Of Spilled Milk, Water over the Dam and Reality Intrusions

When I am in the middle of a righteously indignant “I’ve been wronged” temper tantrum the last thing I want to hear is the phrase “There’s no sense crying over spilled milk”. Or that other classic, “It’s just water over the dam/under the bridge.” Hearing those while stamping my feet and blowing my top sure does ruin a good self indulgent rant.

Whilst in the midst of a particularly satisfying emotional rant the other day a twenty year old memory flashed in my mind that immediately took all the fun out of my naval gazing and promptly brought me back to Earth. The only thing worse than having a fresh dose of humility stuffed in your face is when you are doing your own stuffing. It really is a shame we cannot un-remember select items and must resort to denial to purge the mind of uncomfortable truths and other disturbing miscellanea.

I was four years into my new career as a ‘financial adviser’, more accurately described as a financial ‘products’ salesman. One of my clients, a husband and wife hovering around retirement age, had been with me from nearly the beginning and I knew them well. He had just recently retired since his company pension could not be increased by working additional years, and she was two years removed from her own work retirement. All she wanted to do was reach the ‘official’ company retirement age so she could take her full pension. While waiting out the clock she was putting nearly everything she earned into her company 401(k) as well as her own personal retirement investments.

The wife, let’s call her Anne, called me a few minutes after I walked into the office. She was extremely excited and agitated, and for the first minute or so I could not understand her at all. Once I was able to get her to slow down and fill in some background her excitement became quite understandable. It seemed she had won the lottery and wanted my advice before heading down to the headquarters to claim her one million dollar plus prize.

Once I could get a word in edge wise I suggested she immediately come down to my office so we could talk about her options. I also suggested she engage a lawyer before claiming the prize because I was certain I was not the expert here in some of the legal matters she would eventually wish she had considered. Unfortunately she would have none of that and informed me that as soon as she hung up the phone she was headed to the lottery office with her husband Harold. All she wanted to know was if she should take the ‘lifetime’ twenty annual payments or the lump sum after taxes. I suggested the lump sum, knowing full well that the twenty ‘annuity’ payments were based upon a below market interest rate.

Just after lunch Anne (with Harold in tow) showed up at my office looking like she had been run over by a Mack truck. Distraught and anguished were not sufficient enough terms to describe her state of mind or physical demeanor. Within a minute of sitting at my desk she was in tears and sobbing, with poor Harold completely lost and unable to console his wife. I rushed to close my office door as her explanation spilled out.

Lost - Clean

In a nut shell she had not won a million dollars. There had been a mistake last night when the local TV outlet had broadcast the winning lottery numbers, the norm along with newspapers for dispersing lottery announcements before the Internet age had bloomed. One of the numbers displayed had been incorrect (though interestingly I found out later the voice over had given the correct number) which meant one of the numbers on her ticket was not a winning number. That was the ‘bad’ news. The ‘good’ news was that she had been the sole second place winner, the prize of which was a not so paltry one hundred thousand dollars after taxes in one lump sum.

However for Anne this was not good news at all. For sixteen short hours she had been a millionaire and had mentally spent all that money on retirement vacations, new automobiles, gifts for the children etc. As she handed over a check for a little more than one hundred thousand, to be deposited into her investment account, if you were watching her body language you would have thought she was handing Satan her engraved one way ticket to hell.

Long story short it was all downhill from there. While the lottery winnings enabled Anne to retire early rather than wait for her full pension payment (it was only a matter of 4% and she still received full health benefits) and as a bonus pay off the remaining balance on her mortgage, she rapidly slipped into despondency and despair. A few years later she and Harold divorced and she became somewhat of a recluse, drinking heavily and running through what remained of the divorce proceeds in a few short years. I lost touch with her shortly thereafter until I read her obit a few years further down the road. It was sad, so very sad indeed.

This was the memory that flashed across my mind while in the middle of my delicious rant. Talk about rant interruptus. The impression the memory cemented in my mind, both back then in real time and now upon reflection, was to always examine what is ‘real’ and what is not. While my anger or upset was most certainly ‘real’ it was not actually based upon anything real, but rather a sense of outrage that I had been harmed, either directly or indirectly just like Anne.

For those keeping score at home let us revisit what was ‘real’ with the situation Anne found herself in and how she reacted to her windfall. Anne never actually won the million dollars; it was never hers to begin with. It was her perception of a fictitious ‘reality’ that had defined her ‘belief’ that she had won. She never ‘realized’ the winning ticket, but she did possess the winning second place ticket.

What would have been her reaction if, instead of thinking she had won a million, she correctly understood she had ‘only’ won one hundred thousand? I suspect she would most likely have been ecstatic; possibly as excited as she was when she called me with the ‘news’ of winning one million.

In other words in her mind, and to a lesser extent in her husband’s, she made ‘real’ something that was not actually a fact or truth mostly because she ‘believed’ it to be real. And her belief was formed primarily because the information came from an authority….in this case the local television station. If her neighbor had told her she had won a million bucks I suspect she would have treated the news with a great deal more skepticism. Let the buyer of the belief beware.

Caveat Emptor - Clean

Worse, because she had been emotionally and psychically imprinted in a significant manner with the false ‘news’ that she had won a million dollars, when her belief was proven wrong even the truth that she was in fact one hundred thousand dollars richer, was of little to no consolation. It cannot be overstated how deeply and completely Anne believed she was a millionaire and the degree of emotional trauma that was self inflicted when she discovered she was not.

I must warn the reader not to dismiss this story as immaterial to you or your loved ones because what happened to Anne happens to you and me on a daily basis, only for us the discovery and assimilation time frame is greatly stretched out compared to Anne’s sixteen hour trip from normalcy to millionaire to Satan’s hell. On a daily basis we emotionally deal with truths that are no longer true….or more accurately in many cases were never true to begin with. Slowly but surely ‘reality’ intrudes into our mind numbing denial and another castle rampart falls to the inevitable decay of the truth invasion.

While Anne may be perceived as emotionally unstable and even intellectually dishonest, and there is no doubt that her inability to cope with the emotional letdown of reality intruding upon her believed fantasy certainly suggests deeper emotional issues, are we not all to some degree or another clinging to past ‘truths’ that never were and might never be?

Because I most certainly was clinging to mine when I exercised my freedom to act emotionally childish and wallow in my own self-indulgent rant. Just like Anne I believed something that was not actually true, though in my case it was more a conglomerate of conditioned concepts rather than just one simple belief. I was done wrong by a ‘system’ that promised truth and justice for all. Yet when the Cavalry was supposed to gallop in and save the day none appeared, and I was indignant. How dare they forget about poor little me?

I suspect “We the People” will be suffering endless disappointment and emotional trauma as we descend the social and financial ladder to Satan’s place. And while this fall from grace might be stretched out over a period of ten, twenty, even thirty years, similar to the fall of the Soviet Union both before and after the actual dissolution of the Communist bloc, a decline they are only now beginning to recover from, a fall it most definitely will be.

The key here is not what you and I can do to stop the inevitable. The key is what are you and I doing to prepare emotionally, then physically and financially, to weather the storm already on the horizon. For me the self indulgent rants must stop as I turn my face towards reality and the gathering storm clouds.

 

04-28-2014

Cognitive Dissonance

Water Over the Dam - Clean

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14 thoughts on “Of Spilled Milk, Water over the Dam and Reality Intrusions”

  1. Love this story.

    I’ve seen similar dynamics at the poker table and while trading. When and only when you have the $ in hand do you have said amount. Anything else is magical thinking. Jackals on WS do the same with promising x % ROI. I’ve done the same thing though, so am not exempt by any means :)

    Recreational poker players time again go on a sick runs while adopting a -EV strategy ( a very simplified example of -EV is getting it all in pre-flop with JJ vs AA 19% equity vs 81%, and spiking a set on the river). Their flawed strategy in the short term can be rewarded , which reenforces their incorrect belief that they are gifted poker players. Over the long run they will eventually hit a wall. The fascinating thing is that the previous experience of winning has made think that that they are good and that ‘bad luck’ is causing them to run bad, and they will continue to adopt a failed strategy. Very rarely do they adapt. I’m convinced that 95% of players rally don’t come to win $ at all, although 100% will say they do. Fascinating dynamic but I digress.

  2. Dear CD,

    Cd comment

    Dear CD,

    Thank you for the wonderful story. Here is one of my own.

    My grandfather was a very wealthy man who owned a large hop ranch in Washington state. He had donated the land that a major university resides and was in Who’s Who in America. My father did not want a ranch life and left to seek his own fortune. For this, he was promptly disowned. Though estranged from my father, my grandfather told me he had left me a sizable inheritance, close to one million. When I was 21, my father died suddenly and plunged us into poverty from an upper middle class life. We were close to homelessness, lost everything and were trying to live in a small apartment but were burning through cash. My mother’s response was to writhe and bed screaming and insist my 16 year old brother and I support her. I was working full time at a fast food restaurant, going to school part time during the day and working at my boyfriends dairy on weekends for some food and a little cash.

    A few months later my grandfather died. The lawyers contacted me that the will was being settled and to wait for a few months. Every day as I lay in bed and the dark quiet would expose my feelings of anger, fear and sadness over my situation, I would experience horrible despair and fight back tears. I began saying to myself ” when the money comes, everything will be ok”. This became my nightly mantra so I could relax and sleep. Just saying the words over and over provided solace. A few months later I got a call and the news was not good.

    Apparently 20 years previously, my grandfather was in a dilemma to whom he would leave his ranch. His youngest son was a drug addict, his daughter was in jail and my father was disowned. He decided to give his trusted ranch foreman the option to buy the ranch at the assessed value at his death if he chose. The foreman, seeing a good opportunity, ran the ranch into the ground to pick it up cheap. When my grandfather figured out what was going on he divide up the ranch into 10 parcels,100 acres each, and gave 10 people 99 year leases on each. Upon his death everyone was surprised and they all sued each other.

    I asked the lawyer how many months it was going to take for me to get my money. She was quiet for a bit and softly told me this would take years.

    It’s funny, when one reviews ones life, to see how many crossroads one faces. Some small. Some critical. This one was pivotal for me. I faced the fact I was not going to get an easy way out and I needed to marshal all my skills and strength to get through this. The next few years were very difficult but I had many people help me. Every day during my morning meditation I remember and thank them. Most people recount their college years filled with drinking and wild parties. I just worked, studied,prayed I could make rent and bus fair. Today, I look back and realize this experience shaped my life. I appreciate everything I have now knowing at any time it may be gone.

    Twenty years later I got a call from the lawyer handling my grandfathers estate. All the lawsuits had been resolved and they were ready to cut me a check. I knew the sum had to be significantly less from what was originally quoted but even I was surprised.

    $1200.

    I started laughing uncontrollably. The lawyer seemed a bit taken aback. She was expecting anger or sadness. I managed to compose myself and said no, there are no more tears. Grief, animosity, greed, or “what if”? All gone as well. Only laughter of the absurdity of it all remains.

    Miffed

    1. @Miffed

      Well, at least the lawyers got paid. /sarc

      Thank you for sharing your story. It always amazes me how a group of people are willing to destroy everything rather than share in something. And how resourceful an individual can be once they set their mind to it.

      Your story reminds of what ship captains sometimes did when setting up settlements in America and other ‘new’ lands in the 1500’s and 1600’s if the people were not too interested in working hard.

      Burn the ship.

      Suddenly there was a much greater incentive and a laser focus on what needed to be done. No escape was possible, even if it was just the fantasy of escape, so it was either do or die.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  3. “prepare emotionally, then physically and financially.” It took me a while to realise that after the collapse the sun will continue to come up and life will go on. Am I going to be prepared was my big question. I’ve almost stopped ranting about the insanity of TPTB because it’s so much more productive for me to focus my energies where they will do the most good for me, my family, and my local community.

  4. The Power we have given to Money !

    * Disclaimer: English is not my first language and words don’t always translate with the same meaning. It is not my intent to engage in semantics, but rather to discus the topic at hand. *

    It is indeed amazing how much power we have given to money; it can, & does, make or break life’s. In Britain, a man called Mark Boyle decided to live, for an unknown period, without money. In his first book; “The money less man, a year of Freeconomic living” he describes his point of view and experiences (from all the hardships to the most heartwarming experiences) and gives some reflection on how he sees the world evolving (Perceived wealth v.s. Real wealth). In his second book, “Moneyless Manifesto”, now three years into his “living without money period” and clearly mentally & spiritually grown, he reflects on our (Western) monetary culture and suggest other ways.
    Both books most likely pushes peoples mental & spiritual envelops. Even though I think the second book, with a more mature Mark, is a fascinating read, I still recommend the first book as well, so the reader gets an idea of his journey and where Mark comes from. It throws another light on the stories above.
    For me, the next book up about Daniel Suelo, written by Mark Sundeen, “The man who Quit Money”; curious what I can learn from him!

    1. @elf

      I like the disclaimer. While at times words must be better defined in order to further an understanding, your disclaimer serves notice to others that certain words of yours might be used inadvertently and to please be gentle and understanding.

      I have written several times about the money meme mind virus. It is all consuming and encompassing and is so thoroughly embedded into our culture and our minds that we simply can’t imagine living without it.

      Thank you for pointing out the books by Mark Boyle. I had not heard of him until now.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  5. @ wondering. I really liked his first book, fascinating insight. Couple of things I took from it. Basics (e.g gathering fire wood for cooking and cycling everywhere) take huge amounts of time and energy, and I wonder if he’d have been able to survive without the help from others? Not to downplay his amazing experience, but I was struck by how many times he had assistance facilitating an action, be it directly or indirectly, from other people. I think it is a great example of what could be done, but how we all need to do it together. Think he is part of a community now where they are trying to build an alternative village/way of life?

  6. @Tenma13; Yes, indeed, that’s a good observation.
    It’s hard to tell how it all went if you haven’t been involved personally. Totally self-sustainable is (to me) an illusion, we all need each other. If a reader is wondering whether his lifestyle is possible without a money society around him, all I can say is that currently he is the “only” one in the moneyless world, everybody around him not. Connections with the money-world are therefor inevitable. For it to work perfectly, we have, like you mentioned, all be in it together. Realistically, this is not going to happen any time soon.
    If one zooms out however, and blur the details a bit, I see him as a pioneer who is trying to live a lifestyle more in line with nature and more sustainable. Maybe far from perfect yet, but he goes off the beaten path, reflects on our (Western) society and valuable lessons can be drawn from that. Also, if one combine his second-book with the first book, his philosophy becomes more clear, at least it did to me. I commend him for his bravery.
    I don’t think we can wait for the rest of the world to come to its senses, change can only come from the individual himself and Marks thoughts & ideas can only broaden our scope of possibilities.
    To answer your observation in short; Yes, there are flaws, but to me it’s his “drift” what counts and I can learn valuable lessons from him.

    Time to close off with my disclaimer above and if there are any spelling- or grammatical-mistakes……… sorry ;-)

  7. @Tenma 13; I forgot to mention that in my perception, Mark is not promoting self-sustainability per sé, but rather a more sustainable-lifestyle. That he starts this endeavour on his own, may be confusing.

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