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Life Kit: Tips For Living With Uncertainty

May 10, 2020

DON GONYEA, HOST:

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about so much uncertainty. We're worried about our health, our finances, our future. On Friday, the U.S. unemployment rate rose to nearly 15%, and no one knows where it ends. For NPR's Life Kit, national correspondent Sarah McCammon talked to one woman who's lived through years of economic uncertainty about how to cope.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Elizabeth White never expected to find herself in the midst of a financial crisis. In her 50s.

ELIZABETH WHITE: So I'm someone who was doing really well until I wasn't.

MCCAMMON: With degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins and a successful import business, White thought she was in good shape for the long haul. And then...

WHITE: 2008 hit. And what I found as a contractor is that I was the first to go.

MCCAMMON: White the author of "55, Underemployed And Faking Normal." She's now 66. And she says, as the Great Recession took hold, she had to do some things she'd never imagined, like getting a roommate.

WHITE: You might have some shame around feeling a little uncomfortable going to a food bank if it gets to that for you or feeling uncomfortable applying for food stamps.

MCCAMMON: And that's our first takeaway for surviving uncertain times. Get past the shame of asking for the help you need.

WHITE: As a friend of mine said to me at one point, get off your throne. You got to get off your throne because there were some things that, you know, job opportunities - small editing jobs, things that I just didn't want to do, was not used to. You've got to survive. And you're going to be asked to do some things that you don't want to do.

MCCAMMON: White says it was really important during that time to cultivate connections with people in similar circumstances, people she could be honest with who could help her solve problems.

WHITE: I gathered a group, what I called a resilience circle. So a few people that I could tell the truth to because there was a lot of pressure to front and to seem like I was OK when I was not OK.

MCCAMMON: And there's takeaway No. 2 - find your resilience circle. And remember that millions of Americans are also going through this. White's third tip for surviving uncertainty - don't try to figure things out too quickly.

WHITE: You can't make sense of this. It's unprecedented where we are, so don't fast-forward and run the tape of doom and get sucked into that hole. Don't try to make sense of things too soon.

MCCAMMON: White says even an uncertain, frightening time can be a chance to reassess and think about whether the path you were on is even the one you want to be on. We may come out the other side and find that the world has changed. And White says that might be OK. She's written a book and become a successful speaker but never returned to her previous income level.

WHITE: But I have, like, an interesting life. I have a richly textured life that is made up of people and family that I am very invested in.

MCCAMMON: So those are three tips for getting through uncertainty. First, get past the shame of asking for whatever help you need. Two, find your resilience circle of supportive people. Three, don't try to make sense of things too soon. And know that life on the other side might be different, but it might be really rich and really interesting. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.