Here's our very first Reader Profile Update. Many of you asked for this type of post -- a progress report on where past Reader Profile readers are these days financially. I think you'll really enjoy this.
Today's post is from Mark, who gave us his reader profile over two year's ago. Here's his update:
I wanted to tell my bankruptcy story because I think we can sometimes learn more from failure than from success. And I have to admit, I'm getting bored with reading personal profiles on FMF.
I also wanted to talk about my bankruptcy because I think it really demonstrates that wealth building requires a certain amount of intellectual, emotional and psychological fortitude that a lot of people simply don't have. While it can be acquired, I think the posts on FMF demonstrate that people with certain personality types and personal backgrounds are much more likely to acquire and implement this knowledge than others. You'll notice the prevalence of engineer profiles on FMF...I don't think that's a coincidence. Most engineers are the INTJ Myers-Briggs personality type, and this personality type tends to be very good at saving and investing and preliminary case studies suggest INTJs are one of 3 personality types likely to retire early and be happy with the decision. See this link for details. http://www.retireearlyhomepage.com/mbti.html
For the record, I am also INTJ. For those of you who don't know about the Myers-Briggs personality types, you can read about them here.
And you can take the test here.
My original profile appeared on this blog on 4/26/11 and I'm happy to report I continue to make progress saving & investing.
I would say the seeds of my bankruptcy were sown when I moved more than 2000 miles away from home to go to college. The primary motivation for going to college out of state was that I knew I was gay and I wanted to do my own thing (on my parents' dime of course!) without them knowing about it. I also grew up in a cold winter climate and it was nice to move somewhere with warm weather! So, as you can see, I had some pretty unrealistic expectations / motivations / issues right from the start.
Within 6 months, I met an older guy who seemed to have answers to a lot of the spiritual aspects of life that I was curious about and we ended up moving in together, motivated largely by the fact that he'd lost his job and was living with a kinda trashy roommate. (Red flag right there, I know). Toward the end of my first year of college, my parents had found out I was gay and about a month later they discovered I was living with a guy who was ~ 20 years older than me and they flipped out (This was the late '80s and his voice was on my answering machine....DUH...I know). Long story short, they were still kinda freaked out that I was gay, and when they found out I was living with some guy 20 years older than me it put them over the edge. Drama ensued and they cut me off financially.
I got a job and went to school part time. He had just started his own business that had a lot of ups and downs that he didn't know how to deal with. I was freaked out because my income wasn't enough to support myself, let alone him and I was trying to get through school. After about 1.5 years he ended up getting in over his head with business and personal expenses he couldn't pay, we ended up putting his business in my name. I know. Horrible idea. I went along with his "It'll be different this time" line of thinking out of fear, I think. I didn't feel like I had any better options at the time. That may not have been true, but as the saying goes, perception is reality. By the time I was 21 years old, about three years after we met, we both ended up declaring bankruptcy, primarily because of overwhelming business and personal expenses we just couldn't pay.
In general, there was a lot of tension because I was more of a saver and he was a spender. He would do stuff like go out to eat even though we didn't know where the rent money was going to come from. This would infuriate me, but for him this "coming from behind" way of operating was actually his comfort zone. We had VERY different ideas about what financial stability looked like. He grew up in a large family and basically had a hand to mouth existence. I grew up comfortably middle class with parents who are like most of the FMF profiles here. Lived below their means, paid cash for modest cars, paid the house off early. Saved inside and outside their 401ks (when they became more widely available in the early 1980s). I really had NO CLUE that most people didn't live the way my parents did. My mom used to say back in the 1980s "In any given neighborhood half the people can afford to live there and the other half can't". Unfortunately, as the 2008 financial crisis proved, she was right. (I think by 2008, it was more like 2/3 of the people couldn't afford their lifestyles, as Jean Chatzky's research for her 2008 book The Difference showed that 69% of Americans were either going further in debt or were living payday to payday). So my ex and I had completely different internal financial scripts that we went by....but our different scripts were only one small part of the problem.
I came to realize in the next 20 years the reason for that. He had been sexually abused as a child by several older brothers (who, in turn, had also been molested....this is what the cycle of abuse often looks like). He had mentioned this to me when we were together that he had some memories of this, but I had absolutely no idea of any of the implications. My ex recently went to a very good psychologist and recovered a lot more memories. It turns out the abuse was much more extensive than he initially remembered and that there was both physical and sexual abuse. It turns out that people who experience this kind of childhood trauma often repress their memories as a defense mechanism.
One of the big traits my ex had as a result of the childhood abuse was he had a hard time with ANY kind of stability...As soon as things start going on a comfortable "cruising" altitude, someone or something would come along to crash the plane. This type of thing is very common with those who were sexually abused as children. Stability is actually very uncomfortable for them. They can't handle it, so they sabotage themselves so that they're always coming from behind. Always putting in lots of effort and making great strides, but never getting anywhere.
People who suffer childhood sexual abuse often attract abusive people in their lives (Employers, "friends", and acquaintances take advantage of them financially and otherwise). They tend to have a HUGE issue with feeling they don't deserve anything. Sometimes they try to cover this up by overcompensating and being super positive on the surface...but underneath it all, they feel they are bad people and are unworthy of anything. They put themselves in positions to be taken advantage of over and over again. My ex had started his own business as the result of being in an abusive employment situation. (Yet another red flag that I didn't see at the time).
I lived through this for 6 years without really understanding the abuse aspect of it at all even though the signs were there. For example, when we first met, he told me he had 2 ex wives who had been killed by ex boyfriends...2 more red flags to add to the collection. (Of course, the whole gay and being married thing is a whole other weird dynamic...but suffice it to say it's still much more common than many folks want to admit). Prior to meeting me, he had also been in a few abusive relationships with other men. It wasn't until recently that I fully understood why my ex got into those self destructive financial and relationship dynamics. He would be fine...and then BOOM, he'd be depressed for no reason and his business would start falling apart. I would get angry and upset, which would only add fuel to the fire. It was all very bewildering and frustrating.
Now, here was my end of it:
- I was a little too comfortable and had unrealistic expectations of life. In my ex's terms, I was a "rich kid". He was mostly right on that point.
- I had a fear of driving so I did not drive, which severely limited the kinds of jobs I could work.
- I was not a very confident person (still am not particularly, but much better than I used to be).
- I think being gay definitely put me at a disadvantage in many ways. Primarily because I didn't have a good relationship with my dad. Therefore, I didn't get the career coaching and guidance that I would've if we'd had a better relationship.
- There was also just a lot of fear going on. I think I had a general fear of men from being bullied at school (I'm stereotypically gay)...so I shied away from male dominated professions that might pay more. That also went back to my dad. My dad was in business, and I (subconsciously) chose a liberal arts type major partly because I didn't want to be anything like my dad.
- I also didn't get good relationship guidance because I lived far away from my parents and everything was colored by the gay issue on both sides. My parents didn't really like my ex. They knew something was odd about him, although they didn't get to the core of what was wrong (which was the childhood sexual abuse). My ex did fulfill a parental role for me in many ways. He was a good mentor in many ways, but because he was emotionally damaged himself, there were many things he just could not help with.
- I am an introvert, so I wasn't good at reaching out to other people in terms of friends or job networking. I was really socially clueless for a long time. I gradually got better...but I really didn't get completely clued in until I was in my mid 30s. I think my ex tried to help me with this...but I wasn't a good listener and I think maybe his approach wasn't the best and was tainted by his own insecurities. I think because he often got the short end of the stick in business and personal relationships, I didn't take his advice seriously.
The results so far:
- I patched things up with my parents. I learned how to drive. I graduated from college. I wasted a semester on grad school before I realized I was just going because I didn't know what to do with my life. I finally found a direction and got employment that paid me enough to survive. When I was 24, we broke up, and I moved out, but stayed friends with my ex.
- I don't make a lot of money, but I'm in pretty good shape financially (see my 4/26/11 profile). My income took a hit due to across the board pay cuts in my public sector job, but my net worth has grown significantly since my original post and I've managed to save the same amount toward retirement.
- After we broke up, my ex subsequently got in a few more abusive relationships with other guys. One guy in particular, was really bad news. However, after the really bad guy, he did have a very stable period with one nice guy for 5 years before they broke up a few years ago.
- My ex, is now in his early 60s, is in poor health (diabetes and kidney disease) and is just getting by financially with minimal or no savings. We've remained friends but he lives in a different state. I worry about him even though he tells me not to. I don't think I could let him end up on the street if a medical or other emergency were to occur. At this point, I think it's too late for him to dramatically improve his financial situation, although some marginal improvement might be possible. If anyone has any advice about what to do with someone in this situation, I'm all ears!!!! Yes, I know I'm not responsible, but if it comes to that, it's tough to let people you care about end up on the street or at the whims of government bureaucracies.
Over the years, especially the last year or two, I have learned A LOT about childhood trauma and how it affects people's financial and relationship decisions. The short version of this is that financial success absolutely requires a certain level of emotional intelligence that most people don't have. Sometimes I think blogs like this really miss that point. We need to really understand that the history of humanity is the history of trauma and abuse. Think of all the wars going on throughout the world in the last 100 years.
I am absolutely convinced that until we can learn to heal people and ourselves from the emotional traumas that are much more common than is currently recognized, we can't help them financially. The hard part is that I'm not sure modern psychology/psychiatry really knows how to heal people--at least not fully. We must understand that the human race has progressed much faster technologically than it has emotionally. Fortunately, most of us don't have severe abuse in our childhoods, so the emotional blocks (and we all have them in varying degrees) can be more easily overcome. But it's absolutely essential that people take the time to understand the underlying motivations for their behavior. Those motivations are not always evident on the surface level, as I think my piece has clearly demonstrated.