The cure

A few years ago, I was really depressed.

I’d never been depressed before. I'd grown up thinking that people who were depressed were "weak." Up until then, I'd always felt pretty good. If I had a bad day, I'd always bounce back.

But this depression was real and it was debilitating. Months and months went by without me being able to do much work at all. I lost customers. I lost weight. And eventually, I depleted all my savings.

But, I got lucky.

Canada has public health care, and I have a good family doctor. She helped me work out a plan for getting better. (I also paid for a therapist, which was massively helpful).

But once I started feeling better emotionally, I had to face my financial situation. It was bleak.

I needed to make money, fast. Needing to "make money fast" is the worst way to make money.

To get ahead financially, you need to make smart decisions, but your anxiety puts you in a fog. So you fall down a lot, which makes you more desperate. This, in turn, leads to more bad choices.

The current research backs this up. In their paper, "A scarcity mindset alters neural processing," researchers noted:

"Lacking the resources to satisfy one’s needs has a profound impact on decision making."

There's another problem. People can smell your desperation. Bosses, clients, and partners are repelled by that smell. They want to work with folks who "have it together." They're attracted to confidence, charisma, and calm.

For months, I flailed and didn't make progress. I would wake up and spend the whole day thrashing, trying to make money so I could survive.

Robert Downey Jr has this great line:

"Sometimes the best thing someone can do for you is to give you a job."

It's true. It helped me.

Some kind folks gave me jobs to do. A few people bought my products. My world started to open up; I had some breathing room.

As soon as I started making more money, my desperation subsided. Jimmy Cliff articulated this perfectly: "Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind." The fog lifts, and you can see clearly.

I began dreaming about the future again. Around this time, Jon and I started talking about working on Transistor together. The rest is history.

Relief from present-day scarcity gives you the space to have future-based dreams.

I'm telling you this story because I experienced it. I know how it feels to be on the desperation treadmill.

If you're there, I know how you feel. It's the worst. Here's my best advice for you:

  • Write out a list of everything that's stressing you out. Once it's out of your head, on paper, it won't be an enigma in your brain. Things will become more clear; your anxiety will subside a bit.

  • On your list, be specific about what you need: "I need to make $1,000 to make rent this month."

  • Next, make a list of people that might be able to help you out, and how they might be able to help you.

  • Finally, write those people and clearly ask for what you need. (Here's a good example from Jeff at Ugmonk).

But for everyone else:

I believe that, as a society, we need to help people meet their basic needs.

When folks are worried about their health and livelihood, it consumes their day-to-day thoughts. Having our basic needs met is the platform that enables humans to be their best selves. It frees people up to think long-term; it gives them the opportunity to engage with big societal problems.

Again, without public health care, I don't know what I would have done. And really, isn't public health care the least we can do? (Even in Canada, it feels like we could do more to take care of people: we need to give more folks access to therapy.)

And beyond healthcare, why don't we change the very structures that are squeezing people? Ultimately, I was able to get back on track because of my privilege: I could pay for therapy, I have technical skills, I'm in an industry that pays well. At the very least, let's start there. Let's make sure most working folks are paid a living wage.

Universal basic income? Maybe! We definitely need to be experimenting more.

Here's an idea for an alternative to UBI. Most of the wealth generated in the past 100 years has come from ownership of stocks. But according to the New York Times, "84 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households." The rich get richer by owning assets. If that's true, how can we enable more people to benefit from that? Maybe, instead of subsidies and grants, the public should get some ownership. Citizens should get a dividend for the public money that's invested in AI, automation, pharmaceuticals, robotics, and other technology.

If we care about the future of humanity this is where we need to focus our time, resources, and energy. We need to vote for this kind of change. Let's make sure people have their basic needs met first.

Justin Jackson

Published on April 25th, 2020
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