How Going Broke Led to My Success

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway captured the essence perfectly when he wrote these words; the same could be said for the all-too American experience of going dead broke while chasing your dreams. 

It happened to me three times in my own career myself – zero cash in the bank. I had no idea where my next paycheck was coming from, while interest rates on my credit cards continued to soar. I can still vividly remember what it’s like – so can many entrepreneurs keeping their businesses alive on the fumes of maxed-out credit cards. Sometimes I think that time keeps me motivated, because I know I never want to go back to sleeping on friends’ couches. 

I can directly point to a few key lessons that I would not have learned if it wasn’t for my broke years, lessons that have propelled me towards success. 

As long as you wake up tomorrow, you’ll be stronger. 

I don’t romanticize my periods of financial struggle. If I have the choice between wealth and poverty, believe me, that I’ll choose wealth every time. But you also grow stronger for periods for enduring periods of adversity, and so will your business. 

In my experience, a situation is rarely as bad as you think it will be. As long as you breathe, endure, and go on to fight another day, you’ll develop a layer of armor that can help fortify you for even the toughest of situations. 

You see who your real friends are. 

As the proverb says, “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.” I would add that success also has an entourage of friends. Everybody wants to be in your orbit when business is booming and you’re able to splash the cash. But when you go broke with nothing to your name, the people around you are your real, lifelong friends. These are the people who have your back not because they want to bask in the glow of what you can do for them, but because they care about who you are. 

Once you feel the sting of going broke, it doesn’t hurt you anymore.

The consolation of aging is that you gain the wisdom of experience. Once you have seen your worst fears come to pass and emerge on the other side, you lose the caution that holds so many people back. You have figured out that you can take a punch and come out stronger for it.

You’ve been in a barrel going over the waterfall – and you have emerged on the other side to tell the tale. 

Resilience is a superpower in today’s workplace. 

Nothing worth doing comes without risk. Even a seemingly replicable, scalable model for a business – say, taking ownership of a fast casual franchise, with all of the steps laid out for you – comes with its share of unknowns and variables. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you have to take risks. And those risks aren’t always going to come out in your favor. 

The more you have developed an inner reservoir of strength and resilience, the better positioned you will be to take on the next risk that could unlock new growth for you. 

In fact, if I hadn’t walked through the valley of going broke and grappling with debt, I would have never awakened to the full scope of the debt crisis in America, and I would have never launched my company Relief, focused on helping others tackle their debt challenges.

There’s certainly nothing easy about going broke or grappling with poverty. But maintain a positive attitude and you may find an ability to find the light in the most seemingly bleak of circumstances. 

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