The Wealth of Well-Being: A Cautionary Tale

Mark’s idea of freedom was being able to create meaningful work while spending as much time as possible with his family, sometimes enjoying the tropics of the Dominican Republic. Instead, at age 52, he just died.  And – no – it wasn’t a heart attack. At this writing there is no official cause of death. But those who knew Mark well know exactly what it was; it was the fallout of living each day under the extreme stress of honorably keeping up with his family’s needs and subsequent debt-load while ignoring his own mounting health issues. His is a cautionary tale. (Click on image below to enlarge.)

work harder earn lessHe struggled to keep up a level of productive activity no one person could sustain over time. First, there was his 60-70 hour a week job as manager of a water plant. Then, there was the constant running around he did to help his wife with her coffee-stand business. Finally, in his “spare time”, Mark spent hours late at night working on the project closest to his heart: a win-win business that could potentially get him and lots of folks off the hamster wheel. His goals were largely altruistic. I partnered with him for the last two years in the development and launching of this project; we were in the homestretch when he suddenly dropped dead at the end of July.

Mark had dabbled in the Foreign Exchange market (Forex) for 12 years and had had enough wins and painful losses to learn what worked and what didn’t. Combining this knowledge with his altruistic motivation, he designed his own Forex Expert Adviser (EA) software program that he then had professionally built.  Unlike other EA’s, the components of Mark’s EA ensured long-term, slow and steady wins with minimal losses. In July, he was finishing up the last phase of testing and we were finally going to roll it out “live” last month, initially, among a few friends and family. But it was not to be.  The dream died with Mark, the only one whose great mind held the detailed, specific knowledge needed to bring our project to market.

I wonder if Mark’s story is perhaps symbolic of the times we live in? Nowadays I know and hear about so many people whose days are spent “chasing their tail.” I am reminded that full-time workers today take home less for their hard work than they did 4 decades ago (inflation-adjusted). We have to earn more each year just to try to hold on to what we already have. While we are told inflation is ridiculously low, purchasing power at the register continues to evaporate. With the costs of energy, housing and food now removed from the government’s inflation formula, the “official” low rate of inflation is deceptive. The counterpoint to paying more for everything while effectively not earning more is, of course, mounting personal debt.

Though most people don’t understand why, like Mark, they do recognize that their money does not go as far as it used to, and so “step on the gas” and multi-task in an attempt to get more done and earn more money. But at what cost? Sadly, all too often, this stressful striving undermines good health and the care of significant relationships. As Mark’s sudden death reminded me, you could even pay the ultimate price.

So what helps break this vicious cycle?

Since the global monetary system is not about to change, the only control we have is over our personal circumstances. By consciously shifting the ways we earn, spend, save and invest via informed choices, we can make a huge difference in our overall quality of life. However, as in life, there are usually trade-offs that must be made; it may require some amount of downsizing and recycling/repurposing of existing assets such as homes, cars, boats, motorcycles, etc., to that which can provide authentic long-term sustainability and commensurate peace of mind. The loss of one’s personal-finance equilibrium so often is followed in a domino-type effect by the loss of the intangible wealth of health and happy personal relationships.

Those who knew Mark well have their own thoughts about his life and death. I offer mine in hopes that those who didn’t have that pleasure may learn from this, his story. Reassess priorities and make whatever changes are most helpful to support quality of life for you and your loved ones. Break the cycle.

To my friend Mark: Rest in peace.

One Response to “The Wealth of Well-Being: A Cautionary Tale”

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  1. Robert says:

    Susan,
    Of all your blogs, this is one says more to me because of Mark’s story and your relationship with him added to the undeniable reality of the graph. I have known this for a long time, but this seals the deal.

    Thanks for helping to make the economic elephant so obvious.

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