A fresh start. The calendar had just ticked over into 2015 so it seemed an appropriate time to purge the misery of the loss of the company and 28 years of toil. I had intended to commence by saying what a difference a year made but as the actual axe fall was 12th March 2014, as I write, barely 10 months has passed.
At the beginning of 2014 we were in the place most dreaded by those who have spent their lives in business, the prospect of losing everything. It’s now history that despite 38 years of success in business including the last 28 building one company, we lost it all, but during that harrowing time, when you see all your possessions taken from you, a surprising benefit shows itself which I will reveal shortly.
The positive side of being in business is the perception or should I say self-deception, that you are in control of your life. It’s true that in theory, you can decide when to open and close, when to work and when to play but the reality is the weight of responsibility, the expectations and the obligations can kill.
Of all the stresses, it’s the sense of responsibility that weighs most heavily. No matter how I compare matters to my total wipe-out, it’s the losses taken by family, friends, shareholders and to an only slightly lesser extent, the company’s business associates that haunt me still. The knowledge that I lost it all, a financially non-survivable event at age 65, does not seem to compensate for the guilt felt for the significant but survivable losses taken by others. This makes no rational sense but is deeply felt just the same.
I guess non-survivable is too strong a description for the long term, but in the short term, it certainly is just that. When events like the 2008 world financial crisis turn against you, events beyond your ability to control, the fear is paralysing and the stress almost unbearable. The suicide rate for the self- employed, the farmers and small business employers is disproportionate in the general population. Decades of work can create big assets, but the bigger the assets, the more weight you have to bear. With the right attitude and support, one can deal with it, but when things are outside your control, the weight is crushing.
Over a life time, I’ve found almost every time a bad thing came along, a good thing came hidden in the packaging. Not too long after the receivers took it all, we discovered ‘the good thing’.
When they took our possessions, they took them all, which included the 4am anxiety chest pain, they took the responsibility, they took the bastard banks, they took the blackmailing monopolies, they took the company’s creditors, they took the misery, they took the stress and warned us under threat of legal consequences, that all these matters now belonged to them, along with our assets. We were told to just “go and don’t look back, because now, we own this all”.
Through the despair and anxiety, there was an uplifting experience, the fairness, understanding and outright support we received, not only from true friends, but from some who were also injured in the fall. We had business associates and investors who took a loss but were generous and forgiving, we had understanding from those tasked with doing the unpleasant work of winding up and truly ‘beyond duty’ help from our legal and personal adviser, Michael Attipa.
Now, what to do? The answer is that this is a time to choose, life or no life. We chose life and invested a small amount into an Australian house sitting site, Aussie House Sitters. We converted our car into a 30 year old camper van and a trailer. After a few weeks spent selling off our furniture and a few personal possessions, we packed up what was left and hit the road.
Three years of purgatory in bankruptcy may as well be spent providing a small service for others in exchange for the joy of travelling like teenagers albeit on a slim pension. This horror can be turned into an adventure if we hold a positive attitude and look for the joy instead.
I will forever remember these people who provided reassurance and guidance during that bad time. For all that, would I go back if I could? Would I go back to our previous life in exchange for those assets? Not with a gun to my head.
Life now is, well, life, something we had not enjoyed for a very long time. With the benefit of time to ponder such matters, I’ve realized that assets come in two classes (at least). The first, most pursued are the physical kind like houses, cars and boats, holidays and ‘must-have’ consumption. The other kind of asset is personal, friends, freedom and good health.
I had never considered before that every physical asset you own, owns a piece of you, ‘Golden Handcuffs’ if you will, a weight you must bear. Every asset requires that you serve its needs by way of mortgage / instalments / repayments, maintenance, taxes, depreciation, protection, insurance and or security. The more physical assets you ‘own’, the more they own you, the more weight you have to bear. Mostly this is quite an acceptable situation, provided their needs, their ‘weight’ does not outweigh the benefit to you.
Nearly a year on and we have few physical assets to show, basically just an old Nissan E23 campervan and trailer holding our remaining worldly possessions, but we have things that don’t count in the balance sheet. We can now savor the other type of assets, those precious few that have no ‘weight’. We have love, we have health, we have family, we still have true friends who don’t desert when it goes bad, we have freedom and we have time.
Time to write, time to read and time to ponder, we have sandwiches at the beach, we have picnics with the cows, we have campfires and new friends and museums and long walks. We travel slowly, we look after each other and we live. Ask me again, would I swap these things for the assets we left behind? What do you think?