’s OK. Automation is here to take over repetitive and programmable tasks… exactly the kinds of activities that we struggle to find meaningful.
Perhaps this is what the death of an old economy looks like. We used to rely on physical labor to produce physical goods and relied on our ability to consume these goods to push the economy forward. When we talk about a strong middle class.. that was the equilibrium for that style of economy. Now that we’ve been able to automate most physical labor, businesses are better able to retain the earnings that would’ve gone to employees. Without being able to find comparable jobs with other employers, things start to shift. Business owners become more wealthy while the working class loses ground to stagnant wages and a quickly rising cost of living. The working class will find ways to make ends meet, like multiple part-time jobs or debt, but this doesn’t improve things for anyone. If the top 1% hordes all the disposable income, who’s going to buy their stuff? This is a point Jeff Bezos made years ago, pointing out that he could only buy so many pairs of jeans.
So where do we go from here? For most, there’s a lack of clarity on what the future looks like and a lack of certainty on if we’ll even make it there. It’s become easier to assume that things will get worse before they get better. For many, it’s a state of hopelessness. They want to be hopeful… I think in many ways, it’s a natural state of the human mind. But when you slowly and systematically strip away the reasons to be hopeful.. we should find little surprise at where we’ve arrived.
As we prepare ourselves for this next great depression, perhaps we’d do well put place our emphasis on the people and not the markets. The market was always meant to be a reflection of humanity’s ability to be productive, not the other way around. If we’re losing ground to hopelessness, and we won’t face it until our economy comes crashing down around us… perhaps that’s exactly what we need. I don’t expect it to be easy… but I’m reminded of a quote, “in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.” Through this struggle, we’ll have the ability to right so many wrongs and realign ourselves with a bright future which is fast approaching. I don’t know exactly how this will play out.. but I am optimistic.