In 1990, my wife and I filed bankruptcy. We kept the secret for almost 10 years and never talked about it publicly. I felt like a failure. It was painful and embarrassing and, though there were many factors that lead up to that event, it still causes a deep internal ache to talk about it. But we found, as you will, that keeping the secret was worse than being honest about what happened.
The first “outsider” I ever told about my bankruptcy was Mike Kidwell. I met Mike a couple of years after filing, when we both worked at IBM. I feel truly blessed that we met and were able to share our dreams and goals with each other. Our common dream to help people overcome the pain of money troubles has developed a strong bond between us.
One day while we were at work, I felt I had to share my secret with Mike. I told him I needed to tell him something and asked him to follow me.
We went through three levels of security doors, going deeper into the heart of the building until we were finally in the mainframe room. There were a couple of glass walls through which people could see us talking, but no one could hear us because the noise in the room drowned out our conversation. I’m sure, as they saw us standing there, it seemed like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as HAL, the computer, watches the guys trying to have a private conversation in the pod. I was even worried that someone might be able to read my lips. I know it sounds ridiculous now.
I nervously told Mike my secret and it didn’t faze him a bit. What a guy. Years later, I told others. I just told you and I didn’t even need to. Since it’s no longer a matter of public record, you never would have known about my greatest financial failure. It is also the source of my inner strength. From that pain and financial devastation I was able to go on to help others. God gave me a doctorate in financial defeat. And as strange as it may sound today, I’m grateful for the blessing. God, if you are listening right now, I learned that lesson and don’t need a refresher.
Once I stopped worrying about how others might judge me, it gave me a freedom in life to stop hiding behind what might be and live in the now. It got tiring carrying around all that baggage. Once my wife and I atoned for our financial sins, it gave us even more comfort and freedom than we’d ever had. It was a huge milestone on the way to internal
That is how my greatest failure became my greatest gift. I found that about 1.5 million people also face bankruptcy every year. Many face uncertainty and stress over financial problems. I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and search for a better way to deal with financial troubles so I don’t end up making the same mistakes twice. I resolved to help others by sharing what I learned. Now you don’t have to hit a brick wall without an air bag, like I did.
Even now, after a period of prolonged economic prosperity, our country is packed with people who lack confidence, feel lonely and unhappy, and are trying to have more and more “stuff” because they think the stuff will make them confident, secure and loved.
The prevailing core belief appears to be that material wealth is the key to happiness. Ironically, people who believe that will probably never be able to achieve their dream of being wealthy because they are constantly feeding the emptiness they feel inside with money. They use money as a drug. As one client told me, “Shopping is my heroin and Discover Card my needle.” Their lives are painful and frustrating, so they pledge the money they have and the money they don’t have (credit) to the purchase of stuff they believe will dull the pain within. As they do this, the money they actually have slips through their fingers, gone forever.
So what is the secret to happiness if it isn’t money? Well, I’m not the Dalai Lama, I’m just a guy who’s been there. I’ve made mistakes and gained a lot of wisdom along the way. And, I’ve been fortunate to be able to use that wisdom to help a lot of people have more money, appreciate the money they have and lead better lives. One of the core reasons why their lives become more rewarding is because now they “get it” and a lot of the “it” is packed into this book.
I encourage you to abuse this book. Highlight passages that strike you. Underline sentences that speak directly to you and dog-ear pages you want to find again. Make it a true reference work for you as you discover your path to the rewarding life you deserve.
This book contains the skills necessary for you to begin to live a life of happiness, fulfillment, joy and wealth. It’s what you are looking for, and the basic tools are all right here.
When you decide to dig into your money issues, what you might find is that you’ve been stuck and confused about what to do. Of course, what makes it more painful is the perception that somehow you were a victim of circumstances beyond your control and took no action to remedy the situation.
It’s hard for people to be honest with themselves when they are struggling with money issues, or at any other time, for that matter. People often feel an almost overwhelming urge to hunt for the “perpetrator” of their difficulty. There is so much blame being spread around in bad times that people sometimes forget to point at themselves. People don’t want their inner critic to begin shouting at them about how stupid they are, and on and on.
First, let’s take a healthy approach to the situation and put duct tape over your inner critic’s mouth. Your inner critic is that voice inside your head that is quick to tell you when you’ve screwed up. There is a helpful time for your inner critic to speak, and then there is now.
I was about 10 years old and visiting relatives in Vermont when I learned an important life lesson. It was one of those perfect summer days when the wind was just gently moving, the temperature was perfect, the sky was deep blue and not a bug was in sight. My uncle Ralph asked me if I wanted togo with him to see a local baseball team and, being the baseball fan that I was, I jumped at the chance.
I think it was a high school team playing that day. We arrived late and grabbed the last two seats in the wooden bleachers. I always have fond memories of wooden bleachers; the aluminum ones of today are just not as satisfying. I mean, not only are they cold on your tush on a winter night, but they are noisy as heck as people tramp across them.
Anyway, we sat about two rows up from the bottom on the third base side. We grabbed the last couple of spots on the side of the bleachers farthest from home plate.
We had been there about 10 minutes, just long enough for me to see who was winning. This blond-headed guy got up to bat. I remember the pitch and swing in slow motion. The pitch was straight down the pipe, from my vantage point, and the swing was like you see on top of a trophy. He took a mighty pass at the ball and almost missed. His timing was just a bit off, but he got a piece of it late in the swing. I heard the “swack” and watched the ball screaming like a bullet down the third base line. Then everything went silent. At that point it was just me and the ball. Out of my peripheral vision I saw people leaning back to avoid getting hit. I watched the ball come flying right toward me like a smart bomb.
The ball slid past the crowd in the bleachers and hit me square in the side of the head. It hit me so hard that it knocked me out of the bleachers and face first onto the grass.
Thank goodness for the grass. I don’t remember whatever happened to that ball, but boy was I upset at it, though it wasn’t the ball’s fault.
The silly part is that I saw the ball coming, but I was paralyzed. Maybe I didn’t know what to do, or maybe I just didn’t have enough experience to know what was going to happen. All I do know is I watched the whole thing: I saw the ball coming and it hit me in the head and knocked me out of the stands.
The story has a happy ending. I didn’t lose consciousness, there wasn’t any blood and I think I got free popcorn out of the deal. I also got to meet the batter after he ran over to see how I was doing. I think he just wanted to see if he had killed me. More than three and a half decades later, I’m sure he’s still telling his buddies about the day he clean knocked this kid out of the stands.
I watch many people with money problems and issues behave exactly the way I did that day at the ball game. They are inexperienced, unsure of exactly what to do and rather than take some evasive action, they get hit square in the head with the problem.
Almost all people who are facing financial problems are on the creditor safari. They are on the hunt for the person or persons who got them into the situation they are in right now. The honest answer is that you are probably the most to blame for what you are going through. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but unless someone put a gun to your head and made you sign for all that credit, you don’t have a leg to stand on. OK, some people get fooled or even lied to when they sign for credit, but in my experience that very rarely occurs. For the most part, life just happens and we let it happen to us.
For many years I worked in the medical field. One day I decided to pursue my dream, which was to sell real estate, and left. I started my own company, The Great Virginia Land Company. I thought it would be really cool to work outside all day long, walking through the country, enjoying nature and making a living at the same time. I bought and sold country acreage. When I sold property I wanted to make very sure that the people clearly understood the contract they were about to sign, which included financing. At first, I would read the contract with them, explain every detail and be available to answer any questions they had. Their eyes typically glazed over by the third paragraph.
That approach wasn’t working, so I made myself available as they read the contract to answer any questions they had. Nobody asked questions. They just wanted to know where to sign. I even asked them questions to make sure they had read the contract. Most were put off by my inquisition. Finally, they trained me just to hand them the contract.
They would look up and before they could say anything, I’d say, “Here,” and point to the signature line. They would look up again and I’d say, “Here,” and hand them a pen.
I used to get excited when I thought someone was going to ask a question about the financing. I wanted to explain it all to them, but finally I was beaten into submission by the public’s lack of concern about the contract or financing. The prevailing question never was about the total cost, instead it was always, “What will my monthly payment be?” They didn’t want to be bothered to actually read or understand the damn thing. They just wanted what they perceived to be the benefit once they signed the contract.
One day I sold 14 pieces of property at one time. There were so many people who wanted to purchase property from me that I passed out blank contracts, stood on the trunk of my car and shouted out instructions on how to fill in the blanks. The purchasers all gathered around as if they were at a concert in the park. “In the first blank, put today’s date.” It was insane, but I could not stop the frenzied action. If I had not done it that way, it is very possible that I could have been physically injured. People would get in such a tizzy if they could not sign the contract as quickly as possible.
It was frightening at times. One day, two people wanted to buy the same piece of property. One person made the decision to buy it first, and the other said he was going to kill me with the gun in the back window of his truck. I decided it would be a good time to leave, so I calmly walked to the car, jumped in and turned the ignition. Trust me, “wrrrwrrwr” is not the kind of sound you want to hear at a moment like this. The battery was dead and I didn’t want to be.
So what did I learn from my experience? I learned people don’t like to see snakes when they are out walking in the country, and they aren’t that interested in understanding consumer credit transactions.
Inevitably, if a problem ever arose after the transaction took place, the perception was always that the purchaser was the victim, even when the terms were clearly spelled out in the contract that they refused to read.
The same is true for almost all consumer credit transactions. People don’t read the agreements they sign and if they do, they will not, or do not, ask questions. Even if they do ask a question and are a little troubled by the answer, the vast majority of people will sign the agreement anyway, as long as they get what they want when they do sign it.
To develop a foundation for internal prosperity and external wealth, you cannot sit idly by and watch your life pass before you. You have to participate; otherwise you get what’s left over. You must summon up the courage to assume responsibility for your life and while you’re at it, you’ll avoid getting hit in the head. The thought of looking inward, focusing on building internal prosperity — the inner disposition, traits and skills necessary to make you happy — is an uncomfortable thought for many people. How fortunate you are that you are willing to find a way not only to have enough money to make you wealthy, but also to pursue the admirable goal of finding your path to a rich and rewarding emotional, spiritual and financial life.
This book will help you find the answers you are looking for. Yes, it is possible to make enough money to be happy. Yes, you can be proud of yourself, your life and your accomplishments. Yes, there is a better way.
The majority of people I help have spent their lives chasing a dream of wealth and ended up with the opposite of wealth, massive debt and lost opportunity. They slave at jobs they don’t like and hope for a life of luxury and happiness that will be brought about by more money. “If only I could work harder.” “If only my spouse would leave me alone so I could focus.” “Kids, shut up!” It is a shallow, sad and empty dream. It’s a dream created by the perception or belief that life would be better with more money. It is not real.
For some people, more money is definitely a blessing, but would it help bring them closer to living their dream of being “rich?” What about lottery winners who blow through their good fortune? I saw one couple as clients who won big amounts on the lottery scratch-off cards, only to blow through it and be left worse off than ever. Money alone clearly was not the secret to their happiness. Their lottery winnings became a big burden for them. They now had a string of moochers at the door, a bunch of stuff they had to take care of like homes, cars and boats. Another thing they never anticipated was that they had even fewer skills when they had to re-enter the job market later because they had essentially taken a couple of years of vacation. Money made them wealthy but not wise. Not knowing how to handle it made them ultimately less satisfied with life.
Working with people like the big lottery winners has made me think a lot about money and happiness and how they fit together.
The information in this book was gathered in part through my own experience and from working with so many people with financial problems. It’s frustrating to see people suffering and not many folks available who understand why. When I share my message with financial professionals, attorneys, social workers, therapists and others, I can see the light bulb go on and they usually say, “People need to know what you know. I haven’t met anyone else who has put the puzzle together. You’ve really got answers.”
Over the years, I’ve read so much written by financial pundits and interviewed many of them on my radio show, and now I’m convinced that while they may understand the technical side of money issues, they don’t understand the emotional side. They get it wrong because they don’t understand that money problems are not about the money and that makes it hard for them to point people back to the path to happiness. It’s kind of like sitting in the bleachers with me way back when. Think of your financial issues as that rocket ball that launched off that bat. You see the problems coming, but you don’t know what to do. “Swack” straight to the head and out of the stands you go, face first into the dirt. There is a better way.
I wrote this book to introduce you to the principles I have learned over the years to help you create a better relationship with money and make you happier and more satisfied with your life. It will keep you in the stands. You might even get box seats. Did someone say hot dogs?
There is no reason why you can’t use your own past experiences to help you excel in the future. Rather than run from the times you made a mistake, relive them to extract the essence of wisdom and maybe give yourself a good laugh. The ability to laugh at ourselves is important to lightening our heavy load in life. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Relax. If you are having trouble relaxing, here are a couple of quick relaxation exercises.
Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
Chapter 1 – I Got Hit in the Head With a Baseball and I Saw it Coming
Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
Chapter 3 – Take a Lap on the Gerbil Wheel of Debt
Chapter 4 – Why Money Doesn’t Make You Happy
Chapter 5 – If You Had a Million Rats, Would You be Successful?
Chapter 6 – The 10 Attributes of Internal Prosperity
Chapter 7 – The Attributes of Internal Prosperity in Action
Chapter 8 – Your Money is Your Friend
Conclusion – Listen to Your Heart