I tried running for as long as I could. Away from the fear & darkness. But eventually the weight of it all got so heavy I could no longer move forward. And this is when I decided to turn around and finally face it. Once and for all.
I've been virtually MIA online since August 2017. This is in stark contrast to the fact that I was blogging regularly, posting on Instagram & Facebook religiously, as well as going Live (aka video blogging in real time). This was my daily/weekly habit previous to my abrupt disappearance.
So where the hell did I go...?
The short answer is that I went to clean up my personal finances. They were a fuckin' mess. Unpaid taxes. Unfiled taxes from a few years. School loans. And credit card debt.
Here is the long answer:
I came back to finish my Stanford degree in 2013. Instead of paying money I owed for taxes for 2011 & 2012 I decided to defer and make small monthly payments with interest. This way I could keep the cash for living expenses as I wouldn't be working for at least a year. I had my own business so taxes weren't automatically taken out of my monthly income.
Though this strategy worked well initially, it ended up leading me to make things much worse. When it came time to do my taxes for 2013 I pushed them off, sort of feeling that I had gotten away with not paying them in 2011 & 2012. I realize this was untrue as I was still paying on them monthly, but squarely facing your finances can be woefully scary when you have no money coming in.
When I finished up Stanford in 2014 I joined a startup and wasn't making much money for the first year or more. So when it came time to do my taxes for 2014 & 2015 I put them off again & again. I stupidly told myself I would take care of them "later."
Well, later never came. Or rather it did, but I still didn't take care of them. I let it get even worse. Even at the end of 2016, despite making pretty good money, I shied away from getting caught up on my taxes. By this time the shear number of years of taxes I had to clean up scared the hell out of me and I continued to try to hide from them. The mess was too big to even begin.
Plus, it felt so good to finally have money accruing in the bank. In truth, I knew that a good portion of it would need to go towards paying taxes and other debts but I still wasn't ready to face it.
It would have to get worse for me to finally take action.
One day I was looking over my growing finances and noticed that over $20K had been taken out of my business account by the State of California. That sure was a wake-up call!
I started Stanford when I was 20 and took out my first school loan. Fortunately, I qualified for a decent amount of financial aid & scholarship so I didn't have to take out too much money. Unfortunately, despite making some pretty amazing money during my 8-year stint working in Hollywood Nightlife I never paid them off. Although I did a decent job of making the minimum payments I was much more interested in "living the life." Or in other words, the more money I made the more I spent. This is also known as "lifestyle inflation."
15 years later these student loans were still eating away at me financially, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
About 6-months after coming back to Stanford I asked my girlfriend (now fiancé) to move up from LA and join me in Menlo Park, California. This meant leaving her current income and starting over here. I was still finishing school (no income) and to make matters worse, Menlo Park has one of the highest costs of living in the world.
Though we had some money saved we were soon using the credit card more & more to make ends meet. It got bad pretty quick. Soon we were unable to make the minimum payment and had to do what is called "pay over time" where you essentially pay only a part of your minimum payment and defer the rest for later.
The credit card company loves this because it means they get to charge you even more interest on an even higher balance. We took it so far they eventually disallowed us from using pay-over-time. We were sitting on about $24K worth of credit card debt when they cut us off.
SUMMARY OF FINANCIAL MESS AS OF MAY 2017:
- Unpaid taxes from 2011 & 2012
- Unfiled & unpaid taxes from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
- School loans: ~$10K
- Credit card debt: ~$24K
I won't go into details of just how much I owed for all the tax years as I am still new to sharing my personal finances in such a public way, but let's just say it was a lot. Plus I was six years behind!
At this point you may be thinking, "Good god! Who even admits to being so far behind publicly?!"
Answer: a life alchemist who is on a mission to empower people to transform & self-actualize. Who better to be a lantern-bearer in the financial darkness than someone who has spent years crawling around in the muck & the mire, intimately getting to know it, and ultimately discovering the light within.
I'm definitely not the only one who has gotten behind on their finances. And I won't be the last. I believe that by sharing my vulnerability & ultimately my recovery it will provide others an opening to do their own recovery work in this crucial life area.
Being in debt & behind on your finances sucks. It is soul-sucking and it gnaws away at your life. It stains anything good you have going. An ever looming shadow lurking over all that shines. Trust me, I know. I've been carrying around the shame and energetic weight of unfinished taxes since 2011 and I've had debt since 2002. It's only gotten heavier and scarier over the years as I've pushed it to the side to deal with "later."
Well, later finally did come. The shame and accompanying pain become too much to bear. It literally caused me to creatively shutdown. Hence my disappearance as a blogger/vlogger & online force of transformation. How could I encourage others to do their "work" if I was running from my own opportunity to heal, grow & transform?
Deep down I knew that in order to move into the next level of my life I would finally have to clean up my financial mess. It was one of the key messages that was delivered to me during my Vision Quest. Yet, even after the most transformative experience of my life to date I still put it off for a few more months. Instead I took the fire and used it to push myself forward creatively.
Nonetheless, the call to face the darkness eventually became too loud to ignore. So I shut down externally and focused internally. And that's where I've been. Putting in the work to heal & recover.
But even before this I was laying the groundwork. I needed both the internal focus and the pre-work to get through it.
I would love to say that it all happened in a perfectly linear order, but real life isn't that simple. Instead, I had to reach a certain level of pain in addition to having specific awakenings, learnings & experiences occur before it all came together.
In no particular order...
Here are my steps I used to reclaim my financial power:
1. Define your why:
Before I could even begin to tackle this mountain of darkness I had to get clear on my why. Why did I want to get my finances cleaned up?
For me it was pretty simple. I was tired of dragging around this weight. Feeling afraid. Feeling trapped. Feeling powerless.
I wanted to be free & secure. I wanted my power back.
At an even higher level, I wanted personal finance to be one of my strengths so I could inspire others to find their own freedom & power. This would allow me to further deliver upon my personal mission. Once I knew this the next part was to...
2. Share the darkness:
I started with my fiancé. Even though I was afraid she would judge me I knew that I needed to tell someone otherwise I would only continue to fall deeper. I had to admit that I had a problem. You see, shame loves secrets. This is how shame controls us. It keeps us separated, alone, disconnected & powerless. Yet, when we have the courage to share our darkness we realize that those who love us unconditionally don't judge us. Instead they embrace us. My fiancé listened compassionately, she consoled me, and then she opened the door to the next step (#3).
Sharing with one person allowed me to share with others. I shared my dark secret with other family members and close friends and quickly realized that they all still loved & accepted me. They did not turn their back on me. I think consciously we all know this, but subconsciously we fear that we will lose those we love most if we share too much of our darkness. Actively & openly sharing breaks us free from this subconscious self-imprisonment.
The more I shared my darkness the more its hold over me lessened. This in turn opened me up to the next step.
3. Get help:
When you get behind or you are buried underneath something you have no idea how to tackle find someone who knows how to get through it and leverage their expertise. My fiancé introduced me to her friend's tax accountant who turned out to be a total tax rockstar. I had no idea where to even start, but this accountant was a complete pro. Step-by-step she helped me get each tax year cleaned up.
4. Action cures fear:
I did my best to do something every day that would force me to directly face my financial fear & shame. I worked on my taxes. I called my accountant when I was confused or unsure what to do next. I read personal finance blogs. I listened to personal finance podcasts. Eventually, the fear fades when you embrace it often enough.
5. Set new goals & get inspired:
During the time I was getting my taxes cleaned up I decided that I no longer wanted to just be great at making money. I also wanted to be amazing at managing my money. With this new goal new sources of inspiration began to show up. I discovered the infamous Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) and read his article "The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement." This one article fundamentally changed my thinking about personal finance and got me hooked on the subject.
Fueled by my newfound personal finance addiction I stumbled upon another MMM article titled "News Flash: Your Debt is an Emergency." After reading it I was super inspired and I paid off all my school loans & credit card debt in one day. I literally face-punched my debt into the ground with one haymaker.
6. Find your financial tribe & continuously learn:
Thanks to Mr. Money Mustache's ridiculous & hilarious persona (and awesome story-telling) I finally fell in love with personal finance and the concept of Financial Independence (FI). The definition I like the best is having wealth to cover expenses indefinitely without having to work. I don't necessarily want to stop working anytime soon as I am having a ton of fun building Oh My Green as one of the founding team-members. Nonetheless, having a nest egg (or Stash) that covers all of my living expenses would bring a level of freedom & security never before realized. Becoming a multi-millionaire in the next 5-15 years would also satisfy a childhood dream.
Through MMM I discovered a powerful tribe of people pursuing financial independence & early retirement (much earlier than 65). The FI tribe knows how to get there faster with more consistency than any other I've come across. Plus their emphasis on freedom is right in line with my personal values. There is something magical and powerful about surrounding yourself with others on similar paths with similar values. And it radically increases the speed at which you learn & move along your journey.
I am now regularly geeking out on saving money, investing, retirement accounts, travel hacking, tax optimization & numerous other wealth-building strategies. All because I found a tribe that makes personal finance fun and exciting for me.
I still have a long way to go on my personal finance & wealth accumulation journey, but I can happily say that I am 100% debt free & completely caught up on all my taxes (filed & paid). I've also made fierce gains on growing the Stash, rapidly increasing my net worth & pumping up my financial muscles.
So, no matter how far behind you are financially know that it's never too late to get caught back up and begin getting ahead. Through my personal study of those in the FI community I've encountered numerous stories of real people coming back from 100s of thousands of dollars in debt. Even if you think you are too far behind know that you are not. And you are not alone.
Feel free to follow the steps I outlined above and add in your own. If you know of or discover any useful tools, resources, or steps please share them in the comments at the very bottom of the page. I'm always looking to improve my own process and share with others!
In alchemy & service,
- Mr. Money Mustache. A leading figure in the FI community. His writing is hilarious. If you are anything like me it will make you enjoy personal finance. Fair warning: he is pretty extreme. I've found that by studying the extreme and creating a workable version for myself leaves me in place much further along than where I was before. If he seems too extreme find another personal finance voice that works for you.
- Rockstar Finance. This site aggregates popular personal finance blog articles from across the web. It's a great place to find some personal finance personalities/stories/journeys that resonate & truly inspire you no matter where you're at in life.
- ChooseFI Podcast. Best podcast on Financial Independence I've discovered so far. Start from the episode one and run through them all. It will provide a deep & well-rounded education in personal finance. It regularly fills in the gaps in my personal finance education. Regular listening also keeps me personally motivated each week to take action on building my wealth.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed To Be & Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. This book is not necessarily about money or personal finance but it deals powerfully with shame and that is something that almost always accompanies money in some way or form.