My Success that wasn’t…..
Early in my thirties, I had truly made it. I was a rags-to-riches success case. I had created an image of success for myself—but I had a lot to learn. I would later realize this image of success was more like a mirage. It was a façade or an illusion. Allow me to throw myself in front of the bus while I explain.
In the early 2000s, I was at the top of my game professionally. I felt good. I had successfully climbed the precinct ladder and was now very close to the top. Although I was at the top of my game, I wanted more. I began teaching at the police academy, several days a week. I worked my patrol shift from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am. I would then teach at the academy from 8:00 am to about 4:00 pm. Then it was time to grab a quick bite to eat, take an hour nap and back to work.
Frequently I would be awake for thirty-six to forty hours straight. I also began working for a firearms training company in Las Vegas. Once or sometimes twice a month I would drive to Vegas and teach for either a two-day or four-day firearms class. But it was all worth it. I was successful. I had attained my status. My wife, however, was not thrilled at all. My family often didn’t see me for days at a time.
Then, in December 2001, the housing market was thriving. I decided this would be a great vehicle to make my money work for me and grow in the long run. House values were soaring. In about a year and a half I bought six houses as rental properties, four of them in Arizona and two here in California. These were all single family homes and were in addition to the residence my wife and I owned.
Now in my early thirties, thanks to the booming housing market and my desire to be a mover and a shaker, I was a millionaire. My net worth was about $1.5 million. I drove fancy cars that I was able to pay for with cash and had just about every material thing I could ever want.
I was still a police officer for forty hours a week, but I spent all my spare time with my real estate investing business. I had grown up on welfare, food stamps, and government assistance, and now I was a millionaire. I had it all. It was official—I was a success. True to form, I held my head high and proud.
My wife would constantly complain that I was never around, always working, or flying to Arizona for real estate or something. I would get so frustrated with her over this. I was doing all of this for my family. I was providing a life for my wife and children. In the back of my mind, I thought she was being ungrateful for everything I was doing for us. I didn’t understand her position. I often thought how many other wives out there would be happy to have her life. Why couldn’t she be happy?
The reality is I was wrong and I was being a fucking idiot. I was actually setting my family to the side because they were in the way of my successful path. I wasn’t doing this on purpose. I had a plan in my mind and, in the process of implementing it, my priorities became skewed. I had a false image of what I needed to become.
False Definition of Success…
What is success? What is society’s definition of success? What have you been conditioned to believe is success? Perhaps you have been led to believe that success equals money and status. If you think about it for a moment, doesn’t one of those lead to the other in our conventional definition of success? Isn’t it true that the people with money have the status and power?
Who are we fixated on in society? Movie stars, singers, real estate tycoons, and professional athletes. They consume our newspapers, newscasts, television shows, and a host of other media outlets. What is the one thing they all have in common? Lots of money, which equals lots of status and power.
The truth is you have been conditioned to believe that money is status and status is power. To be considered successful, you have to be a mover and a shaker. From a very young age, you have been taught that you need to grow up, get a good job, get married, buy a big house, two cars, and a boat, and have 2.5 kids, a dog, and four credit cards (which you have completely maxed out).
This is the American dream, right? Like good little sheep, you and I follow along. Before you know it, we are drowning, trying to stay afloat and keep up with our suburbia neighbors. What’s our reward for this degree of success? A miserable existence. But we don’t give up. We continue turning on the next reality television show and watching in awe, wishing we could have what these people have.
One Million Dollars in Debt…
Within a couple of years of my newfound millionaire status, the housing market with its overinflated values started to upend. Soon there was speculation the housing bubble was about to burst. I did not heed the warning because there were just as many people arguing against the bubble bursting. As we all know, the house market did crash. I was caught in the middle of it all with no way out. The market fell so fast I couldn’t do anything but hold on.
All of the properties lost their value. As I’m sure many of you remember, California and Arizona were two of the states hit the hardest. I was about one million dollars in debt. I couldn’t sell the houses because the loans on the property were twice the value of the homes. I ended up surrendering all the homes to the banks in lieu of foreclosure.
In addition to losing all the houses, I had tried to float the properties for several months. I used personal credit cards, which amassed about sixty thousand dollars in credit card debt. I was forced to sell the two fancy cars I had bought with cash to stay above water. I was in so far over my head at this point that I didn’t know what to do.
I was on the verge of losing everything. On top of this, I couldn’t borrow any money to help myself because my credit had now tanked. I went from a credit score of 780 to less than 600 in a matter of a few months, all due to the foreclosures.
In the middle of all this, my wife and I were talking about divorce. Things had gotten pretty bad between her and I. We never fought, oddly enough, but our relationship had suffered for such a long time that by now we didn’t have a relationship. We coexisted in a relationship and house.
Despite this dismal predicament, I had to fight back. After the houses were gone, I negotiated down and paid off all of my credit card debt. My credit score was still sub-par, but I was debt free. My wife and I eventually divorced and started over with little more than our jobs and the furniture that we split between the two of us.
I made a lot of mistakes with respect to my investing. Banks were handing out money left and right to me because I had great credit. But I was stupid to keep taking the money. I accumulated too many houses in too short a period of time with less than desirable loan terms. In other words, I overextended myself. Before I knew it, I was in over my head and had no way out. The only thing left for me to do was crash—and crash hard.
And you know what? I wouldn’t change it for anything. I needed it to happen, and I’m glad it did. I have grown exponentially from these mistakes and losses.
What did I learn from all of this? I believe I learned the definition of success. I had created an image of what I believed success was, which was money and status. In the end, that was all a mirage. I wasn’t a success. I was an fucking idiot.
I was so preoccupied with becoming someone important that I forgot the truly important things in my life—my family. I was an absentee husband and father—not intentionally, but because I was chasing an image. In the end, we all suffered.
Happy and Content…
Fast forward to today. What does my successful life look like today? First and foremost, I am happy and content. I still have a particular focus in my life, but now it’s my two beautiful growing boys. They are my world. My time with them is more precious than anything else in my life.
When I am with them, the rest of the world gets put on hold, not the other way around. No longer do I hustle them out of the room because I’m on the telephone or on the computer. No longer do I tell them I can’t play catch because I have paperwork to do or I have to leave for business. No longer am I rushing out to door without saying goodbye because I’m trying to make it to a meeting. No longer do I look at picking my kids up from school as a hassle because it interferes with something else I think I should be doing.
In fact, the me of today can’t wait for my boys to get out of school. I enjoy helping them with their homework. I enjoy cooking dinner and sitting down as a family to eat. I enjoy tucking them into bed and kissing them goodnight, and I enjoy waking up the next morning and starting all over again.
I have completely reversed my priorities. My boys are now number one, and, as a result, my relationship with them has improved exponentially. Even being divorced and sharing custody with my ex-wife, I have a closer bond and relationship with them today than I did when they were available to me every day.
I took advantage of that availability and often pushed them away when they were interfering. I am so thankful that my crash came early in their lives and I didn’t miss them growing up. I feel guilty for the time I did miss, but never again will anything stand in the way of our being together.
I love my job as a police officer, but that is exactly what it is—it’s my job. It’s what I do for ten hours out of the day. It no longer consumes my life or my thoughts. When I am at work, I give my best effort, but when I leave, I leave it all behind. As for climbing the status ladder, I’m over it. I am perfectly content where I am. I no longer need that kind of feedback to make me feel better about myself. My ego is content.
So how do I spend my time? I teach infrequently and only when I feel like it. I love teaching, which is why I stay involved, but I will not allow it to consume me or my time. I’m still actively involved in my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training because it is a great outlet for me. Additionally, I’m teaching myself how to play the guitar. I have always admired people who can play well, and one of these days that will hopefully be me.
There has been such a huge paradigm shift in my life. It’s so difficult to explain the depth of this shift. But I will tell you this. It’s huge. I am a completely different person today. I have created true happiness for myself, and I am content in my life. My boys are my new priority. It is my job to help them grow into well-adjusted, productive, and content adults. It’s my goal to help them become good people. If I can accomplish that, then I have attained success.
That, my friends, is my new definition of success. It’s not always about us. It’s about creating value for others. The greatest miracle of all is our ability to bring another human being into this world. The greatest tragedy is our failure to create a loving, nurturing, healthy, and safe environment for those innocent lives. Even more catastrophic is putting those lives on a path set up for failure.
What have I learned about success through my trial and error? Success is not what you own or drive. Success is not your professional position or rank on the corporate ladder. Success is not your bank balance or your net worth.
In fact, success has nothing to do with what you have on the outside. Success is what you are on the inside. Success is being happy and content. Success is being a good person and role model to those around you. Success is being a great parent if you have children. Success is developing children who are well-adjusted, who are happy, and who are content with themselves. Success is helping others or helping others find their happiness. Most of all, success is living a life that is fulfilling to you.
So, what fulfills you? Is it traveling the world or is it skipping a day of work and taking your children to play in the snow? Is it walking on the beach or reading a good novel? The possibilities are endless and only limited by our lack of imagination. I submit this to you: If you can live your life in a manner that leaves you happy, content, and fulfilled, then you have attained success. The relationships all around you will improve.
During my millionaire days, I was considered a success by the people around me and in my own mind. Yet, it was during this time that I was always stressed out, always tired, and, as a result, always frustrated with the people around me. I treated my wife and children horribly. I wasn’t physically bad to them, but I was emotionally bad to them. I wasn’t a good husband or father because my mind wasn’t with them. I was too preoccupied with my net worth. I was becoming an absentee husband and father.
In many ways, I was treating my children the way my father had treated me—like a burden. This was not apparent to me at the time, but I gained perspective after my crash. I had vowed I would never treat my family the way I had been treated, yet I was doing that very thing. The thought of this makes me sick to my stomach. I’m so glad I crashed and reevaluated my life. I am most thankful that this happened early in my boys’ lives.
Today, I am finally successful…