Financial Failure on the Path to Success

When I was 15 years old, I got my first job. And for the next 10+ years, I held a “job” because it’s what I thought was the right thing to do. But let me go back and give you a little more background into my childhood. My parents both were raised in poverty. Like well below the poverty line in that time period. They had very very minimal clothing for school, almost didn’t have enough to eat at dinner sometimes, and had large families that had to learn to get by on whatever they could. It was a challenge that has stayed with them their entire lives. So, their decision was to raise me to never go without. My mom vowed that I would always be able to participate in whatever sport I wanted, have plenty of clothes, always have pretty much whatever I wanted in the way of toys, etc. And knowing that she couldn’t do that with more than one child, it was decided I would be the only child in my family. 

And that is an accurate depiction of my childhood… I had more than I could ever want. Other kids lusted after my toys and parents would comment that I was “spoiled.” My collection of Barbies was pretty much unmatched. As I got older, my parents purchased my first car, paid for my cell phone, health insurance, car insurance, clothes, and all the things that a high school girl wants. In pretty much every occasion where I asked for money for something or another, I was handed it without a second thought. Even after age 15 when I got my first job, I still basically got what I wanted. I spent my money on whatever I wanted and then still got money from my parents.

I know. I know. Perfect childhood by every sense of the word, right?

When I met my husband at age 18, we pretty much were inseparable from that point on. We dated for 2 1/2 years, and were married when I was 20. Right after getting married, we moved an hour and a half away from our parents for my husband to accept his dream job and start our lives together. It was bliss in every way (except for where we were stuck moving to, but that’s a story for another day). We did what a lot of married couples do; got excited about our dual income household, not to mention we lived somewhere with ridiculously cheap rent and my husband’s new job was a significant raise from what he had been making, so we felt and acted like we hit the lottery. We had two car payments, credit cards, student loans, etc. When we wanted something, we bought it on credit. I was never raised to have patience and earn anything. My husband was raised to think that if you could afford the payment, then you could afford what you were purchasing, so many of our purchase decisions were made by adding up our monthly payments and if they didn’t equal more than our monthly income, we could “afford” it.

Clearly, getting a job at 15 taught me that work earns money, but because I never had to “go without” or save for things I wanted, it didn’t sink in like it should have.

When I say we made all the dumb decisions possible, we really did. We rolled negative equity into new cars so many times I lost count. We had more brand new cars in our marriage than years we had been married. We bought a house with no money down and definitely were in over our heads in house, and we still didn’t stop there. We bought yet another new truck, and a new trailer, and financed all our landscaping for the house, bought new furniture, stereo systems, computers… everything you need for a new house, right? (I hope you can hear my sarcasm…need. Clearly, we hadn’t yet learned needs from wants.) Except, we didn’t pay cash for any of it. One day we woke up and realized that we had all these nice things - especially the truck and trailer - and couldn’t do anything, because we were strapped so tight financially. 

The real break down came when I lost not 1, not 2, but 3 jobs… in a row. I was fired from the first two. The third I was on the verge of being fired because of lack of communication on my part between my boss and myself and some major issues came up. Ultimately, he never said I was actually fired, but him changing my access passwords and asking me to leave my keys communicated that quite well.

We realized just how reliant we were on two incomes and I felt a HUGE sense of guilt because I “couldn’t hold down a job.” I was raised to believe that the only way to make money was with a job - and hopefully one that paid decently. I felt like a massive let down to my husband who was working diligently to try to keep us afloat. I submitted for unemployment with each job loss. I can’t even put into words the amount of shame I felt as I walked into the unemployment office for an appointment. 

How did I get here? I was raised by two very hard working parents, married the most amazing hard working man. I’m incredibly smart and talented (though I’m not sure I actually believed either of those things at the time). But here I am - 25 years old and I have been let go from three jobs in a row. While all of this was happening, I was desperately trying to get my photography business off the ground. And a few short months after the loss of my 3rd job, my husband found out that we had been approved for the transfer request with his job and we would be moving 300 miles away!

It was exciting but terrifying, because now, just as soon as I was starting to make some progress toward making real money in my business, I was going to start over yet again. In our attempts to free ourselves of some of the financial burdens we had, we sold our truck and trailer, and a lot of our belongings to try to make some headway towards paying off a lot of our debt. We also made the decision to move out of our home and rent it for the mortgage payment and into a cheaper apartment (we know now that this was NOT a wise idea, but in desperation it felt right and made sense when we looked at monthly numbers). We found a renter and she signed a 2 year lease. Excellent. This plan was going to work. Until it didn’t… Our renter moved out only 7 months into it and we were underwater in the house, but now we knew we were moving and had no choice but to try to sell it. We put it on the market and it didn’t sell or get any traction right away, so we had it appraised and learned that it was worth almost $20k less than what we owed. So, we made the decision to move into short selling the home. By the time this decision was made, we had already moved to southern Utah and were living on one income while I tried to get my business going. We had a $700 car lease payment at the time, $1200 in rent, plus numerous other credit cards - mostly for all the dumb things we bought for the house we had purchased 6 years prior that was now being short sold, including landscaping. And one income wasn’t enough. 

I was unable to find a job and knew deep down in my heart that losing 3 jobs and not being able to find one more was God’s way of telling me to have faith and keep going. But financially, we were forced into filing bankruptcy. The B word - that has the capability of shaming a person like they’ve never been shamed before. Growing up my parents had some good friends that had filed [Bankruptcy] several times and my parents would always talk about how it was a “cop out” and “the easy way out”. A way of not dealing with the mess you’ve created. How could my husband and I be the ones facing this? Was this a cop out? Were we shirking the responsibility of cleaning up our own mess? Was it even possible for us to clean it up?

We learned during filing all the paperwork and talking with the attorney that we would have to voluntarily repossess the only car we had (aside from my husband’s work vehicle); the one with the $700 payment. Having never been in that situation before, we asked for advice about how to get another car. Surely, after filing bankruptcy we would not be able to get a loan and in order to file the bankruptcy, we would have no money, because either you have to spend down your accounts or give it up in the bankruptcy. Our attorney advised us that before we filed, we could go get a loan on a different car and reaffirm that car in the bankruptcy. So we tried it to no avail. Our mortgage had been behind for too many months because of the short sale and they wouldn’t approve us for the car loan. So, we took my husband’s parents up on their offer to sign for a new car for us… again… brand new car. The bankruptcy hadn’t yet been painful enough for us, apparently. And God really needed us to learn this lesson good. The car was purchased, the bankruptcy was filed and before it was discharged, we received a phone call from my husband’s parents telling us that we had to get the car out of their names because they were in the process of purchasing a new home. My parents stepped up and paid off the car so that we could get the title and sell it and then purchase a new car that was cheaper and pay them off for the new car. 

This all happened about 2 years ago. While one would think that filing bankruptcy would mean you are debt free - it didn’t mean that for us. We still had to scratch and claw at this final debt for 17 months until we owned the car. For the first time in our 13 years together, we don’t have any debt. We have money in savings, we are contributing to a charitable giving fund, my business is growing at a pace I never could have imagined two years ago when we were right smack in the middle of this nightmare. I can say in hindsight, with complete certainty, that the amount of pain you feel at some points in your life is directly equal to the amount of abundance and joy you feel at others. Life is a perfect polarity in so many ways. That is precisely what makes it so beautiful.

Counteracting shame is no easy task. Anyone who has attempted it will know this. But, it can be done by choosing honor, pride and respect. I chose to honor the mistakes we had made and honor the challenges that were dealt to us specifically for us to learn from. I’m a huge believer that you will only be dealt what you can handle, and that often the hardest part is actually having the faith that you can handle it. It’s taken some time, but I am proud of our choices and the timing in which we made them, because on the other side of these compounded struggles, we are better people. We live very differently and we see life for what it is. Respect was the challenging one for me. It is impossible to have respect when you are shaming yourself. At times, I still find myself feeling shameful of what we had been through, but when I can have respect for all of what we learned and the fact that we owned our choices and changed our lives through it, and we made the choice that we will not walk that path again, I no longer feel shameful. I feel proud of stepping up, accepting responsibility and choosing a different path for our future.

I’ve learned more lessons through this experience than I can even count, but perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: you are important, you are a gift, and you are here for a reason. Your pain will not be for naught. Faith is the most important tool to carry you on the walk to success, and in the times when you feel like you just don’t have any faith left, falling to your knees in crying prayer will carry you through. Accepting responsibility for what we had created, even though at times I felt like I created it singlehandedly, was probably the most painful part of our journey, and ironically though not surprisingly, it is what freed us. We made the choice that we would NEVER walk that path again. We made the choice that we would take control of our money and give it as much positive energy as we could muster up when times were hard. That positive energy is the reason our bank account has grown to what it is today.

If you find yourself facing any of the same struggles that I have, please know you aren’t alone. There are resources to support you and help you understand that you aren’t a failure simply because your life took a different path than you expected. In fact, learning to embrace the changes in those life paths is often what leads you to the greatest experiences your life may have to offer. If I can leave you with just one takeaway, it is to have faith, honor, pride, and respect for yourself. You are on the path to greatness and you are never to forget that!