Making a Life Instead of a Living


This is a guest post by Lou Carlozo

Certain things in life you can’t control, and other things you can. This lesson hit me harder than a line drive foul ball Monday as I sat at the Wrigley Field home opener, watching the Cubs botch another game. When your starting pitcher walks in a run to a .143 hitter in the first inning, you know you’re in for a long day.

Still, I resolved to enjoy myself. The sun shone like early summer and I ordered a tasty bison dog from the vendor. OK, two bison dogs. Then my writing buddy James Finn Garner turned to me. He said something about my writing career that made me smile: “You just don’t quit. No matter what happens to you, you keep getting up. Your drive is enviable.”

What Are You Made Of?

Since 2009, I’ve been laid off twice from full-time jobs. It was easy to despair in both instances, but I always came back to that maxim: Certain things in life you can’t control, and other things you can.

I’m venturing to say that of the 53 people laid off from the Chicago Tribune 4 years ago this April 22, I’m the only one still making a living as a journalist and making roughly twice as much money as when I lost my job. How is this? Am I lucky? Hard working? Stubborn?

It doesn’t matter, only insofar as it pertains to you–the person reading this. Personal finance, and the wisdom of good financial stewardship, connect intimately to what lies at your core. Who are you? What are you made of?

The Great Recession–which is still going on, if you ask me–has shaken the faith of us all. Greedy bankers with their toxic mortgage pools get a wrist slap, while hard working-folks suffer their consequences. Tried applying for a loan lately? The Spanish Inquisition was a cakewalk compared to the grilling you get today.

But that’s something we can’t control. When economic times get tough, how can we make a life instead of living? I wrote about this in 2010, but I’ve learned a lot more since then. Here’s what I think I know, and what I hope will serve you well.

1. You’re an inspiration

That’s right. The hardest part of a job loss or rejection stems from feeling that you don’t matter. That you’re expendable. That you did your best and it wasn’t enough. When I get down about my lot, I remember my wife and kids are watching–along with a bunch of my colleagues. It’s counterintuitive, but YOUR COMEBACK ISN’T ABOUT YOU. It’s about how you can inspire and encourage those around you by showing faith and moxie in the face of adversity.

2. You’re in charge

I spent a good six months after my Tribune layoff, and some time after leaving AOL bemoaning boneheaded management. Whether that’s good form isn’t the question, though. Rather: Can you take ownership of what’s happened to you? The sooner you do this, the more power you claim to change things. So when people ask me how I’m doing, I talk about moving on. I accept full responsibility for everything. That doesn’t mean I’m giving short-sighted bosses a pass. But I’m the only one who can navigate my career. And it’s hard to negotiate the road ahead when you’re craning your neck to look in the rear view mirror.

3. You’re not alone.

Money is a loaded subject, right? We don’t tell friends how much we make–or how we spend and invest it. But with tough times, I’ve learned to open up to friends and kin. True friends proved their mettle with offers of help, job leads, a night out bowling–you name it. New connections on LinkedIn looked at my track record and gave me a chance to prove myself. “No man is an island,” quoth John Donne. Nor any woman. Setbacks give us a priceless opportunity to connect, and discover riches of a different sort: Relationships.

4. You can consider anything

Here’s an irony: My journalist friends with secure jobs envy me more than I envy them. They’re too overworked to consider “changing lanes” or chasing dreams. Being underemployed proved a blessing, as the urgent question–“How do I keep a roof over my head?”–led to the important question: “If I could do anything, what would it be?” Well … I wanted to score music for a film. I got my chance in March, and in a few weeks I’m off to see the result at the Newport Beach Film Festival. There’s no way I could’ve pursued such a goal while chained to a desk.

5. You write the story

OK, so I’m a writer and can’t help the metaphor. But when you quit–when you give up–that’s it. End of story. It’s easy to do: No one knows better than I do. Here’s a secret: I left a THIRD full-time job in 2011 after just a week, when my employer reneged on promises made in the negotiation process. Burned and bruised, I badly wanted to just chuck everything and go live in a hut. But writers are lucky. We know there’s always one more page to write, and the story can end any number of ways. Who gets to write that ending? You do.

So I choose to end this column as it began. Remember: No matter what ill has befallen you with your finances, your job or investments, second chances are real. Redemption is possible. You can do this.

So go ahead: Picture yourself hanging out with a dear friend. You don’t need a bison dog to savor the moment; the edible indulgence is up to you. Now, bask in the summer glow of victory as he or she tells you:

“You just don’t quit. No matter what happens to you, you keep getting up. Your drive is enviable.”

About the Author: Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, MoneyUnder30, a columnist with, and a former managing editor at AOL’s

Photo Source: She Knows

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