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Why It Took me 50 Years to Find Myself

It took Columbus approximately 4.5 months to discover America – and he had to sail through unpredictable and unchartered waters. It took me 50 years to find myself, and I never left myself out of my sight for one single second. How is this fucking possible?

I am a huge fan of Winston Churchill. My best quote from the old bulldog was concerning the late entry of the United States into the Second World War. He said: "Americans will always do the right thing - after exhausting all the alternatives."

The single biggest thing that holds human beings back is their unwillingness to understand who they are – but most will do the right thing after exhausting all alternatives. Why the fuck is introspection and self-awareness so elusive? I think humans are afraid to open that box because they are afraid of what they might find.

I ran away from myself for 50 years. I was the busiest person on the planet. I was doing everything possible to fill my days with activities to distract me from what I knew I had to do but did not have the balls to do. I worked 80 hours a week relentlessly pursuing my career in finance working on three different continents. I trained 20 hours a week so that I could compete in Ironman triathlons. I spent my life in business meetings, in conference rooms, in airport lounges, in taxis, and in the air. I did everything possible to fill my mind with new knowledge on motorcycles (I am a Harley Davidson nut), on learning new skills (like playing the guitar and surfing), on socializing with people I did not like because I dreaded the prospect of sitting down alone and having to ask the question: who am I?

Then at the age of 48, I decided to quit my very high-paying corporate job in Mexico City, retire and pursue my dream of living in my paradise – Cape Town, which is located on the most southern tip of Africa. In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph. In the same year, the city was named the World Design Capital of the Year by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. It combines stunning beaches, majestic mountains, and world-class vineyards.

This was a radical move and I have to confess that I spent most of my time thinking about the financial implications of the move, and approximately zero time on the mental challenges. I quit my job at the end of February 2020, 11 days before the World Health Organization declared COVID 19 a global pandemic. This meant that we were in lockdown. I went from spending almost no time with my wife to being around her 24/7 and within a few months our marriage had exploded and in December 2021, my ex-wife and 18-year-old daughter left the glorious shores of Cape Town and returned to Mexico City.

I suddenly had way too much time on my hands, so I did what I always did. I filled my days with doing stuff. There was no fucking way I was going to be forced to deal with all the personal demons that had been accumulating over the past 50 years – and my box of demons was starting to get overcrowded.

This is what I did to fill my days:

1) I Wrote Five Books

I considered titling this “I became an author” but then I would be trying to put myself into the same category as Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare, and nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote four books on personal finance, and I translated one from English to Spanish. I am not a writer, an author – I simply was filled with a desire to impart some of the knowledge on finance and investments that I had acquired over a 25-year history.

2) I Started Rebel Finance

After working in finance for 25 years, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that the finance industry was corrupt, dishonest and only was interested in screwing its clients for its own self-interest. I was embarrassed by the fact that I had been part of the problem for so long and was looking for a way in which I could in some way ease my guilt. Was this selfish and self-serving? 100%. After all, is anything we do truly selfless? I would say absolutely not – but that is an entirely different conversation. Rebel Finance is a free website where I blog about financial freedom and how to flip your relationship with money.

3) I Signed Up to Tinder

There's a tragic truism that nobody ever tells a bride-to-be, namely that if a couple puts a pebble in a jar every time, they make love in the first year of wedded bliss and then removes a pebble every time they make love thereafter, the jar will never empty. In 18 years of marriage, it did not come even close to emptying the jar – I would go so far as to say that I left it half-full (or half-empty). By jumping onto Tinder, I was able to build new connections with complete strangers – and we are going to leave it at that.

4) I Learned to Surf

Although I grew up close to the beach, one thing I had never learned to do was surf. I used to bodyboard – the inferior and ugly cousin to surfing. For people living in landlocked countries like Switzerland, most former Soviet countries, Bolivia and Austria, and have limited exposure to the sea, you will need to Google “bodyboarding”, although a lot can be inferred by the name. Surfing is so cool and I would go so far as to say that it can at times be better than sex, but it is extremely difficult to master. The learning curve is steep – it is not easy especially if you have been living on this planet for more than half a century. But I like hard shit – what is the fun in doing something that everyone is doing?

5) I Bought Another Harley

I am a Harley nut. For some mysterious reason, I thought that buying a Harley would income way make me immune to mental anguish. The old joke goes: have you ever seen a Harley parked outside a shrink’s office? Having spent my entire life running away from my problems, what better way to continue this winning tradition than on the back of a badass all-American motorcycle. This was my second hog – I bought my first one in Mexico City 5 years earlier. You have to be a special kind of nutcase to ride a motorcycle in a city with 25 million inhabitants with scant or no regard for the rules of the road. To give you some idea of the magnitude of the chaos, consider the traffic circle (aka roundabout). In countries that drive on the right-hand side of the road, the traffic flows in a counterclockwise direction, and vice versa for countries that drive on the left-hand side of the road. In Mexico City, traffic flows both clockwise and counterclockwise!

Spending your entire life running away from yourself is relatively easy – I was able to do it for 50 years. Some people can go through their entire lives and never truly know the person they have spent all their life with. It is possible – and you can have a relatively decent life but you need to keep yourself busy with cool shit 24/7. You could be a workaholic, and be married to a unicorn human being that accepts you for all you are, and be in awesome physical and mental health. You can spend your entire life DOING and avoid BEING. Although you may not be blissfully happy, you will be pretty content.

The problem that I faced, however, was that the five things I mentioned above were not enough to fill all the free time I now had on my hands. This meant that I had no other option but to confront my demons and try and answer the most difficult fucking question on the planet: “who the hell are you?”

I stumbled across the clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson on YouTube. He suggested there are two ways to find yourself – therapy or writing your life story. I am an investor/saver – not a spender. Austerity was inculcated in me from a young age, so I opted for the cheaper option. In addition, I love writing, so this was definitely a win-win.

This is how the good doctor explains this self-authoring process: “People who spend time writing carefully about themselves become happier, less anxious and depressed and physically healthier. They become more productive, persistent, and engaged in life. This is because thinking about where you came from, who you are, and where you are going helps you chart a simpler and more rewarding path through life.”

After months of procrastination, I threw myself into writing about my past, present, and future. In my typical habit of going all in, within a week I had written about 200 pages, and the process was fucking painful. This is what I discovered:

1) I am a bit of a nutcase. I used to think that I was relatively stable, mentally speaking. I now know that nothing could be further from the truth. My first triathlon was an Ironman triathlon – 3.8km swim, 180km bike, and 42km run. Most normal people start out with shorter races and build up to the ironman distance over a couple of years. I wrote four books in a space of 2 months. When I buy a bag of cookies, I eat ALL of them in 10 minutes. I literally inhale them. If I hear a song I like, I will literally be playing it 50 times. I know no sense of moderation, and this trend is showing no signs of abating in my older age.

2) I have hurt a lot of people. I always thought I was a kind and pleasant person. I realized that I have been a bit of shit to a lot of people, and most of the time I was completely oblivious to it. A lot of it goes down to intent. I did not intend to hurt these people, but I did. The message to you is that nine times out of ten, we get hurt by people that have no intention of hurting us. These people are so wrapped up in their shit lives and are so focused on their self-interest, they have no idea of the damage they are doing.

3) I was not happy. I was so busy that I had no time to be unhappy. When I had all this time, I realized that I was not happy with my life. I felt unfulfilled and guilty that I had spent 25 years pursuing a bullshit career.

4) My direct contribution to society has been minimal. Investment banking is the business of moving money from one bank account to another bank account. Henry Ford said that a business that makes nothing but money is poor. It adds nothing to society. The probability of being fulfilled in this business, unless you are Lucifer, is low.  Granted, I have paid millions in taxes which hopefully have trickled down to those people that need it most. I fear, however, that there has been considerable slippage in this inefficient system and only a fraction of my taxes reached the neediest.  It makes for an uneasy moment when you realize that you have dedicated a quarter of a century to a meaningless and self-serving profession.

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