I know a millionaire. He’s a good businessman; in fact, he’s hyper-successful. He came from humble beginnings and has had to hustle to get to the top, but hustle he did. No one can say he hasn’t worked very hard to get where he is.
He knows how to read people. A charming fellow, he’s the kind of guy you’d expect to be a motivational speaker. His catch phrase is “Change your story.” He will be the first to tell you that it’s your attitude and your way of looking at things that will make you either a success or a failure in life. In other words, your life is what you make it. After a few minutes in his presence you are sort of hypnotized by his force of personality, and you start to believe that anyone can be like him. Anyone can have the nice car and the gorgeous house and the boat and the vacations in the Caribbean, if only they think positively.
I think of this man every day, even though I’m sure he thinks of me rarely, if at all. The reason he’s in the forefront of my mind is that for one brief shining moment, I had money from the sale of my house and I didn’t want it to just sit and gather dust. I wanted it to work for me. Who better to ask for financial advice than a millionaire? I’ll regret that decision for the rest of my life.
I told him I’d need this money back in a year, but in the meantime I’d like to invest it, and he told me about a privately held stock that would most likely make me a fortune, and either way I could get my money out of it in a year. They usually didn’t entertain small investors like me, but he had an in with these guys. He’d make it happen for me.
That was a couple years ago, and the company is doing so badly now that no one wants the stock, and it hasn’t made me any money. In fact, I’d be shocked if I ever see my money again. Because of this, I teeter on the brink of homelessness.
I wake up from a sound sleep in a cold, clammy sweat on a regular basis, wondering how I’m going to keep my dogs if I have to live in my car. Every purchase I make has to be complete necessity. I add rice to the most unlikely things to stretch my groceries as far as I can. My life is in financial ruins, and I’ll probably have to work until I drop dead. The retirement cupboard is not only bare, it’s moldy and covered with cobwebs. That’s a terrifying position to be in when you’re 48.
Do I blame this guy? He didn’t hold a gun to my head. I made this stupid investment myself. I’m a grown woman who trusted someone I shouldn’t have. I actually assumed his motivations were pure. That’s on me.
Unfortunately, I’ve since learned that this guy has placed several other people in similar situations. And these were friends he went to high school with who are no longer speaking to him. That makes the situation a little more scary, and more than a little bit questionable. It was his shares of stock that he sold me. Did he genuinely think he was helping me out, or did he see the vultures circling and want to unload as much of it as he could before they started devouring the corpse of the corporation? I’ll never know his motivations for sure. All I know is the damage that has been done to my life.
The frustrating thing is that he could easily buy his stock back and change my life entirely. The amount in question is chump change to him. And he has said that he would do so, or find a buyer for it, but I’ve yet to see any actual action on his part.
Recently I e-mailed him, telling him exactly how devastated my life is now, practically begging him for help, and he responded that he feels my pain. But later that day I noticed several new Caribbean photos on his Facebook page. He must be feeling my pain from the deck of a luxury yacht.
I’ve learned a lot from this man. I’ve learned that it’s easy for people to hover along the fringes of acceptable behavior in their pursuit of cold, hard cash. I’ve learned that your ethics and morality can be compromised, subtly at first, when you are in the throes of the pursuit of success. I believe that once the devil starts to whisper in your ear you’re bound to make bad decisions regardless of how decent you may be when you start your life’s journey.
I believe that the man who has everything has everything to lose, and so it goes with him. I’ve watched his life unravel as his morality has become more questionable. Oh, he still looks like a shiny new apple on the surface. He still has the nice cars and houses and boats, he still flies here and there when I can’t even afford a greyhound bus. But the apple is rotting from the inside.
He is in the midst of a divorce. He’s becoming estranged from friends and family. He no longer responds to e-mails. He tries to behave as if he’s happy, but he isn’t. He binge drinks to a shocking degree and despite his charm and his bank account, he’s all alone. If he doesn’t do right by people, if he doesn’t “change his story” by getting his priorities straight, at the end of his life all that anyone will be able to say about him is that he’s the richest guy in the cemetery. And that makes me sad.
Things fall apart, the center does not hold.
If you look at my bank account and my gullibility, you might see me as a failure. But I am loved. And I may lose sleep from worry, but I never lose sleep from having a guilty conscience. When I look in the mirror, I may not have a 300 dollar haircut, but I can look myself in the eye. So which one of us is truly richer?