How My Darkest Fear Led to Financial Freedom

Michael QuanBeliefs, Challenge, Family, FI / FIRE, Misc, Personal Development33 Comments

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My Darkest Fear

2017.  It’s a new year.  And, it’s time to get RAW!

It’s fascinating how the events in our lives can shape us.  In fact, some of our deepest and darkest moments can ultimately make way for light… even if it’s many years later.

While it’s certainly true that I retired to spend more time with my family, there’s more to this story that I’m ready to share.  The truth is that some of my closest friends don’t even know about this.  But, I feel compelled to share it.

My Darkest Fear

my darkest fearGrowing up, both of my parents fell upon hard times.  They divorced when I was entering middle school, and each of them struggled to find their way independently.

I didn’t ask too many questions back then, but my Dad struggled.  With a broken family, he felt like he had failed the “American Dream”, even though he was successful professionally.  He became very depressed and suicidal during some of the lowest points.  I even overheard conversations that he had purchased a gun at one point.  He needed to be placed on suicide watch (multiple times).  I did my best to be strong for him, but I honestly didn’t know what to do.

To make matters worse, my Mom battled with depression as well.  She had terrible migraine headaches daily and faced many demons from a tough and abusive childhood.  As a single mother, she would tell my sisters and me, “You know I love you very much, but I just don’t want to go on some days.”  Or, “Today I just wanted to crash into a wall and leave behind all of my problems, but I couldn’t do that to you.”  We probably heard this a dozen times.

Needless to say, facing suicide with both parents independently was rather challenging… especially during my adolescence.  If it wasn’t one parent that was threatening to kill him/herself, it was the other!  I would dread getting calls out of the blue out of sheer terror that it would be someone calling to tell me that one of my parents had taken their own life.  Although this day never came (thank God), you can imagine how something like this could take a toll on your psyche!

Coping With My Darkest Fear

The way that I dealt with this, was to close myself off.  I tried not to feel too much emotion over things in fear that I would encounter the ultimate disappointment one day.  This, of course, did not serve me well in many regards, as I found it difficult to make deeper connections with people during my adolescence.

There was a silver lining, though. I also decided during this time that there was absolutely NOTHING that would upset me enough in life to want to take my own life.  I knew if all else crumbled around me, I could always retreat to a cheap country and live life in nature, free from the confines of traditional society as I knew it.  I also decided that I would NEVER expose my own children to this fear.

Fueling the F.I.R.E.

fueling financial freedomIn addition to my resolve to never get “depressed”, these experiences lit a FIRE underneath me.  Part of never getting overly “stressed” (which I associated to depression), was to find freedom EARLY on in life.  Yup, it led me directly to my ultimate path of F.I.R.E. (financial independence & early retirement).

I began seeking ways to accomplish this early on in life.  This led me to numerous entrepreneurial pursuits, a hunger and drive for passive income, and the desire to EXIT the rat race as quickly as I could.

With this WHY, I forged ahead.  I read as many books as I could on personal finance and devoured personal development books one after another.  I took massive action.  This meant taking calculated risks with my studies in college, my early career, starting a company when I was young and ignorant, and purchasing investment real estate.

There were many times when I wanted to give up, but I was determined to find financial freedom and I kept moving forward when many others would have quit.

Remember, we act on emotions, not logic.  Use this knowledge to get leverage in your own life.

Choosing Freedom Now

Without these experiences, I don’t know that I’d be able to appreciate life as much as I do today.  And, although it was hard at the time, I don’t fault my parents for the situation they put me and my sisters in.  They were doing the best they could, given the resources they had at the time.

When I finally had sold off my company and transitioned it to the new company, I had to ask myself what was next.  Do I continue making more money and growing my assets?  Or, do I have enough to claim freedom!

Well, as you probably know, I decided to take and early retirement and focus my time on my growing family.  Although I’ve forgone some of my biggest earning years the past 3.5 years, my unrestricted time with family is priceless.  I learned early on to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before you.  No one has ever said on their death bed, “I wish I hadn’t spent as much time with my children when they were growing up.

Financial freedom also affords me the ability to build new streams of passive income via businesses, real estate, equities, etc.  Although I’m free, I’m not done growing.  $10M here I come. 🙂

Coming Full Circle

So, why am I spilling my guts here today?  I think it’s because I want to emphasize our unique ability to make choices in life.  You will inevitably come to crossroads in your life, and what you ultimately choose is up to you.  I believe the most successful people have figured this out and thus will not let any circumstances or curveballs in life derail them.

By uncovering my own path of early financial freedom, I’ve become inspired to share with others and encourage their own journey through this blog, coaching, and some day speaking.

We all have unique stories that shape us.  Some of you have had to endure far tougher situation than I’ve had.  Yet, there is a reason.  Embrace it.

It doesn’t matter what you believe religiously, but if you can take a moment to listen, you might just find out your greatest struggles are actually your greatest gifts.

Final Thoughts

The irony of this all is that I found the essence of life by staring into the abyss of death.

I don’t think anyone would have faulted me if I myself had fallen into depression over the years.  After all, don’t some argue it’s a genetic predisposition?

However, I continue to choose happiness as a very conscious choice.

We all get to choose what we believe.  And our beliefs are the catalyst to the actions that we take.

Of course, I can’t take all of the credit.  Now that I’m older, I realize I was always guided by some greater good (God if you will).  I believe we all are.

So, I leave you with this…

Choose to appreciate every day as a gift.  We can’t know which day will be our last.

Don’t wait:

  • To pursue a dream for the “right” moment
  • For permission to be authentically you
  • To tell someone you love them

Readers, can you trace back tough situations that ultimately led to positive outcomes in your life many years later?  Do you remember consciously making a choice about how to handle or interpret the situation?

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33 Comments on “How My Darkest Fear Led to Financial Freedom”

  1. That was a good personal story even though you hesitated to share it, its best to let it out. I applaud you for reaching FI so early and good things come to those who take action. (Should I make this my new mantra) LOL

  2. I admire your choice, both to face your past and then to make healthier decisions for your own life and your own family when that time came. It’s so easy to go Ostrich Mode and pretend that you’re in a bad place through no choice of your own. And some people aren’t able to make that choice at all, so there’s certainly an element of luck as well.

    I used to think that not getting depression like many of my relatives did was a choice, but it wasn’t. As a serious side effect of a medication I had to manage my pain, I experienced a multi-month suicidal depression episode. I was lucky enough to recognize that the chemical imbalance was likely the cause, and stop the medication, but it was a close shave. That showed me that it can absolutely be out of your control and no amount of willpower alone can help in some cases.

    I absolutely have baggage from challenging situations in my late teens and through my 20s, and it affects my decision-making today but in a good way. One, I was lucky enough to be able to make the choice that I was going to power through and beat the odds. Many in my family couldn’t, whether because of health or inability to make or find opportunities, so they’re still stuck in their circumstances or in worse circumstances. Two, I had access to the internet with a great deal of good information during a time when PF blogs were becoming a thing and that made all the difference. The information helped me figure out how to face down the money problems we had, and take control. Without that, I might have floundered for a long time time, either with paying down my parents’ debt or advancing my career.

    To this day, some of those original PF bloggers remain my mentors and good friends, and they help keep me honest. $10M may seem like an unreachable goal to some, considering where we live! and the fact that we’re not in the tech industry but I choose to look at it as a challenge to my discipline and creativity. And I don’t like losing 😉

    1. Revanche, thank you for sharing your personal story.

      I’m certainly glad you were able to push through to the other side of depression. I agree that medication can be dangerous at times with many unknown side effects. There’s certainly a time and place for them, but I will always minimize it if possible.

      It’s fascinating how the Internet has connected us all into a global community and that we are able to empathize universally. I’m still amazed at how supportive the PF community is, and certainly happy to be a part of it now. It’s like I’ve found my online family!

      Keep fighting the good fight and support your family in any way you can. 🙂

  3. It’s amazing how you were able to take some terrible conditions and turn them into a positive life. I’m really glad you chose your family over more time at work. A healthy you in their daily lives is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.

    1. Thanks, ZJ! I will admit it was a challenging decision. Had I not dealt with these intense circumstances prior, I likely would have gone back to work. It’s amazing how fast the time flies by… even when you’re home with them!

  4. Thank you for sharing your story Michael. You are wise beyond your years. Like you I had a difficult childhood. My father was an alcoholic and my mother attempted suicide several times. Like so many baby boomers I let work and the drive for success rule my life. Until we had kids. My wife and I have 3, all adopted- Gods plan for us. Today we have two in college and one still at home. I continue to work and will do so until I hit full retirement age. My investment success has been average. A typical 401k a few small rental properties. What I would like to share is a comment our oldest daughter said to me one day. She said Dad it’s not the things that you bought for me that I will remember. It’s the places we went to and the things that we did together that I will never forget.

    1. Bill, I love hearing your comment! It’s nice to know that others have taken tough situations and turned it into a drive for positive. You are so blessed to have 3 beautiful children no matter how God placed them in your hands.

      Thanks for sharing your daughter’s comment. It resonates deeply with me as I spend the majority of my time being as present as I can for my kids. I certainly don’t take my situation for granted and the best way I can figure to pay it forward is to educate those who want to create a similar path.

      Thanks again for the inspiration!

  5. I lost both of my parents as a child. It also affected my relationships even to this day. Growing up, I found it hard to relate to schoolmates since we had very different concerns and mindsets. Since grade school I always knew that there was no safety net for me so I worked hard starting at age 12 and studied hard. I graduated valedictorian from high school, paid for my university expenses with multiple jobs, graduated with an engineering degree and money in the bank, had a whirlwind career, and then retired in my 30s. I firmly believe hardships contribute to our strength, resolve, and accomplishments. Never give up!!

    1. Wow, Joe! Thanks for sharing. You had to grow up pretty quickly. Good for you for taking control of your own life and finding so much success throughout your school and professional career. It’s truly inspiring and one of the reasons I shared this story in the first place. Everything happens for a reason. 🙂

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your mom as well as the early difficulties. Thankfully my experiences with my parents growing up weren’t that bad. Still they were the ultimate driver of my financial success. TheY were both horrible with money. As such money was always tight and paycheck to paycheck. Simply watching that unfold led to me vowing never to put myself or my family in that situation.

    1. FTF, having both parents bad with money is a challenging environment in its own right. It’s fascinating to observe these situations because you can have two kids from the same family and one decides to climb out of a consumer mindset, while another can follow their parents path to a “T”. Just goes to show you that it’s all about choice. For those that choose to grow beyond their circumstances (like you), it’s most admirable and inspiring to others.

  7. Wow man, that’s raw alright.. Appreciate you sharing and isn’t it great to have the ability to be vulnerable?
    I must say that I’ve got the tough decision to be contrarian and decide not to accept that you need to have a scarcity mindset when it comes to money.. For me it’s more of an evolution rather than one particular moment however there are those situations where you say hang on a minute that’s not the way it needs to be

    Hope you’re parents are well and all the best for 2017! Keep up that FIRE fight 😉

    1. Just read your comment to Sam, sorry to hear about that and hope your dad has a great 2017! Makes us appreciate how precious life can be :O

    2. Yeah, I’m glad that this post is hitting home with people. Life can get challenging at times, but having faith that things will eventually work out is so important.

      Enjoy the journey and life will be a success through all seasons of life.

  8. Sorry to hear about your mom Michael. Terrible to hear about lung cancer. Seems so random given she didn’t smoke.

    I’m serious about my mission to spend like I’ll be dead within 10 years. Life is just way too short. Crazy.

    1. Thanks, Sam. Yeah, it came as a pretty big shock. Unfortunately, her brother was diagnosed with the same lung cancer a few years later and passed. Sadly, I have a first cousin also battling this. All of them never smoked. So, it’s likely a genetic mutation that’s not so great!! Fingers crossed for medical advances before I hit my mid 50’s.

      I’m liking your new mission! Life is definitely too short. That’s why we have to enjoy the journey the entire way. 🙂

  9. Belief is a subjective topic. This article has opened my eyes to many new ideas and concepts. I completely agree that spending time with your family is the most important goal anyone can have in life. Thank you for sharing this useful experience with us!

    1. Yeah, I think a lot of people would agree with that Mark. The challenge, of course, is taking what we “know” and translating that into action. Find your WHY and you can pull yourself towards your goal. The love for family can make us do all sorts of things we wouldn’t normally do for ourselves. 🙂

  10. “We all get to choose what we believe. And our beliefs are the catalyst to the actions that we take.” So very true. Glad that you overcame the dark times and chose to believe in yourself and be happy. Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

  11. Thank you very much for sharing. I share the same sentiment about spending time with family, especially while your kids are still young. You cannot put a price tag on it. I am working to get myself into a position similar to yours, hopefully sooner rather than later. I appreciate the motivation.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cody. You really can’t put a price tag on time with family. Wishing you the best of luck on your road to F.I.R.E. And remember, you don’t need to be retired early to be fully present with your family. If you apply your attention, focus, and love to them, they’ll feel it.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Michael. As you have expressed, these events in our lives help shape who we are and allow us to learn from both the successes and shortcomings in life.

    Impressive real estate growth so far. G’luck to you in 2017 and hope that you get one step closer to the $10 million!

  13. Thanks for sharing your very personal story. Sometimes a parents example of how not to live works just as well!

  14. I grew up with a mentally ill parent, so I feel for you. I can’t imagine having two parents like that. I think when you’re in that situation you have to grow up pretty quickly and realize that you need to fend for yourself. It’s a sense of independence that typically comes much later in life, but those types of experiences will definitely mature you.

    It’s hard not to be bitter about some things, but at the end of the day, those experiences made me prioritize self care and self reliance. It’s definitely hard to make it out of that without baggage, but we’re all in control of our finances and destinies at the end of the day.

    I’m so glad you get to spend your time on the things that matter. 🙂

    1. I appreciate you sharing your own story, MPP. It sounds like you’ve come out a stronger person because of it too. You’re right, though, it was tough sometimes not to be bitter about the situation. The best lesson I ever learned from all of this is that we alone have the ability to interpret the meaning of life’s unexpected events.

  15. Thanks for sharing your story Michael. How are your parents now?

    It’s really the most difficult times that make us do the most. I never wanted to be poor after seeing so much poverty growing up overseas as a kid.

    1. Thanks for asking, Sam. While there were patterns of depression with my parents over my entire life, things have calmed down. My Dad retired after a stroke several years ago and that slowdown has taken away a lot of his self-inflicted stress. Sadly, my Mom passed away in 2005 from lung cancer (she never smoke a day in her life). She was in good spirits up until the end and I am thankful that she doesn’t have to deal with the chronic pain any longer.

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