Everyone who lives in or has traveled through the mountainous states is familiar with this traffic warning sign. It tells us that the laws of gravity are about to test the limits of our vehicle, and we had better slow down, gear down and test the brakes slightly before proceeding. Otherwise we may find that the combination of the best engineered brakes, and our driving skill are no match for the downgrade ahead. I think 2011 and 2012 will be the same for us, we need to gear down now before it is too late and we crash in a heap somewhere on the road ahead.
Let’s take a close look at the vehicle of life that has been transporting us reliably for many years on this fossil fuel that many have been warning us about for many years. We have been happily motoring along at 70mph for some time. The road has been fairly level for some time now, a few curves here and there, but otherwise it has been an uneventful trip for most. When we look closer, we see that our tires still have some tread on them, but they are pretty worn. The engine is running smoothly, but doesn’t have the same get up and go it had years ago it seems. The brakes still bring us to a smooth stop on level ground, but they haven’t been tested with a load on a steep descent, so we are not completely confident that they won’t fade away when we need them the most. But yet we keep running along at full speed, past the first warning sign, then the second. Now we have come to the warning sign above. It is decision time. Do we trust our worn tires, manmade brakes and our driving skill to navigate us through this long descent without slowing down too much? Or do we ignore our manmade schedule of where we think we have to get to by the end of the year, and gear down, slow down, cinch up our seat belt and use every bit of skill to navigate the road ahead?
Our cargo? Everyone goes through life with some “baggage”. That trailer in back of you is filled with your hopes, aspirations, skills, failures, upsets, family, friends, adversaries, fortunes, debts and other “stuff” you have picked up along the way. The trailer may be heavy or light, but it is tied to you, and gravity is using it to push you harder down the descent. It’s a pretty sure bet you won’t be able to traverse this descent with a full load, even in low gear.
While you are at the top of the grade in 2011, you need to look at the contents of that trailer and decide if any of it can be offloaded before we start down the grade. We know we will need skills, family and friends in that trailer. But will we need that ski boat? Or RV? Or vacation home? Or any more debt? Debt will be the heaviest item in our trailer. Anything we can unload to reduce that debt in the trailer will help us get further down the grade safely.
So when we gear down for 2011, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to walk to the grocery store every week, although that might be a good learning exercise. It does mean we need to lock up the credit cards, and resist the urge to buy another something just because it looks “nice” or it might be “fun”. Start putting the brakes on now while you can and use low gear to start applying more to your debt weight reduction. The more you reduce the force trying to accelerate you down the energy descent, the better your chances will be at traveling down the energy descent with some amount of safety.
Many knowledgeable folks in the energy and economic arenas are telling us that the there is a steep descent ahead, while many in leadership roles are telling you there is good road ahead, buy, buy, buy. Your job in the next 12 months is to decide how much further you can go at the speed you are traveling before trying to downshift, stop and unload as much as possible before proceeding. Wait too long, and your ride may be more frightening than it should be, and you may not safely traverse the road ahead.