My fall into debt and the journey out of it

A few months back (April 2016), on the way to school, I had a heart to heart talk with William, my 7-year old.

“Will, if it’s okay with you, for the next few weeks or even months, we will need to limit our spending a bit, because daddy’s in debt, and it’s so bad that I had to borrow money from your aunt last night.”

He kinda understood the concept of debts, but still, in his innocence, he asked how I got myself into debt.

And here’s the story.

It has always been any consultant’s dream to secure a huge, long term contract. Personally, it took me a couple of years before I landed such a deal. Prior to that, it was smaller, often one-off gigs, and together with the public workshops and conferences I ran, I make decent money. However, landing that huge contract caused me to fall into a trap that many entrepreneurs and consultants go through – complacency.

In the excitement of the huge contract, many would forget to leverage on the security and expand the business, open new markets and explore new territories. I made that mistake, and when the contract was put on hold mid way for 6 months, I drained my savings, missed a few bill payments and for the first time in 12 years, lapsed on my credit card bills.

And boy, did the banks teach me a lesson or two about compounding interest. Before I knew it, my cards was maxed out and blocked, and for the first time since my college days, was that afternoon when I inserted my ATM card into the machine, fingers-crossed, cold sweat down my back, and the balance that came back was less than RM100.

Did I realise the mistake too late? Yes.

Did I not do something the moment the contract got suspended?

Yes, but due to the market conditions, new deals were slow to come in, and the marketing engine – dusty and rusty due to the long abandonment – was slow to jump start. Cash out was faster than cash in, and the nights of anxiety attacks came back.

To make matters worst, an investment I made turned sour and RM15,000 was lost, and RM5,000 was a friend’s money which I had promised to pay. Trimmings were made all over my expenses – lesser travels, cafe-hopping and lifestyle indulgences. I was back to working longer hours again, as I desperately tried to stay afloat with any quick deals I could make here and there.

The lowest low was when the due date of Will’s school fees came around, and I had to reach out to my sister for a loan.

So that was the reality just merely five months ago. Though today (8th October 2016) I’ve cleared off all debts, settled my loan to my sister and paid back my friend, thinking back, I can still feel the invisible grip around my neck, and the shortness of breath that I had grown familiar with, but never really got used to.

What lesson do I walk out of this experience with that I can teach Will?

  1. Never stop marketing.
  2. 6 months savings is not really as much as you think.
  3. Watch the baseline incomes, and be realistic with the stretch ventures.
  4. Fuck the ego and ask for help.
  5. In the time of greatest challenge, new skills can be learned, new partnership can be formed, new believes can be adopted, new habits can be developed.
  6. Shit don’t hit the fan out of random, so pay attention to the little things.
  7. Be open to your life partner and have honest conversations.
  8. Be mindful of your spendings.
  9. It pays to keep a low monthly overhead, both in business and in life.
  10. Reward yourself when you’ve walked out of the dark.
  11. Don’t bother praying that you won’t be in deep shit again. Instead, learn, do and be smarter.
  12. It sounds like a cliche, but seriously Son, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

As much as I wish you will not face the hardship and tough times I did, in truth, there is no such wish. In life, we will be tested on all fronts – health, money, relationship, faith, family, losses. Some called it a test from the higher power; believe that if it assures you of the good that will come from the hard times. Others called it the training of the mind; believe that if it assures you of the untapped potential within you. Some called it the test of character; believe that if it assures you that you will only walk out sturdier, stronger, and smarter.

I simply called it as what it is – life – and the faster you can believe, accept and embrace that fact, the sooner you’ll truly start living.

maverick

Co-Founder of KICKSTART by night, Talent Development Consultant, organising workshops and conferences by day, and full-time single dad in between, Maverick is pretty much a renegade. An ex-monk who's always first to ask "why not?", Mav enjoys hacking the way things are done, and pretty much happy with the success rate of 50% (coz sometimes mom is right after all...). When it comes to business, give him a million bucks and he'll most probably get a new set of gadgets, drive home an Audi R8 and reload his Starbucks card. But give him little to nothing, and see how he starts switching on the little brain-matter between his ears. Challenge ACCEPTED!

15 comments

  1. Hey Superstar! It’s just a phase the risk takers face in life. If you’re lucky maybe just once.
    I know it’s shitty to say tighten the belt, but I’ve been there and done that myself. Even I’m making decent money and at times taking bigger risks (still! calculated risks are still risky). I myself got used to the thrifty ways of living and occasionally splurge on luxuries. Trust that you can manage it well there 🙂

    1. Hi back at you, Rockstar! Sad to say, it’s not my first, and probably not the last. I’ve been through times when I don’t have a place to live and have to sleep in the car, eat white bread and water for a few months, pump RM2 into my car… yeah, those were the times~~~

  2. Hey Maverick, love you hear about your fvck-up stories. I can really resonate with you especially the feelings of anxiety when fell into blackhole-like deep deep shit(s). Q: How to effectively marketing yourself to make an amount of cash in short period of time?

  3. Hey Mav, reality of being an entrepreneur and most of all being human. Have gone through the anxieties and still going through it sometimes. The whole point is to learn from it. Love your nuggets of advice! Cheers!
    PS never stop marketing. 🙂

    1. I sometimes think the day when we really don’t feel any anxiety at all as entrepreneurs, is the day we should quit the business. 🙂

  4. I been through what u been through more than once…but it make us smarter and stonger aite… Keep it up bro

    1. Haha, some people more than once, I’m afraid, me included. But you’re right, it does make you stronger and smarter (coz if not, the same mistake is gonna be repeated until we get it right).

  5. Tried? Failed? Nevermind. Stand up. Try again. Fail again. Fail better? Nevermind. Stand up again.

    The world needs more stories like this. It’s time to show stories of bouncing from failures some respect.

    By sharing this story of yours, you have my respect. Well done!

    1. Hi Jonathan, thanks for the kind words, and great to know I’ve won your respect. Asians are usually hiding behind a mask when it comes to sharing personal failures. Blame it on the education system, upbringing or peer pressure, but talking about failure is just not common. Truth is, more lessons are there in failures than there are in successes.

  6. Good tips there mav, as someone whose been down that road a couple of times I can safely say that these tips will go a long way if implemented well . cheers for sharing Buddy

    1. Thanks bro. Yeah, many of us will have different form of challenges, but I think as long as the faith is there that you’ll get out of it, you will. True enough, what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger.

  7. Shockingly transparent for a thought leader.

    Been there, done that, sometimes dip back in due to businesses being in growth mode. Working my butt off to make my various organisations as replicable and predictable as possible so I don’t revisit those dark places. Challenging because Malaysian talents are not the hungriest nor the most driven.

    Awesome share, we should catch up soon.

    1. Thought leader? Haha, that’s a term that I would only claim when it comes to “sex” related thoughts. Men do think about sex every 7 seconds, no? 🙂

      Yeah, catch up soon, chief.

  8. A great sharing. And great success to your coming back in months! I guess part of the success recipe was already crafted in you for years, you just need to grab back the confidence and hit the bull eyes.

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