Surviving the Economy

[Ancient Faith Radio; January 7, 2009]

FMG: Well, I’m at home, of all things. Occasionally I am at home. It’s Sunday morning at Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, just south of Baltimore. If you’ve ever been to Baltimore Washington International Airport, BWI, we’re just two miles from BWI. And it’s coffee hour, and I’m sitting in the basement in the parish hall, and I’m talking with somebody who’s travelled to be here with us. I’m not the one travelling this week. Deacon Tom Braun, from, is it St. Barnabas Church in San Demas?

Dn. Tom Braun: It’s St. Barnabas in Huntington Beach, California.

FMG: Huntington Beach. And you’re with us today in almost a professional capacity. You came to give a retreat or workshop yesterday for our parish on money management.

D.TB: That is correct. And certainly, with the way the economy’s looking right now, potentially some real challenges, it seemed like a very good thing for people to be focusing on.

FMG: And one thing that you and my husband both commented on is that that’s the #1 thing most couples argue about- money. If there’s going to be a conflict in the marriage, often it’s about buying stuff, and that sort of thing. That’s something you’ve observed as well, I guess?

D.TB: Absolutely, Frederica. It’s been studied over and over again that really the #1 cause of marriage struggling and divorce is over money issues. And this can be a huge struggle, really, if both spouses are not on the same page on how the money in the family should be spent.

FMG: It’s possible to spend a whole day talking about that, but really it boils down to just, don’t spend more than you make. It’s really very simple advice in the long run.

D.TB: Well, you picked up on it. And I try to really help people. Money management is something that I’m really interested in and I would say passionate about, but I know a lot of people aren’t, and it’s scary to a lot of people, so I do try to keep it simple, and I say, you either need to make more, or spend less. It’s really not any more complicated than that.

FMG: And you gave some really encouraging advice about making more. You asked, “Could you save ten thousand dollars in the next six months?” Everyone says no. But then you said, “Well, what if your child’s life depended on it?” Now everybody says, yeah, I’d find a way to do that. And you can either spend less or earn more, you can get a second job, you can do that for a limited period of time and then you have a nest egg to start with. One of the other things that was a bit of good news I hadn’t thought about before was— you were saying the unemployment is high right now, but as the baby boomers retire, that they are a huge cohort. The generations following after are much smaller. We’re going to see a time when there is a drought of workers, when businesses are going to be searching for workers, and you gave some great advice yesterday on how to make yourself a valuable worker. I think these are, to some extent, just basic questions of politeness and responsibility, but our culture has become so consumer oriented that people live as if everything should be arranged to please and entertain them all the time. They don’t understand the effect it has on the boss when he walks in and finds you playing with your DS, you’re playing Mario Bros or something, when you’re supposed to be on the phone with a customer. Would you go through this list, because I couldn’t get it all written down fast enough. It was so interesting. Things to know if you want to get promoted over the other guys.

D.TB: Sure, Frederica. I’d be happy to. And like you said, there really is going to be a worker shortage. It’s absolutely a fact of demographics. What I mentioned in the seminar, and what I’d like to communicate is, just by doing very simple things, you can put yourself in the top 10 or 20 percent. And what I encourage folks is, really, just try, if you’re honest, like you just mentioned, if you’re not surfing the net while you’re on company time, which is really stealing, and as Christians really completely unacceptable. But some of the things on the list I’d like to cover… one, you really need to find your passion.

FMG: That’s true.

D.TB: You know, there are three hundred million some odd people in America, and many millions more around the world, and there’s a lot of different kinds of jobs out there. Or maybe it’s that it’s not the type of job you do that is wrong, but maybe your company’s not a good fit for you. Maybe your boss isn’t respecting or appreciating what you bring. So if that isn’t working for you, go find another one. Don’t go home every day and complain to your roommate or your spouse that you’re not happy. Just find another job.

FMG: There are tools for that, like people used to say “What Color is Your Parachute?”, that book. Is that one you think is a good one, or not so good? Are there better ones you’d recommend for really discovering what your passion is?

D.TB: You know, I don’t know that I would have a specific book. Certainly there are the tests of interest that you can take. Career counseling in school, and things like that. I guess I just think of it more in an intuitive sense. I mean, if you’re interested in something- I just think it’s a tragedy, Frederica, when people go to college and they spend all that time and money, and maybe they really don’t know what they’re interested in. What I’ve done with my children, I’ve let them take a few years off until they really find their passion. I mean, why just grind them out of high school into college? Maybe the maturity’s not quite there. Let them go out and experience a little bit of life. Maybe get knocked around a little bit. Realize that it’s tough to pay the bills out there, on minimum wage. And find something that they really enjoy doing. Like my oldest son, he’s all motivated now and he’s going to college.

FMG: That’s good. Yeah. So that’s the first thing, is do something you love. Don’t grind through forty years of hating it and barely tolerating it.

D.TB: To me, I can’t imagine the people going through life just counting down the days till they retire. How miserable an existence is that? So, find something that you love, and you know the old phrase, If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

FMG: That’s true. That’s good. Okay, what else you got?

D.TB: The older I get, the more I see that every person has a unique God-given gift. We all have something unique. And one thing I think is really important is, everybody’s not going to be good at everything. Some people might be technical, some are more artistic, some are more management oriented, some are more task oriented. So find what you’re good at. Don’t try to force yourself to do the things you’re not good at. Find what you excel at, and really use the skills and the personality that God’s given you, and really excel at that.

FMG: That’s good.

D.TB: And I like to encourage people that whatever they do, money is not the be-all, end-all. Although I do give a financial seminar, and I like to encourage people to handle their money well, but making money is not going to make you happy. So whether someone is a ditch digger or a trash man or the president of the United States. I say, if you’re the trash man, be the best trash man. Be the one that everybody loves and you’re the fastest guy and you do the quickest job.

FMG: That’s good. Make it a good job.

D.TB: Exactly. And be an honor to God in what you do. Back to the specifics, you were bringing up some critical things, especially that we see impacting the youth of today. There does seem to be, I think, an attitude problem, and I would wrap it up in one word, and that is “closure”. When a boss gives you a task, they want to see a completed task. If you give it back to them half baked, “Well I couldn’t get this answer”—you know, use some creativity and stretch yourself a little bit. You’re trying to learn, and what you’re really doing is you’re training yourself to do your boss’s job.

FMG: And what they have instead is an attitude picked up from school, that the teacher wants you to list ten words, and you list those ten words. It’s like, they look at what the boss tells them to do, and they think of the minimum way to accomplish that and get that task off your board. But you’re saying, think creatively. Think like your boss. What would he do? What would really knock his socks off?

D.TB: Well, you know what, Frederica, I think you’re going to love this comment I’m going to make because I know you’re in academia. What’s happened in academia is that our culture has come to be one of learning how to take tests, and studying for the test. Instead of studying to learn, and doing it for the joy of learning, and the passion of that, which is what education going back to the ancient Greeks. People went to school not to get an A, but they wanted to learn. And help their culture grow. We need to adopt that attitude. I think what happens is in schools we adopt that attitude of, well, teacher wants me to do this this and this for the A, but they don’t think creatively about what’s behind that. Why are they asking this question? I love the word proactive. You need to think ahead, what is it your boss wants, why is it they’re asking this question. Here’s a real practical example. Imagine if an investor came to you and he was going to hand you a million dollars to go buy a building or buy a company or something. You say, if it was my money, if it was my million dollars, what would I want to know before I would feel comfortable handing that million dollars over to sign on the bottom line? So that’s what I really want to encourage. Why does your boss want to know this? And your boss will be blown away by that.

FMG: That’s good advice there.

D.TB: Okay. And the other one, speaking of attitude, I hate hearing the statement that I couldn’t do something. I think the truth is, as Christians, our calling, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many times we fall, we are called to just get up and keep struggling. So I love a little phrase, “Make it happen. Find a way.”

FMG: That could go on a bumper sticker.

D.TB: Exactly. And you never take no for an answer. A phrase, a word that’s used in our culture a lot, is “networking”. I don’t mean it necessarily in the computer sense, but in a personal sense, that if you don’t know how to do something, you take your best guess. Instead, I’m going to call Frederica because I know she’s in education and I need to know something about colleges. So I start there, and she refers me to somebody else, who refers me to somebody else, who refers me to somebody else. If you can’t go over, you go around, you go through, but make it happen, find a way. Don’t give your boss excuses for why something couldn’t be done.

FMG: And in fact, networking- find a person who knows the answer- has always been my approach as a writer. I know I could get a stack of fifteen books and read all of them and try to digest it, but then I think, who do I know? Who would be a likely person who had already done that? So I guess think in terms of the person who might have the answer for you. I guess that’s really what networking means.

D.TB: Frederica, that’s a great clarification. I think especially in our culture, which is increasingly becoming impersonal. People like to use the internet and email back and forth, but I really think that email’s an impersonal form of communication. The truth is, most of us really love to pass on our knowledge. And when you see somebody passionate, somebody who’s wanting to partake of your knowledge, you’re excited to pass that on.

FMG: That’s so true. You want to be able to see that fire spread to the next person.

D.TB: Exactly. Now, another thing that I like to pass on to people is, now I’m speaking for myself- I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the world. But I am willing to work hard. And I say that, and this might sound funny, but I’m driven to a certain degree by fear.

FMG: How so?

D.TB: I mean that not in a paralyzing sense, or in a getting-an-ulcer sense, but I don’t want to walk into my boss, walk into a meeting, and be embarrassed.

FMG: Yeah. That’s quite a strong motivator.

D.TB: So I prepare. That’s why I’m motivated. That’s why I’m proactive. Because there’s nothing worse than you spend ten hours working on a task, and in the first ten seconds the boss walks in and asks, well, did you do this? You think, uhhh, no?

FMG: (laughing) I know what you mean!

D.TB: So that’s an important thing. And also, one of the items to make yourself more valuable is to be likeable.

FMG: Okay.

D.TB: And to be more specific, smile. Reach out to people. Don’t be a sourpuss. I tell you, a wonderful resource I love, Dale Carnegie, he wrote a wonderful book, I don’t particularly like the title, but, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

FMG: That was a hugely influential book in the fifties, right?

D.TB: Absolutely. And, the title, if you just take it at face value, it can sound a little bit manipulative. But I can assure you it’s not. And honestly, at its essence, the book is very Christian and specifically very Orthodox. He very much preaches against being insincere. Frederica’s wearing a purple sweater, and you don’t say, Oh, what a beautiful sweater! If you don’t think it. People can sense insincerity. His idea is that if you help enough other people to be successful, and you’ll be successful. That mentality; you don’t want to be insincere.

FMG: Norman Vincent Peale, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I’ve actually never read that. I think there was a joke from when it came out, that somebody asked a theologian, What do you think of that book? And he said, “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” I think we can find something appealing about Peale. That line just stuck with me. It just goes through my mind.

D.TB: Fair enough. And just to make sure we’re clear, it’s actually Dale Carnegie.

FMG: Oh, there you go! Norman Vincent Peale’s the other guy! What did he write?

D.TB: He’s more of the ‘power of positive thinking’ guy.

FMG: There you go. We don’t find Carnegie appalling at all, we like Carnegie very much.

D.TB: I hate to say it, but the fact that I’m able to answer these questions is because I am a bit of a junkie for business books and that type of thing.

FMG: Well, what you’re saying about just be likable, smile, and read the Carnegie book, he’s got a lot of good advice. The other side of that is, I hate it when I’m in a store and I can’t get the cashier to even look at me. There’s no smile. She just resents having to be there, it’s demeaning to her, it’s beneath her to have to deal with customers, she’s talking over her shoulder to the other cashier. She doesn’t even acknowledge your existence the whole time you’re there. And I hate that, I hate being treated that way.

D.TB: You know, it’s so true. And I think there’s an element of selfishness in there. We’ve said that we really want to be more personal. We should just live by the golden rule. You just treat other people the way you want to be treated. And as I said earlier, if you don’t like being a cashier, get another job. Don’t do something that’s miserable.

FMG: Right, right. And make the customers miserable at the same time. What else you got?

D.TB: Okay. Another one, which I think is really critical, in our culture, is to have a little bit of humility. Frederica, you may be able to address better this whole sort of push towards self esteem

FMG: Yeah, unearned esteem, in a sense. Self esteem, but not self respect.

D.TB: Yeah. When I was a child in soccer and football, it was still in the era when everybody didn’t get a trophy. By the time my kids were there, twenty years later, every kid, no matter if your team didn’t win a game all year, but at the end of the year everybody gets a trophy. This “everybody ties for first” mentality. So what I like to tell people on the humility side, sometimes somebody, whether it’s a boss, a customer, or whatever, someone’s gonna tell you something you might already know. But I say, strike the words “I know” from your vocabulary. Honestly, this goes beyond work. This might be with your spouse or your friends. You know, there’s nothing worse than you’re telling somebody a story you’re all excited about and your friend goes, Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Just shuts you down, kills the moment. It’s dead. So I would encourage people to be humble. You know, don’t let somebody take thirty minutes retelling you a story and waste time, but you can politely interject, Yeah, I remember you telling me that.

FMG: That’s so true. I think it’s one of the kindest things we can do for someone is to listen to them. I think many people out there really hunger for someone to look them in the eye and listen, and you might feel like you’re getting nothing out of it, or that they’re saying the same thing they said last week. But what a lovely gift that is to give somebody, just to go on listening.

D.TB: Another thing about it is, and this is probably going to take a little different direction than the specific attitude adjustment things, and this might sound funny coming on the back of the humility thing, but I actually encourage people also to remember that you do have unique skills and abilities that God has given you. And you do have value. I like to encourage people, don’t sell yourself short. Frederica, you mentioned the cashier. Maybe cashier typically isn’t a real high-paying job, and maybe the person isn’t real happy doing it. Don’t settle. You have a skill and ability. Find a place where you can excel. Find a company. Find a boss. It’s a big world out there, there is going to be a worker shortage, so just keep looking.

FMG: I know when I first got into college, I made B’s and C’s my first two years. But when I got to where all my classes were either literature or movies, I started making straight A’s. My son did the same thing- poor grades, until it was all music and music theory, and straight A’s. That’s kind of what you’re saying. Find the thing you’re good at, but shoot for the stars when you get there and don’t undersell yourself. Know your value and what you’re worth.

D.TB: Big Amen to that. Quick example I’d like to give: a good church friend of mine is an artist, and his dad is an engineer. And his dad really looked down on him; he said, Derek, you’re never going to make a living being an artist. You’ve gotta be an engineer. And Derek thought, you know what, I’m going to show my dad he’s wrong. And so what Derek did, he’s now a car designer for Hyundai. He actually makes the cars out of clay, full size-

FMG: Wow! Full size?

D.TB: Yes, and decides the shape, and what the fenders look like, and the trim and the dash and he supports a wife and four kids and makes a very good living on that.

FMG: That sounds like a fun job! You get to play with clay and make cars out of clay! My two year old grandson would love that job. (laughs)

D.TB: Very true. And the point being there, of course, is that he does have a value, and he did find his passion, and he didn’t have to settle, he looked around until he found something that fit his passion.

FMG: So think creatively. Well, I know we gotta get going. They’re trying to get you out the door, I see. Thanks so much for coming this weekend. Anything you want to sum up with?

D.TB: Well, I’d just like to encourage people again, at a minimum, show up, smile, be on time and be honest. You’ll automatically be in the top 10 or 20 percent, and you will enjoy what you do. And your co-workers, your boss, and the people you serve will enjoy being with you.

FMG: And you’ll look around the room, and say, I’m going to be the boss of all these people this time next year! And your boss will get to rise too, because you make your boss look good. Everybody wins. Shoot for the stars.

D.TB: That’s it.

FMG: Thanks so much, Deacon Thomas.


This is a PS. Fr. Dn. Thomas kept referring to me being in academia, and it wasn’t worth interrupting or correcting that at the time. But I’m not, I’m just a housewife. When my husband was in seminary, I went to seminary too. I got my masters degree. I wanted to be ordained at that time, but I soon decided that I didn’t want to be ordained, and that the life of a pastor was a lot harder than the kind of employment I was looking for. So I stayed home, I taught women’s bible studies. Eventually I got trained as a natural childbirth teacher and I taught natural childbirth for a number of years. But I’m not a professor, I don’t teach, I don’t have a doctorate.

But in a way I’m a perfect example of what he’s talking about because, I guess when I was in junior high, I thought I would really like to be a writer. I would love to write. So I went through junior high and high school writing a lot of poetry, got into college and my world expanded. And I thought, the best job would be to be a movie critic. So I kept taking classes, and I kept writing, and studying films, and graduated, and then I realized I had no idea how to begin that job. I didn’t know how to begin, I’d never taken a course in journalism, I just studied literature and did some creative writing. So I didn’t know how to start. So I went to seminary with my husband and I had many years at home raising kids and being a pastor’s wife.

I’m a perfect example of what Fr. Dn. Thomas is talking about because I was really able, eventually, to follow my passion, that desire that I had to be a writer. God just arranged it for me. I became active in the Pro-Life cause. Because I lived near Washington, I began being included in meetings of the leaders of the Pro-Life cause. And as I began to write, I became better known. And there was a magazine publisher, Marvin Olasky, the editor of World Magazine, who really liked my writing, and he kept asking me to write. It was a weekly, so there was a lot of opportunity to write. I think at one point I was on salary and responsible for filling 2 1/2 pages a week in this weekly magazine. So I kind of hit the ground running, and I had my entire training in journalism while I was writing for someone who was putting out essentially a Time or a Newsweek kind of magazine. I’ll always be grateful to Marvin for getting me started as a writer.

And I’ve been unusually blessed in that, usually when I write, it’s because editors have come to me, they’ve read my writing, and they want me to tackle this topic or that topic. I find that works a lot better than if I think of an idea of something I want to write about, and I write it, and try to get it published. Very rarely is that successful for me. I almost never succeed at doing that, writing it and then getting it published. It works best if the editor comes to me or if it’s somebody I know well and that I’ve done a lot of writing for that I can propose an idea to.

So I haven’t been, as they say, self-made-A Self-Made Man!- but I am editor-made, and so often the credit goes to God Who’s given me these opportunities. So I am grateful that I’ve been able to follow my passion and actually find a way to do it. I think it’s a common misconception that people think I must be a professor. But I’m not, and I never have been. I’ve always been a housewife. And that’s been a wonderful profession to have.

In closing, here’s one of those things about how God must have a sense of humor: when I was in college and I thought that the ideal job must be to be a movie reviewer, my goal was the Village Voice. I was so left-wing, I was so avant garde, such a hippie, that I thought the place to write was obviously the Village Voice. I will be the movie critic for the Village Voice. That will be my goal. Once I became a Christian, I just didn’t even think about reviewing movies. But many years later, I had a friend who was leaving the post of doing movie reviews, first for Our Sunday Visitor, and then he was reviewing movies for National Review, and I was able to step in and say, Hi, I’m a friend of so-and-so and I also like to review movies. And it was that smooth. It’s who you know. The thing that you always fear is true. It’s who you know. That’s how you get these gigs. So God’s sense of humor is that I am not the movie reviewer for the Village Voice. I am a movie reviewer for National Review. Bill Buckley’s magazine. The opposite of what I always thought I would be doing. I write movie reviews for Christianity Today Online. I never thought I would do that back in my hippie Earth Mother feminist days. It helps to have a sense of humor when you’re working with God, because it really does come in handy sometimes.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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