Imagine you worked hard all your life. You started working at a very young age and became a success at your respective career. Your hard work paid off. You saved your money and invested all or almost all of it in what you thought were safe investments. Those investments earned 8 – 11% each year. Imagine you lived in part off the profits from those investments. You didn’t lead an extravagant life, but you lived well. You were able to go out to dinner, to take vacations and to live the life you always planned on living.
Now imagine you wake up one morning and find that all of the money you’ve so carefully saved is gone. Every dollar you’ve invested has disappeared. It’s been stolen and you won’t ever see a penny of it again.
How do you think you would react? What would you think? What would you do and how would you pick up the pieces of your life and continue?
Tens of thousands of individuals who invested with Bernie Madoff were faced with this exact scenario. The stories of some of those investors have been compiled into a book called The Club No One Wanted to Join. The book contains essays written by the Madoff victims themselves. It is an interesting view into a world in which an individuals financial security is stripped away.
Some of the investors were relatively young, while others were well past retirement, but all of them faced the reality that there money was gone and that they were unlikely to recover much if any of it.
I thought the book would include nothing but doom and gloom, but as strange as it sounds a lot of the stories are actually quite uplifting. Don’t get me wrong the essays certainly focus on the grief of losing money and the fear of starting a new life without it. But the theme of finding wealth in life and family rather than in money is prevalent throughout the essays. One woman said, “I may have lost my money, but I am still rich.”
Another said, “It isn’t always easy to find the Gift when we are in the pain of letting go, or when the fear threatens to overwhelm us, when the barbarians are at the gate. Yet everyone I have ever head speak about surviving a significant trial or illness or loss in their life, has said it was the ‘greatest teacher they ever had’ and one of the ‘the best things that ever happened to them.”
Yet another said, “It took this personal tragedy to open our eyes. We are so rich in family and friends that I can hardly believe it. Going through this cycle of rich and then poor, we are thankful, grateful and happy with our lives every day we live.”
In one of my favorite essays Cynthia Friedman says, “True deep down happiness is not defined by wealth or so called good or bad things that happen to you. There are many wealthy and fortunate people who have what appeared to the rest of us as everything, but who are not happy. Happiness is not defined by external forces or things. It truly comes from within. After being deeply sad and depressed for so many months I realized I wasn’t living… Life comes down to choices. After time passes and the darkness lessens you realize you do have a choice: stay bogged down in your sad, depressed world or make a conscious choice to enjoy each moment.”
I was uplifted by the Madoff victims desire to move on with their lives and to recognize and count all their blessings. Given their circumstances they could wallow in their own self pity, but many of them have taken this opportunity to reflect on their lives and with a little reflection they’ve realized that true wealth has nothing to do with money.
** I received a free copy of this book to review.