I’ve enjoyed watching the recently concluded 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver, Canada.  I’ve been impressed and awed by the performances of athletes from around the world.  After training for years to reach the peak of their abilities physically and mentally, they arrived in Vancouver hoping in the few minutes or hours of their individual events to give the performances of their lives.  Some triumphed, some fell injured, some were simply unable to rise above a mediocre, less-than-world class performance.  Last Sunday, at the closing ceremony, music and fireworks accompanied a celebration honoring both the sacrifices made to excellence and the spirit of friendship amidst fierce competition.

Welcome to the 2009-2010 Financial Games.  Whether we trained for it for not, whether we feel prepared or completely unready to leave the starting gate, the games have begun.  We are in a time of intense testing.  We find ourselves called upon to give the performances of our lives in the pursuit of survival.

The games look a little different for each of us, just as they looked differently in Vancouver to the various athletes.  Some competed on snowy slopes and some on ice rinks.  Some raced the clock and some aimed for beauty and precision.  Likewise for us, these hard times present themselves in many forms that require us to respond in unique ways.

How do these hard times seem to you?  Are they more like a downhill or bobsled event – a race against time always on the verge of losing control and wiping out?  Are they more like pairs skating – trying to perform as perfectly as possible to gain the most points?  Or are they like the ski jump – rocketing into the air and wondering, not whether you’ll land, but HOW?

And the question that I’d love to have the answer to (and I’m sure I’m not alone): When are the closing ceremonies??!!  No one seems to have the timetable.

How can we bring the performance of our lives to these financially perilous times?  How can we be ready to make the most of the situations we’re in and the best of the slender opportunities we’re able to find?

We’re in true survival mode.  We must think – actively, creatively think – at all times.  When obstacles or challenges are thrown at us, we must learn to shift gears quickly, be spontaneous, take a different turn, or find another path.  If one thing doesn’t work, we must try something else.  No obstacle is truly insurmountable.  We must be as mentally sharp as an Olympic athlete, alert to the details of our situation, responding to changing conditions, and staying totally focused on the task at hand.

And we’ve got to recognize that we aren’t going to get a lot of help in these games.  Banks and creditors aren’t going to show us a lot of sympathy and compassion.  Most are as rigid and unforgiving as a race timer’s clock.  They may try to bully us, and punish us for going in to debt – like the mounds on the moguls course punished the bodies of skiers.  Banks and creditors now often use tactics intended to scare and intimidate.

Don’t be vulnerable and don’t indulge in a victim mentality.  No one ascends the winner’s platform who gives in to defeat.  Those who intend to finish the race don’t waste time languishing in bitterness, or contemplating how unjust the world is.  Life is unfair, it’s painful to realize but it’s true.  We’ve got to go on living, find new ways to succeed and be creative, be grateful for what we do have, and make the most of every opportunity to live life to the fullest and the best.

Don’t judge yourself harshly for needing to shift, back up and change directions if one path doesn’t work out.  Embarrassment and discouragement will only get in your way and slow you down.  Pick yourself up, turn yourself around, and try something else.

Talk to other people who are going through the same hard times you are.  Find out what they’re doing to survive.  Maybe they’re a little ahead of you in the game and they’ll have some ideas about how to deal with your situation.  They may be able to give you some hints and clues and support.  Accept what they have to offer.

And be ready to help other people behind you in the race.  Recognize that winning at someone else’s expense will shatter your soul.  It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true.  When someone loses – their home, their job, their ability to feed their family – we all lose.

There is no exact science to financial survival, no sure-win formula.  Coaches with expertise can help.  Preparation and determination can help.  An “I won’t quit” attitude will help.  But there are no guarantees.

When the Financial Games end – and they will – we’ll have had the opportunity to learn valuable lessons.  We’ll have the opportunity to become better people and make a better world for ourselves and our families.

We can all deserve a medal, regardless of the outcome.  We can all find victory in achieving our personal best.  We can then pass the torch to our children and live in hope for tomorrow.