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Martha's big adventure - Lessons from a recession

It's the second month of not having a return address to call my own, and I'm still alright. Roof over my head, great company, a lot of reunions with old friends and afternoons spent sitting in the middle of a four-acre moss garden in Virginia while I write a column and work on the new thriller. There are rougher gigs.

But there have been a few moments since I packed up my things in New York City and put all of it in storage after the apartment was abruptly sold, when I wonder how this part of the journey is going to end.

The first time happened when I was sending off a birthday card and wasn't sure what to put in the upper left hand corner. I settled on just my initials. And then there was a moment when I had to explain to the bank why I kept changing my address so often. I could give them the long explanation with a lot of details or a shorter version with only the new address and let them think what they want.

The only reason to give out the entire story would have been to make sure yet another stranger knew I am a responsible adult doing the best I can. In other words, it's not my fault and I'm still worth something. That's been a tough lesson and a great blessing out of the Great Recession.

It's our true motive every time we retell a new audience an old saw that we've told so often we anticipate the good parts. Look, we're saying, I may not seem like all that much, but let me explain why that's true. Maybe you'll stick around anyway. We've already set in motion a relationship where someone's going to need propping up. Let the never-ending whining commence. Just thinking about it is exhausting and if this description is starting to sound familiar, there's a reason people are not happy to see you.

Announcing at the first opportunity that the world has done you wrong is like handing out an old bill that says your needs have to be met, not by you but by the hapless souls stuck in front of you. Not only that, you've just let everybody know you're not going to pull your own weight or offer anything in return, because you don't believe you have anything of value. This will be a life-sucking relationship with an endless list of what you need. Oh joy, where can we all sign up?

Or you can choose to shut up and listen. Not only to the patient fellows who've been waiting for an opening, but also to the small voice inside of you that's been offering small suggestions about what you could reasonably do next, just for this day that will lead you in the direction of your dreams. However, in order for that to really work, you'll have to be willing to not offer reasons why everything won't work or excuses why it's OK that you don't try at all. In other words, start from where you are with what you have and let the journey unfold with no promises, no gimmicks and no handouts. Reasonable assistance is OK and even encouraged.

The payoff happens when things start to work out for you.

Okay, so I buried the lead, but here I am in the second month of my exile from New York and someone has asked me to write their life story and follow them around South Africa, maybe France. All of my things were already in storage, so there's nothing to look after and my essentials were already packed. I'm off on a great adventure with a short stop in Chicago to see my son, Louie, and keeping my hands wide open for what comes next. It didn't happen the way I thought it should and it doesn't look like what I had planned, but it's already turning out so much better. Stay tuned. More adventures to follow.

If you'd like to get involved in the 2009 America Challenge to raise funds for community-based charities, e-mail me at Martha@CagleCartoons.com, for more information. Together, we're going to build stronger communities and empower ourselves.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.