Haze

Confession: What I Learned from the Worst Moment of My Life

I have a bit of secret I have been trying to keep the lid on for the last several years…

 

It is time I finally clear the air. However, before you applaud my bravery, know that my hand was forced. A few months back I wrote a product review that ruffled some feathers, and the proprietor decided to dig into my past for some retribution.

He found some remnants of this worst moment of my life and then plastered my secret all over Twitter for everyone to see.

With his action, my hand was forced. My options were to either ignore it and hope it gets lost in time, reach out and attempt to appease the offended proprietor, or address it head-on.

 

I am choosing the latter because, even though it was a dark moment of my life, it’s not going away.

 

Also, if this pitchman and I resolve our differences, my issue may very well pop up again when I inevitably step on someone else’s toes…

When I created this blog, I wasn’t sure if there was a place online for my brand of snark, pop-culture, and personal finance. In spite of that uncertainty, I wanted to try, and I wanted to address some of the misleading information online. I try my best to offer balance and counterpoint to an often monolithic, prevailing, and counterproductive school of thought. If I am going to have any success in that mission, I cannot be living in fear of the newest and latest financial carnival barker outing my secret.

 

So here it is:

 

In my day job I am a financial planner, and several years ago I had a client relationship go bad. The client didn’t start out bad, but there were some warning signs, in retrospect, I wish I had paid attention to. I was younger, and a bit naive, and I felt that I could please this client and that, ultimately, we would have a friendly relationship.

 

Little did I realize that the situation would devolve into the worst movements of my life.

 

Confidentiality prevents me from going into the specifics of the situation. A bird’s eye view of the case was that my former client claimed that I recommended choices to him that were not wanted and that our course of action (his plan) was not described at the onset. 

 

He made this claim despite copious notes and paperwork clearly indicating the exact nature of what he was receiving. He made two separate and different claims with the company compliance department that were each rejected because the notes clearly contradicted his claim. He contacted the various regulators, and they took no enforcement action because my paperwork and notes were in good order and disputed his claim.

 

Eventually, he contacted a journalist, and that was the start of my nightmare.

 

I received an email from a reporter asking if I would comment on what this client had told her. I remember calling our compliance attorney in sheer panic, with questions racing through my head. What do I say to the journalist; what supporting info do I send over?

Luckily, I reached my attorney, and my heart sank when he gave me the news. “You can’t say anything. Besides your comments potentially being unethical, if you say anything, you run the risk of making matters much worse.” he said.

I protested, “But it’s not true. Look we have all these notes, can’t we do something?”  I don’t recall exactly what my attorney said after that…

Time had evaporated at that point. My heart was racing, and I simultaneously felt despair, loneliness, rage, guilt, and sadness. My heart was pounding as he tried to explain the definition of slander and libel, the difficulty in proving such cases, and how a journalist is faintly inoculated from responsibility and bias in reporting.

 

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And the PR nightmare of trying to sue took that option off my table. The conclusion was that, although I may win the battle at a high cost ($$$), I would most assuredly lose the war.

 

At the time, the situation consumed me.

 

I was hurt because I felt that I had done my job well. And I felt the client and I had an excellent relationship. I felt inadequate as if I should have known somehow to avoid the situation. Then there was the PR nightmare when the piece published… It just showed up in print at first. 

Surprisingly, a few clients read the article and called me. I expected they would have a million questions or that they were just giving the heads up they were going elsewhere. Luckily, each one who called was supportive of me. They knew how I handled their situations and gave me the benefit of the doubt that I dealt with this gentleman similarly. They knew there are “two sides to every story,” as they say. 

If it were not for their support, I don’t think I would have gotten past the second night. The online version of the story did not blow over as the print copy had. It appeared online prominently, and competitors latched on and weaponized the story to exploit my vulnerability. Same as the proprietor of the product I recently reviewed had.

 

The article not only cut into my business, but it wounded my confidence.

 

I lived in fear that people were reading or seeing the post. The personal finance community is one where people are expected to be perfect, and anyone with allegations or financial scares are presupposed to be unfit to lead. Trying to maintain a façade of invulnerability led me into a depressive spiral.

Fear of finding the article online would keep me awake at night. My mind would race just for the briefest of seconds to the darkest thoughts of maybe the world ‘didn’t need me.’ In hindsight, perhaps I should have spoken with someone, such as a psychologist. Perhaps I should have talked with another lawyer and gotten a second opinion.  Fear and pride overruled any sense I may have had, and I internalized the whole ordeal.

 

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For years I suffered in a living purgatory of guilt, shame, and fear. It took its toll on my professional relationships as well as my marriage and family.

 

The latter I have never admitted publicly or privately until just now.  Fortunately, my wonderful wife has stuck by me, and I have only recently been able to work my way out of the hazy, depressive fog I had been lurking in for the past several years. 

 

This whole ordeal is what gave rise to the blog because I learned from my experience.

 

I learned that you don’t have to be perfect to help people. In fact, I feel I can help people better today than I could before this happened.  The ordeal taught me to be more empathetic, as I now know what it’s like to be depressed and to feel hopeless. That’s why we give judgment-free advice. 

This process thought me that bad things happen, that are beyond your control. No matter how hard you work on a relationship, the other party may have different ideas, different issues, or be influenced by unknowable causes. That’s why it is so important to have a financial disaster back up plan. Information moves like wildfire on the internet. None of us are immune from bad PR, a negative review, or frivolous allegations.

I’m Your Money Geek. I’m not perfect. I have some skeletons in my closet, and I have made some mistakes in my life (ok, a lot of mistakes). These mistakes have taught me to be more compassionate and empathetic; I want to help you avoid the mistakes I have made.

 

Together, we can move down the Paths of Success day by day, one step at a time.

 

Recommended Reading

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Something’s wrong in the neighborhood. All is not well in the personal finance blogosphere. I have known it for a bit and could not put my finger on what exactly it was; it’s like one of those smells you can’t identify, so you just let It go and pray it’s not you.

About the Author

Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.

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