Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bill Gross and the New Reality

PIMCO honcho and bond-market maven Bill Gross calls it the "new normal." By that phrase he means the new economic reality that was born a year ago. Link here.

Clearly, many people do not agree. Those who did not understand what happened assumed that it did not really happen. Or better, they assumed that it was only a passing storm, one that would lead to a new dawn.

Gross, however, sees a far more dire reality, one that will require us to change our assumptions and expectations. None of us are really going to be as expert as a Bill Gross, but we should all familiarize ourselves with the shape and contours of the world we have just been thrown into.

That is especially true of people who counsel others about how to deal with reality, that is, of coaches.

But how do we deal with reality? Do we change it by changing the way we see it and think about it? Do we adapt to it? Or do we negotiate with it?

Therein lies a tale.

By definition, psychotherapy provides therapy for the psyche, thus the mind or soul. It tries to help people sort through their emotions, their fantasies, their thought-patterns, the better to allow them to think and feel more coherently.

Therapy holds out the hope that once you clarify how you really feel, then you will be better equipped to deal with the vagaries of your real life.

Therapists prefer to say that when you think and feel differently you will change reality itself. Roughly, as an artist does.

If this sounds like magical thinking, that is because it is. When it comes to the markets we do better to show some respect to realities that are impervious to our creativity.

With this form of therapy, when it comes to dealing with reality, you are pretty much on your own.

Another version of reality, Freud's this time, sees reality as an obstacle to the fulfillment of your wishes. This reality is impervious to your creativity. Its role, however, is somewhat limited. It tells us that we cannot have what we want when we want it.

This reality is the one that gets in way of immediate gratification. It tells us to adapt our needs and desires to what is realistic.

This seems to mean that being an adult means learning how to wait for dessert. It sees gratification as the meaning of life and defines reality as an obstacle to fulfillment, not something that would change the master narrative of need, frustration, gratification.

Life coaching, as relationship coaching and executive coaching, takes a different tack. It helps people to learn how to negotiate with reality.

This seems innocuous enough. It is not the same as creating your reality or adapting to reality.

What does it mean to negotiate with reality? It can mean learning how to manage your life, how to plan for the future, how to execute those plans. It can involve decisions about your choice of a career, about deciding when and if to marry, about where you are going to live, about how you are going to invest, about what you can purchase... and so on.

Negotiating with reality involves understanding your duties and obligations to other people. Isn't it strange that the need/frustration/gratification narrative has no real place for ethical responsibilities? To the point where it feels like a caricature of human existence.

After all, the ethical dimension of your negotiation with reality involves the fact that you are not merely a needy self-gratifying organism, but that your decisions will always involve other people, and that your responsibilities to those people will always need to be factored in.

Negotiation involves balancing your duties and your goals with the new economic and market realities we are all beginning to learn how to live with.

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