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How a difficult divorce made me a better advisor

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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.

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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