Do you fear losing everything? Does the thought of not having enough (by your definition) scare the bejesus out of you? Would going broke mean losing your honour?
Have you ever been truly broke?
Not student-broke, or ghetto-broke: ‘broke’ because you stuffed up; made idiotic mistakes; maybe even filed bankruptcy?
There is no glory in being financially broke, but should we stigmatise it?
What if there is power in it? Is there profound wisdom to tap by being broke?
Being broke means different things to different people.
For the purpose of this post, the definition is this: without assets; no backup funds in the bank; living hand-to-mouth; little or no income; without means to rent a room or home; possibly bankrupt.
Being broke is part of my story—and of some fellow Good Men Project readers and writers stories—for better or worse.
This is not the only GMP post on the topic. Others might give steps how to rebuild your life afterwards, how to prevent it happening again. I want to tell you of the extraordinary personal qualities you can tap into when you’re facing your enemies: Fear, Shame, and Humiliation.
Being broke is an intense course in conquering these enemies, finding courage and trusting yourself. The painful art of sucking up stigma and shame is part of it. Our pesky egos have no place to run and no place to hide when we’re broke.
For me, losing everything was paradoxically, both the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me.
How would / how did / how do you handle being broke? Will shame win?
What does it look like to lose it all, including your mind?
This is not going to be a blow-by-blow description of how I monumentally stuffed up and couldn’t find a way out.
It might not be typical, but in my case, I watched myself lose control of not only my source of income and my only asset, but also my rational thinking.
The upshot was, I filed bankruptcy.
I hurt other businesses—my trusted suppliers. I had to accept they might never forgive me. In Australia, your name stays on a blacklist for life so in a sense, you are never forgiven. I have never felt such shame.
If anyone says bankruptcy is an easy way out, don’t believe them; it’s not. No good person intends to go bankrupt.
For me bankruptcy was humbling and, for at least three years, cripplingly disempowering. The humiliation of being responsible for losing everything can paralyse you—physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Some bounce back quickly. Not me. I had profound lessons to learn from it, and they took time. At first I blamed ‘external forces’—the easiest option. Others were quick to agree with me. I eventually realised I was wrong. I had played an enormous part in my own demise, and had let myself down most of all.
Six months on, my GP announced I was suffering PTSD and had to see a psychologist. I knew I wasn’t coping but… whaaaaat…? Me? How is this possible? I thought only victims of trauma and war service suffered this. I actually felt ‘unworthy’ of it.
As if to confirm it, my body reacted to the slightest stress triggers (there were many) by spinning into vertigo. I was hospitalised. How could this be happening? To say I hit a low point is an understatement.
My body and mind recovered.
Next, I had to forgive myself. That took longer.
What are the best take outs from being broke?
I learned our public identity is fragile. Having it shattered can reveal a lot. A brutally honest confrontation with your situation—your reckoning with yourself—is one way to find gold in being broke, or broken.
You can become a much better person—a new person—should you choose to.
You don’t die when you lose everything
Even if you’re broke, the world keeps turning and you stay alive, with the exception of those who tragically turn to suicide. We all sustain the lie that equates worthiness with money, and perhaps share some culpability for these losses of life. Having nothing doesn’t determine who you are: it illuminates who you are. You are all that remains.
Humans didn’t always need money to survive and flourish: the barter system is still alive and well all over the planet in every culture, even in the First World. I don’t say this to absolve anyone from earning their keep. But there are other ways to live, when needs be. It’s possible to ‘live outside the money system’ for a time, and not lose your dignity. Appearances can be deceiving. No one has any idea how completely broke I’ve been at times in the past five years. Only I know, and it doesn’t change who I am.
You can take the ride willingly or unwillingly
The power contained in being broke is astounding. If you are open to it, there are incredible things to learn from your situation and from your shame. Denial is not helpful. Accepting responsibility for where you are is.
You’ll become extremely resourceful
You’ll negotiate each day, each week, each year in ways you never knew existed. You’ll learn to graciously allow and receive—not easy for most of us, especially for men who are by nature, providers. You’ll surprise yourself with your resourcefulness, when life seems out of control.
You won’t go without
You’ll find a place to stay, even if it’s one night at a time, or one week at a time. It has to cost nothing. You are broke. The streets are not an option. Humble Pie 101 lessons have begun. You’ll find a safe place, even though you’re ‘homeless’. Few people will know how broke you are. You’ll claim your dignity and hold it close. If you have a family, you’ll do everything within your power to provide a safe place for them. And you’ll sleep in a warm bed and eat plenty, every day. Somehow, for however long it takes. Don’t ask me how, but it happens…like a miracle.
You’ll discover who your true friends are
Prepare to be surprised. Some of your family or relatives won’t be there for you, except with condescension. Your ‘broke’ status will magically reveal the true nature of those closest to you. Your best friends will reveal themselves.
You’ll discover generous people who need you in their lives
You’ll let others take pride in helping you. You’ll learn how to gratefully receive, and give back what you can. There is giving in receiving—one of the hardest lessons to learn.
You’ll find perspective
…or drown in self-pity. You’ll understand the cliché of countless people worse off than you. You’ll compare yourself to Syrians… slum dwellers… the disabled… the gravely ill. You’ll claw your way out by finding a new perspective.
You’ll realise you’re not at the bottom of the pile even if you believed you were. You’ll leave your pity party as soon as possible, and count your blessings, forever more.
You’ll ease your pain by taming your mind
You’ll realise your mind is not your friend while your ego is wounded and screaming. You won’t believe what it says. You’ll be greater than that. You’ll tame it to recover, and discover unshakeable personal power.
You’ll find a hidden and extraordinary aspect of yourself
You’ll discover someone inside yourself you never knew. Your friends and family will see a new you. You’ll like this person more than the old one.
Your perceptions will change
You’ll see the world in new ways. You’ll have more clarity of thought. You’ll trust life more and less. You’ll learn to more readily forgive yourself and others for mistakes. You’ll feel more compassion for others. Life will become more calm and supportive; less struggle.
You’ll stop objectifying those who are different
You’ll lose your fear of pariahs and the visible homeless, knowing they each have stories that brought them here, as you have. You’ll be the hand of God in their lives, with your smile, your touch or some cash.
You’ll find inner strength and fearlessness, and know what’s truly important.
Very little will hurt you after this. You’ll know there is nothing more important in this life than people, relationships and experiences. Nothing.
You’ll realise it doesn’t matter what others think of you
You’ll realise glory and honour don’t reside in being broke or wealthy. Honour resides in how you handle yourself and others in every moment of your life.
You’ll find confirmation in many places
There’ll be extra oomph in ubiquitous ‘words of wisdom’ that once seemed so trite. You’ll use them, and take strength from them.
…and finally, you’ll know you’re not what you have and you’re not what you don’t have, and you’re a better man because of it.
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