Bankruptcy and financial problems can be scary. And you don’t realize how terrifying financial problems can be until you’ve been there yourself.
I was chatting with my friend and colleague, Lexington bankruptcy lawyer Lex Rogerson, tonight. We began discussing some of the emotional aspects of filing bankruptcy and some of the feelings our clients were experiencing. Lex practices in the Columbia area, and I’m obviously here in Charleston, but bankruptcy clients all over South Carolina seem to be feeling the same emotion: Fear. And our discussion got me thinking about my own financial history.
I’ve never filed bankruptcy–other than for clients, that is. But I’ve had financial problems. I vividly remember graduating from law school back in 1993 with lots of student loans, a car loan, and a wife and new baby to support. Thankfully, I got a job clerking for a judge in Michigan, and the pay wasn’t bad. Still, with the car loan, rent to pay, credit cards, student loans, and baby expenses, life was stressful. There wasn’t a dime to spare, and our little family lived paycheck to paycheck.
I remember worrying about finances. I remember not being able to sleep. I remember wondering how we’d make ends meet. And I had a fear of the future. If you’ve had financial problems, you know what I mean.
After my clerkship ended, I went into private practice and, like any newly-minted lawyer, really didn’t know how to practice law. I had no clients and still had the car loan, rent, student loans, credit cards, baby, and all the other living expenses. Only now that I’d finally made it to private practice, I had no idea how much money I’d earn. No more steady paycheck for me! More stress and worry. Fortunately, the practice grew, and we made it.
My point is not to bore you with my life history. But I do want you to know I’ve been there. Maybe I haven’t been in a mess like you’re in, but I’ve experienced financial stress and know it’s not fun.
The important thing is not to allow fear to paralyze you. I meet with people almost weekly who’ve been growing what I call the “debt tumor” for years. They couldn’t pay, but still they did nothing to address their financial problems for a long time–sometimes several years. Fear stopped them from taking action.
We’re living through a time which resembles another time–a time some of our parents and grandparents lived through. It was a time when ordinary folks paid for the sins of the big business. Our country was in the depths of the Great Depression and needed answers. In his inauguration speech on March 4, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a nation gripped with fear with these words:
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself €”nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.
Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
Many of you face the same “practices of the unscrupulous money changers” that now “stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.” You can’t see your way out. Now, like then, “the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization” and left a financial mess. But fear doesn’t help deal with the mess; it just prolongs it.
And now, like then, the greatest enemy is fear. Don’t let it “paralyze needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Never let it control you.