Relationship

Lessons from Apollo 11 at 50

Posted on Jul 24, 2019 in Community, Family, Planning, Relationship, Technology, Women

This weekend, the Apollo 11 moon landing celebrated its 50th anniversary. The event was just on the edge of my personal history: I was five (and a half – back when counting halves was important). The experience of Apollo 11, and the missions that came after, shaped me and the way I see the world.

I’ve been a space geek since I can remember. A highlight of my life was a trip to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the late 1990’s, an outing during a business conference. Apollo 11 was one of many missions in the Apollo program, which followed the Gemini program and the Mercury program before that. The tour at KSC recreated the last two minutes of the Apollo 8 mission launch. Apollo 8 flew the first humans into the Moon’s orbit, and gave us the famous photograph, ‘Earthrise.’

After a history lesson about how many things had gone wrong – seriously wrong – just prior to that mission, we visitors looked into a room with the actual consoles from that Mission Control room, the jackets and windbreakers with the logos of companies now gone, or merged into others, hanging on the backs of chairs: McDonnell Douglas, Northrup Grumman, North American Aviation.

It was 1998 and we were all thinking about Y2K and what could go wrong. At the time I was at Starbucks and responsible for the company’s banking relationships; one fear was that the electronic ledger that banks used would go kablooey as we flipped into the new century and money would disappear off the books (it did not).

The Apollo 8 launch required more than 400 different systems to work together, systems built by many different companies, each responsible for a piece of the whole. We counted down to zero – Ignition – and the room shook and filled with light and sound. Apollo 8 had launched! Then we walked out into the hangar, out under a Saturn V rocket. All 363 feet, 3,270 tons of it. We sat down for dinner, of which I have no memory. Everything stopped with that rocket.

The technology of the time: The telephone. The typewriter. The transistor.
Not yet invented: The personal computer. The cellphone. The internet. Pong.

Thirteen missions using a Saturn V rocket were flown, all of them successful. They completed these missions and never carried a weapon into space. “We came in peace for all Mankind.”

With a backdrop of great civil unrest and international turmoil, we found the money and the focus to send men to the moon. There were detractors; there were plenty of domestic issues that needed attention, too. The same can be said today.

Destination Moon
In homage to the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I went to the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle and stood inches from the Command Module, Columbia, that splash-landed in the Pacific, bringing Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong safely back to Earth.

There were a lot of things that had to happen before Columbia came back to us. Tests, mistakes, massive, tragic failures. Many of the Apollo missions you don’t hear much about were testing equipment and different stages of what would become the trip to land on the Moon.

Making mistakes, course correcting along the way
We talk a lot about “course corrections” in planning and investment management, too. We offer questionnaires and exercises to test your risk tolerance, to establish benchmarks so we know whether we’re meeting your goals, and make many small and sometimes big changes to plans as we go and as the environment changes around us.

Apollo 7 tested the Command Module in Earth orbit and Apollo 8 tested it in lunar orbit. Apollo 9 evaluated the Lunar Module in Earth orbit, then Apollo 10 was the “dress rehearsal,” testing all of the stages of a mission to the Moon, up to landing on it. All this work was to prepare for Apollo 11.

The point is that Big Goals are accomplished in many, many small steps. For those of you thinking you “should” know something, or “should” be at a certain point in life financially, know that we all learn as we go. It might have been a little easier for the rocket scientists at NASA to set and keep their goals, given that they had the laws of physics to work with; there are no such rules that govern the stock market. You make a plan, you test the plan, get help as you need it, and course-correct along the way.

Taking a minute to reflect on and take in each success along the way
After landing on the Moon and before stepping outside the Lunar Module (LM), Buzz Aldrin radioed to Earth: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

If you listen to the radio transmissions of the whole mission, you hear the milestones; even under the strict protocol between Mission Control and the flight crew, you hear the recognition of each achievement, each phase of the plan as it’s executed. And on occasion, there is a call out just to honor reaching a goal.

It’s easy to get caught up in checking things off your list, then moving right on to the next thing. But there will always be a “next thing.” Satisfaction and joy are found in between. During each Mission, there was always the next thing to worry about, but as stressed and weary as they were, with this huge responsibility, they still took a minute and just allowed themselves to feel the success. Allow yourself your successes, too.

Part of Something Bigger
Every culture has a creation story. Something started this whole thing, and that something is bigger than you or I. Whether you believe a faith-based origin story or not, the result of all of us being here is deserving of respect. And awe.

Most of the research on happiness boils down to having a sense of purpose and belonging. We each need to feel our individual efforts have value and meaning, and also that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. This perspective can run afoul of the American insistence on individualism, on boot-strapping, on doing it yourself. In the words of Irv Grousbeck, co-founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford, “We have all drunk from wells we have not dug.”

Astronauts in the Apollo program had various personal beliefs about God and how we got here, and appreciated the collective work that was required for what they were doing.  At each step, they called out how this was in every way a team effort. Even if you’re not a space geek like me, it is amazing to contemplate a time when everyone— virtually everyone on Earth—was pointed in the same direction. There was a profound sense of responsibility for what we were doing, and what it would mean for people other than ourselves. Six hundred million people around the world watched men land on the Moon. We knew we were part of something bigger.

There was a continuous refrain throughout the program and its missions that one person doesn’t do this alone. We set aside major differences: despite the Space Race with the Soviets, the astronauts left on the Moon two memorial medals of Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin, space pioneers, along with messages from world leaders. They also left a patch from the Apollo 1 mission, which took the lives of three astronauts in a launch pad fire, but from which we learned vital lessons that later allowed three other astronauts to reach the Moon. On the Apollo 11 patch, the flight crew opted for inclusivity over individual recognition and decided not to include their names, so it would “be representative of everyone who had worked toward a lunar landing.”

It’s a rare client who doesn’t have an underlying goal to feel that what they’ve done during their life has been meaningful, and to want to be connected to others.  For me, meaningful work is my reason for being.   It is my preeminent goal, and it is a privilege to be a part of helping someone else live up to their goals for meaning and connection.

No One is Perfect
As a perfectionist myself, I realize how this limits me, but it’s hard to let go when you feel the stakes are high.  To that, I suggest for both of you and I that we let it go: No one is perfect.  But there are work-arounds!

Perhaps the most surprising part of the exhibit for me was not to see Buzz Aldrin’s helmet and gloves from his Apollo 11 moonwalk (which were awesome!), but to see the notes he had written on his glove.  The display included a magnifying glass so you could read the to-do list reminding him of his tasks during the moonwalk.  Note to Self: get a photograph of a boot print on the Moon! Check!

It’s not just you: Even a rocket scientist needs a crib sheet…

Progress We Have Made
One of the things both inspiring and vexing about a look back at the Apollo missions is that there were women and people of color involved in various aspects of the Program, yet many of them we are only hearing about now, fifty years later:
Katherine Goble Johnson was one of the “computers” at NASA behind John Glenn’s Mercury mission, for which she received the Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2015 (and a film credit in Hidden Figures in 2016);
Frances “Poppy” Northcutt was an engineer, the only woman in Mission Control during Apollo 8, and remained a NASA contractor until the early 1970s when she pivoted to become a lawyer; she now describes herself as a “one time rocket scientist, sometime lawyer, full time feminist”;
JoAnn Morgan was an instrumentation controller for Apollo 11 and the only woman in the firing room. She became the first woman to serve as a senior executive at the Kennedy Space Center.

We have had a history not only of discriminating against women and people of color, but also of leaving them out of the sanitized version of history we record. Were it not for the then-recent invention of television prior to Apollo, we might never have known that there was at least one woman in Mission Control and lots of others who helped one man take a “giant leap for mankind.” After seeing her on TV, little girls from around the world sent Northcutt masses of fan letters saying things like “I didn’t know women could work in mission control.”

These women and others were pioneers of space and also here at home. One of the best parts of their stories was how they helped the women coming after them. As role models, but also actively, by serving as advocates in promoting other women for more senior positions and pushing for policy reforms at their companies, such as parental leave. We may be at a point in our history again where women recognize the power of coming together and helping each other.

Fifty years after Apollo, we have made progress. The big lessons for me are those I note above, along with the message that it’s going to take all of us coming together to push for progress here on Earth, whether that is greater diversity in the workplace, pay equity, leave policies for caregiving and retraining, or new endeavors in space. If we can put a man on the Moon…

The Museum of Flight’s Destination Moon exhibit runs through September 2nd.

For more on the ladies of NASA’s early days, you can read more here:
Poppy Northcutt Remembers Apollo 11 (Space.com)
The Women Who Helped Put Men on the Moon (Los Angeles Times)
Five Women Who Made the Moon Landing Possible (The New York Times (tiered subscription)

And you can follow Poppy Northcutt on Twitter: @poppy_northcutt

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Blind Spots and Seeing the Whole Picture

Posted on Jul 27, 2018 in Community, Family, Investments, Planning, Relationship

I’m a huge movie buff. In a different life, I would have been behind a camera, capturing people’s stories on film. One of the best stories I’ve seen on film is a movie making the festival circuit this year, Blindspotting. Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, along with longtime friend, poet and fellow actor Rafael Casal, have made a buddy movie like no other. It is smart, funny, painful, intense, and powerful. The writing is tight, the acting top-notch. The pair had been working on finding a way to produce the film for ten years, and its tone and subject matter could not be more pertinent today.

And why am I telling you about this in a personal finance blog? The power of the movie is in its exercise in asking the audience whether they can see more than one thing at the same time: Can you see the two people in profile AND the vase? Can you see a black ex-con and a thoughtful man reinventing himself? Can you see that the friend you’ve known your whole life has a different experience of the world because his skin color is different than yours? Can you see a rich person and someone struggling? Can you actively look to see past your blind spots? This is important because without the ability to do so, you can miss important information about your friends, your family, the people you work with, and the broader world around you, as well as about your finances.

What is “Blindspotting”? You’ll find that out when you go to see the movie. (And seriously, go see it.) We’ve all heard of blind spots: something in your range of vision that you should be able to see, but which is obstructed. The obstructions come from a variety of sources, but they can come straight from you: a blind spot is a predisposition, a prejudice. The most dangerous are the ones that you don’t know you have. Dangerous because you may think you are lighting candlesticks when you are lighting dynamite.

We all have them. We are all products of our own stories and experience: our upbringing, our families, and the shortcuts that help us make sense of the world. Sometimes those shortcuts don’t show us the whole picture and result in blind spots. Here are three common ones that might impact your personal financial life, and one additional that can cause you to negatively affect someone else’s:

Confirmation bias – You embrace information that supports your perspective and cultivate a blind spot to that which contradicts it. You buy a stock and when there is good news about the stock, you acknowledge that and feel you have made a wise investment. When there is negative information about the stock, you discount the news.

Recognizing that you’re likely to have a bias for the choices you make and being able to look past that blind spot and take in all relevant information about an investment will make you a better investor.

Over-confidence – What you’ve done in the past has been successful, so you are confident that you know what you’re doing. You have a blind spot to the role luck can play and to evidence itself, and in investment management, that’s one place where numbers don’t lie.

You invest in real estate and home prices soar. You feel like a brilliant investor. Real estate prices plunge, and you blame the market, not your strategy. The blind spot is your confidence in your ability versus the capriciousness of markets.  Why you were investing in real estate in the first place should be your benchmark: you needed a home and were buying for the long-term, or you wanted a long-term investment in rental property and could carry the on-going costs of the property during the periods you couldn’t rent it. That’s the measure you need to be using as a benchmark for success, not your ability to time a market. It’s hard not to get caught up in a frenzy, which also makes it the best time to go back to your desk and work through the numbers to see if an investment will meet your goals over your time horizon.

Note that the corollary of over-confidence exists as well: under-confidence. You invest in the S&P 500 and the market goes up. You consider yourself lucky. The market falls and you blame yourself for a bad investment. Your blind spot is self-confidence: without question, luck factors into timing of investing. But if you invested in the S&P 500 as a long-term strategy for growth, knowing that there will be market fluctuations, there is no luck or blame, that is a solid strategy.

Rationalizing: You overspend but explain how much you’re saving by buying things on sale. You desperately want to get out of debt but as soon as you’ve freed up some extra income, you’ve committed it to another loan or run up a balance on another credit card. You’ll start saving tomorrow.

We are creatures of habit. We are attached to our rituals, our patterns, our ways of doing things, and accepting that they may not be serving us – to say nothing of actually changing them – is hard to do. The blind spot is what you believe is really important and whether your actions support it. What is your goal? Looking at actions instead of hopes or dreams is where planning comes in. All of the above actions are rational in some way to the person making them. Seeing how the action (buying something you don’t expressly need because it’s on sale) impacts your stated goal (saving for a vacation to Italy) can help you release an old rationale and better align actions with what you really want.

And one more for the other people in your life:

Making an Assumption: This is the quickest shortcut we all use. You don’t give the plum project to the new parent because it involves travel and you assume they wouldn’t be interested in that now. You order a $90 bottle of wine at dinner with a friend, not realizing that her half of the price of the wine was what she was budgeting for the whole meal. You see your neighbor’s new Tesla, their designer shoes, the gardener at their house and you assume they are greedy and material people.

But are you making an assumption that interferes with seeing the whole picture? Your predisposition creates a blind spot. You won’t see the whole picture in each case until you ask questions and learn more. You’ll retain a prejudiced view of what a new parent wants at work, what your friend can afford, and what your neighbor is really like. The effort to see a blind spot takes time and attention and energy, all of which feel for most of us like increasingly scarce resources.

These decisions we make based on our biases, our assumptions, our blind spots, can have a very real impact on the lives – financial and otherwise – of other people. You limit the professional growth of an employee, you burden a friend with an unexpected expense, you fail to offer friendship to a neighbor because you are operating in a blind spot.

Are you seeing what you think you are seeing? Or could there be another way of looking at something? Can you step back and take in the whole picture objectively? Could there be more to the story? People and situations can be more than one thing. In developing an awareness of what we know for a fact, setting aside the shortcuts, expanding our view into blind spots, we get better information for action. Blind spots are not blindness – we can improve the completeness of what we see. It requires observation, attention, and sometimes confronting a limitation under which we’ve been operating.

Financial self-awareness is the first step. Learning to be aware of our blind spots can lead us to greater understanding, compassion, and better decision-making all around.

As for Blindspotting the movie, my experience at the SIFF screening was intense and very personal. There is an art to allowing us to laugh while we cry, something Shakespearean about giving us that release so that we can continue to watch, to engage, to care about these characters, flawed as they may be, in the short time we have with them. This is a powerful film, coming at a time when we are churning up some deeply held beliefs among us, which I continue to believe is the first part of healing. Right now it may not feel like we’re making progress, yet like any problem – or blind spot – you can’t do anything to change it until you recognize it’s there.

It is only a movie. But if it promotes a continued conversation about racial tension, police violence, gentrification, growing income inequality, and how we can promote empathy and compassion while tackling these issues, then it is so much more.  Blindspotting opens nationwide July 27th.

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Three Easy Resolutions for 2016

Posted on Jan 3, 2016 in Health, Planning, Relationship

I love making resolutions. I make them at New Year’s, at mid-year, and in the Fall when we’re headed into the end of the year.  Even if you’re not the type to make resolutions, here are three I hope you’ll consider:

  1. Move – Whether you hit the gym, run in the neighborhood, walk in the park or dance around the house, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you move. You can sit on your backside for 23-1/2 hours a day, but for at least 30 minutes, get up and shake up your system. In addition to helping any “lose 10 pounds” resolution you may have, this one also helps your other bottom line:  one of the big contributors to disability is stress, and one of the biggest unexpected costs in retirement is medical expenses.  Exercise improves your health (and its associated costs) in many ways, and boosts your mood.
  2. Love – It takes 20 seconds for a hug to change your body chemistry for the better. According to the University of North Carolina study, after 20 seconds you get the oxytocin release that reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and supports the bond you have with that person. If you’re looking to build meaningful relationships, one easy way to do that is to hug a little longer. Your longer hugs can benefit your heart and blood pressure, too.
  3. Save – You might guess this resolution would be on my list, but it’s not what you think. Often we’re pulled in multiple directions by the different threads of our lives, and at the end of the day we can end up feeling, well, frayed. This year, make a resolution to save a part of your day or week just for you. It won’t make you a bad parent, a weak employee, or a selfish spouse. It may just help you do all those other things better. We each need something that’s just ours. A mediation practice, learning a musical instrument, cultivating a sport. It might seem frivolous, but those 15 or 30 minutes of focus on this thing that’s yours can take you out of whatever the rest of life may be throwing at you, and give you not only a break, but also something you can never lose.

These three goals can leave you with amped endorphins, oxytocin, and joy. And who knows what other resolutions you could tackle after these? Imagine what your life could be like – working towards all those other goals we all set – with an energetic, relaxed, and joyful countenance?  If your financial planning goals are intended to ultimately lead you to a happy and fulfilled life, aren’t you making a good start towards meeting those goals with these three?

Mantras

In the last few years, I’ve also added a “mantra” for the New Year, a phrase or saying that will encourage me in certain ways. The first year I did it, I had realized that I had become way too attached to certain outcomes, a sure path to unhappiness. My mantra that year was “Just Say Yes.”  Yes to the movie the friend suggested, yes to speaking at an event I wasn’t sure about, yes to going with the flow (and “no” to trying to control everything).  Shonda Rhimes, one of my heroes, did a “Just Say Yes” year recently and loved the way it opened up her life so much she took time away from writing her television juggernaut to write a book about it: http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/shonda-rhimes-year-of-yes-tgit-1201632148/)

Like many people, I also have a weight loss goal for the New Year. And I want to push myself professionally by sharing more personally, a sometimes intimidating act. So for 2016, I have two mantras: “I’d rather be slender and sexy” (for when I really want a cheeseburger and a glass of wine) and “Don’t be afraid” (for the many times when my left brain wants to thwart my right brain and stop me from moving forward with a new idea). We all have scripts that run in our heads, and changing them up from time to time can help push you to do something you might not do otherwise.  Think about what your best friend might tell you when you’re stretching to meet a goal, and put that good voice in your head.

So for 2016, in addition to hitting the gym regularly, hugging my friends longer, and taking French lessons to regain my language skills, I’ll also be watching my diet and pushing myself a little further in the office.  I’m betting the first three will help me stick to the last two.

No one ever said resolutions have to be tough. You’re just setting your intention to do something. Walk, hug, cultivate something you love.  It’s your life, you get one shot.  You have 365 days to do your best to make this year the one you want it to be.

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Starting the Financial Conversation: Moving In

Posted on Oct 3, 2015 in Divorce, Planning, Relationship

Five Things to Do Before You Move in Together

  1. TALK! Talk about your financial expectations in the relationship. Talk about how you are going to handle money. Who will pay for what?  Will you split expenses fifty-fifty?  Or according to how much each earns?  Have you shared complete financial information? Or do you want to keep certain things private? (I would recommend an open book relationship.)
  2. Talk some more: Whose name is on the lease/mortgage? What will happen if someone loses his/her job? If one of you ends up moving out?  Now is the time when you want to consider how to protect and care for each other, to consider a range of future scenarios, even those that seem remote.
  3. Frame your money conversation around how you will agree to protect and support the other in all ways — emotionally, physically, and financially — through your anticipated life transitions. It’s fair to also talk about what’s yours, but start with the easy stuff.  Retreating into self-protection can set you up for a defensive response, closing off a conversation before it gets started. If you can stay open to listen to your intended, your conversation can reveal what you value.
  4. Educate yourself about how to share and/or protect assets with your partner.  You may unwittingly create community property or a third party interest in separate property if you’re not careful.  If you get married and later divorce, the time living together could be factored into what would be considered a meretricious/common law relationship.
  5. Find a facilitator, whether an attorney, or couples counselor, faith-based advisor or secular guide. An objective party can be helpful not only for the necessary financial conversation, but to help you communicate and manage other negotiations you will have as time goes by.

It can be difficult to have these conversations, but if money conflicts are at the root of the majority of couples’ crises, don’t you owe it to yourself to tackle the questions that will help you establish a strong foundation from the beginning?

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When Your Partner Has a Secret Life

Posted on Apr 18, 2014 in Divorce, Family, Relationship

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, many turned to the dead bomber’s widow for answers. What seems impossible for some to believe is that she knew nothing of her husband’s plans. How could she be so close and not know?  Here, a year later, I can offer my perspective from my own experience.

In the last years of my marriage, I discovered my husband had a secret life. There had been hidden addiction, other relationships, thousands of dollars from our accounts that went missing.   It all came out slowly, painfully, over a period of years. It wasn’t until I saw the funds missing from our accounts, which couldn’t be explained away with a story, that I finally could see the truth.

But prior to that, I wanted to believe my husband. I loved and trusted him. We’d met as sophomores in college and had known each other for 25 years. And even though he’d been caught in that first lie that started the unraveling of our marriage, I wanted to believe that after that he was telling the truth. That I fell for that over and over – well, that speaks to my contribution to our dynamic. I couldn’t see some of what was going on because I didn’t want to. Other parts he hid deliberately and effectively. Other people, friends, and family were complicit in the charade because they didn’t want to believe the truth about him either.

From time to time I asked questions. And I would get answers that didn’t quite make sense. Or answers that were true – but incomplete. There were periods when I worried about my mental state. He said he’d told me something, but I was pretty sure he had not. Case in point was his description of a trip he was taking. He was going to see his brother and he’d found a hotel with a cheap local’s rate. That much was true. What was revealed after a forensic search of his credit card statements was that he made the trip with another woman (and her dog), paid for their airfare, meals and shopping from our money. The hotel with the local’s rate was a four-star resort. He could say what he’d told me was the truth. But there’s a reason they make you swear in court to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Slowly I began to see half-truths, omissions, and out-and-out lies.

You want to believe the people you love, especially if the truth is too painful to see. There were many times I felt something was wrong, but didn’t know what to do about it. The lesson for me was how to press for answers, how to keep my partner engaged in a difficult conversations, and at least for me, if he can’t participate in these difficult talks, to leave.

Some of the things you might look for if you suspect your partner is hiding something from you are the following:

  • Creating distance between you – My husband was pulling away from me, physically and emotionally. All long-term relationships go through ups and downs.  He also created distance by coming home consistently later than he’d said. I used to joke that if he said he’d be home at 5:30, I’d see him at 7. What I should have done is kept trying to close the distance. It might not have changed the end result, but I think the truth would have come to light sooner.
  • Things may not be what they seem – What you think you see may not be correct – actions may be subject to interpretation. I had an explanation for what was happening in my marriage: many times I was put off because my husband had work to do. He was dedicated to his job (an attribute I admired greatly) and I wasn’t going to interfere with his work. Only later I learned much of that time spent “working” was actually on-line and in person with other women, other activities that were not advancing his career.
  • Denial – My ex-husband had a difficult and traumatic childhood. That he survived it, and even thrived as an adult in his work life, was again a quality I found laudable. His family and even our marriage counselor supported his inability to talk about difficulty in our relationship as “being stoic” or “flooding”—being so overcome during an emotionally-charged time that he could not speak. His father had been a bigamist, and spent time in prison. There was no way his family was going to believe that my husband would grow up to hide things like his father. It worked to his advantage that there was no expectation that he needed to explain his actions or thoughts. That was just him being stoic.
  • Manipulation – What I didn’t see was that he used this vulnerability to get what he wanted from me, and the rest of his family. Unhappy in a city with limited career choices for me, I suggested I move temporarily to another city, apprentice in a new field, and return to start a new career. In tears and on his knees, he told me how he didn’t want us to be apart. Despite my deep dissatisfaction with my own career prospects, but not wanting to have him be so unhappy, I stayed. When I look back over our years together, I see this pattern of my wanting something, his hurt, my wanting to stop that hurt more than honor my own needs, and relinquishing my want.
  • Deep investment in the marriage – I loved and respected my husband, and I believed we are each responsible for our own happiness. Things that started off as small slights – being inattentive at a party, coming home late, using work as an excuse to abandon our Thursday Date Nights and time with family – these added up over time. But I wasn’t going to leave him over these things. We had been together since college, and I doubled down and worked harder to be happy on my own – which should have been an indicator itself of a troubled marriage.

In my case there was no terrorist plot. There was just a man who got off by hiding things from his wife. Being so close to him, at least in my case, was part of the problem. And for a long time, I didn’t want to see it. Once I did, my life made a lot more sense.

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Getting Kicked Out of the Tribe, Part 1: You’ve Struck it Rich

Posted on Apr 28, 2013 in Community, Family, Philanthropy, Relationship

Congratulations. You’ve won the Google/Facebook/Amazon lottery. You got in on the ground floor of a successful company, you’ve worked hard, and it’s paid off. So what’s the downside?

Unless your entire social circle consists of co-workers enjoying the same liquidity event, you will likely experience shifts in your Tribe. That group of people you depend on for social connection, feedback, belonging, and the occasional phone call at 3:30 in the morning for bail money. That’s your Tribe. You’ve typically accumulated them over time based on shared experiences, or from a particular, notable point in your past. These are the friends you’ve had since kindergarten, the buddies you hung with in college, your cohort at that first job.

Even if the members of your tribe all won the lottery along with you, family members might see you differently, and expect different things from you. Take an extreme case, that of Michael Jackson and his family. Jackson was a hugely talented, hard-working artist whose success was deemed by his family to belong to them collectively. He was most conflicted about how to help his mother, Katherine, a fight many successful kids face. His painful struggle was meticulously and poignantly described in Randall Sullivan’s biography, Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson. Four years after his death, Jackson is still in the news, and his family is still fighting to get what they feel is theirs. (Katherine Jackson’s wrongful death suit against AEG, Jackson’s concert promoter, seeks damages based on Jackson’s future earnings potential, estimated to be $40 billion.) Jackson’s effort to make everyone happy took its toll as the extended family piled on to let his wealth support their lifestyles. Expectations regarding what you can do for family now that you’ve hit the jackpot can create new tensions in these relationships.

What Happens When You Come into Money
Any major shift in one’s personal circumstances is accompanied by a shock to the system. New money often comes with a rush of emotions: euphoria, guilt, fear, numbness, relief, feeling unworthy, depression. Making financial decisions in an emotional space is never wise, so first give yourself some time to adjust. Don’t spend it all, don’t give it all away; you can do these things later on if you still want to. Right now, wait, and do some research on getting help to sort out your financial options.

Once it becomes known you’ve hit the jackpot, you are a target. A target for scam artists, money-seeking paramours, friends and distant and not-so-distant family who may have a changed view of you. Part of my work involves helping clients given away their excess – helping them design a philanthropic strategy to improve the parts of the world they value most. In the beginning, I was impressed with those who gave anonymously. I felt slightly guilty that personally I wanted the credit for my own donations. But often these lists of donors are targets for salespeople, scammers and highly specialized professional lawsuit creators. These donors were giving anonymously perhaps because they didn’t need the validation of seeing their names in the annual report, but in large part they were giving anonymously to protect themselves.

You Will Need to Work to Keep the Friends Who Matter
Most celebrity success stories – those people who manage to skirt the ego-engorgement and excesses that often come with renown — have a Tribe that goes back to their pre-fame days. These are the people who will laugh in your face when you get a little too full of yourself. Who will be there to bounce ideas off of, with no vested interest in the result other than trying to give you the best advice they can. They are the people who liked you even before you came into money or fame. These are the people who know you, and can call out when something you’re suggesting doesn’t fit with who they know you to be. They will remind you who you are.

Once you’re surrounded by people who are on your payroll (for real, or just every time you’re picking up the tab) it becomes very hard to know whether they are telling you the truth. An early Microsoftie who signed on in the late ‘80s retired several years later at 33. He found himself surrounded by a great group of people who enjoyed a lot of the same music, the same clubs, the same lifestyle he did. Until the tech bust wiped out his ability to buy them drinks. Suddenly he was dealing with a personal financial crisis that turned his world upside down and a time in which needed friends the most. Turns out that’s when they needed him the least. He was alone in his house, sorting out what was left of his portfolio, including a hefty tax bill, with no one to turn to for support.

What to Do?
•  Recognize that your friends will not be able to keep up.  You might pick up the tab from time to time, but the friends that are worth keeping won’t want to be on your payroll. Consider mixing up time in the VIP suite at the Giants game with lunch at a food truck to maintain some reciprocity in your relationship.
•  Be aware that you will attract attention. Buy that Model S and you’ll get attention. Carry that Prada bag and you’ll get attention. Move into that posh place in the city, and you’ll draw attention. That’s not always a bad thing, but recognize that it becomes more difficult to discern the draw of your charm from the draw of your dough.
•   See an estate attorney. You might not yet have stuff to protect, but you have moved into a situation in which establishing trusts to protect financial assets could make sense. You may also want to shield future acquisitions of property from the probing eyes of others.
•  Take a minute to think about what a shot at what financial freedom really means. The first question I ask new clients is what they would do if they were financial free. Money is no longer an issue. What would you change in your life? Would you change anything? Continue to work? Focus on different things? Retire? Can you really handle 50+ years of golf? Include everything – things, people, experiences — you think you want. Now is the time to consider how you really want your life to look.
•  Recognize that building new relationships will be challenging. I think this is the hardest part of new money. How do you want to develop relationships going forward? It might be easy to offer to buy lunch, treat a friend to a show, or try in other ways to even the playing field. But are you trying to make things more even between friends, or subtly buying affection? What are you worth to your friends, new and old? Do you feel you have something to offer besides money? Recognize that you may literally buy in to new groups to which access comes with money, but these relationships are based on a monetary foundation. They may evolve into more, but don’t confuse buying access with earning acceptance.

Education is your best defense against missteps that can derail your good fortune. Finding a financial advisor who can offer objective analysis and support over the course of your transition to your new circumstances, and a sounding board for decisions going forward, can be hugely beneficial. At a minimum, your advisor can be the “bad guy” who you can blame for not being able to fulfill the demands or other financially questionable requests from others. Fee-only financial advisors offer their advice free of conflicts from selling specific products, and many offer holistic planning that incorporates aspects of your financial life beyond your portfolio, including taxes, residential real estate, asset protection, charitable giving and long-term planning. You can search for a fee-only financial advisor in your area through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA): http://www.napfa.org/index.asp

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