December 24, 2015, The Doctor walked into my hospital room and told me that I had a Giant-Cell Tumor of the thoracic spine. I was partially relieved, finally knowing what was wrong with me after a year of misdiagnosis, but equally scared at the same time.
A tumor was growing in my 9th vertebrae, it cracked my spine, and was days away from attaching itself to my spinal cord which would have likely resulted in paralysis from the waist down. I had to have surgery in early January 2016 called an en bloc resection, to remove the tumor and part of my spine and replace it with metal rods and screws that are still in my back today.
Rewind to about July of 2014, I had this persistent, but nagging back pain. Being that I am pretty active, I just attributed to tweaking something in the gym and I went through the protocols of massages, stretching etc. assuming it would eventually get better. I was only a few years removed from college at the time, so I thought, maybe it was time to upgrade my mattress! While the new mattress was amazing, that was not going to do the trick.
Eventually, after several months of pain, it led me to the emergency room early February 2015 after being unable to sleep experiencing some pretty unbearable pain. This was quite a dynamic time as I was planning to propose to my now wife later that month and we got married later that year in September, so figuring out what was going on with my back was of utmost importance. Here are a few lessons that shaped my view on personal finances through this experience.
You Need A Cohesive Team
I spent pretty much all of 2015 going from one medical professional to the next. All of them with their respective expertise but it just seemed like I never really got conclusive answers. One doctor’s prognosis would conflict with others and I just felt like I was going in circles.
What I realized during this experience is that the place in which you experience pain, is rarely ever the source of it. Meaning that the entire human body is connected and the source of the pain, is often different from where you actually experience it.
It’s not that the doctors were inherently wrong, it’s just that they were operating in the silos of their expertise, which resulted in disjointed, inconclusive, non-comprehensive diagnosis.
When I think about financial planning, there are a lot of similarities. You have an Accountant who measures their success by saving you as much money on taxes today, but may not be considering the tax implications of what that means in the future. You have a realtor and a loan officer who tell you how much house you can afford, without any context to the fact that you want to retire early and have other family members you are financially responsible for.
As you can see, within the silo of their expertise, they are not wrong, but if not viewed from a holistic perspective, it could result in your financial plan, not panning out.
What you need is a team that coordinates and collaborates so that each financial professional is working in a cohesive manner and they fully understand the nuance and context of your financial goals. This ideology fundamentally shifted my entire approach to how I worked with my clients and my role transitioned from a Financial Advisor, to a Financial CEO. This means, all the various “players” on my clients money-team, report to me.
You have to always advocate for yourself
During my journey of trying to figure out what was going on with my body, I got misdiagnosed several times. Due to the level of pain I was experiencing, I was unwilling to settle for the prognosis I was given. I do not think the doctors meant any harm, but due to the lack of cohesiveness from one doctor to the next, my diagnosis and subsequent treatment or medication did not improve my situation and actually made it worse.
I would ask questions, get second opinions and I never settled. Had I listened to doctors initially, who knows where I would be right now.
The takeaway here is, no matter who the expert is, ultimately this is your life and you need to be 100% sure you both agree and understand what is being recommended. No different than your financial goals, I don’t care what experts you hire, make sure you fully understand what you are being advised to do and never blindly trust anyone. Do your own due diligence on every decision and investment you make.
Be prepared for the unexpected
You never know when life is going to make a withdrawal, so if you don’t want to overdraft, make as many voluntary deposits as possible.
Prior to experiencing this health scare, I was in the best shape of my life. I was getting married later that year so I wanted to be in the best possible shape. Little did I know that would actually work in my benefit for this situation.
After I had my surgery, I had a 30 day check up with the doctor. When he looked at me and my scans, he assumed that I was coming in for a 6 month check up because I was recovering so well. What they discovered once they determined what my actual issue was prior to surgery, is that even though my spine was fractured for over a year, my back muscles went to overdrive to support my spine which was helpful in me being able to go on for so long before truly knowing what was going on and played an instrumental role in my recovery.
Similar to your personal finances, you never know when an unexpected emergency will come up and if you are unprepared, it could make an already bad situation worse
Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, it can actually make it worse.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Now in my case, I was not shy to go to whatever medical professional I could find to try and figure out what my issue was. Oftentimes though, people are afraid of what they might answer so they try to ignore the problem or delay looking into it. In my case, especially being misdiagnosed for almost a year and advocating for myself, had I delayed the process It could have resulted in paralysis.
This can also be true in your personal finances. You may not want to face the facts of your current situation, but kicking the can down the road might lead you to running out of road. Addressing things head on may be scary, but it gives you the clarity and insight on what you need to do in order to move forward. You cannot hit a target you can’t see.
The Journey is not linear
I wish I could tell you that I found out exactly what was going on with me and its been a smooth road to recovery ever since. In reality however within the first 11 months the tumor was showing signs of coming back, which resulted in me having to get monthly infusions to reduce the size of the tumor and keep it at bay. I still get those infusions today, but they have gone from monthly to every 4 months after 7 years. Additionally, I still have bouts with back pain almost daily and I have not been pain free since 2013, over a decade ago.
Some days it’s hard to get out of bed, but I’m reminded that there was a time when it was worse and I remain grateful for where I am today.
This could also be true in your financial journey. You could have a setback like losing your job, or business going through a tough season, a bad investment, divorce or a number of possible financial setbacks. You could throw in the towel and give up, or you could keep fighting and know that you can still win the war, even if you lose some of the battles.
If you look at a stock chart, zooming in on any particular time period you can see ups and downs, but when you zoom out, you notice that the long term trend is upwards. You may not win everyday, every week, every month or even every year, but if you stay in the game, you have a 100% greater chance of winning than if you decide to give up on your financial goals.
I hope this perspective gives you some things to consider when crafting your own financial plan for 2024 and beyond.