The world cheered as the thirty-three miners trapped a half-mile underground in Chile for more than two months were pulled aboveground to safety. The rescue mission was a fantastic success. Aside from the miners, no one can be happier for their survival of the ordeal than their families. Mining is a risky profession even when mines are relatively safe, and I know how unlikely it is that I would ever wish to work every day with the constant threat of being trapped.
From an event like this, observers like me can do not much more than take away some good tips for living our lives and handling our finances.
1. Life is more important than money. Mining is a risky business, but men around the world take these jobs because their paid relatively well and helps them provide for their families. This may be obvious, but it’s good to have a reminder occasionally. You can always earn more money, but a lifetime is a finite resource. Don’t get bogged down with financial details to the point at which it affects your ability to live; keep it simple so you can spend your time living.
2. Prepare your family. These families were lucky; the breadwinners have lived to work another day. They will go on living, providing for their families, for what I hope will be a long time. The situation could have easily been worse, and that income would have disappeared. In financially sophisticated societies like the United States, life insurance is available to help families survive after the permanent loss of an income. Have life insurance if anyone else relies on your income for their well-being.
3. Stay organized. If you are the individual who takes care of the family finances by paying the bills and monitoring the accounts, think like a business and create a succession plan. Train someone else in the family, your wife, husband, child, or parent, for example, to access all the information that is needed to take care of the financial necessities in the event you find yourself unavailable for an extended period of time.
4. Never lose hope for the future. In a tough ordeal like this, hope can be a powerful enough force to keep someone alive. Draw upon hope by thinking about your family and friends, and when you are with them, ensure they understand your appreciation.
5. Even today’s big issues are not so big. As all miners survived a worst worst case scenario, there is never reason for anyone else to believe that they can’t make it through everyday problems that are much more trivial. When all you care about is surviving until the next day, it doesn’t matter who the president is, you won’t be upset you missed your favorite television show, and there is no need for the latest iPhone. In the end, these things will hardly matter.
6. Teamwork results in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Even people who function best individually rather on a team should work to align themselves with like-minded people. Whether you’re working on a team or being a member of a group with whom you have interests in common, you will have a support group when needed. Living is a social activity, and people who associate in groups of any sort are happier, more successful, and live longer than those who chose to be alone.
I’m inspired by stories of survival, and I often wonder if I have what it takes to survive the same ordeals. I don’t know what I would do when faced with a terrible situation. I do hope my survival instinct is strong enough. For those of us whose exposure to danger is limited to driving daily on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, or similar highway, our problems are never as bad as we often believe they are.
Updated December 21, 2010 and originally published October 14, 2010.