I was searching through the storage area in my laboratory (for some masks, sigh) when I came across this box. The inscription was written by a coworker a few years ago, and references the popular cartoon/meme by KC Green.
In the comic, a dog calmly sits at a table, drinks coffee, and tells himself that things are fine as the world burns around him.
My former colleague who wrote that prescient warning left our company a couple years back. In 2017, I sparked his interest in homebrewing, and he departed the chemical industry to pursue a career in professional brewing.
When I reached out to him last night, he told me he’d just been let go by his brewery because they’ve halted operations. My brewpub has also shuttered indefinitely due to the coronavirus. He sounded in good spirits, but I know that he’s asking ‘what’s next?’
This is Fine.
Over the past couple weeks, life as we know it has changed significantly. In the weeks to come, it stands to change even more. Chances are that many of our paths will be altered significantly by this virus and the fallout from it’s course.
15 days ago I was at an industry conference. With people from other countries. I flew in an airplane. I shook fucking hands with strangers. Can you imagine doing those things now, just a few days later!?
My company banned non-essential travel the day I returned. Figures. I was already pissed off that I was asked to be away from my newborn son just four weeks after his birth. Now I had to worry that I brought back a virus from my travels.
This is Fine.
I’ve been on a reading binge since late 2018. I never updated my final progress on my 2019 goals, but I ended up reading 30 books last year. Most of the books fall within the realm of self-development, life optimization, and the search for meaning.
There was an interesting theme that was common among many of these books. It can be summarized by this quote that is often ascribed to Viktor Frankl:
Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
You’ve probably heard this before. The idea was popularized by Steven Covey’s concept of circle of influence vs. circle of concern. Essentially, we should focus on the things we can control, and try not to worry so much about the things we can’t.
This is also a core tenet of the Stoic philosophy, of which I’ve always been a fan. I even named our son after a famous ancient Stoic. Another essential teaching of Stoicism is the idea of negative visualization. By imagining how bad things could get, we can be more appreciative of the many fortunes we enjoy.
An excellent, short read that deals well with this topic is Awareness, by Anthony de Mello (not an affiliate link). In Awareness, de Mello argues that our default state is happiness, and as soon as we drop the unnecessary wants, desires and fear, we can be happy. Stop grasping for what you don’t have, and start being thankful for what you do have.
As of this writing, our net worth has dropped approximately $180,000 from its February peak. This, in itself, does not bother me. Through years of investing and making stupid mistakes, I’ve learned not to panic and sell in these times. The FIRE community as a whole is a tremendous source of solidarity and support when the proverbial shit hits the fan. JL Collins has trained us well.
But this doesn’t mean that our plans can’t, and won’t, change. I was strongly leaning toward taking the Coast FIRE plunge in the next 12 months. Barring a V-shaped recovery, this may not make sense any more, or at least we may have to alter the plan.
This is Fine.
I worry about the economic and societal state of our country that has been laid bare by this black swan event. We are, most likely, about to see mass layoffs and hardship on a grand scale. I already know numerous people that have lost their jobs or had their hours cut significantly. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. In a country where access to healthcare is not a right, and the social safety net is full of gaping holes, this will destroy lives.
I don’t doubt that we’ll collectively navigate our way through this pandemic. It’s not the first time a virus tried to take down our species, and it won’t be the last time. I am optimistic that we will come out the other side with a plan to build a better, more resilient society. But it’s still difficult to live through it.
The comic referenced above is supposed to convey the feeling of ‘holding it all together’ as the world crumbles around us. I don’t know what emotions we’re to assume the dog is feeling, but I would think helplessness and despair are reasonable guesses.
But I have a different take. Maybe this dog is a Stoic. Maybe he’s separated the external stimulus from his response. Maybe he’s practicing negative visualization, and none of this is even happening.
Maybe he feels peace and contentment. Even as his face melts off.
This is Fine.