Vacationing In the Midst of the Greek Crisis – A Paradox of Experience

As an American, I take it for granted that I have the opportunity to fulfill my dreams. With a combination of passion, hard work and good luck, it can happen! I’d say it’s true for my clients as well. For most of them, it’s a matter of reconfiguring career strategies, revisiting passions, improving self-marketing, taking the steps to make it happen. Most of us approach our future with not only a sense of hope but a knowing that we can actualize toward a future reality.

I realized how unique this perspective is to Americans (who are educated and resourced). I realized our good fortune when I went to vacation in Greece a couple of weeks ago during their bailout discussion with the EU. It was a surreal experience, full of juxtaposition. On the one hand, as a tourist, I was awe-struck by the beauty of the Aegean Sea against the mountainous terrains of Santorini, the 2500 year old history of the Parthenon in Athens and the delectable Mediterranean cuisine. Yet parallel to this experience, was the palpable nervousness of a people who were unsure where their money was going to come from in the upcoming days, weeks and months. It’s hard to imagine, as an American, that our government would close banks for a week or restrict us to daily ATM withdrawals of only $65 dollars, and could arbitrarily decrease that amount whenever they chose to. It’s unfathomable that we would be prohibited from buying imported products on Amazon because money would be going abroad. And it is even more unthinkable that news commentators would discuss possible government seizure of money from citizens’ safety deposit boxes for a “bail-in” (government using citizens’ money to bail out the government). I was there during the last days of the most recent bailout discussions, the “No” Greek referendum (which was encouraged publicly by their Prime Minister) and the resignation of their Finance Minister broadcasted through Twitter. All of this took a more somber note because I experienced this through the eyes of my friends who are Greek. This was not an interesting economic crisis to fathom from afar. This was about the present and future lives of my friends.

As I grappled with what was happening around me, I recognized how much I’ve assumed unconsciously, that as a well-educated, resourced individual, I have control over my everyday life and my future. I’ve given great credibility to my abilities to manage the levers of life toward a certain outcome. It became clear, during those days in Greece, that regardless of all that, one’s ability to affect the basics of life and work can be severely limited. No planning was going to help in that moment. The immense vulnerability of having no control was clear. For those of you who come from other countries, I know this realization may sound naïve. But as an American who is fortunate enough to have resources, any other thought just hasn’t been entertained.

Understandably, as a result of the bank closing, ATM restrictions and bleak Euro bank negotiations, the citizenry of Greece controlled what they could, which was to stand in line at ATMs to get at whatever cash they could. Elderly pensioners stood in the hot sun to get a limited amount of their pensions from banks (only pensioners were allowed to use banks). Supermarket shelves were emptied as people feared imports would be restricted. For a couple of days, gas stations were lined with cars as people wondered if there would be enough petrol. Survival instincts kicked in. Amazingly, to the credit of the Greek people, I witnessed a sense of calm in their interactions. Never was their a fight or overly irate people as they lined at the ATM. Their was this patience. A grace in the midst of the underlying chaotic uncertainty.

As it relates to the work of Dreambridge Partners, where my mission is to help individuals live their dreams, this experience heightened my visceral compassion for the everyday folks who live in the midst of a national economic crisis. For them, “living the dream” can be a far-off luxury when the unemployment for young people is at 50% (as it is in Greece). I recognize the importance of being in the moment – when confronted with such uncertainty because planning takes on a whole level of meaning and perhaps futility. The dream is not about out there, it’s about appreciating what you can, right now, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

I’ve heard about the Euro crisis on the news these last few years regarding Greece, Spain and Italy. But now, it’s more than the conceptual understanding from reading the Wall Street Journal. It’s a lived understanding as a human being.

For all of us in the US, who are resourced, who have the luxury to exercise choice, may we leverage our good luck to its fullest. At the same time, may we go beyond the knowledge we get from the news and get to the felt sense of compassion for folks in other parts of the globe, or even, other parts of our own cities. That their suffering is met with our understanding. And to the degree that we can, with the resources that we have, extend our helping hand.