32 – Priorities
Two years later
After doing fairly well on his own, Victor relapsed and was grateful for the guest room at the Goodman home. Discouraged that his grief could have such a relentless grip, the spark of hope nevertheless flickered a little brighter, and he chose to view his setback as temporary.
“I’m sorry, guys—thanks for having me. I don’t think it will take me so long to get back on track; I just needed a little time away from the house to re-orient my thoughts again.” His free time was spent reading and journaling. Saddened by his broken life, he still found a way to view it with frail optimism.
I’ve decided that success isn’t a measure of the life I have, but a measure of how I live the life I’ve been given. I choose to live. I think Michelle would expect me to.
On the other side of the house, toys were strewn across the family room floor as Sadie and Chloe tried to stay atop their bucking-bronco older brother Matthew. “Shhh! Guys—I’m on the phone!” Felicity whispered with intensity as she stood behind the kitchen counter with her hand over the receiver.
She spoke into the phone. “Yes, the program materials and costumes are on their way. You should receive them by Friday; if they don’t reach you by then, let me know.”
Felicity listened, nodding as though the director on the other end could see her gesture of understanding. The nodding switched to brief shaking, “No, you’re all set to go—the graduation form has been processed and approved, and we’ll expect to see you at the training… oh, you’re welcome. Yes, you’ll get all the info then. …Certainly. Yes, we’re thrilled to have you on board! … Thank you. Talk soon! Bye, now!”
Felicity hung up the phone and Richard appeared from his office down the hall to raid the fridge. “Who was that?”
“Oh, that was Laura Johnson from New Jersey—our newest director.”
“Great!” Richard set out a pile of supplies to create an overstuffed sub sandwich.
Felicity continued, “She’s a stay-at-home mom with an underutilized passion for dance, and heard about my program from Lisa Vargas in Florida—they used to be college roommates, can you believe that?”
“Wow—thin threads! So you’re in New Jersey now, huh?”
“Yeah,” Felicity beamed. “I can’t believe how quickly it’s spreading. Yet, at the same time I’m not surprised in the least. There’s been such a crying need for a resource like this to give parents an alternative. They see its unique way of empowering the youth, instilling personal excellence, building self-esteem, promoting wholesome family values, celebrating cultural diversity and uniting communities. We train the competitive performer to compete, without excluding the non-competitive. It really meets the child at their level and inspires them to attain the next.” Felicity bubbled with enthusiasm, “I love what I do!!”
Richard smiled and nodded in agreement with his mouth full of hoagie bread.
She added, “Did you know that as of last week, we’ve got thirty-four directors now? And the participant lists are already in the thousands. I’m astounded that God could do something this big with such a simple idea.”
After chasing his bite down with a swig of milk, Richard reminded her, “It was genius. You tapped in to something genius.”
Felicity mused, “I didn’t set out to do anything genius, I just started honoring the idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. One small step at a time.”
“I’m convinced that genius ideas are just that: simple thoughts that someone stopped to notice and chose to honor.” Richard was quiet for a moment then added, “What I love about your program is that you haven’t just created something to put kids on a path toward better grades, while teaching compassion, creativity, public speaking, dedication, responsibility, coordination, and everything else it offers; you’ve created an opportunity for other moms all over the country to earn some seriously good money doing what they love, on their own schedule. It’s brilliant!” Richard concluded, moving in from behind and wrapping his arms around her. Eventually it was the kiss behind her ear that made her turn around to embrace him back.
Leaning her head on his chest and gazing out the back window she confessed, “Yeah, but something’s bugging me.”
“Maria called me yesterday.”
“Your friend from high school?”
“Yeah. I’m confused, because, she and I used to be so close, but now—oh, I don’t know.” Felicity’s eyes became glassy and she forced composure so Richard wouldn’t notice.
Richard stood quietly and tenderly kissed her head as he stared in the direction of the kids playing on the other side of the great room. Patiently he just listened.
Felicity continued, “I was confiding in her, about how overwhelmed I was feeling last week. It’s like everything had come down at once and I just needed to vent. The accountant needed my reports, we couldn’t find Matthew’s homework folder, Chloe used permanent marker in the hallway, and I wasn’t keeping up on the orders. I was just at a breaking point, you know? And I just needed to vent—I needed someone to lean on. Maria has always been good for that sort of thing before, but this time, her response really shook me up.”
“Oh? What did she say?”
“She said, ‘If you’re having it so rough, maybe you should quit working.’” Felicity swallowed to hold back the emotion. “Then she said, ‘Maybe if you weren’t working so much all the time, Chloe wouldn’t need to act out like that—to get your attention.’ Oh, and then she even said, ‘I don’t mean to offend you, but sometimes I think that women who work have no business having kids.’”
“Are you serious? She said that?” Richard was incredulous. “Well, Felicity, that’s what she thinks. But what I want to know is: what do you think?”
“I don’t know, maybe she’s right. She made it sound like I should have chosen between work and having the twins or something.” Looking at her kids playing on the carpet, the thought that someone could criticize her for bringing such jewels into her family cut like a knife.
After a moment she admitted, “Sure, things get hard sometimes, trying to be a good mom and build the dance program, but deep down, I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing! It’s like God carries me along, lets me struggle now and then, and shows me just one piece at a time what I’m supposed to do. I know I’m on the right path—no matter what anyone says. It just hurts when someone I care about can’t understand why I do what I do.”
“Oh, so you mean she can’t see your rabbit?” Richard smiled. “Since when has it ever mattered whether others could see the object of your pursuit, and the reason for your madness? Life’s too short to spend your time with friends like that.”
Felicity cried some, but quickly wiped her face on his shirttail to reclaim control. “You’re right. With friends like that, who needs enemies?” She whispered weakly. “She thinks that people who are ambitious are just focused on money…”
“Well, you and I know the truth; and the fact is, none of the money we receive is ours anyway. You know that. We’re just stewards. Just temporary stewards. Perhaps she’ll never understand that. Maybe she’ll always judge you—is that going to change what you do?”
“Of course not.”
Richard looked down as she buried her face again in his shirt, and hearing the sound of mucous escaping her nasal orifices he muttered, “Oh, thanks for that,” in disgust.
“No problem, Sugar.” Felicity looked up at him sweetly and smiled.
After a moment of silence, Richard counseled, “Honey, don’t let it get to you. Think of it like opposition just trying to keep you from doing what you’re supposed to do. You already know this: your work is improving the lives of thousands of kids now, and will even affect generations to come in a positive, empowering way. I’m convinced opposition will always accompany the most incredible, worthy accomplishments and come at us from the most unlikely, unexpected places. This thing with Maria could be evidence that you’re more on track than you know.”
Felicity nodded; she knew he was right.
He concluded, “Sometimes life sends us the greatest pain through those we love, and it’s our opportunity to choose the right path anyway. It’s a gift—because we can become stronger for overcoming it. The reward on the other side of the challenge will be at least equal to, if not better than, the pain we had to endure to get there.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Both let the silence linger for a while, then Richard eventually followed up with, “You okay?”
“Okay enough, for me to tell you something?” rabbit
Felicity hesitated, and then cautiously responded, “What kind of something?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but—I can’t keep it to myself any longer. We have a little problem.”
Felicity remained silent, bracing for whatever news was to come. Richard hesitated so long that she finally broke the silence herself. “So, you have some bad news that you were going to keep from me, and now you want to share it?”
“Well, look what you did to my shirt. I guess I feel obliged to share something back.”
While Richard’s eyes feigned good humor, Felicity sensed she was about to hear something heavy.
“Honey,” he continued, “it’s a paradox. I spend all my time teaching other people the principles of success. I coach them to have faith in the face of fear. And we’ve seen the principles work for ourselves, too. But even though I’m grateful we’ve been able to creatively find the resources we need to keep going, our net worth and visible resources are shrinking faster than the revenue is flowing in. Honestly, Felicity—it’s hard not to worry about that. I get exhausted trying to constantly apply the principles, just to maintain this life we’ve built.”
Felicity admitted, “I’ve sort of worried about running out of money, too; but I’ve been working really hard to push those thoughts away. I keep thinking our big breakthrough will happen any day now, but if it doesn’t, well, it’s just got to turn around before we get to the end of our reserves. You know, we’re not nearly done yet. You’ve only scratched the surface of what I think you’ll do worldwide, and I’m not going to be able to rest until I have at least two directors in every state in the country. What I’d really like is to find someone who’s been in this kind of a spot before who can help us move through it successfully. Surely we’re students who are finally ready for the right teacher to appear.”
“I’d like to think so.”
“The one thing I know for sure that helps me return to peace with each panic attack is that we’re doing all we know how with what we have—doing our best to follow the inspiration we get along the way; but I wonder sometimes if we’ve fallen into the trap of trying to solve our problems at the same level of thinking we’re already at. We need a business plan. Don’t you think?”
“Yes, and no. I mean, we’re in an urgent situation here. We could either spend our time formulating an intricately detailed business plan, or we can let the big picture remain a little vague and focus all of our energy on things that bring the cash flow now. Put our energy into the short-term objectives that we can see clearly. Felicity, if we spend too much time trying to force the details of the ultimate goal, we may not be in business long enough to get there! We’ve got to get profitable ASAP, so that our minds are freer to develop the details of the ultimate goal.”
Felicity sighed. “Makes sense, I guess. I hope you’re right. I just want to make sure the short term goal is going to get us to the big one.”
“We may get a little off course, but so long as we stay in forward motion, I believe there’ll be opportunity for course correction as needed.”
33 – Victor’s Guest
“Hey Richard?” Victor knocked lightly on the frame of the home office door, and Richard looked up from his desk with a smile, welcoming his brother in to sit down.
“Thanks, man. Um—” he paused, “I have a confession to make.” Victor’s mouth was sheepishly scrunched to one side.
Putting his pen down and leaning back in his chair, Richard offered Victor his full attention. “Confession?”
“I eavesdropped. I overheard you and Felicity talking about things—and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”
Richard suddenly felt uneasy, unsure of which of their many conversations had been overheard. Letting all he could remember race through his mind, he concluded that the only conversation that might have caused a problem occurred earlier in the week when Felicity made a remark about Victor’s loneliness, and wondering if and when Victor was going to start dating again.
Bracing himself for an awkward exchange, Richard replied, “I hope we didn’t offend you—”
“Offend? ‘Offend’ doesn’t capture how I felt. It just made me worry a little. You guys were having some natural concerns, and I think anyone in your situation would worry about the same thing. But I have an idea and hope you’ll roll with me on it.”
“I have someone I’d like you to meet. Do you think Felicity would mind preparing a special dinner, so I can make an introduction?”
Richard was astonished that Victor would be this eager to bring a girl home with him, and whether or not Felicity would agree was irrelevant as far as Richard was concerned. Thrilled at the news that Victor had found someone interesting, he determined he’d cook it himself if he had to! “Of course—how about Tuesday night?”
“I’ll check on that, but yes, that would be fantastic.” After an awkward pause, Victor nervously added, “Great,” smiled warmly and left the office.
“Are you serious? That’s wonderful!” Felicity beamed with excitement. “I wasn’t sure if he’d ever get to this point—oh, this is such good news! What’s it been, three years since the accident?”
Richard’s joy was hardly containable, too. “Yeah, about three. Let’s make sure this dinner is extra special—I’ll help you.”
“Really? Cool!” Felicity stacked some papers carefully and moved them to the edge of the counter near the wall. “And how about we let the kids have dinner with Grandma that night? It could be a double-date!”
“Yeah—let’s do that. I’ll call my mom—I’m sure she’d support this.”
“What kind of a girl do you think she is? Do you think he’s found someone like Michelle, or maybe she’s someone completely different? I can hardly wait!”
Tuesday night came fast, and Richard was impressed with the condition of the home—in spite of the fact it had only received a light tidying up, instead of the deep clean Felicity had hoped for. There simply hadn’t been time to make it any better.
After dropping the kids off at Grandma’s, the couple spent the afternoon busy in the kitchen, pulling together all the elements of a magnificent three-course meal.
Victor emerged from his room wearing a suit and Felicity looked at the clock on the wall. “Wow, Vic, you look great! I guess I’d better get myself cleaned up—Richard, can you stir this until I get back?”
“Sure. Just leave me enough time to spruce up, too!” Turning to Vic he smiled, “Are you nervous?”
“Nervous? No, why should I be nervous?”
Regretting his question, Richard recovered, “Oh, you’re right. No big deal, huh.”
Victor looked at Richard perplexed, and Richard quickly changed the subject. “So, things at work going good?”
“Actually, they are—ever since I began working with those laws you taught me in the car that night, my partners have been responding differently. Things have never been better, and I’ve been thinking, you’ve got to get out there more. People need to hear what you have to say, man.”
“I know, I know. One step at a time. I’m not sure how to break into a bigger game, but expect that will come together when the time is right.”
Victor just grinned knowingly and nodded his head.
“What’s that look for?”
Richard’s brows furrowed and he wanted a better explanation, but could tell Victor had no intentions of saying anything more.
Felicity returned and said, “Your turn—and hurry. She could be here any minute!”
Victor turned to Felicity and looked confused. Finally he shook his head and didn’t say anything.
“What?” Richard noticed Victor’s odd reaction.
“Hmm? Oh, nothing.”
Richard glanced at Felicity and her eyes widened as if to say, “I don’t know what he’s talking about either.”
Just then the doorbell rang and Felicity jumped.
“I’ll get it,” Victor announced.
As he walked from the kitchen to the foyer, his shoes clicked on the polished tile and his figure reflected below his feet.
Felicity whispered, “I can’t stand it! Do you think he’s gone for ‘tall’ this time?”
“I don’t know—but it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still attracted to the intellectual type.”
The door opened, and there stood an overweight man in a business suit. Richard and Felicity looked at each other, speechless. In the distance they could hear Victor say, “Hey, thanks for coming. Right this way.”
Confused, Richard pasted a smile on his face and welcomed the guest with a hand outstretched. Felicity remained frozen, stunned.
The gentleman shook Richard’s hand and said, “So, you’re Richard, huh?”
“Yes, and you are?”
Victor piped in, “This is Lou. Ever since last week I’ve wanted to introduce you two.”
Felicity pulled herself together and nervously said, “Let’s sit down! Dinner’s ready. Right this way.”
The men filed in behind her and sat around the elegantly decorated dining room table. It finally sunk in to Richard mind that this was not the double date he thought it was going to be.
Victor broke the tension, “Lou is one of my business partners. We played football together in high school. He’s brilliant at what he does, and when I overheard you were having some cash flow challenges in your business, I thought you should meet.”
“Oh!” Felicity released a relieved chuckle and glanced at Richard. Smiling, bright eyed, she added, “Tremendous!”
Richard’s glance back to Felicity communicated a feeling of apology and embarrassment as he wondered how this mix-up happened.
Lou interjected. “I’ve heard about what you do, Richard. I’ve seen the change in Victor over the last three years, and I’m intrigued. Maybe I can help.”
“Lou has been instrumental in creatively marketing and reorganizing our systems to turn them around. He’s a financial advisor by trade, but does so much more than that.”
Felicity looked at Richard and raised her eyebrows. Turning her glance toward Lou she responded, “Great—we’re all ears.”
Apprehensively Victor interrupted, “I hope you don’t mind I overheard your conversation in the kitchen that day—it’s just that you’ve helped me so much, when I realized what you’re dealing with, I thought about all my contacts and resources, and truly, I think with some of the people I know, we can steer you through this and help you get solid. We have connections and partners all over the country who could benefit from what you do, Richard.”
Lou pulled back. “Yes, but first things first. We need to get your cash flow under control.” Lou proceeded cautiously, allowing the couple to exercise their choice in the matter. “That is, if you’re open to some discussion on that.”
Richard’s journey in just the previous ten minutes left him stripped of his guard and he began to recognize this was probably the answer to their prayers. Pride aside, he accepted. “Yes, I think that could be helpful. I have questions, and I haven’t known what to do—we’re dealing with some things we’ve never faced before.”
“Well, first of all, what’s your passion?”
“Helping people break through their financial difficulties.”
“And you say you’re having financial difficulties of your own?”
Richard was embarrassed, and felt the need to defend himself. “Just because the principles are true, it doesn’t mean I’m perfect at living them. But I’m trying—and have committed to share what I learn as I figure it all out.”
“Sounds like you’ve discovered a portal to genius.” Lou smiled.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re so passionate about making a contribution; you’re even looking at your challenges in terms of how you’ll use them to serve others. That’s genius. Don’t you think you’ll continue to tap into brilliant solutions as you need them with a mindset like that?”
“Yeah, but it’s been tough. We’ve been throwing all our time, money, and energy into the things we’re passionate about. But, as often as we’ve invested, we’ve wondered: how long will we have to sacrifice before we can relax and enjoy the revenue our businesses produce? They’re doing pretty well, we have no complaints—but when the money comes in, it always goes to inventory, or marketing, or whatever—it seems endless. There’s never enough left over to feel like we can start living.”
“Don’t be too impatient, Richard. This is normal for start-ups. There does come that day when things don’t have to be quite so intense.”
Felicity piped in, “I get to where I think we’re almost there, and then something always pulls the rug out from under us. We can see where we’re going, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s like the proverbial carrot dangling out in front of us, getting us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do with no real hope of ever being able to sit down and enjoy the reward.”
Richard was finding relief getting this all off his chest. “We’ve seen the principles work, again and again, and yeah, we’re still here. It’s not like we’re at the end of all we have yet, but it appears to be fast approaching. We just reject the fear every time it comes up, but it’s getting harder to do.”
Jumping in before anyone else had a chance to vent some more, Lou said, “I’m sure you’re doing all you can to reject thoughts of potential failure,” he paused, “but as honorable as that is, there is a piece of you—your subconscious mind as you know—that is designed to keep you safe. All this time you’re going unflinchingly toward your goal, it’s down there trying to make sure you don’t meet with disaster. It’s constantly asking you, ‘what are you going to do if the money runs out?’ or ‘what are people going to think if you fail?’”
Richard found some comic relief that Lou could blatantly call attention to the thoughts he had been trying to ignore for so long.
The businessman leaned forward and raised his voice, “For crying out loud, answer the question! Give your subconscious mind an answer—without a whole lot of emotional energy on it—and put its worries to rest!” Sitting back in his seat, he concluded, “It’ll more likely leave you alone after that.”
“What do you mean, ‘answer the question’?” Felicity wondered.
“I mean, ask yourself, ‘so what if the money runs out? What then?’”
Richard immediately felt a surge of adrenaline and he could feel the panic rise up from wherever it had been stuffed for a long, long time.
“I mean really; what if the money was gone, what then?” Lou repeated.
“Uh—” Richard tried to speak directly so as to satisfy this new mentor, “we’d lose the house and our neighbors might talk about our failures.”
“Umm, so, then we’d have to find a cheaper place to live.”
“And what if you lost your cars, too?”
“Then, I guess we’d be taking the city bus everywhere.”
The more they drilled down, the less terrifying the potential life-changes seemed to be. Richard felt that it became ridiculous, in fact, to bottle up so much fear over scenarios that, in the larger scheme of things, were really not that big of a deal.
Lou concluded, “If everything fell apart, would you quit teaching? Felicity, if you had to move, would you still build your dance programs?”
“Well, of course—that’s what we do. Wouldn’t you agree, Richard?”
“Yeah, even if we lost everything, we’d find a way to keep doing what we do—it’s our passion.”
“Right, even if you lost it all, you would rebuild. In fact, many successful people have had to do just that. Now that you’ve answered the nagging question, you can let the issue rest and get back to work finding and creating solutions. I think your subconscious mind will give you a little less grief now.”
“So if our reserves run out before the cash flow is what it needs to be, then there’s the question of whether or not to get a loan or use credit cards to keep afloat. That’s my fear—I don’t want to go into debt again after working so hard to get out of it.”
“Well, if it comes to that, you’ll have to decide whether to quit altogether, or draw upon all remaining sources and determinedly complete the projects that promise to make your situation solvent,” Lou stated matter-of-factly.
“But we have no other resources.”
“No credit? Nobody you could call on?”
In Richard’s mind, using other people’s money was out of the question, and that was obvious by the tension in his jaw. Felicity interjected, “I’m with Richard on this. We refuse to go into debt—there has to be another way. It took us far too long to get out of it the first time—we’re not going there ever again.”
Lou gently explained, “Whether or not you should, ultimately depends on whether you feel that the utilization of credit is to delay an inevitable bankruptcy, or whether it will allow you to plant the final seeds and supply the necessary sustenance that will bring the long-awaited harvest.”
“But we decided long ago we would not go into debt again, aside from our mortgage, which we hope to eliminate as well.”
“I agree; it’s critical to stay out of debt. I would never advise you to go into debt. But let me explain how ‘debt’ is defined in the financial world. To be in a ‘debt position’ means you owe more than the value of your assets. If your assets are greater than your liabilities, you are not in ‘debt’, but in an ‘equity position’, even if you owe money to creditors. So in that sense, I always counsel my clients to stay out of debt. But if your decision to borrow capital brings you to an end that eventually allows you to repay everyone in full—instead of declaring bankruptcy—it may be something to consider. Your creditors would ultimately thank you for it, don’t you think?”
“I suppose; but to me, being in debt fundamentally means you owe someone something. It’s bondage; period. I feel that kind of obligation should be avoided at all costs.”
“So nobody should owe anyone anything, ever—if we lived in a perfect world. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Right. In a perfect world, there would be no debt.”
“So nobody would owe you anything, either, right?”
“In a perfect world; that’s right. I think it would be best that everyone be one hundred percent free from bondage of any kind. Not that it could ever realistically happen, but in a perfect world, yes.”
“Did you know you’re regularly putting people in that kind of bondage now? You are a creditor, to which a lot of people are in bondage. If you are as fundamentally anti-debt as you claim to be, then you probably shouldn’t be a creditor either.”
Richard was perplexed. “What are you talking about? I don’t know anyone who is in debt to me,” turning to his brother, he chided, “except maybe you Victor…”
Victor smirked and muttered, “Yeah, yeah.”
Richard turned again to Lou, “But I don’t expect anything from him, I don’t require anything.”
“You just make me feel that way!” Victor teased back.
Lou put the conversation back on track, “Do you have any money in the bank?”
Richard chuckled, “Only a little bit.”
“Well, do you realize you’ve put the bank, and the people who borrow from the bank, into your debt? If you don’t believe in the debt/creditor system at all, then you need to withdraw all of your money and release the bank of their obligation to you.”
Richard reflected on Lou’s words. He had never thought of the banking system in that light. He had never before judged what the bank does as anything less than honorable.
As Richard and Felicity both quietly digested this advisor’s perspective, Lou added, “And for that matter, you should never go to a restaurant that lets you eat before you pay, because for that span of time, you’re in debt to them. You’d have to always pay in advance; but then wait a minute, if you paid in advance, you’d be putting them in debt to you.”
The more their advisor painted such pictures, the more absurd their expectations for a perfect world seemed to be.
The advisor reiterated, “Stay out of debt. Yes. In other words: avoid owing more than you could repay if all was liquidated. But also, don’t be afraid to engage in the economic system, either. Stay focused on production, over and above consumption, and wealth can be created, not just for you, but also for those who are in business to profit from helping you have the capital you need for a time. Make sure if you engage in the system, do it with gratitude—not guilt. How you feel about borrowing the money has a real effect on your ability to stay on track with the strategies you have for paying it back.”
Richard raised his eyebrows and glanced at Felicity who also seemed thoughtful about this instruction.
Victor interjected, “There was a time when I worried about the same thing, and I came to the conclusion that it’s sort of like trying to get from New York to Los Angeles under a deadline, with the one rule to never go east, because that’s backwards and takes me away from my goal. But if I’m sitting in New York, and the Airport is thirty miles east of me,” he looked at Felicity and continued, “am I going to travel east to catch the plane, or am I going to doggedly go in no other direction except west, and have any hope of arriving on time?”
His question was rhetorical and caused Richard to reflect on the dilemma from a different perspective than he had ever entertained in the past.
Lou affirmed, “That’s right. But I’ll just say this because I don’t want you coming back blaming me if it doesn’t go the way you hope: don’t borrow money if it puts you into a mindset of fear. When you’re operating from a mindset of fear, you’ll make different kinds of decisions than when you’re at peace. A decision made from a place of fear is like driving a car under the influence of drugs: you’ll probably do something stupid. But if it puts you into a mindset of advancement, and allows you to finish your projects quicker, gives you the continued ability to make progress and solve problems with a clear and sound plan for paying it back, then do it without beating yourself up. Then, don’t look back and get to work making it pay as quickly as possible. Understand, Richard, this is a completely different issue from using other people’s money for consumption. In, other words, don’t take out a second mortgage to buy a boat, unless that is, you know how to turn the boat into production that increases your cash flow. Utilizing other people’s money for production can in some cases be the wise thing to do, while using it for consumption is always foolish. You’ve got to determine your motive, mindset, plan for repayment, and tolerance for risk.”
In spite of their efforts to avoid it, in less than a year, Richard and Felicity’s fears were realized. With their savings depleted, they faced the very scenario that had been discussed with Lou at dinner.
Richard reflected on that night. “Felicity, do you think we created this problem by talking about it with Lou?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I doubt it. I mean really, if you think back over the last twelve months, don’t you think we’ve done everything in our power to stay positive in spite of the setbacks? What more could we have done? We absolutely handled every challenge that came along in a levelheaded way. When we fell back into old thinking, it didn’t take long to recognize it and fix it. For the most part, we didn’t get upset over the setbacks.”
“You’re right,” Richard agreed.
“We even managed to view that ridiculous law suit in a positive way—knowing that if we could get through it without destroying our vision for the future, the reward on the other side of it would be amazing,” Felicity stated with certainty.
Richard scoffed, “Yeah, that one came completely out of left field; it amazes me how dishonest and ruthless people—opportunists—can be.”
“I’m sure there will come a day when we look at that and understand what we needed to learn from it.”
Richard shrugged, “Maybe it was just an opportunity to practice right thinking. It’s not like you can really practice these principles without problems to practice with.”
Felicity was thoughtful, and then said, “I’m glad you kept writing through it all—you’ve demonstrated the principles you teach in action, and one day, you’ll see the fruits of your efforts, too.”
“I’m counting on it. I wonder sometimes; but I’m so far down this path that I have no other choice but to push through.”
“Now, honey, you always have a choice,” Felicity reminded.
“Yeah, I know—and this is my choice. I can see no other path than the one we’re on—the one that’s laid out before us. I’m going to keep going until I have no other choice than to take a different path. So long as there is something I can do, I’ll keep going.”
“So we’re going to start using other people’s money?”
“Do you see any other way?” Richard wondered.
“It can’t be a long-term solution, Rich. Do you really see how this can turn around before it runs out like our savings did?” rabbit
“Honey, I can’t believe God would bring us this far to fail now. I don’t know, maybe this is one of those final tests to see if we can continue in right-thinking.”
“How can utilizing other people’s money be a test? That sounds totally backwards to me.”
“No, it’s not that—I mean, we’ve sacrificed a lot over the years, and we’ve always said we’d do what it took, except for borrowing money. I think no matter what our exception was, it may have been the final test we would have had to pass. Would we be borrowing the money to simply delay an unavoidable bankruptcy? Or would we be borrowing it to keep us in business while the law of gestation carries out its processes? Since I can’t imagine that all we’ve been through was for nothing, maybe it’s our test to see if we can draw upon that last and final resource without allowing it to mess with our psyche.”
Felicity didn’t respond right away. Finally she expressed her thoughts aloud. “It kind of ticks me off to think we’d have to cross that line—but it wouldn’t surprise me. No, I feel like we only need to float a little longer, and our businesses will begin to pay what we need them to pay. This would not be to delay an unavoidable bankruptcy; that’s not how I see this. Sure, I can let myself feel grateful to participate in blessing someone else’s life. You know, letting someone else profit from the interest we’ll have to pay.”
“Okay, but let’s put our exit strategy in place, too. If we don’t achieve a set benchmark in six months, then let’s use the remaining funds to move somewhere more affordable. We don’t want to be completely destitute before we drop everything and transition into a more affordable lifestyle,” Richard proposed, being careful to talk about it without fear or emotional concern about the outcome.
Not thrilled at the prospect of uprooting the children, Felicity bravely replied, “Sounds reasonable.”
Talking about the situation with Felicity always helped Richard believe his own hopeful words. However, in quieter moments alone, Richard wasn’t always so at peace about their future. With less than one week before they’d reach the end of their savings, and knowing the anticipated cash flow would still be grossly inadequate, Richard reflected again on his discussion with Lou.
Richard had never thought of ‘debt’ in contrast to ‘equity’ before, and part of him felt like it was just a dangerous rationalization. Regardless, in the position he found himself now, he could see no other choice but to either 1) abandon his long-determined purpose to bring his life-changing message to the world, and instead go find employment working for someone else, or 2) continue to build their businesses and keep their commitments on borrowed money.
Lamenting that he even needed to make such a decision, he counseled again with Felicity and they agreed they must proceed, even at the risk of all they had accomplished so far.
“Richard,” Felicity reasoned, “We’ve done just what we knew we were supposed to do. In fact, although I honestly don’t believe we’ll have to, I’m willing to lose everything and start over if that’s what it takes.” Felicity stated with resolve.
Amazed at the remarkable evolved version of his wife who stood before him now, Richard could scarcely believe how far they had come. Gratitude and a sense of awe filled his heart that they both were determined to fearlessly pursue their objectives.
He finally spoke, “Felicity, money or no money, home or no home, I know what I need to be doing. Whenever I’m completely engaged in living my purpose and utilizing the talents I know I’m meant to utilize, I feel successful. No amount of money in the world could ever duplicate that feeling.”
Felicity chuckled and then embraced him warmly. “I know what you mean.” With a melancholy sigh she continued, “So, now what? Is it time to pull out the credit cards?”
Richard didn’t respond right away. After furrowing his brow and staring off into space he eventually responded curiously, “Wait a minute. Maybe not.”
34 – Déjà Vu
“Honey, I’ll be back in a bit—I have an idea.” Richard abruptly dismissed himself, leaving Felicity standing alone and looking perplexed.
He ran to the home office and snatched up the phone, pressing the speed dial for Lou. After a moment, he relaxed. “Ah, Lou? This is Richard, Victor’s brother—I hope you don’t mind me calling.”
“Of course not. What’s going on?” rabbit
“The reason I’m calling is because, well, it happened: we ran out of money, and we were just getting ready to pull out the credit cards when I had a thought. Do you mind if I run it past you? I’d like your input on it—I want to make sure I’m thinking right.
“Go ahead; shoot.”
“Oh, thank you.” Richard breathed, and then continued, “Okay, so I just remembered I have this retirement account where I used to work. I have no idea how much it has in there right now, haven’t really had time to pay attention to it. It was preferred stock in the company.”
“You mean you haven’t been taking the quarterly dividends?”
“No, I haven’t, because I set it up to just reinvest them back into the company.”
“Well, because we wanted to avoid the 10% penalties.”
“But couldn’t you have been using them to fund your business?”
“Yeah, well, it used to be my 401K, so it was always considered ‘retirement’, and the rule has always been that we just don’t touch it.”
“So what made you take it out of the 401K in the first place?”
“I realized that I needed to invest in something I believed in, and at the time, it was clear my success depended on the company’s success, and I believed in them, so I bought into Stillwater Technologies.”
“But you’re not with them anymore…”
“Well, right, that’s why I thought it might be time to transition that money out of the company and into my own.”
“I was hoping you’d say that!”
“Really? Well, here’s my issue: I’m sure the account has at least seventeen grand in it, because that what I put in, and they’ve really taken off over the last few years with that InnoValve.”
“So you don’t know how much you have in the account? Do you know what you need, to bridge the gap until your business starts producing like you expect?”
“Actually, no, I’m not sure how much we need. It’s hard to say, but I figure this training system could be ready to release in four more months. I figure we need twenty to thirty grand, minimum, to carry us through until it can start producing.”
“And how much do you have in hand right now?”
“Oh, um, we’re down to just a few hundred dollars, actually.”
“Well, you probably should have requested your retirement long before now, did you know it can take a month or two for them to get it to you?”
“Are you serious? It takes that long?” Richard groaned and rubbed the back of his neck.
“You’d better call them right away. Find out how much money you have, and at least get the process started.”
“Okay, I’ll give them a call. If it looks like there’s enough in there, then maybe you could help me figure out how to hold everything together until it shows up in two months.”
“I’d be happy to.”
“Thanks, Lou. Talk soon.”
Immediately, after hanging up the phone, Richard picked it up again and called the Human Resources department at Stillwater Technologies, hoping to talk to someone familiar, but uncertain whether anyone he knew still worked there.
“This is Betty, can I help you?”
Richard smiled, “Betty! It’s Richard, Richard Goodman!”
“Well, well, well! If it isn’t the old company maharishi!”
“Very cute, Betty. Hey, can you look at my stock? I’m thinking about cashing out.”
“Oh, you don’t want to do that.”
“Because you’ll get hit with some serious penalties.”
Richard didn’t need another reminder of the downside of this decision. He was on a mission to simply discover the balance. Avoiding the dreary topic he replied, “Anyway, can you look it up real quick?”
“Sure, just give me a moment.” Betty placed Richard on hold and Richard sat on the edge of his desk crunching numbers while he waited.
Finally she clicked back on. “Sir, your account has $42,563.51. Would you like me to get you the paperwork?”
Richard jumped to his feet, ecstatic that the figure had grown so much, and answered, “Yes, please—the sooner the better.”
“I’ll fax it over. What’s your number there?”
After Richard’s abrupt departure, Felicity had made herself some hot chocolate and sat, reading a magazine in the kitchen. Richard bounded in and announced, “I’ve got it!” Then, as if as an afterthought he added, “Sort of…”
Felicity set the magazine down and smiling, asked, “Oh? What is it?”
“I just cashed in on our retirement.”
Felicity scrunched her eyebrows. “I think I’m having déjà vu, but I’m going to try really hard not to freak out this time. Honey, the rule has always been that we don’t touch that money! It’s our retirement! Haven’t we gone through this before?”
“I know, we have; and I’ve learned something here. When our money was in the 401K, we didn’t have any clue what it was being used for. For all we knew, it could have been used to support a product or service against our values. The fees were automatically deducted, so we never paid attention to it. I added it up once—and if we had been required to write a check for every transaction they drafted, we would have been up in arms! I determined from that moment that the money would serve us best if it was invested in something that carried meaning for us, and something in which we had some control over the outcome. But that was then; I no longer work for Stillwater Technologies, and so I believe it’s time we use it for our own company.”
“Wow, I never thought of it like that before. But, Richard, what about the penalty? We’re going to get hit pretty hard—wouldn’t it be better to just let it grow until we can draw from it without the penalty?”
“Felicity, how much interest would we have to pay if we accumulate more debt?”
“Oh, depends on where we get it. Somewhere between eight and twenty-two percent per year.”
“So if we need thirty grand to hold things together until the business starts generating enough revenue, then we can either pay ten percent once on the retirement draw, and owe nobody anything, or we can pay between eight and twenty-two percent every year and be liable until the loans are paid back. What if it takes us five years? The retirement account will have cost ten percent, around $3000 just once, but the loan will have cost between forty and a hundred and ten percent, anywhere between $10,000 and $33,000! If we take longer, the numbers only get more ridiculous; but in any case, the so-called penalty is a much better deal!”
Felicity was amazed. To show her agreement she added, “And, our own money would be utilized once again to invest in ourselves.”
“Right. But here’s the problem. We’re already out of money, and the retirement funds won’t be in our hands for up to sixty more days.”
“What? Wow.” Felicity raised her eyebrows and then continued, “Well, that sounds like a reasonable purpose for credit cards, then. What do you think?”
“You mean, use them now and pay them off when the retirement money gets here?”
“Yeah—I mean, now that we have an exit strategy in place?”
Richard smiled. “I like the way you think. You’re amazing, you know that?”
“Yeah, and don’t you forget it,” Felicity chided.
Note from Leslie: A few years after writing this book, I began learning from Dave Ramsey, and believe now that following his baby steps—while applying the Jackrabbit Factor principles to each step—provides a wise foundation for accomplishing all of your goals (including small business goals) without accruing debt. Here’s more on that from Dave.
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