“I don’t understand… so how is that even a business?” he asked.
I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, standing in front of a whiteboard in a shared office-space, marker in hand.
Sitting in front of me was a friend of almost a decade, Jason. I had just mapped out my entire direct mail marketing plan.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Wait. Just to clarify… these figures here are net profit.”
“Oh! Oh, okay, I gotcha,” he chuckled.
Heh. Sometimes you have to make extra-sure you’re on the same page. 🙂
That day, I had driven over an hour north to meet with Jason, to see if we were comfortable doing what has probably ripped apart more deep friendships than anything else:
… a land of drug-like high hopes… the banishment of rationality… vanishing savings… and awkward radio silence.
Where thousands and thousands of dollars can evaporate. Possibly followed by quietly imploding friendships… or not-so-quiet lawsuits… and maybe even a shattering marriage or two.
We both walked into his office aware of this, and knew we were going to handle our money in a way you never hear about in “you can attract millions!” seminars…
… with machine-like rationality.
But would it work?
For the first half of the day, I mapped out my business’s entire customer-acquisition strategy, and my strategy for making a net profit (two different things… they don’t teach that in “make money online” scam-fests either).
I showed the campaigns I had tested with my own money, and the results. I extrapolated those results to how I could scale up, and listed the potential pitfalls and rewards. I detailed both best and worst-case scenarios.
But the business is always just one part of the equation.
In this case, there was another massive risk
So I mapped out my own strengths and weaknesses, including my state and federal tax debt. For most lenders, this would be a deal-breaker. For my friend, it simply meant an adjustment in his ultimate profit as I paid back the loan (I’m sure there’s a fancy accounting term for that – he’d know it).
He asked his employee to get us some Chinese take-out for lunch. Then Jason and I enjoyed a walk around a park together.
In the second half of the day, we negotiated the possible investment.
Here, I was more a fish out of water.
But together, we crafted an elegant plan
Jason would provide me with a cash infusion large enough to get proof-of-concept that my business really could begin scaling up. If we both agreed it worked well enough, he’d loan me the remainder. Then I’d pay him back, plus a whole boatload more.
If the initial infusion did not work to our standards, I’d simply pay him back at the minimum interest rate of 1%. And part as friends… we hoped.
Then we discussed his upside if it worked out. I forget the details but it went something like…
“Three to four hundred percent… ” I offered.
“Okay so 400%,” he replied
My friend, far more experienced in negotiations than me, knew to latch onto the higher number I gave. If I wanted to go down, I’d have to back-pedal and possibly give something up. Whereas if I had started at 300%, he might have had to give something up for me to go higher.
Machine-like rationality, remember?
In a negotiation, never give a range.*
After we ironed out the details, I went to the bathroom and thought things over. Then I sauntered back in, tapped the piece of paper where we wrote everything down, and said, “I’m good with this.”
We shook hands and parted ways.
But it wasn’t over
In the coming days, we continued the ironing process with a written contract, which we edited a couple times. Then we both signed, and Jason mailed me a check for $3000.
Earlier, I wrote how this would lead to one of the proudest moments of my life. But it wasn’t the deal itself. Making a plan and signing on the dotted line is the easy part.
I’ll reveal the hard part… and how I handled it… soon.
But next, I’m going to write about how the company worked for, slowly crumbled. And how it became my job to sweep up the pieces.
*[12/10/16 Addendum: Actually, giving a range can be an excellent idea, especially when you’re delivering an extreme anchor. For instance, give out a salary range with numbers on the high end, if you’re applying for a job. For instance, $50,000 to $70,000 instead of offering a single number like $40,000. Your interviewer will adjust to that anchor. Just make sure you’re okay with the low end of your range. There are also ways to deliver the range and contexts to keep in mind. Way too much for a blog post. I got this from a book I’m reading right now called Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss. I highly recommend this book, especially to learn why it’s better to go for a “No” in a negotiation than “Yes” and the magic two-word phrase you want to hear from your adversary, which signals you’re about to get everything you want.]
I’ve hesitated to write this next part simply because a monumental number of things happened as part of my new job, all of which contained their own weird coincidences, lessons, and amazing energetic notes as part of a much longer symphony.
It’d be too much to cover.
So I’ll just cherry-pick some of the more notable stories I collected during that year.
Actually, my first day on the job set the tone perfectly.
I’d been so excited to get promoted out of sign-spinning that I never actually considered what my new work-life would be. It’s not like I expected a marching band to lead me to a golden throne while the entire company lined up to applaud me and sprinkle flower petals in my path…
… but I still didn’t consider what the reality turned out to be
Instead of suiting up and marching outside for a day of regimented, physical activity, and satisfaction of a job well-done…
… I shuffled into a silent, dank back office without windows, where I felt out of place and somehow useless.
No welcome committee, or even much acknowledgement from my co-workers.
A single trombone player would have at least helped with the transition.
There, I worked… while battling feelings of wrongness that sapped my energy.
Because the company purchased gold and silver (and then sold it to refineries) the price of precious metals was its lifeblood. Back in 2011, gold was rocketing up and hot in the media. As a result, the business couldn’t open stores fast enough.
But when I jumped into my role as a marketer, gold was falling… and then began plummeting
Which would eventually mean we couldn’t close stores fast enough. In one year, the company would be dead.
In the meantime, I languished in an office job without much of a workload, trying to make the best of a situation where my talent, knowledge, and motivation weren’t harnessed or aligned like they could be. Yeah, it was better than sign-spinning full-time. But it was also like a mental cold draft, simultaneously sucking the life out of me and making me want to bundle up.
I saw how office politics can sprout from just three people, as long as one is willing to get the ball rolling. And how people will game the system, without a shred of guilt. One guy, upon leaving, gave this sage advice to his replacement:
Previous to me, the company’s marketing was handled solely by the owner’s aunt. She regarded me joining the team like finding a roach in her salad at a restaurant: Bewildered to discover it, sickened that it even exists, and just waiting for someone else to take it away forever.
Especially considering she had me pegged more as an assistant, as opposed to what I really was…
… Someone brought in to take over her half-assed projects and get them working.
My greatest success was the company’s website. At first, it was garbage. Then, with the help of a technically-savvy friend, we created a new website that doubled the company’s internet-sourced revenue, in the first month.
The owner’s aunt gave me the ultimate compliment when we transitioned to the new site:
She said nothing at all
There were a couple important lessons.
First, I realized why I hadn’t been promoted (or probably even considered) until I approached the owner directly. In my mind, it was logical to approach the person in charge of marketing, about helping out. In reality, she saw me as competition. I realized that if I wanted to help a business grow, I’d do well to get as close to the owner as possible if I wanted to make a deal.
Second, I observed arrogance and low self-esteem in action. In that particular situation, I was more competent than her. I accomplished something she did not and could not. Her reaction began with doubt and bullying… then progressed to outrage and petty emotional tantrums… and ended with denial.
As a result, the owner handed over all marketing responsibilities to me.
Not to say I was a saint during all this (as I’m sure my writing above hinted).
Very quickly, my ego spawned, demanding social status from my co-workers
As a sign-spinner, it was easy to play the humble, centered being. I was at the bottom of the totem pole. My responsibilities were clear-cut. My decision-making power was essentially non-existent. It was actually the perfect “training wheels” for me.
It’s easy to practice egoless-ness when you’re in the bathroom literally scrubbing away your co-worker’s excrement.
Doing the same with responsibility and power, on the other hand, was exponentially more difficult. Nuance came into play.
If someone ignored my suggestion, did they disrespect me, or did they objectively rule out my idea? How could I tell? Who could boss me around, and within what limits? Who could I manage? Everything became blurry…
… Which gave my ego the chance to leap into the fray. As much as I’d like to say I handled the challenge… for the next year I cared more about status than connecting with others.
Which only served to alienate me from everyone
When it was clear my workload wasn’t enough to be in the office full-time, I switched to sign-spinning three days per week, and only worked on marketing for the remaining two. I welcomed the change. Stretching a part-time office workload into a full-time week left me feeling icky and drained. It was also a nice balance of resting in a stale office and battling the harsh elements outside.
Throughout it all, I continued the two things that mattered most to me: Getting my business off the ground, and my daily meditation practice. Neat things continued to happen. A couple co-workers separately asked me for some advice related to meditation and working with energy.
Another event provided a lesson for years to come. First thing in the morning, I was chatting with the sign-spinner manager and he lamented: “I’m waiting for a call from one of my guys before I head outside. But these calls never come when I want them to, and then they always do when I’m outside and I can’t answer!”
“Then here’s what you’ve got to do,” I said. “Start going outside, and then he’ll call!”
He chuckled and admitted I was probably right.
“No, seriously,” I said, “Go for it!”
Later in the day, he came back and said, “Well Nate, guess what happened? Right as I was about to go outside, I paused for a moment, and he called.”
Every time I can remember, I heed my own advice – and never wait for any important email, phone call, or contact of any sort. Instead, I “juggle” projects. Like giving a dog a large enough variety of bones to keep him perpetually pleased and occupied.
As for my business, the embers were glowing bright enough that I figured getting a cash infusion, in the form of a loan, might ignite things. I contacted a friend up in Fort Collins to discuss a possible multi-thousand-dollar deal.
This would lead to an accomplishment that is among the proudest of my life, and I’ll write about that next.
I-25. Northbound. Traffic was getting denser as I approach downtown Denver. The four-lane highway turned into stop-and-go as people merged on and off.
Suddenly, I saw a car plow into another just in front. Metal and glass sprayed everywhere. As I rubber-necked to view the damage, I felt fortunate it wasn’t me…
Then I turned back to look ahead, and saw the wall of stopped cars in front of me. Too close.
I slammed my foot on the brake and my car began to skid on the asphalt
It was too late.
A few days earlier, I emailed back and forth with the owner of the company I worked for, settling on a day and time for me to visit the head office and sit down with him.
To say that, since then, I’d been excited for the meeting… would indeed be an accurate statement.
Finally, the day arrived. I stood outside holding my sign for a few hours, and then came in a couple hours before I was scheduled to meet the owner, to begin my drive over. I wanted to make sure I was on time.
Then I headed out. Outwardly, I felt calm. But there must have been some serious churning going on, at a deeper level. Because on the highway, I ended up slamming into a stopped car ahead of me.
The front of my engine let out a dull crunch as my hood crumpled upwards
Much in the same way one fixates on the sight of a wound after cutting oneself, I stared with horror at the gnarled mess of my engine. It had just been totaled.
“SHIT!” I yelled.
I felt a little outside of myself, registering and yet not believing what had just happened. Both me and the other car pulled to the side of the highway. Another casualty of the heavy traffic.
I switched off my engine as I saw coolant spill everywhere, like the car’s blood.
There went my meeting with the owner.
I practiced, in as tiny a way as I could muster, assuring myself that this was perfect. Heck, I think I even muttered, “This must be perfect for me” when I pulled over.
Then I realized… what the heck was I supposed to do with my car?
Tow it? Where?
I dialed the mechanic’s number – the one who soaked my catalytic converter. Based on my dealings with him over the past few weeks, chances were he would not pick up the phone. And then I wouldn’t know what the heck to do.
If there was a time I wanted him to pick up… this was it.
The phone rang… and rang…
“Hey, what’s up, buddy?” he answered.
“Oh man, I’m glad you picked up!”
“Why, what’s going on?”
“Oh you know what happened!” (I don’t know why I said that.)
“No. What? Tell me, man.”
“I totaled it. I just got in an accident.”
“I’ve got to get my car towed off the highway – can I take it to your place to get it fixed?”
“Yeah, but I have to see how bad the damage is.”
“Okay, cool. I’ll get it over there.”
Would he have picked up, had I not affirmed… even a little bit… that this was perfect for me?
I talked to the other driver, who was cool about the whole thing. Although he admitted, looking at his own car, “Yeah that’s totaled, the frame is bent.”
Soon his friend arrived, inspected his car, shook his head, and waved it off. “It’s fine!”
“Really?” the driver asked him.
“Oh yeah, this is no problem at all!”
I interjected: “I like him!”
Soon the police arrived, took down our information, and I gave my insurance info to the other driver. I marveled about how nice he was about the crash, when he affirmed, “Hey, the important thing is we’re both fine.”
That was true – it wasn’t like I was doing 80 MPH down the freeway. Still, one wonders what would have happened, had I not slammed on the brakes.
I later learned that my airbag didn’t deploy only because of a glitch in the system. Because I hit the brakes, the nose of my car hunched down. As a result, I didn’t so much smack into the car ahead, as wedge underneath it – so the airbag signal wasn’t triggered. Either that, or it was just broken.
The tow-truck came, and I gave him the address for my mechanic. He was there waiting for us, as we arrived. Before the tow driver had a chance to lower my car onto the street, the mechanic hopped onto the bay to inspect the damage.
Overall, the news was good. I’d probably just need a new hood, radiator, lights, and a couple other odds and ends.
If it were a regular shop, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it
But this guy could get it done in his own garage for several hundred dollars and a trip to the junkyard for parts.
Considering my car was a requirement for my job, I was grateful.
He even gave me a lift to another of my company’s stores, so I could hitch a ride home with Ken, my friend and co-worker. Plus, it gave them a chance to say hi.
I marveled at how things could resolve themselves so smoothly. By the time my shift would have ended anyway, I was home. I just had to take the bus for a couple days.
So, it was just a matter of rescheduling the meeting with the owner, right?
As it turns out, it wouldn’t be that easy. And I began to wonder if the Universe was conspiring to keep me stuck…
“Well, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. I said I’d be cool whatever happened so I’ll be cool.”
I was standing inside one of our stores, talking to a co-worker before heading outside to wave around my sign all day.
A couple weeks before, I had had a meeting with my supervisor that went well (I showed up for work on time and actually went outside, which pretty much guaranteed a stellar review – heck even showing up high as a kite every day would have been fine… I was probably the only sign-spinner who didn’t smoke before work).
When the topic of open positions came up, I had mentioned my experience in marketing and he said he’d see if they needed anyone.
The vice president of sales emailed me and said there weren’t any current openings, but for me to send my resume
Which meant I actually had to write one. For the first time in my life.
I threw one together and sent it back. Around that time, I mentioned the promotion possibility to a co-worker, but said I was practicing being content no matter what the outcome.
The acid test arrived after a couple weeks without a response. So I mentally shrugged my shoulders and forgot about the possibility…
… until that year’s Christmas party rolled around. I realized it was my only chance to be in a room with the owner while he was relaxed and his guard was down. So I planned out what I would present to him, and how I’d say it. The whole idea felt so… right. And logical.
A funny feeling of knowing overcame me
Soon the night arrived. The owner rented out some floor space at a Dave & Busters. Much drinking ensued. I managed to break a novelty-sized candy cane.
As the night wore on, I waited for my opportunity… and then seized it.
I approached the owner, introduced myself, shook his hand, and thanked him for a great party. Then I brought up my experience with marketing, and how there was an opportunity for driving far more customers his way.
He asked me to send him a proposal and I said I would.[Side Note: Knowing what I know today, I would have angled for an in-person meeting as soon as he could possibly schedule one… but a minor detail in the grand scheme of manifestation]
The good news was, persuasion in writing was my strong-point. So, over the next couple days, I wrote and edited and re-edited until my proposal was ready – and then sent his way.
I also finally got in touch with the mechanic my fellow sign-spinner knew!
So I dropped my car off at his “shop” (his home garage) so he could soak my catalytic converter overnight. Thus fooling the emissions test.
As fate would have it, I got pulled over the day before the test. I explained to the cop all that I went through to fix my car (leaving out the crucial detail I just mentioned) and that I was just about to get my plates renewed. He gave me a ticket, but emphasized how, because it was my third offense, he was supposed to tow me. So, overall, a lucky break.
Anyway, I passed the test.
Yes, I cheated
Call it moral relativism, but I’m okay with the decisions I’ve made.
And a few days later, I ran into the owner on my way outside and followed-up about my email. He was busy and said he’d reply. Again, I practiced being content whatever the outcome… and it wasn’t a few moments later that I spotted a penny on the sidewalk. Nice.
A couple weeks later, when I had forgotten about the whole thing, the owner finally replied and asked when I could meet him in person at his office… and he wrote he didn’t think I’d be sign-spinning anymore! (A prediction that would come… half-true.)
However, my meeting with him would be delayed due to me almost dying. I’ll write about that next time…
“What the… ”
Just before opening my car door to drive to work, I noticed writing scrawled on my window. It was gibberish, but the paper notice stuck under my windshield wiper cleared away my confusion:
The police noted my expired tags, and gave me 48 hours to get them updated, or move my car from my condo complex’s parking lot. And they were nice enough to write on my window with some kind of gunky chalk. I called the number on the ticket to plead my case, explaining that I needed more than two days. They responded I’d have extra time… because of the Thanksgiving holiday. So maybe three days.
I sat in my driver’s seat, considering my options
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple as getting new tags. Cars in Colorado have to pass an emissions test first. Because of my busted catalytic converter, I would fail. Getting a new one would cost several hundred dollars. Which is why I had been spending many months driving around with expired plates, always watchful for police cruisers. Little did I know I had to worry about parking at home too!
As I drove to work, I reminded myself that this was perfect, and to stay calm about it. I’d figure something out. And when I pulled into the strip mall where I’d be sign-spinning that day, I saw a welcome sight:
Ken, my friend and co-worker, installing a new headlight on his car.
I greeted him and, after asking about the work he was doing on his car, gave him the bad news about mine.
He had a solution
“I know a mechanic who does jobs on the side really cheap. I can get you in touch with him. And in the meantime, there’s a grocery store open 24/7 a couple blocks from where you live. You could park your car there and nobody would notice! They’ll just think you’re an employee.”
Gotta love how the Universe works. I was grateful for the help, and wasn’t at all surprised. Since the first day Ken started – a few months after me – we enjoyed working together. And it wasn’t long before we realized we both studied and practiced Taoist meditation. He was a few years younger than me and, in many ways, the polar opposite. Ken was incredibly athletic, and turned sign-spinning into a literal art. He practically defied gravity with the way he combined sign spinning, flipping, and acrobatics.
He was also tough to pin down, and although he promised to get me the mechanic’s phone number, this lead to many missed connections.
But in the meantime, I began parking my car at the grocery store two blocks away. And these were no city blocks. In Aurora, a “block” means row after row of cookie-cutter housing and a strip mall or two. So my new morning and evening commute on foot was half a mile each way. In December. In Colorado.
Day after day, I’d put on my three pairs of pants, shirt and three jackets, grab my backpack… and trudge half a mile in below-freezing temperatures, wondering if that’d be the day I’d reach the parking lot and find my car gone
Then, always relieved to see my Nissan Altima faithfully waiting, I’d get in. (It didn’t help that my door-locks malfunctioned in such a way that necessitated keeping at least one door open so I could enter. Every time I approached my car, I’d pretend to unlock the doors with my key fob. Then I’d open the rear passenger door – the one that I kept unlocked all the time – and casually reach around to unlock my front door from the inside. I did this for a couple years.)
After a tense moment of cranking the engine and hoping it’d start… I’d drive to work, where I stood outside virtually all day, constantly moving. Then in the evening I’d drive back to the parking lot, and walk half a mile home in the dark.
(Sometimes I’d even do a special backwards-walking meditation… and freaked out at least one fellow pedestrian.)
This temporary solution, while trying to get the mechanic’s phone number from Ken, stretched into almost two months.
But, much like my years as a sign-spinner, it was oddly peaceful
I used my daily walks to meditate and calm my mind.
I wasn’t able to get the mechanic’s contact info out of Ken until the company’s Christmas party.
However, a much bigger breakthrough would occur that same night of celebration.
At the party, I approached the owner of the entire business, and planted the seed in his mind that I could do much more for the company than just wave around a sign…
“You, uh, about to head in soon?” the man in his mid-50s asked me.
It was past 5PM on a warm day, and I hadn’t realized how the time had flown by while I waved my sign on the sidewalk.
“Yeah, just about.”
“We’ve, uh, talked a lot so could I ask you a personal question?”
He was shifting about, looking this way and that.
“Uh, well we’ve only spoken once before, but sure go for it.”
He held up his hands to emphasize his question:
“…What do you think of sex?”
“Could you be more specific?”
“What do you think of homosexuality?”
“Um… I mean, I’m not gay, I don’t really think about it one way or the other.”
“Okay, okay. See, I’m exploring my own… possible homosexuality… and I don’t know what to do!”
“Have you tried online?”
“Yeah I tried some $2.99-per-minute thing, that didn’t work.”
After a little more back-and-forth, the man shuffled up the street. I watched as he stopped to talk to a couple of kids hanging out by the sidewalk, presumably to run through the same dialogue. Later as I told the story to a couple co-workers, I remarked at how he was going about his exploration in a very odd, inefficient way.
That was one of the more unusual encounters I had while sign-spinning outside. Although, not so unusual that it was surprising. Not anymore.
I’d dealt with many people who were friendly… curious… bored… drunk… crack addicts… mentally ill… or some interesting combination of the above
Like the time two women walked down the sidewalk and one of them shrieked, “HEY!” before she lunged at me like a praying mantis. Shouting “What’s this?!” she whipped her arm right near my crotch, clawing at me and grabbing. I stumbled back, letting out a disgusted grunt that sounded something like, “Ewwwuugh” as she walked on, cackling.
It would have been nice to think she eagerly wanted to grab my genitals, but I’m pretty sure she was just reacting to the bulge of my phone and wallet in my front pocket.
Afterwards I vividly imagined myself standing in cleansing rainfall, and playfully focused on how everything was cool.
Then there was the time I turned around to see a car idling in the middle of the road. Sensing something amiss, I focused on the front seats to see two shirtless men punching each other over and over. Then, the driver dove out of the car and sprinted to the side of the road. The passenger jumped into the driver’s seat, pulled the door shut, and sped off.
For the first time in my life, I dialed 911 and told the operator what happened
She barely asked me for any detail.
The remaining man walked up the sidewalk towards me. As he got closer, I saw the splattering of blood on his chest. He said “How’s it going?” as he passed by.
“What’s up,” I replied.
He kept walking for another couple blocks before the police arrived. Apparently, he called them too because they ended up giving him a lift.
Most encounters were far more mundane than this, but I realized I was given a unique window to the behavior of men and women living on the bottom rung of society. I wanted the exact opposite for myself. So I observed their behavior in contrast to those I knew who made plenty of money.
The lower income folks on the street talked and talked and talked
I don’t recall a single one who genuinely listened to a word I said.
They spent time and energy complaining about whatever ensnared their mind, instead of actively working out or implementing a solution.
I’m sure they were caught in a spiral of “learned helplessness.” Life actually trained them to behave hopeless and in need.
All their traits floated in a cloud of irrationality. That’s why I like Peter’s emphasis on developing your rational thinking. I wonder if people think that conflicts with meditation, spirituality, manifestation, and luck. I don’t think so at all.
The destitute people I put up with on the sidewalk willfully refused to face their challenges with razor-sharp, pinpoint rationality, which (I believe) would generate the vibration of knowingness and deservingness they required to finally launch them out of the pit they were in.
But they were too busy whining, sulking, or praying for divine intervention that would never come
They were either making very little money, broke, or living off the government… yet they were experts at scrounging together cash for booze, drugs, or mindless entertainment. I can count with one hand the number of times I was sincerely asked about getting a job as a sign-spinner… and every single time, I gave them the info they needed.
It affirmed something I’ve always pondered and am still attempting to put into words: Embrace rationality as much as you give in to a force greater than yourself which guides you. Because there is no dichotomy. If you think or feel there is, you’re either misjudging rationality or mistaking the pinball machine of your emotional barriers for a spiritual path. That’s the way I see it… for now…
Like I said before, these were folks on the bottom rung. None of them is around to hear my lecture. But whenever I think like this, I always turn things around and ask myself how I’m doing a version of what I’m decrying. Because I learned we’re all facing the same inner challenges – we’re all the same in that regard – just with differing extremes and subtleties.
So whenever something needles me, I treat it as a signal
As a result, I’ve nearly wiped complaints from my verbal communication. And I’m almost done doing so from my thoughts. There’s just one remaining category that I’m working on, and it’ll evaporate soon. I suspect there are many subconscious complaints looping like crazy – I’ll deal with them as well. During my time as a sign-spinner, I eliminated all unnecessary spending. But what defines unnecessary? I could have taken it further, like living out of my car, but didn’t.
I worked on my listening skills.
Before, during, and after my bankruptcy, I never stopped my entrepreneurial efforts. If anything, I sped them up. Heck, I even took steps to build my business credit while my personal credit was getting the ole heave-ho, which I found pretty funny. I also made attempts to upgrade my day job.
In fact, within months of moving to a new apartment, my career took a surprising turn
I’ll write about that soon.
My interactions outside, however, were minor compared to the relationships I’d develop with my co-workers. It was a shocking learning experience for me, to see how behavior and beliefs molded reality. Never before in my life did I possess so much awareness to see patterns of cause and effect. More so, never before in my life did I also have such an open heart, that the people around me would touch it in ways I’ll cherish forever…
“It’s called The Awesome Science of Luck. I highly recommend it.”
Roughly a year before I got a job as a sign-spinner, I sat at a restaurant in the Colorado mountains with my friend Jim, stuffing my face with brownies and ice cream as he watched in delight.
During our conversations, Jim recommended a book by a man named Peter Ragnar. I liked the title – harnessing the power of luck resonated with me. For years I’d taken action, attempting to achieve the things I wanted, and was seeing the wisdom in the saying from China:
“Better to be born lucky than smart”
Well, if I could have my cake and eat it too…
Within a couple days, I bought the book and began reading. Soon, I was reading it over and over again. It felt… right somehow, to do so. I mused that doing so made me luckier. Of course, I also practiced most of the techniques revealed in the book.
Shortly after I got my sign-spinning job, I bought the audio version of the book, so I could listen to Peter’s stories over and over again as I worked. Later, even though it was a stretch financially (actually it was pretty insane) I bought recordings of a seminar he’d done. I listened to the audios as I worked, and played the videos as I relaxed at home on my days off.
I did this for months, and added a couple more products to my collection. Every single day, I listened to one interview about money, during my first shift at work. In fact, I used it to time when to take my first break. I still viscerally remember walking outside with my sign in one hand, balancing a cup of black coffee in the other… and setting the latter down so I could fire up my MP3 player to the interview… taking my first few sips… and starting the day with Peter’s words resonating inside me.
I did this perhaps one hundred times
I mused how this job gave me the opportunity to spend literally hours per day absorbing the information and, perhaps, a beneficial vibration. At the very least, it felt right to do so. So I did.
On a practical level, the idea of taking a more relaxed and emotionally and mentally centered approach to business and building wealth made sense. I’d already experienced the haphazard results of compulsive action. And I’d also seen the other extreme, where men and women curled themselves in a safe blanket of “I’ll just visualize abundance,” not seeing how they were suffocating themselves from actual wealth.
I’d also experienced how Taoist meditation improved my disposition more than anything else I’d ever experienced. So I wanted more.
Because I understood the value of an ongoing, exponentially-increasing energy transmission, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Peter’s monthly coaching calls. My first was October 2012, and I made sure to ask a question right off the bat.
From there, I took action on what I asked and learned
One of the marvelous things about the monthly calls, was I added the recordings to my MP3 player line-up. I listened to them over and over.
Time seemed to slow down and even crawl to a virtual standstill. My days consisted of nothing but interacting with one person, and then standing outside alone, listening to call recordings. In the evenings, I’d focus on meditation, eating, working on my business, and resting my body.
I feel slightly frustrated writing this because I know there were so many bizarre experiences and insights I had, on a daily basis… and I’d like to communicate the most impactful ones. It makes me feel better to know that you can almost certainly relate to this experience (the insights and breakthroughs). We’re all going through a spiritual journey and the mind-boggling synchronicities we’re experiencing… well, they happen so much that, at least in my case, their boggling effect ceases… and simply become the norm.
Like when I was listening to a teleseminar recording while standing outside, and listened as the host spoke about the man who visualized white dogs eating his cancer. I imagined white dogs eating the negative energy in me… and within seconds a truck drove by with a white dog in the back, who barked at me.
“Whoa,” I thought. “Sure, I get dogs barking every couple of days… but a white dog within moments? Amazing.”
But not as amazing as having it happen four more times in just as many hours
Not all the dogs were white, but I’d never experienced anything like that before. Coincidence?
Or perhaps how, whenever I’d start dwelling on negative thoughts, a honking horn would rattle me to my senses. But, cars honk all the time, especially when you’re on the street corner. But honking almost every time you get stuck in negative thoughts? And happening so much that you get used to the friendly reminder, and say “thank you?”
I remember how feeling a universal love for everyone became more than something I’d just read about… but an experience. I’d see a beautiful woman in a car driving by, and I’d feel love for her. Then I’d turn my gaze to her pissed off-looking boyfriend in the driver’s seat, and I’d feel equal love for him.
That’s how I knew it was truly universal!
This experiential understanding flowed to many Taoist teachings. Like your eyes crossing and locking during meditation… experiencing the sensation of your microcosmic orbit… marveling at your body relaxing and aligning at a level deeper than you could consciously control or even imagine, and understanding why years of practice is required just to get started, and why the dedicated practitioners measure their practice in hours per day rather than minutes…
I also observed how the people I met were so significant and beautiful. For the next year or so of living in a cocoon, I’d bond with them like I never had with any human being before in this lifetime. I’ll write about them next…
“So I called up one of the landlords… she didn’t even speak English!” I said.
“Oh man… that’s not good,” replied the buyer.
I had just finished my lunchbreak at work, where I called four different apartment listings in the Denver area. I was scraping the bottom of the real estate barrel, trying to keep the monthly rent under $500 per month. It wasn’t yielding good results.
I got a cold, sick feeling in my stomach as I admitted to some of the landlords that I had terrible credit
It was closing a lot of doors. But I found a couple leads. Something had to work out. I’d already given notice at my current place, so I had to move somewhere.
I drove to one complex located next to a giant Uhaul storage facility. It was actually tough to tell the difference between the storage units and the apartments next door. These were month-to-month cubes. When I asked about bed bugs, the leasing agent replied, “Yeah, we spray whenever there’s a problem.”
I plunked down $25 for the leasing application. A day later they called to say I was rejected, based on credit.
As I tried to negotiate some sort of an upfront payment, they hung up on me
Back onto Craigslist. I figured I found the perfect job there, so the perfect home would show up too. I stalked the listings, scanning them every single day. I knew that a decent place with a low price would go fast. But how could I jump on one while working full time?
Then I had a day off. And that morning, after meditating, I found a listing describing itself like a one-bedroom “ski condo” complete with parking, a vaulted ceiling with skylight, balcony, and even a fireplace! For $525 a month. I called the owner and as we talked, I explained that my credit was bad but my rental history was perfect. “So don’t give me a credit card, but I can definitely pay the rent.”
“I totally understand,” he said. We made an appointment for 3:30 that afternoon. I scheduled another place to look at right before.
That one felt… and smelled… immediately wrong
I politely left and raced to the “ski condo” place.
It was on the eastern edge of Aurora, Colorado, a place my friend once jokingly called “Saudi Aurora.” For someone used to living near downtown Denver, the Kansas-esq rolling plains felt like falling off the edge of the earth.
Upon arriving and meeting the owner, he struck me as a high-strung sweetheart of a guy. He began showing me around, and there was indeed a vaulted ceiling with skylight, fireplace, and balcony. Within two minutes there was a knock on the door. A couple had just arrived to look at the place. He politely asked them to wait.
The place had an interesting history… and future. The owner evicted the previous tenant for drug use. Turns out the man and his girlfriend were doing fine when they moved in. Then he started doing drugs, lost his job, and crashed his BMW.
The owner said he “wasn’t happy at all” about being evicted
But the home’s future sounded much nicer. Years earlier, the owner had brought on board a mentally-challenged man as a temporary assistant, who eventually became a loved family member. This home was to be his, years in the future when he became ready.
My whole life, I’ve made snap decisions. This would be no exception.
I confessed to being in the middle of a bankruptcy and the owner had an admission of his own: He’d been through one too. I asked if I could put down a deposit right then and there and he affirmed it would put me “first in line” for the place. I cut the check.
Later that afternoon and the next day, he texted saying my rental history checked out and… so did my credit?! Odd, but I didn’t question it.
All that was required of me was another signature and the place was mine
The agreement was for a six-month lease, at $525 per month. My new landlord admitted that whenever he’d done a year-long or multi-year lease, something always went wrong and the relationship didn’t work out. But when he’d done short-term leases, the tenant usually stayed longer. That sounded like a universal law in action to me.
The move-in date was about a month later. It felt good knowing I had a home lined up. I marveled at my luck and that, for the first time in years, I’d have a steady income greater than my expenses. Actually it’d be for the first time in my adult life.
However, that became little solace as I packed my things and moved out of the apartment I once declared as my home, and claimed I’d stay in no matter what.
Before finally leaving, I stood in every room, saying my goodbyes…
And then cried as I finally shut the door
(Years later I would, in a way, return – a story for another day.)
After quickly settling into my new digs, I settled into a life that felt more and more on pause. It consisted of little more than working outside alone, meditation, testing business ideas, and recovering to start the day all over again. Mental stress was minimal.
I’d eventually stay in the place for almost two years. Most of that time felt oddly peaceful.
The final four months were painful chaos.
“Hey another quarter! And a dime! I’m so lucky…”
As I walked across downtown Denver to my 341 meeting, I found a total of sixty cents on the street.
A good omen, I figured.
Then I arrived at the building, took the elevator to the 14th floor, and found the classroom-sized office for my meeting. A couple dozen men and women sat in rows of chairs, facing the front of the room where, like a teacher, the trustee sat.
I checked in and took a seat. Near the front of the room, I realized, was my lawyer. Sitting next to him was someone else going through the bankruptcy process. In full view of everyone else waiting their turn.
We could listen to every word, as if it were a presentation
I couldn’t believe it!
The trustee flipped through a folder of documents, questioning the person about his most intimate financial details. After a few minutes, he’d finish and lead the person through an oath swearing, similar to what you see in courtroom dramas when someone swears to “Tell the whole truth…” In this case, you were swearing every detail you shared was accurate. Then your time was over.
So I waited to be called. Out of the more than couple dozen people in the room, it looked like only my lawyer and one other represented just about everyone. Doing some quick math in my head, I saw how lucrative their businesses were, depending on the expenses.
The trustee was just what you’d imagine:
An older, bald, white man with a regal, weary, subdued manner
As he flipped through some pages of a woman’s financial history, he questioned her: “So you and your husband divorced in 2010, is that correct?”
“And then in 2011 you co-signed a lease on a car?”
“…Wait. So you co-signed the lease after your divorce?”
He shot her a quizzical glance with hint of disapproval… and… with a sigh… flipped another page in the binder and kept going, never to address the car again. I contemplated just how many bizarre and irrational financial situations and decisions he looked at every day, week after week, month after month, year after year…
At no point did I observe any creditors show up for questioning, which confirmed what I’d read in my research: It’s a rarity.
After listening to a couple more swearings under penalty of perjury, my name was called
I sat down at the large desk next to my lawyer. The trustee began flipping through pages, reading.
“I see here you owe…” he ticked off amounts from three of my tax years.
“Yes,” I said.
“You don’t like paying your taxes?”
The room erupted in laughter.
“What the fuck?” I thought to myself. “Why are you all laughing, you’re all bankrupt too!”
Out loud, I merely said, “It’s not like that.”
“Well, why didn’t you pay?”
“Those years, after paying all my living expenses, food and rent, I didn’t have any money left over.”
My lawyer nodded with approval
Before, I’d gotten some coaching to say as little as possible. Often, people have a tendency to try to justify themselves, get nervous, and ramble, which can lead to trouble.
The trustee confirmed that I knew I couldn’t discharge my three most recent tax years. So even if my bankruptcy were granted, I’d still owe money to the IRS. Then he said, “Rifkin. You wouldn’t happen to be related to such-and-such Rifkin here in Denver, would you?”
“No, I’m the only one in my family here. I’ve never heard of them.”
“Too bad. They’ve got a lot of money.”
This sparked some banter between my lawyer in the trustee. Apparently, at one point my attorney represented them for something.
I couldn’t believe it!
It was like the two of them were actors suddenly breaking character in the middle of a play to chat about their personal lives. And I realized, that was essentially what was happening. In a flash, I realized that, unlike clients who come and go within minutes, the lawyer and the trustee hung out together for hours on end. Eerie.
But the trustee didn’t ask much more of consequence. He told me to raise my hand, lead me through the oath, and said I was done. As I pushed back my chair and stood up, my lawyer leaned over and whispered, “Good job. Hey, call me about those taxes. We could do a Chapter 13.”
I kept that in mind. Although I’d never see him again about the bankruptcy I was going through, it wouldn’t be the last time we would meet.
I walked home
It was over, and even though I’d have to wait about a month for the official notice, it was pretty clear I’d get my discharge.
In the meantime, it was time to shift my life from hemorrhaging wealth to building it. Step one was to move out of the apartment I loved. Little did I realize that would be more difficult than I thought…
We can help, the lawyer wrote to me on a Sunday afternoon.
For weeks, I had been obsessively researching bankruptcy, online. It fascinated me.
Although there’s room for abuse (and I suppose my opinion is understandably biased), I love the concept of bankruptcy. It encourages entrepreneurial risk, because as a business owner, you know you’re not facing debtor’s prison, should you fail. You can start virtually clean… although not entirely. At the time of this writing, student loans are not dischargeable, which I think is criminal. Taxes are, but only somewhat.
But you are able to discharge all credit card debt, all debt you owe through private arrangements, medical bills, etc.
Keep in mind, I’m not up to date on the rules and I’m not going to be a stickler for accuracy here.
It’s also amazing what you can keep.
It’s possible, even probable, that you’ll be able to retain your car, home, possessions, and savings
Although if you have a mortgage or car payments, that’s considered a loan from a “secured creditor” and you’ll still have to make an arrangement to pay somehow.
Some people even choose what state they live in, for strategic bankruptcy reasons. For instance, in Florida you’re always allowed to keep your primary residence. Even if it’s a $100,000,000 mansion, you can keep it. In Texas, you can keep all the land you own. Even if it’s 200 acres.
These are extreme examples, but all states are more lenient or strict in certain ways
Just like tax rates, school districts, weather, and crime, it’s a good idea to look into these things when choosing where to live.
It’s not all fun and games, though. If you go through a bankruptcy, your credit takes a major hit… although if you’re considering filing, it’s probably already lousy. A decade must go by, before it disappears from your credit report.
To be considered eligible for chapter 7 bankruptcy (there are others, like Chapter 11 which is more of a long-term repayment schedule on easier terms, and a Chapter 13 which is similar and has tax bill-reduction advantages, earning the moniker “Tax 13”) you first undergo a “means test.” It’s pretty casual, and is based on your income. I just looked up my zip code in Colorado and if your household consists of three people and you make under $76,458, Chapter 7 might be doable for you.
Surprised at how high the figure is?
So was I.
For a single-person household, the figure is $52,389. I recall it being lower in 2012, but I still passed with flying colors.
If you’re confident you’ll be granted a discharge, your next step is to file for bankruptcy and prepare to stand before an official called a trustee. He will look over your assets and decide how to distribute them amongst creditors. This in-person meeting is called the “meeting of the creditors” or a “341 hearing” because of its designated U.S. Code number. There, your creditors have the opportunity to show up and question you.
Most people opt to hire a lawyer to assist in this whole deal, because a mistake in the paperwork can understandably suck.
You could be denied a discharge and would have to start over
I searched around online and found an attorney with the last name Jude, who named his law firm Jude Law. That alone was enough for me to like him (and, yes, later when I showed up in the waiting area, there was a signed photo of the actor Jude Law framed and hanging on the wall. Awesome).
I filled out the online form on the website one Sunday and within 30 minutes I got an email response from an employee there, and even the attorney himself, saying they could help. “Now here’s a business that’s on the ball,” I thought.
I showed up at their offices. They outlined their services, fees, and I decided to retain them. They gave me a list of needed documents, like tax returns, credit card bills, debt collector information, and I showed up a second time to organize the official filing.
We listed every single creditor I had and every dollar I owed, as well as all my assets
There weren’t much of the latter.
I asked about a thousand bucks or so I had in a mutual fund. A lady there replied, “Hookers. And blow,” while ticking off two fingers. Then she clarified: “Spend it. Just keep the receipts.”
Then, they mentioned something to me, almost offhandedly, that I didn’t read about online:
“There’s a chance that, even if you get a discharge, you’ll still have a quarter of your savings taken from you, to pay your creditors.”
“Do you know what the odds are that’ll happen to me?”
She shrugged, “Depends on the trustee.”
When it came time to sign the papers, I asked the lady there to snap a few photos of me with my camera phone, and she obliged. I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts which had the phrase “Future Millionaire” embossed on it, with some little dollar signs.
The shirt was created as a joke, but I wasn’t fooling around
They said they’d file in a few days, and they gave me a phone number to give all my creditors when they hit me up for payment. Reason being, as soon as you or your lawyer files for bankruptcy, you’re granted an “Automatic Stay” which means nobody can get their greedy paws on your money until your hearing, whether or not you’re actually discharged from your debt.
As I left, the lady repeated: “Hookers and blow.”
Thinking about how a fourth of my bank account savings could be taken away, I made a trip to Walmart. An expensive one. I took note of all the things I usually bought, and grabbed a whole cart-full. Pasta, socks, sauce, maple syrup, cheese, flour, shirts. Even some stuff I’d been meaning to purchase, like a can opener.
Looking back, I question the morality of my action (and, honestly, I could Monday-morning-quarterback all of this) and I don’t have an easy answer about whether or not I did the right thing.
As the debt collection companies called me one by one, I cheerfully answered and informed them of my filing
I took special pleasure in contacting the company acting on behalf of the State of Colorado, which was automatically drafting money from my bank account.
Funny thing: When you file, a date is set for your court appearance. Around the same time, I happened to get a notice for jury duty. So I asked the assistant at the law firm what would happen if both appointments fell on the same day (more and more, I was practicing “inspect what you expect”). She got the attorney on the conference line to ask, and he walked in.
Imagine a guy shrugging his shoulders and saying with a Texas accent, “Don’t even go! It’s not like they’re going to throw you in jail or anything.” Yeah… this was the guy I just retained to legally represent me.
Heh, the appointments never ended up conflicting. In fact, the court case I was summoned for, ended up not requiring a jury at all.
So I went to the movies that day instead
My Meeting of the Creditors, however, was still on. So a couple weeks later, I walked across downtown to my hearing. It would be… very different… than I expected.
Definitely much more strange.