Why Losing a Fortune Was One of the Greatest Things To Ever Happen To Me

Earlier this week, on Twitter I mentioned I was planning on talking about one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in life. This is a story I’ve told before, but only to a very small number of people, and usually not in much detail. My idea to write about this came about from an IRC chat where the subject of social status in the US came up. I may only be 18, but I have lived life in this country in two social classes, changing literally overnight.

Back in the 90’s, my dad worked at a now defunct pharmaceutical software company called Tripos. Given how long ago it was and how young I was, I don’t remember what he official title was, but he was moderately high up. In the 90’s, a yearly vacation was normal for us. Dining at one of the most expensive restaurants in town was normal. Going out for dinner in general was normal. Renting videos and games at Blockbuster was normal. With a fortune of roughly just under two million dollars, life was pretty damn good. I also admit I was pretty damn spoiled back then too. While we didn’t flaunt our wealth with a huge house or a summer home, we had more than enough to live comfortably. If I had passed the entrance exams, I would’ve gone to private school at a school called Ranney, literally just down the road from where we live in NJ. My brother attended for a couple of years, but that was because he entered while in kindergarten and didn’t have to take a test. I, on the other hand, skipped kindergarten, not because I’m a genius or anything, but because I had missed an age cutoff that was set by state law when we lived in St. Louis. I don’t know what we paid for Ranney, but I bet it cost close to a college tuition – and probably does now. However, there was one fundamental problem with our fortune. All of it was in Tripos stock. My dad intended to correct that by selling it for cash, but he couldn’t do so until a certain date. The day before, everything changed.

One of the reasons my dad wanted to sell his share was that Tripos was slowly becoming in financial trouble. This was also the same reason he was required to wait until a certain date to sell. Literally the day before we would’ve had the two millionish in cash, it practically disappeared. Overnight, the price of Tripos stock tanked, taking all the money we had in it with it. I won’t say we lost everything, as we really didn’t, but money wise, we came pretty close. As I was a lot younger when it happened, I didn’t understand any of it. All I knew is we could no longer afford vacations, Blockbuster, eating out, and pretty soon after, private school. The spoiled days were over.

Looking back now, I’m kind of happy it happened. Sure, it means paying for Drexel is no cakewalk now, but it’s really taught me some valuable lessons. Back when I was spoiled, I thought nothing of it. I just thought, “It’s awesome to be me. Hey mom, can I get another video game?”

“Sure. We’ll go to the store after lunch.”

Now it’s, “Hey mom, can I get a new game?”

“Are you paying for it?”

Now, I’ve learned to appreciate what I have. When we regularly went on vacation, it was “So, where are we going this year?” On the rare cases we go on vacation, it’s now, “We’re going on vacation? Damn. It’s been what, five years since the last one?” Now, any time I want something new, it comes out of my wallet. Before I could drive, I had to earn the trip to the store too. In terms of money management, my personal wallet is pretty empty cash wise. I try to keep as much in the back as I can now (and hope Wells Fargo doesn’t decide to screw me out of more). My personal savings aren’t much, but I sure as hell know the importance of them now, even more so now that I’m in college. College isn’t cheap, especially at Drexel. Things in Philly in general aren’t cheap either.

If things today were the same as they were in the 90’s, I think there’s a decent chance I’d still be spoiled. For one, Drexel wouldn’t be coming out of my pocket, not all $50k at least. I think I’d still be pretty stuck up too. My wardrobe would definitely still be coming from Nordstrom. I’d likely have a lot more Apple stuff and technology crap in general (and I’d probably use maybe half of it regularly). I also think I’d have a newer car that my ’96 G20 XD

So, why did I want to share this? For one, I think it gives some insight into who I really am. Furthermore, for anyone reading this, pause and look around you. What’s in your room? Or if you’re somewhere else (like Starbucks), what’s around you? What kind of place are you in right now? For those of you in your room/home, how many of the things you just looked at do you regularly use? How many things do you truly appreciate owning? How many things do you own just for the sake that you can? Think long and hard about that last one. For those of you on the road, what’s your current atmosphere like? Do you com here often? Look at the kinds of people around you. Would you say these kinds of people are the kinds of people you would associate yourself with? Are you happy to be associating with them?

Let me tell you how I’d answer those. My room is full of academic awards, anime, and manga. My desk has a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro, a PS3, an iPad, and two screens. Am I happy with my room? Yeah, I am. do I think it gives a picture of who I am? Yeah, I do. Do I think it’s an accurate one? Yeah, and I’m happy with it. My room used to be full of junk. Now, it has only the things I actually care about, things I actually use. Before, I’d just shove things I didn’t use into storage. Now, I actually throw them out.

While I’m not on the road, I’ll give you an idea of how I’d answer those questions too.

Starbucks: Yes, I do come here often. I get one of the cheapest things on the menu: a Tall, iced sweetened Passion Tea. That’s a buck fifty. The people around me? Well, the person in front of me just ordered some crazy custom thing that rang up somewhere between five and ten dollars. Oh wait, add on a bagel and cookie now. At my local Starbucks, it’s mainly families that come in. Families that drive primarily a Lexus or high-end Mercedes. Families that live in one of the more wealthy towns in NJ. Would I associate myself with these people? Hell. No. I’d say the only thing we have in common is that we drink Starbucks. When I park, I actually park as far away from Starbucks as possible. Why? Well, for one, there’s shade. I’m also not surrounded by Lexuses, Priuses, Mercedes, and people who drive and park like royal assholes, often parking crooked, sticking out, and usually taking up two or more spaces.

The Apple Store: I come here a lot too. I often wear an Apple shirt too. Do I have the money to buy every last Apple gadget, let alone every version? I would’ve gone broke on day one. Do I still go to product launches? Usually, but because I want to try the new device, not buy it. When the first iPad came out, I waited two or so hours in line to just try it. I was happy enough doing that. So why do I go to an Apple store? I love what Apple makes, not because I have money to throw around. Heck, I’d never buy an accessory from Apple directly unless the price was no better anywhere else. Would I associate myself with the people in an Apple Store? Only a very select few.

The Kimmel Center: I wish I could come here more. The only reason I’m here in the first place though is because of the eZseatU program. I could never afford a regular ticket. Would I associate myself with the people there? The college students I’m seated with? Probably. The others? Maybe. As a patron of the arts for sure. But do I dress up for a performance? No, I actually just go in whatever I’m already wearing (permitting it at least looks decent).

That all said, all three of those places I do enjoy going to but they do also cater to a specific class of people as they are now. I wouldn’t consider myself one of them. I honestly wouldn’t want to. I’m happy with who I am and what I have. So, given how you would answer, are you happy with who you are? With what you have? With the people you associate yourself with? If those answers are no, I think you might want to consider a change.

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