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"Recession 101": A Commentary

By Brent Flynn

Dallas, TX – I've seen the worst that this let's-not-call-it-a-recession can dish out, and I'm still standing. In fact, once I lost my job, my house and my pride, the "r" word kind of lost its power over me.

Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I believed that a recession was about the worst thing that could happen, next to a nuclear holocaust. Luckily, I was too young to be effected by the economic downturns of the Carter and Bush Senior years. But the fear of what might happen in the event of a recession loomed in the back of my mind.

That is, until recently. You see, I was working at an Internet consulting firm (uh-oh), as a writer (yikes) when the tech sector took a dive (bye, bye). Yeah, and I had just recently bought a house with a pool, hot tub and upstairs game room. Our new bedroom set was rivaled only by our new leather sofa set. I had just thrown a huge surprise birthday party for my wife, complete with a margarita machine, a keg and catered by Pappasitos; and I had a brand new drum-set even though my percussion skills barely warranted a hand-me-down. I even remember telling a friend of mine at the time that I had everything I always wanted, and I wasn't even 30 yet. Yep, I was a real pig.

But it wasn't all my fault. Our culture encourages such reckless spending and our economy demands it. I keep hearing how the economy is really going to tank if Americans ever decide to quit taking on debt. Lucky for the credit card companies there's a lot of peer pressure to stay on the consumption drug. After all, how can you quit when the whole country is high on it?

Believe me, I was up there. And coming down was a painful process. It started slowly. First, the drum lessons went silent. Then, the lawn guy got cut. Next the pool cleaner got waxed (I told you I was a pig).

We started looking around for stuff to sell. The house seemed like a good place to start. When we bought it, we were looking for something cheaper than what we already had, but ended up with all the bells and whistles along with a mortgage payment that was 30% higher than what we were already paying. So much for downsizing.

We started selling furniture. First to family, then to whoever wanted it. We even had a garage sale hocking what we considered junk to thrifty bargain shoppers.

I did finally get a job making considerably less than my inflated salary at the, but in a much more stable industry. We are renting a house for the first time in four years; and we don't have a pool or hot tub, but our puppy has a yard to play in. I don't have a game room in which to set up my full drum set, but the snare is waiting for me to practice the rudiments, the basics. And when I get the consumption shakes, I wait them out in my leather sofa (we didn't sell everything).

I guess you could say that I got a crash course in capitalism and humility. I realize that my biggest mistake was measuring success with material wealth, and self-worth with monetary income. I also concede that it was not by choice that I learned these lessons; it was mandated by market forces. But at least I learned them, and learned them well.

Brent Flynn is a writer in Dallas.