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RISMEDIA, January 5, 2010—In the days leading up to the New Year, I found myself in numerous conversations where the central theme was relief about the ending of 2009, as though the year itself were somehow the problem. But, a year is just a slice of time and the events underlying those discussions have been bearing down on us for a long time, and they aren’t going away just because the year changed.

It could happen, but it probably won’t. The symptoms: high unemployment, the foreclosure epidemic, bankrupt governments, corrupt officials, and no meaningful response to any of it, do not provide much of a basis for hope.

For the most part, what little has been done has focused on the symptoms and, in the process of addressing those symptoms, we are furthering the patient’s demise.

Perhaps, there will be magic in turning the page on the calendar but I cannot see why or how. Nothing wrong with a little ill-founded optimism. Today is a new day; it’s a new decade. The year is just beginning. Anything is possible, nothing is promised. How true the line, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

More and more people are coming around to the realization that what is going wrong in America will take a very long time to fix. Welcome to the decade of stark reality. It isn’t bad, necessarily. It is what it is, the beginning of a great upheaval.

And, it won’t be the decisions and actions of our elected officials that put this nation back on the right course; it will be the decisions and actions of the American middle class.

Frankly, I think a lot of you have been sitting back hoping somebody else would step forward and lead us out of this morass. How’s that working out for you?

Are you ready for a new plan? Have you seen enough that you are willing to step up and use your God-given talents to make a difference for yourself, your family and the greater community that you depend upon?

For far too long, we have been going to our jobs, buying what we want and going home. We have left leadership and community building to those with agendas not in line with our well-being.

Voter turnout is so low you would think voting was illegal, dangerous and punishable by beheading.

Voting isn’t nearly enough; by the time we even know the name of the candidates, it no longer matters who wins.

But, by not voting, we send special interests a message that we don’t even care enough about how badly we get ripped off that we could even bother to walk down the street and vote. C’mon, man!

Everybody agrees we need change, but changing the faces of the politicians has never changed anything. Change will not occur until enough of us force it.

People in the real estate and mortgage industry have an extraordinary role to play in shaping the future of our communities. The relationships we have and the advent of social networking create an opportunity to connect the American people as never before.

For too long, we have allowed two-party politics to pursue an agenda not in the best interest of the American middle class. By labeling us either red or blue, they are able to avoid meaningful reforms, and after much sound and fury, manage to do little more than waste tax payers’ money and pander to big donors.

We need to launch our attack from the other end of the beast. We need to create our own candidates and we need to directly connect those candidates to the voters in the community, not through advertising, but by old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning, and that takes an army. What about you? Is 2010 the year that you join up? We could make history.

It’s all about change. The world has been changing and we haven’t. Now we need to play catch-up.

We are all works-in-progress and our futures are less about what happens to us and more about how we play the hand we are dealt. In the words of Robert Schuler, “Tough times don’t last but tough people do.”

Acknowledging the words of M. Scott Peck can be helpful, too. He opens his book, The Road Less Travelled, with the following thought, “Life is difficult.”

Sometimes an unwillingness to accept that simple truth can make one’s life far more difficult than it needs to be. Rather than lament, “Why me?” ask “Why not me?” Who am I to get a life with no obstacles, no challenges, no disappointments, setbacks, or tragedies?”

We do not know what we are capable of until we are tested. Personal growth and fulfillment are rarely the by-products of continual leisure and security.

Things seemed to be going pretty well for a few decades and we all got a little too comfortable. Now we have tough choices to make. Are we going to accept a continually declining standard of living or are we going to fight for ours and our children’s futures?

Get fit

Despite all the focus on wellness, American obesity has risen over the last decade. We have been super-sized until we are too fat and lazy to respond to any challenge. And, even worse, we can ill-afford the cost of our corpulence.

“Obesity is harming the health of millions of Americans and resulting in billions of additional dollars in health-care cost,” Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, said during a Wednesday conference. “About one-quarter of health costs are related to obesity. Obesity is one of the biggest contributors to chronic diseases, which is one of the biggest drivers of health-care costs.”

Everyone has an excuse for not doing the few simple things necessary to be ready for greater challenges, but nobody has a good reason.

If there is one thing we could all do that would make the biggest difference in the future of our country, this would be it. The one thing that we must have to approach challenges with confidence and optimism is a high level of energy.

If you are unfit, you may be a burden to your family and community. We owe this to our loved ones.

Get perspective

We have come to take a lot for granted and, in the process, lost sight of what is important. Life is ultimately a voyage of self-discovery, an opportunity to develop.

My great grandfather, George S. Mantor, was born in Massachusetts in 1816, my grandfather, Willis Hayden Mantor, was born in Wyocena, Wisconsin in 1854, and my father, George W. Mantor, was born in Brainerd, Minnesota in 1899. Thanks to each of them starting a family later in life, I’m more directly connected to a time when food and shelter required all of one’s resources.

When I think of my grandfather growing up in the Wisconsin wilderness, I realize that, even as a boy, his life was very different from the lives we experience today. Just 150 years ago, little territory west of Wisconsin was inhabited by people other than Native American’s. If you were not resourceful and ambitious, you did not survive.

By 1870, at the age of 16, the census shows my grandfather as a laborer on a farm in Baraboo Wisconsin, and the family was dispersed. I have a Bible inscribed as follows, “Willis Mantor, a present from Mother. Baraboo, Wis. 1870”

Perhaps George S. was killed in the Civil War, or died of disease or accident. This old Bible must have been a great comfort to Willis, who later would serve as a mariner on the Atlantic, return to law school in Wisconsin and, eventually, become a judge in Crow Wing County, Minnesota.

This Bible and where it has been, provide me with a balanced perspective.

Unplug and look inward

Set aside time for quiet reflection. Our lives have become a cacophony of intrusive messages. They not only shape how we see the world around us, they shape our response to it.

Before we can act constructively, we need to have a clear picture going forward. This can not be done in an environment of constant interruption and multi-tasking.

The purpose of Yoga is to place the body in a state of relaxation that allows for sustained meditation. In addition to improving fitness, strength, and flexibility, Yoga can allow us to transition from overly busy minds to minds that are capable of sustained focus.

Get informed

With each passing day, the mainstream media moves further away from news and closer to propaganda. Propaganda pays better than information delivery when information is everywhere. At one time, the media was the voice of the people, now it is the voice of the highest bidder.

But, for those willing to dig, there has never been more information available, and the more you really know, the greater will become the gap between what you know and what they say.

Right now, many people in our industry are operating in arenas that they do not completely understand. As fiduciaries, we have a responsibility to be on the leading edge of litigation and court decisions that may affect our clients and their actions. The arena of securitized mortgages is a minefield of potential title problems.

Be a light

With so many people impacted by job losses and foreclosures, you don’t have to go far to find someone who is hurting. Your involvement in your community will create opportunities to touch those whose luck might not have held as well as our own. We need more lights.

Laugh more

Someone once said that life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. The lives of middle class Americans are changing and that is neither good nor bad, but it does make us anxious.

The best tool for dealing with uncertainty is a well-developed sense of humor. Make 2010 the year that you commit to more laughing. It doesn’t cost anything and our circumstances provide lot’s of good material.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his consumer education efforts including a long-running radio program, monthly workshop series, public appearances, and frequent articles.

During a career dating back to 1978, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing and commercial and investment property.

Prior to starting his own real estate and mortgage brokerage in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS.

George is a nationally respected authority on all areas of real estate and is frequently quoted in a wide range of publications. He is an oft invited guest of Fox Business Network and for many years, he was the host of “Keepin’ It Real…Real talk about the real thing, real estate” on KCEO radio.

The Real Estate Professional includes him in “a directory of the Nation’s outstanding authors, columnists, and speakers. His articles have also recently appeared in Real Estate Finance, The Real Estate Professional, National Real Estate Investor, Broker Agent News, and Realty Times. His blog is