A Million Miles Away
- Joshua M Brown
- February 25th, 2013
"Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it."
- Alexandre Dumas
I turn 36 years old today.
If I close my eyes, I can see almost everything that's preceded this day. I remember everything, a blessing and a curse.
My earliest memory is of my kindergarten teacher pinning a note to my jacket at the end of each day with a few words describing my behavior to my mother. Sometimes it would say "Joshua was disruptive in class today" and sometimes it would say that I was "Satisfactory." Six years old and walking around marked by the judgement of someone else, posted like a billboard to my chest. Fuck you.
In fourth grade they told my parents that I would only engage with the class if I was interested in the day's lesson. They said that if I was disinterested in the subject matter, the whole class could feel it and would soon become disinterested as well. One day they figured out that I had spent half the school year reading novels and history books at my desk while pretending to be listening to whatever everyone else was doing.
In my teens I was never a star athlete or particularly good-looking but I refused to be on the outside looking in. That's where the quick wit came from - you've got to come to the table with something and I figured out how to make the guys laugh and the girls smile. The Beautiful People are almost never forced to grow a personality and rarely experience any social hardships growing up, which is why they're usually boring and stupid as adults.
My twenties were characterized by chronic failure, miserable with my career choice and the people around me. In the retail brokerage world, the sludge rises to the top and moral compromise is a prerequisite. The minute a broker stops to consider the consequences of what he's doing, he is doomed to self-doubt, and by extension, failure. This is why obliviousness and aggression are so highly prized in a Wall Street salesforce and why reflection and inquisitiveness are so disparaged; Shut up, stop reading that shit and get on the phone! Working for ghouls, surrounded by ignorance, living trade to trade, paycheck to paycheck and rebuilding a business from scratch after every blow up, every year. You've got to be a deeply disturbed person or severely masochistic to make it through ten years of that...
"It is almost as difficult to keep a first class person in a fourth class job, as it is to keep a fourth class person in a first class job."
- Alexandre Dumas
And by my early thirties, the whole world is falling apart anyway. Two of the top five investment banks collapse with the others not far behind, Bernie admits to stealing $50 billion from investors and then the government sells out 300 million Americans to ensure the survival of their former colleagues, friends and benefactors in real estate, banking and insurance. The stock market is cut in half and I have no greater or grander ambitions than to find a few thousand dollars to be able to pay the bills next month. I should mention that everyone hates me or has given up on me as a human being by then.
It is the fall of 2008 - I have a blog no one is reading, I offer a service no one needs and I have no idea what will become of my young family or my life should things get any worse...
But all of that is over now, except for maybe a few of the scars.
And so you'll forgive me for feeling younger and more energized on the other side of all that.
Three years ago I broke free of the brokerage industry and spit in its horrible face on my way out the door. I dropped my Series 7 and I'll be goddamned if I ever pick it up again, if I ever sell a financial product to anyone as long as I live.
A year after breaking away I am called one of "the most influential commentators in the financial industry" and I have my book published around the world by McGraw-Hill.
And a year after that I become some kind of television star with a blog doing over a million page views a month. I have a thriving financial advisory practice, co-managed and supported by Barry, Michael, Cait and Kris - some of the smartest and most dedicated people I've met in the industry.
I get to work with my friends each day and have all kinds of doors open for me. I've met and become acquainted with almost all of my idols in real life and after a decade of professional dissatisfaction I am finally doing something I truly love. I'm helping people and making a difference, not just going through the motions or living deal-to-deal or cashing a paycheck. I'm married to my high school sweetheart and we're blessed with a baby boy and girl who fill our lives with purpose. I am debt-free, healthy, completely occupied with challenges and interests and I have no shortage of work to do.
I am - dare I say it aloud? - finally happy.
And while I wish I could have arrived at this place and point in time under less duress, it probably wouldn't have worked out that way. I think I had to see and feel and live through it all in order to get here. Without the struggle, how do you know when you're not struggling anymore? I get that now, the "lost decade" was where I figured out everything not to do. Learned it the hard way - but is there any other?
"Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss."
- Alexandre Dumas
And now that I realize this, all of the anger and regrets and frustrations of the past start to fade. I'm a million miles away...
I'm 36 years old and I'm happy.
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The Reformed Broker is a blog about financial markets and the economy. Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations... More.