Fallout from Nuclear Decisions

When I last posted a bit over two months ago, I was a bit upbeat. I had a newfound surge of energy coming off my successful contractor assignment. This was in large part due to the positive changes I decided to make in my everyday life. I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck with many of these positive improvements through the entire summer. It was not easy.

In the many many hours of alone time that I have had since early July fixing up my NYC co-op apartment, I’ve listened to over one hundred hours of books, speeches, motivational videos and all kinds of other uplifting media. I’ve hardly watched any movies or television. I’ve read a lot of articles. From all this, I’ve come across a lot of new findings. Of these, the most profound is my newfound first-hand understanding of the consequences of bad decision making.

I’ve always understood that one’s life is a product of past decisions. However, until recently, I didn’t quite realize that there are two major buckets of decisions that interact but are also distinct in nature. There are the (1) everyday decisions, i.e. habits and (2) the big decisions in life.

In my last post, I was excited because I had realized that I needed to fix my everyday habits and I was finally making some progress in this regard. Like any change, its always fun at the beginning but then turns into hard work. The most notable change I made was that I quit drinking. As I write this, its been exactly 10 weeks since I had my last beer. It is important that I cover this topic as an entire separate post, as I’ve come to realize how destructive the combination of alcohol and unemployment can be.

Other changes that I made were less significant but, combined, are material. In focusing on my bad habits, I now realize just how many toxic decisions I was making on an everyday basis. Looking back to my pre-grad school self, I was pretty disciplined. I lived a simple life and I worked hard. Somewhere during the time I was a banker post-MBA, I began to form bad habits. At first these were in the few hours of “free time” I had on weekends. Eventually, these bad decisions became commonplace. Some of them daily rituals. None of them alone was significant, but together they compounded over time into an anchor on my life. Because it all happened gradually, I never focused on it as an issue. However, in retrospect, they played a large role in my getting fired.

I also now realize that, around the same time period, my ability to make the big decisions also suffered. The big decisions in life include:

  1. Health (without this, nothing else matters)
  2. Who you marry
  3. What job you pursue
  4. Where you live
  5. Who you surround yourself by
  6. What you drive
  7. Other significant tangible purchases

In 2012, I got married. This was probably the only “right” big decision I made between grad school and now. Besides this, for the past three months, I’ve been a full-time prisoner to two major big bad decisions, both of which happened within six months of each other:

(1) Taking a job at the hedge fund I joined in May 2014 and

(2) Purchasing my co-op apartment in NYC

I HAVE BEEN PAYING A HEAVY PRICE FOR BOTH OF THESE MAJOR ERRORS. In fact, these two decisions in my life six years ago are now pushing me to new lows on a daily basis. If this is not ROCK BOTTOM, I don’t know what could be. I apologize upfront, but things are about to get very honest and very negative. You’ve been warned.

Let me remind the reader that the purpose of this blog is sheer honesty about what its like to be in the head of somebody who had what seemed like a great career as a hedge fund portfolio manager and now is unemployed. A person who went from meeting with CEO’s and CFO’s on a regular basis and trading millions of dollars of stocks to a person nobody wants anything to do with. Its not fun. There is no candy coating this. So …

Taking into account that I’m in a process of fixing a bunch of everyday bad habits while cleaning up two major bad decisions from six years ago, this is basically what my life has turned into at this point:

Since early July, I’ve conducted over 30 do-it-yourself repair projects. I’ve spent over $15,000 on contractors and at home depot, Ace Hardware, Menards, WalMart, Homegoods, etc. I know the people at Home Depot by first name now. For awhile I looked like a homeless person covered with paint, soiled clothes, long messy hair and a 10 day beard walking back and forth between my apartment and these stores. That was the extent of my fun this summer — escaping from the hours and hours of endless repairs to buy more and more shit to do more and more repairs. My legs constantly cramped and my hands regularly hurt so bad that I could hardly curl my fingers. Although it felt satisfying to finish each project, it was brutal labor.

A few weeks ago, I messed up my sciatic nerve while fixing my deck. Pain constantly shoots from my lower back down my leg. Its practically impossible to sleep more than two hours without waking up in pain. Its the worse ongoing pain I’ve encountered in my life. It could last for months. And, yes, its highly correlated to stress.

In terms of health, I definitely accomplished my goal of losing weight. In fact, my weight went from 180 in May to 160. My clothes no longer fit. I’ve been losing about 1 – 2 pounds a week for the past month. I have no appetite anymore despite unconsciously missing meals. My stomach often hurts in strange ways. Since my wife and I are on Obamacare now, our deductible is so high that I don’t dare see a doctor. Stress is literally eating me up.

Messing up my back mixed with utter mental exhaustion has caused me to just call it quits on the repairs. There are things left undone but I simply cannot stomach doing any bit more. In the few weeks since making this judgement call, I’ve refocused attention on my job search. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes.

I now just apply to everything. Its like a horny guy swiping right or whatever it is on Tinder, I just submit my resume for everything. Why am I doing a blanket approach? Because I’m trying to determine if there is ANY BID?? out there. Anything. After a few weeks, I’ve received zero positive responses. Only a handful of rejections. Networking is useless at this point. I try letters and approaches like that. Zero results. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Complete waste of time. Demoralizing.

When I first became unemployed, I would read articles talking about how the long-term unemployed often wrongly presume they’ll never work again. I am this person now. I do honestly struggle to understand who would ever hire me for anything.

In terms of my social relationships, I see my wife and son far too little. He’s the only person who seems to enjoy my company. I enjoy seeing my wife but, no matter what, we get at each others’ necks fairly easily at this point. She often ignores me when I speak to her. She’s now stressed as well and unhappy. Thankfully, she realized that I was reaching a mental breaking point this summer which finally got her to put aside her recruiting small business and look for a real job. She finally admitted just today that the recruiting business was a mistake. I appreciate her honesty. It was a good conversation.

My friends have disappeared one by one over the past couple years. When I was first unemployed, a handful of people that had been in a similar predicament in the past came to my aid. They tried going out of their way to help mainly by putting me in touch with people they knew. Unfortunately, all of these conversations were awkward. As the months passed by, these same friends disappeared. I understand they are consumed by their own busy lives but I’ve also come to realize they avoid me because they don’t know how to help and/or feel disappointed in me that they offered assistance that I seemed to fumble. In once case, the person kept extrapolating their unemployment experience 10 years ago to my present scenario. His help became frustrating and turned into a bitter conversation. Things were said to me that will be hard to forget. We’ll never speak again.

Outside of the initial “helpful” friends, others have now drifted away. Some people never email back. Others only respond with a few word replies. I rarely receive an invitation to meet up with people anymore. Too often these meetups turned unpleasant. I can’t understand why but they just did. Its not fun. I’d rather not meet with most people anymore, especially anyone from my time in New York. They view me as a loser. Its quite clear. As my wife pointed out, I often fall into depression for a few days after meeting with these people. The pain is not worth it. I’m annoyed I wasted so much time with most of these people.

So, obviously, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone. I regularly take long walks. I find myself sitting on park benches just starring out into nothingness. I try not to look at other people because it too often triggers different types of negative thoughts. I like to focus on nature. I see the beauty in the simple things that I overlooked for many years. If my life were an 80’s movie, this would be the point where sad saxophone music plays as I aimlessly walk around in the rain without an umbrella.

I’m afraid at this point to make any decisions, either large or small. I find solace in the fact we have a cheap apartment in Chicago. It seems to be the only move I made in the past few months that did not backfire. My wife enjoys the space and location. We’ll likely stay there for a few years. It brings us peace. Its secluded and comforting.

My apartment in NYC is just the opposite. This is a pure torture chamber. I never hated a place more. It embodies all the bad decisions of the past. It has become a person hell that I am prisoner to. I will do anything to escape it. I got it into just good enough condition to put on the market a week ago. I read six books about how to price it on my own without a broker. I felt fine with where I listed it which seemed well below market with a slight bit of room to price down. My wife thought I was way too low.

As I write this, I sit at a small table in the middle of my empty downstairs room in NYC. I check the email that I set up for the listing every hour throughout the day and night. I’ve received one email so far. One. I’ve hosted open houses for the past two days. Four people have stopped by. There has been little interest, to say the least. I spent four hours today reading about whether or not to do another dramatic price down already. It probably the wrong move, like everything I do lately, but I’m bringing it down $20k anyway. Its now in a loss position not including the repair money I spent. Its clear I am going to take a large financial hit. The fear of this lingered over my head for almost six years. Now its raining down pain upon me.

Why was my house such a bad decision? That’s easy. One, we rushed in. I received a high rent increase and got spooked that mortgage rates would shoot up. My wife and I were looking in the suburbs for a couple months then made a rash decision to buy in the city. For some idiotic reason, we liked this place despite its deficiencies. I have no idea what we were thinking. To make matters much much worse, we (1) hardly did an inspection and (2) got duped by the seller who stated the square footage was 900 sq ft when in reality it was 785 sq ft. That 115 square foot difference will now cost me ~$115k. That feels like 115 kicks in my nuts.

My worst-case scenario with my home has become a reality just like my worst case scenario with my job search turned into a reality.  I don’t know anyone who has been in this type of condition. Its truly shocking how slippery a slope I have been falling down. Every night, I wake up multiple times filled with anxiety. Its hard to sleep. In the morning, I feel like I’m constantly moments away from a panic attack. I’m trapped by these two big bad decisions I made in 2014. I’m exhausted from the changes I’m trying to make to improve my flawed habits. Looking back just 12 months ago, I’m shocked and abhorred by what a mess my life really had become without my realizing it. Cleaning up this giant mess is the most painful experience of my life to this point. Its impossible to think positive about any of this. I don’t give a shit what anyone tells me. Positive thinking is impossible here.

Money is hemorrhaging from my bank accounts. The combination of repairs, mortgage, property taxes, maintenance fees, Chicago rent, internet, school costs for my son, car costs, etc. is raping and pillaging my savings. I’ve shut off all discretionary spending. For the first time in my life, I’m building up credit card balances on zero % APR deals. I’m even afraid to buy a $1 coffee at Seven 11 anymore. I’ve been attempting to put a budget together for weeks but after an hour of working on it, the stress overwhelms me. I have to constantly put it aside. Granted I have enough money that I don’t need to worry but the thought of zero income coming in, zero prospects of earning money again and the high current burn rate is like a chainsaw ripping through my guts.

My father is outwardly ashamed of me. He called and asked me a couple weeks ago if I’m having financial trouble. Does he believe I was lying about my investment accounts for the past 10 years? I try to comfort him but he just reacts as if I’m overcompensating and hiding the truth. Its not comfortable to be around him. It doesn’t feel good to be detested by your own father.

My poor mom is stressed out about my situation. She also believes that my wife and I are running out of money. She wouldn’t even let me pay for a $6 fast food meal a couple weeks ago.

Its funny, when you are unemployed, everyone believes you are now poor and about to file bankruptcy. They act as if someone showed up at your door and took all your savings away. Trying to explain that you are financially fine is useless. They act doubtful, as if you are delusional and telling lies. Its best to just stay quite most the time. No one wants your opinion on anything anyway. Along with losing your job, you painfully realize that you lost all your credibility on every subject. Your a fool and should sit in the corner with a dunce hat on.

As all this emotional damage weighs down on me, my mental health is slipping. I have a hard time remembering things. I constantly make errors. Constantly. Despite thinking I double checked, I forgot to send my estimated tax payments this summer. It took eight envelopes for me to send the three checks because I kept forgetting to enter the basic info into the checks. I’m having my wife double check everything I do. I can’t work for anyone in this current state. My wife worries that I’m losing it. I worry about the same thing. I can’t concentrate on anything. I feel like I’m in a permanent haze.

I came unbelievably close to losing my drivers license this month. If I would not have transferred my drivers license from NY state to IL in June, I would have a suspended license right now as I received three bad speeding tickets in the past 18 months. In IL, luckily its three in 12 months. I just clipped shy of that but I have all kinds of radars and phone apps on the dash every time I drive. Along with the handful of parking violations over this summer, I’ve spent over $1,000 on driving offenses not considering my increased insurance rates.

Every time I check the mail I shiver. I’m constantly accruing fines, penalties, and other unexpected expenses. Earlier in the summer, I missed a mandatory meeting with unemployment and had to write a letter discussing why. In the letter, like an idiot, I stated that I was in Chicago for a period of time. I had $1,200 of unemployment taken away along with $135 of additional penalties.

Additionally, I’ve learned how expensive it is to be a general contractor. The medicare and social security grab on my project pay along with the sky high taxes have taken a significant bite of the earnings I was so proud of making. As the smoke is clearing on my bank accounts, I feel like crying when I see how little is left of these earnings.

So, there you have it. Over and over I ask myself how it got to this. The other day I read about a hedge fund back office guy who got let go during the recession and had to work at a waffle house. Many would be shocked by this. I’d be happy to have switched spots with him over this past summer.

https://money.cnn.com/2016/03/17/investing/wall-street-to-waffle-house/index.html

Life is miserable right now. Going back to the beginning of this post, I have to admit that for the past decade, I became a terrible decision maker, both big and small. It makes a lot of sense now why I am in this predicament. Its gonna be hard and very expensive to fix this mess. Mentally, however, I’m prepared for all the big write-offs. Strangely enough, it feels quite free’g.

Right now, I’m muscling through the worst of the darkness. There is a concept called the Hedonic Treadmill that is very important to understand. It basically states that despite extremely positive and extremely negative events in life, a person basically regresses back to an average level of happiness throughout life. Couple this with the concept of happiness = expectations < or = reality and a lot gets explained. So let me explain:

Somewhere around 2010 or 2011, I began subconsciously running on Wall Street’s hedonic treadmill. I became part of the Wall Street culture. There were a lot of seemingly successful people around me and I began making more and more money. My expectations in life became elevated. Success took on a higher meaning. The worth of money declined. An amount that would have represented a lot to me before I received my MBA seemed like chump change. I upped my dress and altered my habits to fit in. I spent more on clothes, dinners out, drinks, entertainment, cabs, and all kinds of other stuff. Buying something for $100 eventually became a shrug off. I looked around and everyone seemed to be doing it, including my wife.

After I joined a hedge fund, in many ways I felt I had “made it’. I accomplished something very few others could. I foolishly bought into my own bullshit. My expectations became warped. I became arrogant and I acted like a know-it-all. On Wall Street, this was how I was expected to be, so it worked. Some type of cognitive dissonance constantly ate away at my subconscious, however, I ignored it. The Wall Street hedonic treadmill slowly increases its speed. As it did, I felt something “off” but I just kept trying to run harder. The more exhausted I became, the more I tried to regain happiness through artificial means — drinking more, eating better, taking expensive trips, buying shit i didn’t need.  Over time these extravagances grew into regular habits. In August of 2018, suddenly I was thrown off the treadmill.

When I landed on my ass off that treadmill, I went through stages (explained in past posts). I felt relieved then bitter then a victim then angry then very depressed then interrupted by my project for six months. When the work was finished in May, I was re-energized and felt great. I was in a good mindset to make a lot of big positive changes — lower my costs, put an end to the things in life not working, and generally simplify life to  regain my footing. I naively thought doing all this would be easier than reality commanded. My expectations were still higher than reality.

Finally, now, after many weeks of pure hell, my expectations are very low. I lost all hope. I realize that my savings will take a massive hit for the next 12 months, perhaps more. I realize that I’m going to take a $100k+ loss on my NY apartment. I realize my tax bill will be another massive deduction to my wealth. I realize that a recession will hit soon and absorb a lot of my paper profits on my investments. I realize that my health is fading. I realize my relationships with most of the people I know has been permanently damaged. I realize my 92 year old dad may die disappointed in me. I realize that my career may be reduced down to a shitty series of crappy kick-the-can type jobs until I’m put to pasture. I realize that I was never meant to be a Wall Street hotshot on the sell-side, on the buy-side on the east side or the west side. I’m not meant for Wall Street. I’m not meant for NYC. I’m kicked out. And you know what…. I no matter care about any of this. I just want to move on. Its all sunk costs.

At this point, I’m relieved to just return back to a simple life. I realize there are just a few important things that have not been taken from me. I only care about protecting those few things. Go ahead and take the rest. Do me a favor.

Twice during the summer, my wife and I found dead birds in our NYC apartment. When she was visiting for a week to help me out, she found a dead bird in the downstairs bathroom. We have no idea how it got there. Last week I went out on the back deck and found another dead bird laying in the morning sun. Theories on this suggest that its a sign that your old life is dying and a new life is now born.

So, in my new life, what do I need to focus on? Simplicity for one. Less decisions for a while. Better quality decision making. These past mistakes are branded in my mind. Hopefully, their cost will pay back over time as I sidestep other dumb errors. I need to keep disciplined bout my habits. Spend less money on unimportant things. Spend less time on unimportant people. Live frugally. Stay sober. Keep a clean existence. Exercise. Eat well. Speak the truth and avoid hyperbole. Thoughtfully eliminate the inessential. Read more. Speak less. Listen instead of spouting off earfuls of useless information. Build value. Surround myself only with people I respect and admire. Cut ties quickly with anyone and anything unhealthy. Let reality pull my low expectations back to reality. Find my true self. Humble the fuck out… oh wait, that already happened. In spades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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