...as the crystal ball touched bottom on Times Square on New Year's Eve, it wasn't the cheers I heard from the millions in attendance that drew my attention to the television as I lowered my half empty glass from my lips. It wasn't the flashy colors or new age haircuts that New Yorkers are well known for, or even that strange outfit on Jennifer Lopez, causing her to appear naked, but resulting in her looking, well...kinda old, and maybe a little desperate.
Muffled in the drumming background noise of every party in America, whether televised or not, was the sound of a weary sigh being exhaled.
Simultaneously, and without warning or malice, struggling Americans bid farewell to 2009 with the same reverence as reaching the summit of a mountain, but finding the act of celebration too exhausting to do much more than breathe.
Jobs lost, major industry shaken from their foundation, a plunging economy, and spiralling retirement funds have slapped our faces with a hard reality check, as we glimpse ahead to an unstable future.
Over the past 18 months, as our staggering markets slowed to a crawl, it was the little guys, the same ones who boosted the economy and collectively tucked our executives into their king-sized beds in the hills each evening, who were sliced from payrolls and left behind so that the strong could carry on. So the rich could get richer.
It happened at my job. It happened at your job. It happened everywhere.
But as I heard that long sigh being released on New Year's Eve, and timed it with my own, I realized that perhaps it wasn't so much the sound made out of desperation or futility. The last gasp uttered from a dying breed. Perhaps it wasn't an exhale at all. But rather an inhale. A collective gathering of air in the lungs. Building. Prepairing. An act of hope.
I've read the stories. I've seen the papers. From coast to coast...from Micanopy, Florida to Forks, Washington. From Brownsville, Texas to District 12, people have started turning their backs on those major corporations who so quickly turned their backs on them, and asked themselves that one important question, "So what do I want to do now?"
People have started thinking back to their childhoods, to that moment in their lives when they were asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" ...and they remembered their answer.
Read the success stories, check out the statistics. People who have been "bought out," or "laid off," have fired back by venturing out on their own, by taking risks, by putting it all on the line. To better themselves. To better all of us.
And as we begin to realize that life can move forward without the help of major corporations running our lives, we've quietly started to ban together. To help each other succeed. To build on what we've started.
Strangers holding hands. Nodding to one another with a fearful, but hopeful acknowledgement. And moving forward. Living as we've never lived before.
And when the economy does begin to move once again...and money starts being made...and people find themselves worth something again, big industry will come calling as they've always done in the past. Help wanted! Benefits! Bonuses! And maybe this time they won't get so lucky. Maybe this time we'll have moved on. Having learned how to live on our terms instead of theirs, maybe this time it'll be them who have to learn how to survive.
Because that's what we do. The "Little Guys." We fight. We work hard. We learn. And we move forward.
My family escaped this past year with little more than our health. I was spared my job, but fell victim to every other casualty the industry could legally, and perhaps illegally, send my way. Take, take, take. And in the end we were left with little more than a spindly paystub that barely managed to hold a roof over our heads. Long hours spent...measley results awarded.
And as 2009 hissed and spat, growled and clawed at our spirit, my wife turned to me, and I turned to her, and we said, "Enough already."
I thought back to when I was young. A boy sitting behind a school desk, 10 or maybe 12 years old, looking up to an expectant teacher as she asked me that question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
But she was a smart lady. She already knew the answer. And I remembered...
2010...it's time for change.