I’ve been thinking about Moscow again.
I was there in the late spring of 1997. I can still remember gripping the arm rest on the plane as we circled the dachas outside the city.
I was terrified. I thought of Moscow as the “Wild, Wild East” (It turns out it had calmed down considerably since, say, 1994, when the mafiya is reputed to have used subway cars for target practice–while the commuters were still in them.)
But I was researching a novel and somehow I was more curious than afraid.
I fell in love with the city immediately. I loved the energy, the half-intelligible murky soup of Russian, the Caucasian grubbiness of the “things market” and even the black-and-gray crows. It wasn’t anything like the Orwellian clichés of anti-Soviet propaganda. It helps that the city was celebrating its 850th anniversary, so the mayor had ordered that the whole city be given a good paint job.
But it wasn’t really the Byzantine golden domes or the breathtaking scale of Red Square that got me. It was the people.
Every person I met was reinventing himself
Russia had completely overturned its economic system. Everyone needed to find a new way to make a living. The old rules had been thrown out the window, and no one knew what the new rules were going to be.
I remember spending an afternoon with a cynical hipster named Yuri. Before glasnost, he’d been a third-generation propaganda artist. His family had the official license to reproduce Lenin’s signature for political posters. (And before glasnost, political posters were the only kind of posters there were.)
When Yuri was 20, he figured he’d copy Lenin’s signature for the rest of his working life, as his father had done. When overnight that turned out not to be viable, he became a Photoshop wiz and started hitting up the new breed of entrepreneurs. He started teaching them about this whole advertising thing, even while he was learning it himself.
On the side, he was a rock star. Rock stars still needed day jobs in 1997.
That was Moscow.
The illusion of privilege
Yuri was also a documentary filmmaker. He showed us some video he’d just shot in Paris, of three sullen French boys in black leather complaining about unemployment.
We watched it and laughed until tears ran down our faces. Even me, who had only been in Moscow a few days.
It was preposterous to watch these overgrown children sit on their Versace-clad backsides and bitch. These were not the lean, angry boys from outside the city, who truly are locked out of opportunity. They were privileged kids with superb educations whose parents had tony apartments in fashionable neighborhoods.
It was shocking to listen to them whine about the fact that not everything was being handed to them any more. To watch them smoke cigarette after cigarette and wish things would get more comfortable, so they could go back to sleep.
Watching them from Moscow, a cauldron of hustle and reinvention and drive, was ludicrous. But if I’d first encountered them through friends in Paris, I probably would have felt badly for them.
I’m not calling you a crybaby
Believe me, you’re nothing like these three pouty boys were. I have no patience with people who say that the recession has been “manufactured by the media,” or that the sickening economic crisis is “just in your head.”
If you’ve just been laid off, that’s not in your head. If your mortgage is due and you don’t know how to pay it, that’s not manufactured by anyone. It’s hard and it’s real and you have my empathy.
We’ve all been shaken up hard. You have every right to be scared.
Maybe this shake-up isn’t quite glasnost, but it’s getting there. Maybe we aren’t in Moscow yet, but we can see it from here.
So rather than freefalling, leap.
Obsessively study something new. Take massive action. Throw away your TV. Find the partner who will put the last piece into place. (Yes, Partnering Profits is closed now, but it will open up again.)
Start a side business or a second job or a third, something that can break you out to a completely new place.
Feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels?
Have you been trying to create a business online, or to build a content net that can support you? Trying to make something happen, but not seeing any movement?
Maybe you haven’t been spinning your wheels after all. Maybe you’ve been getting ready for take-off.
In 10 years, look back at this as the time you faced disaster by reinventing yourself and creating something truly new.
The winds are shifting. We’re rewriting all the rules. This is the time to be more curious than afraid.