Being on Top of the World, to Losing It All

On Quora, I was asked: 

How do people react to moving from a high to a low standard of living?

This is how I responded:

Living a high standard of living?  Oh, how I miss those days…

In my youth, when I grew up, I was raised by an amazing family.  We would’ve been considered, I guess you can say… Upper middle class.  I lived with my grandparents.  My grandfather was retired and took home an income from both the United States Air Force and from Armco, currently known as AK Steel, the biggest steel manufacturer in the United States.  My grandmother was a stay at home wife.

Poverty wasn’t something I was very familiar with.  However, my grandfather eventually passed away.  Being a troubled kid who didn’t really understand how to deal with the death of someone who had raised him as his own son… I had decided that I would rebel against everyone, especially my grandmother.

She had kicked me out of her loving home.  She disowned me.  She sent me to live with my mother.  At first, things weren’t too bad.  My mother was earning about $8,000 a month, which really is… Kind of impressive as a single mother.  She worked in the day managing a store at a swap meet selling toys for children.  At night, she tended bar.

Little did we know, a travesty would strike the world.

I had driven off to school one day, in the brand new Black 2001 Toyota Camry that my loving mother had bought me.  Once I arrived at school, the teachers were talking about an event that would change the world as we knew it.

I had no clue what they were talking about.  I saw the TV, where the Twin Towers had fell.  I couldn’t even comprehend what happened, it was so bizarre.  Quite frankly, at the time it happened, I thought it was fake, or part of a movie.  It took a few months for reality to finally kick in.  It was much more than I could possibly understand at my age.

After time went by and I was able to finally understand what happened, I realized that people had actually died in the travesty that struck the world.  It was far more than I could have ever fathomed, being a 16 year old kid in High School.

I didn’t know that these things could even happen.  Death?  Terrorism?  What? All I wanted to do was play with my friends.

As the world trickled apart, the economy took a shift.  The reason many people hate this previous President of ours, George Bush, is because… After the towers were struck, we declared war with another country.  My country was in shock.  My country was in fear.  People didn’t know what to do.  The fear of the unknown overwhelmed the mind of us consumers.  People stopped shopping.  Consumers started to save money up for a rainy day.

Eventually, the small business owner ended up losing their businesses, much like my mother did.

The stress of losing a business not only affected my mother’s income, but it carried over to her night job as well.  She ended up being laid off.  Then… Everything eventually came crashing down.  Our cars were repossessed.  We had no money.  We had to sell all our furniture.  We ended up in an empty home that had just two beds.  Nothing else.

Much like other humans, we had to figure out a way to survive.  We needed the essentials.  Clean clothes.  Food.  Shelter.

Somehow, we were so fortunate.  We were able to hold on to our apartment and didn’t end up on the street.  As far as food went… We went through an experimental stage.  We had to figure out as many concoctions as we possibly could, by using two ingredients and a sauce of some nature.

These ingredients were:

  1. Rice.
  2. Egg.
  3. Sauce. (Primarily Soy Sauce.)

Unfortunately, we were so far behind on everything, we could only eat once a day.  One egg was all that we were allotted.

This lasted for at least a year before we were able to recover.

At that time, I knew I had to make a change.

I knew that I couldn’t live like this forever.  I studied relentlessly on the creation of wealth and upon new philosophies.

I decided to go out and work.  My mother, after she had recovered from her financial travesty, had stated she wanted to move to Hawaii.  She said “You pay car, you pay rent, I go Hawaii now.  Bye!”

When my mother had told me this, I was working at Macy’s in the Beverly Center selling women’s shoes.  I was about 19, earning $25,000 a year.  That definitely wasn’t enough money to cover the newfound overhead I was presented with.

I decided it was time to change my career.  I had called a friend of mine who worked at Manhattan Beach Toyota.  I inquired as to whether or not I would be able to work with him.  He said he would get me an interview.

I have no clue how I pulled it off, but I was hired as a sales person at their store.  My new job would be to sell automobiles.

My mother had already left for Hawaii.  I had an overwhelming amount of expenses to cover.  I knew that no matter what, I had to make it, or I would once again fall back into the situation I was in before.

Eating rice… And egg… Once a day…

With no one to turn to for help.  With no one to ask for shelter.  I would be left with… Absolutely nothing.

I couldn’t let that happen.  No matter what.  I was desperate.  I had to fight.  I had to get through it.  I needed to make it.

Unfortunately, I was horrible at my job.

I tried and tried and tried to learn how to actually make it in the automotive business.  I failed consistently.  Over and over.  The first month, I did so terribly, I earned minimum wage.  I repeated the same thing the second month.  I was left starving each day, with no choice but to eat pounds upon pounds of the free popcorn that we had provided to our customers.

Management sat down with me.  They told me that if I was unable to meet my quotas, this would be my last month here.  I couldn’t let that happen.  I needed to get back on my feet.  I needed to make a change.

Luckily, I was able to study the process of the sale consistently over the last two months.  Something in me finally clicked.  I had finally figured out the science behind the sale!  From that month forward, I earned a minimum of $4,000 a month. That year, I ended up making $50,000 at the age of 20.  By the time I was 21, I earned a whopping $100,000!  

I thought nothing could touch me.  I thought I was invincible.  I THOUGHT I WAS… KING OF THE WORLD!

I paid my rent.  I paid my girlfriend‘s rent.  I bought designer clothes.  I ate out daily.  I spent at least $2,000 a month on food.  I tipped 30-50% everywhere I went.  I demanded respect at every venue I could.  I thought I was the chosen one.

I was so good at what I did, two of my friends had sought out my assistance to teach them what I knew about the business.  One of my friends immediately was able to start earning a $60,000 a year income.  My other friend went from working at a pool hall earning $10 a hour to earning $100,000 the following year.

I thought this would last forever.  Then… My girlfriend, whom I had my heart set on marrying, left me.

For a few months, my anger fueled me to continue on my journey of success.  I was cold, heartless, and due to my age and naivety, I was what I felt to be rich.  I had it all, except for the love of my life.

My ego grew so big, I thought I could launch a business on my own. I decided that I could change the world.  Being unfamiliar as to how to shop for good deals or truly understand what I was doing, I got ripped off left and right.  I went to max out my credit cards, got in debt, and decided to start a business.

I failed miserably.

I lost my car.

Creditors called me daily.

I went into debt.

I had no clue how to get out and I was stuck.

Each day, I was so miserable that I could hardly get out of bed.  I just watched myself fall back to where I was back when my mother had fallen into debt much like I had.

Emotionally though, I wasn’t tarnished.  I was unfamiliar with this feeling, and thought it was temporary.

Somehow, I was correct.  It was.

The following year I had gotten back on my feet.

The next, I was doing even better.  The following, even better than that.  Sure, I had a few roadblocks here and there, but by the time I was 25, I was on top of the world again.

I had a 2,600 square foot loft I shared with a dear friend of mine.  I had a Lexus GS 350.  I was out drinking a bottle of blue label twice a day.  I was popping bottles with models.  I was, once again, on top of the world.

Then once again, tragedy struck.  An unfortunate circumstance had arose.  A friend of a friend who I had mistreated had decided that it was his personal duty to destroy my life.  At another friend’s birthday, this person had decided to pull me out to the side to talk to me.  I agreed to follow him.  I had an eery feeling resonating within my intuition, however I ignored it.

He just decided to start swinging at me, over and over.  If there’s one thing I certainly can’t do in life, it is to fight.  I was pulverized.  The next day, I had two very important meetings with some extremely successful business professionals.

I thought everything would stay on track and my world would still be able to stay afloat.  However, I was just stared at with disgust.  They thought I couldn’t manage my own personal life, so they felt I was unworthy of continued funding.

Overnight, once again, I was left with nothing.

This time, it struck home.  I felt the burning pain.  I felt the misery that came with losing everything.  I was stricken with fear.  I had no clue what to do.  All the memories of my first failure came rushing back to me.  I froze up.  I went completely clueless.  I just awaited for my life to come crashing apart on me.

I was ready.  What was I ready for?  A life where I would live on the streets, under the bridges of Los Angeles, begging for food.  My life was over, and I didn’t have the energy to move forward once again.  I officially gave up.

I was finished.  There was no hope of tomorrow.  I was dead, figuratively.

Somehow, I was stricken by a miracle.

My grandmother had decided that she no longer wanted to disown me and actually tried to help me get back on my feet.  She extended the courtesy to let me live at her home.  Reflecting back, living with my grandmother was, by far, the best period of my life, but that story is for a different time.

Now being 26 years old, I was at the absolute bottom of my life.

  • I was penniless.
  • In debt.
  • I lost my status symbols.
  • My luxury car.
  • My home.
  • My pride.

I had absolutely nothing.  I didn’t even have a home that I could call my own.  I was living in my grandmother’s room under her care.

If you had flipped open a dictionary to look up the definition to the words loser, failure, tragedy, etc., there was a picture of me.  I had lost absolutely everything.

I hated each and every day that I lived with my grandmother.  I couldn’t believe I had fallen so far from who I was.  I couldn’t believe that I had absolutely nothing.  I couldn’t believe that my world just came crashing apart.

Ultimately, I couldn’t pick myself up from where I was.  I just wanted to lie around until I died.

For the next two months, I did just that.  I slept like a hibernating bear.  I lied around and played video games.  I had no motivation to do anything.

Shortly afterwards, my grandmother had gotten sick and tired of me just freeloading off her, so she had forced me to get a job.

I went on Craigslist and perused around for a job.  I responded to the first interview I was presented with.  I started working at a start up that was doomed for failure.  I was promoted to become the VP of Marketing.  However, the company was so underfunded, I hardly earned a penny.

I was promised 5% of the equity within the company and a consistent salary of $5,000 a month.  However, I received nothing more than $2,300 during my whole tenure there.  But the thing is… I worked my ass off to build that company up from the ground, the best I could.  I signed on well over 1,200 vendors with the company.

After being at the company for about nine months, I came to realize that this company was going nowhere fast.  It was heading to its ultimate demise. So I decided it was time for me to leave.

I had:

  • No money.
  • No resources.
  • Nothing.

But I was finally able to overcome the pity within myself.

I decided it was time to move back to Los Angeles to figure out my life.

I had a business plan put together and wanted to launch a new company.

I took a $1,000 loan from a close friend of mine and moved onto a sofa in a home in Los Angeles.  Within the first month, I was able to find a steady job to keep me occupied during the day.  I made sure to over exceed all my quotas at my day job.  I had also worked relentlessly on starting up this new business venture.  After two months, I was able to fully repay the loan I had borrowed.

Then, tragedy struck once again.

My programmer screwed me over and ran off with the money my business partner and I had paid him, without ever delivering the program he had promised.  Even though I felt betrayed and was filled with disgust, I started working on another project.

Another friend of mine was losing his bar, so I decided to help him raise money to rebuild the business.  At the last minute, when our investor was on the way to deliver the $200,000 he had promised to us, he ended up getting pulled over and sent to jail for who knows what.

Somehow, my ex that had left me came back in my life during this time, and she decided to walk out of my life again right after this occurred.

Then, another girl had convinced the staff of Petit Emertage to kick me out of my own hotel room.  She racked up a huge room service bill that I was charged for.  One of the itemized deductions on that list was a love kit, which included seductive oils and a pack of condoms.

That was the final straw.

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I felt my life was over.  I wanted to die.

I wanted to die so bad, I calculated out every single possibility of death.  I logically went through all the calculations to see what I could potentially do to ensure my death.  Most of the things I came up with, such as jumping in front of a subway car or train, resulted in calculations of extreme pain or disabilities, without the desired outcome of death that I was seeking for.

I came to the conclusion, that the only way I could officially die for sure was to jump off a bridge into the 5 freeway into oncoming traffic.  This was the only way I could guarantee my death.  I had wrote all my goodbyes.  I sent off all the letters to the people I cared about most.  I was ready to go.  I was certain that life would never get any better, and I needed to leave this world.

After work, I was ready to go.  I had it set on my mind.  I couldn’t do this anymore.  There was no more reason to live.  I lost everything I had.  I lost all my material possessions.  I lost everyone I loved.  I had nothing.  I was ready to take a bus to my destination and jump to my death.  I was ready to say goodbye to what I had felt was a God forsaken world.

Out of nowhere, my ex had decided to give me a call.  I answered.  She told me to meet her somewhere.  I did.  She picked me up.  She talked to me.  She told me how stupid I was to want to make such a selfish decision.  She forced me to stay with her all night.

She ended up… Saving me.

Somehow, my ex… She saved me from midnight darkness that would have lasted evermore.

However, to provide an answer for your question… How do people react when they are forced to move to a low standard of living…

The answer is simple.  We go through the Kübler-Ross model.  First, we enter denial.  Then we feel anger.  Then we try bargaining.  Then we enter extreme depression.  Then we finally enter a stage of acceptance.

After I was saved, I knew that I couldn’t die.  I knew that I couldn’t let the people who had loved me deal with my death.  Especially my family.  What would my mother and grandmother do?

I knew that I had to fight on.  I knew that I had to keep living.  I knew that I had to enter the road of recovery.

I got rid of my delusions of grandeur.  I lowered my expectations on life.  I began budgetting.  I started saving.  I started living below my means.  I started appreciating the small things in life.  I started being thankful for what I had.  I tried to express gratitude everywhere I could.

Now, I’m nowhere near as wealthy as I used to be.  However, I no longer need the things that once controlled me, such as the wealth, power, and fame.

Luckily, I was able to find myself.  Now, I’m genuinely happy.  I’m living a stable and comfortable life.  I can’t think of a time that I was more delighted with my life, than as to where I am today.

Originally posted on Quora.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.

0 thoughts on “Being on Top of the World, to Losing It All”

  1. Thank you for writing and sharing this. I’m a little older than you (okay a lot older) but I remember the feeling of 9-11 as well. You have learned a lot, and have a lot to share. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Hi Leonard,

    I’m touched by your story and genuine desire to help other. I would like to one day write my own story on a blog like yours. However, I’m concerned that if my future employers google me, they will find these details of my life and may not want to hire me. Even though I’ve never done anything shameful or criminal, I believe employers want to hire someone who didn’t do risky things/fail at them. I think this type of writing may only be possible if one day i decide to go into business for myself. please tell me if sharing personal failures could negatively impact me in the workplace.

    Thank you!

    • Hello there. It depends what you write about. If you would like, I can look over your content to see if it could cause detriment to future employment opportunities. Writing about some things that we may fear can actually cause employers to be more interested in us. It’s really hard to gauge, but I can let you know from personal experience if your content will cause you to gain or lose opportunities. Feel free to email me anytime!


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