My Worst Decision Ever

If you’ve read my post 12 Things I Learned By 42 That I Wish I Knew At 22, you know that I say in number 11, Never accept a job just because the pay is higher. Life is more than money.

I haven’t always believed that, nor have I always lived according to that principle. I wish I had. I could have avoided a lot of grief and heartache.

About 14 years ago, I was working for a large national chain as a “manager trainee.” I was very interested in moving up the ladder and completed my 10 week training course in only 3 weeks. I was always on time, dressed properly, had a great attitude and was eager to learn the business. I asked all the right questions and made sure the District Manager saw me in a positive light by always hitting my company set goals.

Fast forward 7 months. My wife had gone grocery shopping on a Sunday evening and left our two little ones with me. My oldest had just fell on the driveway and hurt her knee when the phone rang (we didn’t have caller ID). Surprise! It was my District Manager. He asked if I had ever heard of Anderson, South Carolina. I said no. Despite hearing my little daughter’s crying, he continued on by telling me to drive to Anderson that night, get a hotel room, and report to the store manager there at 6:45 am Monday morning for an interview to be the assistant manager. I was to drive back and pack my home on Tuesday, move on Wednesday, and be ready to start work on Thursday morning. We had less than 6 hours to find a home in a city we had never before visited.

My trooper of a wife never complained a bit. She supported me far more than I’ve ever given her credit. We moved our 3 bedroom home into some, well, lets just say “less than desirable” apartments and I started work that Thursday. The entire move was out of my own pocket, with reimbursement coming 6 weeks later. It was very hard on my young family, but the sacrifice would be worth it, I kept telling myself. I DID make much more money, and I was able to begin to get caught up on some past due bills, but living 300 miles away from any family is a tax unto itself.

After 13 months, I heard there was a management opening on the East Coast at a very good store. I made the phone call to my District Manager and told him I was very interested. He talked to the VP who was at a store 400 miles south of mine. I was told that if I was truly interested, that I would have to drive there and interview with the regional VP. I put my wife and kids into our minivan and drove the 800 mile round trip for a 7 minute interview. Seven minutes. 7.

I was given the nod and told to find housing and get moved as soon as possible. This new location was 300 additional miles from my hometown and was in an area with a much higher cost of living. To say that money was tight would be a severe understatement. I had to borrow money from my father just to pay for the move, the lost deposits on my apartment in Anderson, the new deposits on my new apartment, and all the expenses that go along with moving. I was flat broke. I did get my family moved and then had to turn around and go back to my hometown to attend a training session. After the training, I had only enough gasoline to get back halfway. I called my wife and told her to sell something to get some cash into our account so I could get a tank or two of gas and get back to my new home.

She frantically went through her jewelry and sold some pieces that were sentimental to her, sold my guitar, and sold several other items to a pawn shop. She deposited the money and I was able to buy enough gasoline to drive back to her and my kids. One of the pieces of jewelry she sold was a heart shaped pendant I had bought her for our first anniversary. I just found out yesterday, all these years later. The unfortunate thing is that we never went back and got those items back. She told me last night that she has always regretted selling her first anniversary present from her husband. Who can blame her? I regret putting her into that situation.

About five months after I took the store manager position, after the company had refused to reimburse me for most of my moving expenses like I was promised, shorted my bonus by over $10,000, and reset my store goals 48 percent higher than the previous year, I received a job offer back in my old hometown and moved back. Things went up from there and our lives, financially and otherwise, began to make drastic improvements.

Where did I go wrong? I had put myself into a horrible financial situation that forced me to only view a job as a means of making money to get creditors off my back. I was a “slave to the lender.” I needed cash and I needed to advance as quickly as possible. When you’re desperate for anything, you’re vulnerable. I have no one to blame but myself and my own selfishness.

For the 4 years leading up to my taking this crazy job, I had relied on credit cards to buy consumable items. I had financed cars for as long and as much as the bank would allow. I had made only the minimum payments. I had not saved anything at all, but had squandered thousands and thousands of dollars on stupid pyramid multi level marketing schemes, businesses I had no “business” investing in, vacations, nights out on the town, and just tons of useless stuff. What did I have to show for it? A wife that had to pawn her jewelry just to buy enough gasoline so her husband could get home, children who thought their father lived at the store because of my 114 hour workweeks, and a wife in a new city with no money, no family, and no friends. We were as close to miserable as you can possibly get.

What can YOU learn from my stupid mistakes?

1. Marry a good person. This one facet of your life can single handedly determine your happiness more than just about any other. Many other wives would have left. Mine stayed the course, supporting me and loving me far more than I deserve. I really don’t know how to ever repay her.
2. Please don’t take a job for the money, but don’t get yourself into a financial position where you HAVE to take a job for the money. That is the single most important lesson you can take from this article.

So what exactly was my worst decision ever? The decision to go into consumer debt. Yes, I decided to go into debt. I decided that “stuff” was more important than financial prosperity. I decided that symphony tickets and vacations and expensive dinners out were highly important. I decided that new cars and appearing successful to my high school friends was important.

What I’ve found is that life’s most important things can’t be bought with a credit card, or even with all the cash you can round up. Life’s most important things involve the people you love and that love you. Whether you’re eating beans and rice at home or chargrilled Chilean sea bass with a lobster thermidor sauce and steamed baby vegetables, having someone to share it with is what’s important.

I’ve learned my lesson. Have you?