Sunday, 18 November 2012

Recovery by Inches......

I was watching a movie that was recommended to me recently by a friend, “Company Men” starring Ben Affleck & Tommy Lee Jones, which deals with the fallout of a company caught in the credit crisis and dwindling orders in a heavy manufacturing company in the Boston Area of the US, It deals with the lives of the various members of the management team in the aftermath of losing their jobs and dealing with having to cut back on their lifestyles and restart their careers again….

It got me to reflect on the parallels in the last four years of my own life and many others like me in Ireland and indeed in many other places caught in this very “global” crisis since 2008.

In my own case, my own business hit a “Wall” in August 2008, and never recovered, we suffered an 80% collapse in revenue in a little more than two months, when I think back now, it’s a frightening thought, we had a number of staff in the business at the time and just like the Movie (in a much smaller scale), we set about making adjustments to the business that ultimately led to us letting all of the staff go until I was back to just myself by late 2010, other adjustments were made such as moving the office back home in early 2010, cutting back on overheads and diversifying as much as possible in an effort to find alternative income streams to stem the tide of sometimes almost overwhelming demands of overdue bills and taxes….

On the personal and family side, the strain becomes even more severe, I recall in 2009, making the decision to give up our Mobile Home in Liscannor on the west coast, as the annual rental fees were now becoming a burdening luxury, it was a place where our sons have fond memories of swimming and wave-jumping in Lahinch and climbing the rocks at Liscannor and visiting the Cliffs of Moher , eating fish and chips and the obligatory ice-cream on the strand, I felt for them as they found it tough to have to give up their weekends there, similarly in time, we found it tougher to keep the heating oil tank filled in winter and our mortgage fell behind as things really started to bite, I can remember clearly the Christmas of 2009, when there were two sustained weeks of snow, bitter cold and losing my foster mother on Christmas Day , not being able to travel the roads to open the grave and relying on some fantastic relatives and friends of hers who stepped-up and made sure things were “looked after”, and also continuing on with the Christmas routines and making sure the boys enjoyed Santa coming, I admire them both as they both understood what was going on and that times were difficult.

On into 2010 and 2011, the trend continued, I remember Christmas 2010 was equally cold and that we ran out of heating oil in the first few days of January 2011 and not having the money to refill it, we did have a great wood burning stove however which we used to great effect until the end of the month when we had some funds available again, just like the movie, we went through the cycle of reviewing the mortgage, cutting back on any extras we had, which ended up being a lot of things including some of the boys’ activities like swimming and music lessons etc. It was a depressing time and I did find it really tough, as I’m sure so many around the country did at the time, you question yourself, your ability, your confidence drains on a daily basis, you don’t sleep well, you don’t relate to your family or friends in the same way, you dread answering the phone as its more likely to be someone looking to be paid than it is someone looking for your services….

Then come’s a turning point, the point at which you decide enough is enough, or you just crumble and give up. Mine was the day before my son’s communion, which is an important time in a child’s life back home, more so socially in these times, when our bank decided to block access to all of our personal accounts on the back of an issue with our business accounts, thus denying us any cash flow for a small gathering we had arranged at home after the ceremony, to add insult to injury, they also hoovered off a further refund we were due from Revenue on overpaid tax. I can’t remember a time feeling more angry, utterly frustrated and completely betrayed by a bank that I had been with since I was seven years old, a bank that I had never refused to answer a call to, have a meeting with, a bank that only a week before I had made an agreement with to re-finance our remaining business loans and secure them against some land I own. They had kicked us hard when we were down and I decided there and then, that was it, it was time to fight back and fight back hard…….

I took the phone and holding back as much emotion as I could, which wasn’t easy, I told them exactly what I thought of their actions and asked them how they felt about reneging on an agreement and effectively forcing me to use my sons’ Communion money to pay for his big day, and went further to tell them that all agreements were now off the table and they could chase me through the courts to get their money, god it felt good to release that and finally express the frustration and angst I had felt for so long and take back my power from these monstrous faceless institutions that have done so much damage to my country and to ordinary honest hard working people…..

It was the start of the process that within two months took me abroad to work, rebuilt my confidence and got me to start enjoying my work again and even led to a point where the bank had to start again down the road of negotiating with us in a proper manner, having had to deal with complaint letters and to answer for clear breaches of their own Code of Conduct.

It hasn’t been an easy time and indeed it will take many years to recover from the past number of years and as I have recorded here many times, It can be very hard to be away from home but for me, it’s a far more palatable option than what we dealt with in the last few years…..

Going back to the movie “Company Men”, the main character Bobby went through a similar journey and in the end found a way to re-start and get moving again, the movie doesn’t leave you with the “happy ever after” ending , just the glimpse of a chance to succeed and make progress and that’s all that’s needed, I feel people are more than happy to work hard as long as they feel they are moving forward even if it is only by inches………