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Voices

How a difficult divorce made me a better advisor

A few years ago, I thought I might’ve hit rock bottom when my former employer sued me at just about the same time my husband and I decided to get a divorce. Then my husband sued me, too.

I was broke and $160,000 in debt. After working as an institutional equity salesperson and financial advisor and saving for 21 years, and being married for five, I handed over a third of my net worth to my ex-husband. As a full-time mom and career woman, I went from running a family out of an ultra-modern house, to cobbling together meals for my son and myself in a rental with a kitchen plucked from the 1950s.

During the divorce process, I found myself in a waiting area at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where I was taking my then five-year-old son for therapy to manage this major change. That’s when I realized what matters most to me: his well-being. The wisdom gained from this hardship is now part of my practice. When I meet clients, we talk about life first — and what’s important — not portfolio strategy or retirement income. And when a client approaches me with an obstacle, I tell them to visualize themselves on the other side of that obstacle. Think only about what you’re going to gain from surmounting it, I tell them, versus what you may lose from it. That, and only that, will get us where we want to go.

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My circumstances forced me to do some financial juggling, which taught me how to look at each client’s unique challenges creatively. I rented a home while my husband lived in the house we had shared as a couple. We put that house on the market and I knew the proceeds of the sale would ultimately help me cover my losses incurred from legal fees, alimony, living and other expenses.

I chose to take a 60-day rollover from my individual retirement account for a down payment on a house. To pay the loan back without incurring a penalty, I got a loan from SoFi at 10% interest, which was lower than the IRA interest penalty (plus tax). Then I opened eight zero-interest credit cards to absorb my mounting bills.

That’s when my husband sued me — and it was the first and only time I cried in this process.

My harrowing divorce gave me a new degree of respect and compassion for each client’s unique situation. It also helped me teach them how to be resilient under moments of complete duress. At first, I blamed myself. How could I let the circumstances get this bad? It’s in moments like these, I’ve learned, that we’ve got to check ourselves. Misplaced guilt impedes progress. There is only one direction — forward.

Financially speaking, however, you may have to take a few steps back to be able to learn what’s really important, and it’s a point I continually stress when speaking to clients and prospects. Together we’ve always been able to chart a course toward a better financially sound life.

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