This past year was a tough one financially for almost everyone. The markets once again demonstrated that -- much like Mother Nature -- we cannot stand in their way. Once rolling, the markets cannot be deterred by government fiat or individual pleas, any more than we can muster the force to change the direction of a hurricane or tornado.
We can only find the safest shelter possible, hope the storm doesn't do too much damage, give thanks for emerging in good health and try to help others who were not so fortunate.
It's not easy to swallow our pride and what's left of our fortunes and admit to a greater force -- the market!
Some have lost much more than pride, including their homes, their jobs and their retirement accounts. Even worse, some have lost their health, and thus their ability to regroup and recoup. Or they've lost the one commodity more valuable than money -- precious time.
But you're still here -- and that's far better than the alternative. So don't look back. There is only one direction possible now: Forward. Let's leave 2008 behind with appreciation for the lessons it taught and resolution that we won't make the same mistakes in the future.
The U.S. Has Survived Worse
The past decades of relative prosperity have conditioned us to believe that all declines will be short-lived and that we can ride them out -- whether in our investments or in our careers.
But history also shows us that the prosperity of America has been significantly interrupted at various times in our history. Most notable was the Great Depression of the 1930s, with its legendary stock market crash, unemployment, bread lines and poverty.
Less well remembered in U.S. history is the Panic of 1873, which started a decade-long depression that was no less severe. It, too, was triggered by a global financial crash, this one starting with the Austrian stock exchange, along with many German and French banks. Ironically, that crash was precipitated by a collapse in a widespread European mortgage financing boom of that era!