Falling into the Safety Net

It’s been three months since my last update.

My last post occurred right when COVID-19 began hitting the U.S. pretty hard. At the time, it seemed like I was about to get K.O.’d (knocked out). My head was spinning, my body aching and my emotions exploding out of control. As I stated then,  it felt like I was in free-fall. Looking back, that was definitely the correct interpretation of my state of affairs in mid-March.

The last few months will prove an interesting period of time for most people. Many people were hurt. Millions got sick. Loved ones died, alone. On CNBC, one of the commentators broke down in tears due to the inability to be with his aging mother on her 80th birthday. Many lost income. Some permanently lost their jobs. Some had to let go of their businesses, often-time enterprises that have been around for many decades. A few businesses were looted. Retirement accounts suddenly evaporated. Racial tensions flared. The wealthy hid while the less fortunate protested. At the minimum, every person lost a bit of their personal independence.

On the inverse, many recovered. The coronavirus was largely contained. Families are coming back together with hugs and tear-filled eyes. People are slowly getting back to work. Support was significant. This safety net saved many peoples’ lives from a financial standpoint. One may not always agree with our politicians, yet, it’s difficult to say that they didn’t act decisively to accommodate. Further measures are in the works for those who lost everything. Important issues appeared in the spotlight center stage. All of us were forced to take a position, to understand, and to begin to care. It got very dark but the dawn has arrived. Summer has arrived pushing out the cold winds of winter. I can’t help to think about Chance the Gardner’s great quote from the movie “Being There“.

“In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

For me, the lock-down was difficult but probably a bit better than for most. I feel like I have been in lock-down for a full-year now. Since June 2019, I’ve been in what seems like a perpetual “clean up” mode. I’ve made no money outside of unemployment. I’ve been unable to find any income for my LLC. COVID has not been kind to sourcing any type of income. My job search has returned zero results. So, with no income, I can’t buy much of anything. Going out was ruled out anyway. Also, it’s been 11 months since I drank, so there is no need for me to miss bars.

In March and April, I felt I was in a bad place. Negativity completely took over. I had finally begun getting some traction in selling my apartment in NYC after re-listing it in February. I received a couple offers and just needed to get one up a little. Then COVID hit and took all the momentum away. Suddenly, the most draconian scenario of the already worst scenario was a reality — I’d be stuck with an empty, unsold apartment in NYC during a recession. Additionally, my wife’s new job began to already appear shaky as the university she works for began laying people off, freezing pay, and warning of more to come. I was hit with some unexpected expenses. All-in-all, I could not believe the bad luck that I was drowning in. Insomnia took hold. I’d sleep a few hours a couple nights in a row then have a 12 hour night due to exhaustion.

Due to the depression, anxiety and insomnia, I began to see my therapist more often. I read a lot about mental health. I began practices some of the exercises that seemed to help other depressed, long-term unemployed. One of these exercises was to go through all the major stages of life including schools, jobs, long trips, etc. and list out all the people who you shared these experiences with. Once everyone was listed, I then thought through each one in terms of (1) how is our relationship today, (2) how would they describe me in a couple minutes to a stranger, (3) why they felt the way they did and (4) categorize these people into the three buckets, true friend to keep, ok friend to keep at bay, and person to write off.

At first, this exercise was time consuming and painful. Eventually, it became interesting. After hours of working on it, I began to learn a lot about myself. It has proven one of the most important exercises of my life. It made me think about people and experiences that I had not thought about for years, in some instances, decades. It made me understand what worked for me in the past and what didn’t. It gave me a wealth of historical data points to use as the basis of my go-forward decisions, especially in selecting friends and choosing career pursuits.

This exercise also led me to look up people from the past. The people who were good friends that I lost touch with, I reached out to. This led to a series of good conversations. One in particular was very important — another late-40’s portfolio manager who also blew up around the time I did. Speaking to him, it seemed we were living parallel lives. We had the same frustrations and hope. It was probably the best conversation I had in years. I hung up the phone not feeling alone anymore, which has proven important. Other conversations with former peer portfolio managers were reassuring as well. The older ones all seemed to be having issues. 

This exercise also led to me researching how certain peoples’ lives turned out. In a few circumstances, I even looked up people’s homes to get a better visual image of their life. I could see on Linkedin and Facebook how their careers progressed. My main takeaways are as follows: 

  • People who were truly talented at their jobs and had charismatic personalities continue to do really well in their careers. Most are at the same employers and have become group heads and other key positions. They seem to live great lives on the surface, as they should. They found their purpose in life.
  • People who seemed pretty good but not excellent generally did ok but seemed to hit a rough patch at some point. They eventually transferred from marquee employers to lesser respected employers. In some cases, you could detect a gap on their resumes meaning they either quit and searched for a new job or were let go.
  • People who were not a great fit for their jobs bounced around a lot. Lots of 1 – 3-year positions and a general trend of lesser-known / smaller employers. Some of the Wall Streeters in this position had long gaps in their resume then re-surfaced in different industries altogether – they “re-invented” themselves. A couple went the government route. I even saw a couple people return to school. The rest seem to be returning back over and over for a second bite of the apple.

On this last note is worth expanding on, i.e. the people continuously returning back to the same career for which they don’t seem to fit. Once unemployed, society has this way to pressure you to “just get back at it” irrespective of your true skills and interests. The disrespect, frustration, and sheer panic of unemployment tempts me daily to just try to “jump back in”.

I think about this EVERY SINGLE DAY Just work my butt off to find some crap job back in an industry I have experience in. This would give me some income, stop the wealth bleed and maybe offer a surprise that I’m better at this line of work than I had previously believed (imposture syndrome has taken hold). These people obviously hate this same feeling and accept cognitive dissonance to return back to something they just are not good at. Some people seem to have managed to kick the can down the road for 20 years by accepting a long string of crappy positions, sometimes going back to former employers (the “devil they already know”) for a short period of time. This just seems like a regret-filled way to live life. Although tempted and pressured by society to do this, I plain refuse. I just can’t.

All these exercises along with lots of reading have helped me gain better self-awareness. It helped me put a giant “X” through certain paths so that I don’t need to ever invest any more time into them.  This was a key albeit non-obvious step in my long journey to clean up my life. I highly recommend it to anyone going through a mid-life crisis or similar predicament.

During COVID, I experienced some positive changes. I traveled to such a bad place that I began seeing my therapist more regularly. He was worried about my darkness. Eventually, I agreed to try out different cocktails of medications including anti-depressants and ADHD medications. After a couple weeks, my spirits rose and I was better able to clean up my mental mess. I hate the thought that this is “synthetic” happiness, however, I was quickly falling and needed a safety net. The prescriptions offered this.

Since beginning “the cocktail”, I’ve been able to finally begin getting all my financial affairs in pristine order. I set up a better daily schedule. I have begun to wake up at the same time every morning and go to sleep at the same time at night. At 9pm, I’ve learned to put all pens down and watch good binge-worthy t.v. with my wife for two hours. Along with some anti-anxiety herbs, this has helped calm my mind before I go to sleep. It also helped my marriage. A few months ago, I would have never thought anti-depressant pills and Netflix would be my cures for depression and insomnia but, they are.

Now I am finally on a better route. Like the stock market retreating off the March 23 lows, it feels I also rebounded off my March lows. My hope has risen. I definitely feel like the worst is now behind me. I actually look forward to the challenges of selling my NYC apt and getting income into my LLC shell. I’ve also decided to eliminate most of the time I’m putting into news and other daily readings and instead re-direct this time towards studies, especially around investing. I’ve even figured out a way to perhaps make some income by studying great investors. More to come. So, in all, I can’t say I’ve had a lot of positive progress but the flame of hope has been re-lit. I think more good news will come this year.


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