My Financial Journey
Today I'm starting a blog series about personal finances. When I launched Walston Advisory Firm, I wanted it to be more than an accounting firm or a business advisory firm. I wanted to be able to help individuals also. Today is the first step in that journey. Today I'm going to talk to you about my financial journey.
The Beginning of My Journey
I have always had an interest in and enjoyed finances. I remember setting up a club with some friends of ours when I lived in Dallas, TX (I was probably six at the time) and wanted to get them all to pay dues so we would have money to do things. As a child, I loved playing monopoly and was good at it. Money made sense to me.
When I was 16, I got my first job and have been employed ever since.
Most people would categorize me as a saver, but it is more I justify every purchase I make and can talk myself out of most purchases.
As a 16-year-old, the best way I can describe my plan for life was the Sims. I enjoyed the game because if you saved your money and worked hard you would have enough money to do anything you wanted. I figured I would go to college, get a degree, and in 3 to 5 years be living comfortably off my own smarts and efforts.
I graduated in 2009 and landed a full-time job at a small CPA firm in South Boston, VA. I was excited and ready to take on the world.
To back up a bit. Before my graduation, I was praised for my hard work and smarts in every job I held. I knew my value as a person and employee.
When I started the job at the CPA firm, I thought nothing was holding me back from my dream.
During that same year, I had met my soon to be wife and was driving back and forth from Lynchburg, VA to South Boston, VA every weekend to see her.
I was excited, I had a full-time job making $32,000 a year and was going to be getting married at the end of the year.
My wife had some student loan debt but that was okay I was fully employed with enough margin to take care of it.
That is what I thought at least. God had other plans.
Two weeks before my wedding all the employees of the CPA firm I worked at where told they didn't have the money to pay us. Instead of laying off a couple of employees they decided to cut everyone's pay in half. I went from making a reasonable first-time job salary of $32,000 to $16,000. All the sudden we no longer had the funds to cover our expenses. That didn't deter me. I know all I had to do was get another job.
Searching for a New Job
Job searching sucks. You apply for job after job and get rejected time and time again. After a while, it can become hopeless. Luckily, for me, it didn't take long to find another job.
I was able to get a job at a mid-size CPA firm back in Lynchburg, VA. Again I was excited to restart my journey to the top of the corporate ladder. My wife and I moved back to Lynchburg and lived with my parents until we were able to find an apartment.
Life seemed to be back on track. My plan seemed to be working out well.
Sadly there was no mention of the position being temporary until the day they asked me to pack up my things.
I went from being employe my whole life to being unemployed in a moment.
It was hard. When you rely on your ability to perform at a job to dictate your worth you feel worthless when it is gone.
For anyone who has been unemployed for more than a month getting the motivation to apply for jobs every day is hard. The more rejections you receive, the more hopeless it becomes. Unemployment becomes more and more a lifestyle than a stage of life.
Getting Hired Part-time
After searching for full-time jobs for months, I finally got an interview. But instead of getting the job I interviewed for I was offered a part-time job. Looking back now I know that God was working on me helping me to recognize that I had found my identity in the wrong place and slowly showing me that my worth and my identity should be found in him.
But in that time I struggled with depression and hopelessness. My plans, my hopes, my dreams, seemed impossible. Not only was I unemployed but I was unable to pay off the burden of debt my wife had brought into our marriage. I felt I was suffocating under the weight.
But in the end, the part-time job I got was a gift. I was able to take a couple of college courses which put me over the 150 credit threshold for a CPA, and my boss was able to put in a good word for me with another business to get me a full-time job.
Regaining Full-Time Employment
Going from being unemployed or underemployed for more than a year made the transition back to full-time employment hard. I no longer had the hopes and dreams I did when I left college. I was now just happy to be fully employed. Sadly, full-time employment didn't lower my stress about money. I was back to where I started when I first got a full-time job. Making $35,000 a year was enough to live off of but not to pay down debt.
I began to realize that what I thought and what our culture says about finances isn't true. Hard work and determination aren't the only two things you need to be prosperous and successful. There is a third more critical component. Many would call it luck, but in reality, it is providence. Being at the right job, at the right stage of life, with the right set of skill is what makes people successful. No matter how hard you try, you can't create providence. God began showing me in small and large ways I was not in control of my finances, and I would never be.
At the end of a long year of traveling every week for this company, I was able to find full-time employment closer to home.
Being Content With One Company
With the new job came a pay raise to $40,000 a year and the added benefit of working 20 mins from home. The end of the same year my wife and I had our first child.
For those who are unaware life changes constantly. It is and never will be the same. I may have finally gained stable employment, but life didn't stop changing.
Over the next four year, God taught me contentment in mediocrity. My job wasn't anything exciting and my ability to learn and create took a job that required 40 hours a week to take 10 to 20. I had to learn how to be content not doing anything.
The planner in me still couldn't give up the struggle to try and change everything. To still try and climb the corporate ladder. After three years I was able to transfer to a higher position making 60k a year, but still, I wasn't satisfied. I slowly began to realize another truth. Most people would rather continue doing everything the same way than step outside their comfort zone and embrace the change that is happening around them and try to direct it. Instead, they will wait until they are required to make a change.
After a year in my new position with the company, I felt like I needed a change. The corporate machine wasn't moving fast enough for me, and I wasn't going to wait around for them to move me up.
Understanding God's Providence
As I moved on from the company I had been with for four years to a new company making $75k I was hopeful. I had hope that I would be able to bring financial stability to my family. That we would be able to pay down our debts, and that I could pursue my dreams.
Again life didn't turn out as expected. God had other plans. The new job was very stressful. I moved from a company that was comfortable with the current process and reluctant to change to a company who fought any change tooth and nail. I had hoped I could be an advocate for good change and help move the business in a healthy direction. Every step I took was met with distrust and hostility. For six months I fought to make a difference. I prayed God would give me the ability to make a difference. Nothing changed. The immovable became more set in their ways and the good employees began to leave.
I was left to face the question: Do I continue to fight a battle I cannot win or do I leave as well? Do I give up the financial security I had worked for so long or do I live with an extreme level of stress in my life? In January the following year after months of prayer, I quit.
I left even though I had no other jobs lined up. I left without a plan. I left because God called me to leave, and to leave immediately, that very day in fact.
Living in God's Providence
I look back over my history and wonder if I could go back and change anything, would I? The answer is always no. I would not be where I am today without the experiences and circumstances that lead me here. Do I wish I didn't have to go through the hardships and experiences I did? Sometimes, but I know that without them I would not know what I know now.
For the last eight months, I have been self-employed. For the last eight months, God has been teaching me to trust in His providence. To trust in His plan. Over the last eight months, I have learned that God can do more and provide more than I could in five years. I have learned that my plans and my dreams are too small and restrictive for God.
But most of all I have learned that prosperity comes from God and God alone. Financial security comes from God and God alone.
As individuals, we often make our jobs our gods, or we make our abilities our gods. We worship at the altar of our own hard work and resourcefulness. When in reality our prosperity is not of our own making but at the mercy of God's grace.
We as humans are collectively left with the question: What does financial security look like in the light of the changing world around us? Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to tackle this question.