Going Over the Cliff
By Ken Walker-
The recent panic over our nation’s “fiscal cliff” brought to mind another time some 25 years ago, when the Dow Jones average slid more than 500 points in one day. It marked an historic plunge.
As we watched the latest news at a friend’s house, his wife walked in and asked, “Well, has the world collapsed yet?” Ironically, the impact proved a short-lived phenomenon. In a couple years, investors who avoided panic saw their stocks rebound to new heights.
However, that didn’t help me. Black Monday created a psychology of fear. Investment capital dried up. Services like the public relations assistance I offered to small, publicly-held companies became expendable.
Within two months the only firm I had on retainer canceled our agreement.
Two other firms that had talked of issuing stock instead went broke. Collectively, they owed me nearly $2,000.
Another that owed me nearly $5,000 collapsed. Another never paid its $1,200 bill, either. Each day seemed to bring more bad news.
That winter we twice paid the minimum amount due on our gas bills on shut-off day. When we managed to scrape together a few extra bucks, it went to such “luxuries” as a loaf of bread or some underwear.
To stay afloat, I took out short-term loans, borrowing against accounts receivable.
One day, I wrote out checks to pay all outstanding bills and breathed a sigh of relief. That is, until I realized the bank had a claim on three-fourths of my pending income.
Shaking my head, I said, “I can’t worry about tomorrow. Today’s taken care of.”
As I look back, I don’t know how we survived. The worst battle was the one I fought with fear, a familiar foe that had stalked me during my first year in business.
Somehow I made it through that lean year. Revenue steadily climbed—until year five. After the stock market dive, it plunged 70 percent. Not surprisingly, we wound up in trouble.
At the height of our despair, I refused to add up all our debts. It would have been too demoralizing. Had my wife not found a good job, the climb out would likely have lasted even longer.
Still, I learned disaster has a positive side. It forces you to re-evaluate. In my case, as my PR business slipped away, I recognized that I didn’t want to resurrect it.
So, this calamity became a launching pad for a new endeavor. First, for several months after Black Monday, I agonized over what to do. I prayed a lot, cried occasionally and checked out a potential job offer.
Although nothing materialized, a promising lead appeared: ghostwriting stories for a magazine. On a Friday in late January, I wrapped up everything associated with my last retainer client. The following Monday, I started weeding out the filing cabinet.
Two hours later, the phone rang. That magazine called about a last-minute change that would necessitate interviewing three businessmen and writing each of their stories in just one week.
“Well,” I shrugged with a smile, “I’m not doing anything else.”
Soon after that, I sat in my office contemplating the future. As much as I enjoyed working on those stories, I wasn’t sure if I could find enough work to make a living as a fulltime writer.
Suddenly a revelation dawned in my spirit. No voices spoke. No thoughts went through my head. Yet this message appeared as clearly as anything I have ever heard in my life: “I want you to use your writing talent for Me.”
Some call that divine inspiration, a mystical experience or the voice of God. I choose the latter. However, this didn’t mean a life of ease. In my case, it included closing down my office and driving a delivery truck part-time.
When I finally returned to full-time writing, rebuilding proved agonizing. More than once I was on the verge of quitting; several years later I went for a job interview. Less than a week after that interview, I heard another clear message from that familiar Voice: “Do what I called you to do.”
Although from that point on my income steadily rose, the last several years have proved almost as tough as the first. The downturn in newspapers affected all print publications, including books. Many of the outlets that used to provide me steady work are either gone or stopped sending assignments.
Despite this setback, during 2012 I saw a 27 percent increase in my business. I marvel over that, because I’m not brilliant enough to produce such results on my own.
While I have still a responsibility to put forth effort, the outcome doesn’t rely on me. That is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
However, I’m glad I went through such experiences. When you are staring over a cliff, faith becomes more than an abstract value.