How I Crawled Out of Financial Hell

How Bad Do You Want It?

We live in an age of hyperbole and social media and crying Jordan memes. Everything is either the greatest thing of all time, or complete trash. I bring this up only to emphasize how dead serious I am about the following statement “a 6 minute YouTube video in 2011 changed my life forever”.

2011: Setting the Scene

Burnt Out

To back up, what, on its face reads like an incredibly hyperbolic statement, let me set the context of where my life and my head was at when I saw this video for the first time. In the fall of 2011, I had just burnt out of a rather soul sucking sales job in the financial services industry. It was my first job out of University in 2010, about 18 months after the beginning of the financial crisis so not exactly a hot job market. My role was a “financial advisor”. I apologize if my sarcastic quotes did not sufficiently drive home what a joke the title financial advisor was, so pretend I am saying the words “financial advisor” in Dr. Evil’s voice:

Say It With Me “Financial Advisor”

What exactly did my “financial advising” consist of? Mostly, cold calling people out of the phone book and asking them to buy life insurance. When I wasn’t doing that, the managers at the company were encouraging me to ask every person in my life to invest their retirement and life savings in some shitty, high fee mutual funds. Which is the exact OPPOSITE of what I advocate people do today, which is invest in low cost index funds.

So I was straining every personal relationship in my life, I was getting screamed at by strangers who I was shaming into buying insurance, but at least I was making money… right?

Wrong. The reward for all of this sacrifice, 100% commission, zero salary or benefits, oh, and I was charged “office fees” of $500 per month. Which would be great if I actually had an office and wasn’t sharing a table with 15 other 21 year old “financial advisors”. I was actually one of the “lucky ones” by getting out of there without owing the company any money.

Broke

So I mentioned that I was working a commission job making essentially net zero dollars. At the same time I was carrying $50,000 in student lines of credit at about 6% interest. Less than some, but at the time it felt like I would never pay this debt back.

At the time all this was happening, I was living at my parents’ apartment (remember I was broke) that they could not afford. They were struggling financially themselves. They were real estate agents with no savings operating 18 months after a housing crisis almost took down the global economy. I won’t air out their personal details too much, but I’ll put it this way their financial situation was worse than mine.

Depressed

Needless to say, things were not going well! I felt completely without direction and ashamed of my situation and where I was in life, which was stuck in the mud, putting my foot on the gas and going nowhere. My life was nowhere near matching the self image I once had for myself which was someone capable of handling his own business and lifting up the people around him. I was failing on both fronts. I handled that in a rather unhealthy way: isolating myself from the people closest to me, putting on a show that everything was fine rather than reaching out for support.

This was basically my life on a day to day basis:

An Opportunity Presents Itself

In the fall of 2011 I got a letter in the mail saying I had been accepted, and offered funding to do a Masters in Economics program in Ontario (I was living in Nova Scotia). I felt it as soon as I read the letter: This is the opportunity I have been waiting for. An opportunity to pursue meaningful work with meaningful pay and turn my life and my family’s life around.

There was one small problem, my math was weak and Economics requires a LOT of math. A thought quickly popped into my head, “What if I quit the new job I recently started, accept this enrollment, move halfway across the country… and fail”. The thought was enough to literally send me into a panic attack. I honestly did not believe I would be able to come back from something like that. I had to decide if I was willing to push all my chips into the middle of the table at a time where my self-confidence had never been lower.

When You Want to Succeed as Bad As You Want to Breath

OK! I think we have successfully set the context of my situation:

· Burnt out

· Depressed

· Broke

· Family Broke

· Massive, risky, life changing decision to make

We are at the part where I watch the video that changed me forever. But before I continue, I urge you to watch the video for yourself, so you can fully appreciate the story (and hopefully you get the same rush I did from watching it).

Pretty powerful stuff eh? This video was the perfect cocktail of an amazing motivational speech by Eric Thomas, music that really pulls at the heartstrings from Friday Night Lights, and unbelievably physical feats performed by NCAA star running back Giavanni Ruffin

The next day, I accepted my enrollment into the Masters program and was determined to teach myself the math I needed, and more importantly to turn myself into the person I needed to be to succeed. I can honestly say, “I wanted it as bad as I wanted to breathe”. I spent the next 8 months waking up at 6 AM, running 10 Miles, coming home and teaching myself calculus and brushing up on my statistics for 3 hours, then heading off to work a 2:00–10:00 shift at the bank, working the phones. I was living the “no days off” to the fullest. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to be “ALL IN” and 100% dedicated to achieving an outcome.

Still No Days Off

In case you were wondering I finished my Masters degree with a 3.8 GPA, I am 5 years into my career in public policy, my student debt is paid off, I am about to get married, my fiance and I own a beautiful home and recently bought a second home that my parents now live in (that story has a happy ending too). Put simply: I finally see an alignment between my self-image and my actual life; I am someone who can handle his own business and lift up those around him.

I still wake up every day with the “no days off” attitude. If I ever find myself getting lazy or losing my edge, I watch this video or one of the other dozens of awesome motivational videos, I plan on sharing, and try to remember back to 2011. I remember the feeling of helplessness and despair and I remember how bad I want it, and still want it.

If you enjoyed this story please leave a clap (or 50) it helps a ton!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this video or on similar situations you faced in your life! Let's start a conversation in the comments below.

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Economic policy wonk by day. Personal finance writer by night. I write about investing, debt, and all things related to money. Editor of Making of a Millionaire

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