They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but it certainly calms your nerves.
At the end of 2006 after leaving investment banking to pursue a PhD in Industrial Psychology, the soothing power of money became more than evident. After years in finance and a background in psychology, I decided to merge the two worlds by researching to what extent leaders influence company performance. I wanted to know what, from a human perspective that transforms a company into a very successful one; was it rewards, was it empathy? Individual, team, and subsequently organizational performance and productivity can very much be explained by what a leader does and how the employees react. Coming from a finance background, I also wanted to know in what way management was able to drive the share price of a company long-term.
But why am I telling you all of that? While I was diving into what makes a leader and an organization successful, I saw my money swindle away. Lehman Brothers had just been yet another, and indeed the most decisive, victim of wrong decisions and strategies. When I left the bank I had a cushion of savings that I knew would get me through a few months without having to worry about money. But that was before my funding fell through that was supposed to cover my tuition fees.
Suddenly I had to spend a few extra thousand on the first installment of fees that I had not previously included in my calculations. You might say, ‘Oh dear, you silly man. How could you not prepare for the unexpected?’ Well, I did not, because I was promised the necessary funding, and yes, I agree with your potential criticism that I should have prepared for such unexpected events. I guess, there is only so much you can anticipate, however. Regardless, after three months I had run out of money and even though I ran some workshops at the university, it merely covered my grocery expenses. The biggest expense was still, as it is for so many, the rental payments.
As it always is in these situations, when everything looks dim, suddenly a light comes on and brightens up your day. One day I received a call from a friend who told me that they were looking for a manager for their social welfare team in charge of campus safety and student and employee wellbeing. As I was required to theoretically only work about 20 hours a week, my apartment would be paid for by the university. I did not need to think twice. I immediately put together an application and sent it off to senior management at the university. One week later I found myself in charge of a great bunch of people and rent free.
There was only two other issues: I needed to pay the second and third installment of the tuition fees. Plus, the money from the workshops only just covered my groceries. They did not cover insurances, leisure activities, or any other expenses.
Thus, even though the rental costs were covered, the remaining expenses were still not. And with all savings gone, I found myself in situation where I went from being financially stable to worrying about money. I lie awake every night and mentally counted every single euro to my name.
There was another issue: I still had more money invested, but with the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers downfall, my investment had suddenly shrunk. I failed, just as many others, to predict the severe consequences of the financial bang. In late January 2007 I found myself in serious money difficulties and was forced to sell my shares. The only issue: the stock market was now worth no more than a fraction of what it once had been. I had to sell at a massive loss. Not because I stopped believing in my investments, but because I had no choice. The first and most important principle for any investor: don’t invest money that you need.
But as this was the last inch of my financial lifeline, the nights became even longer. I spent every night running the numbers and calculating how much longer I could financially cope. Would I have to stop my PhD and accept having lost about eight months?
If you have ever been in a situation where you did not know how to pay your bills and how to pay for shopping, you know the distress. I went to bed worrying about money and woke up seeking opportunities to earn some. I took every hour I could grab from my supervisors and other professors just to make ends meet.
It was not long after my birthday in early March when I received an email from our head of department. Since I had first heard of an upcoming lectureship in our department a few months earlier, I kept “harassing” everyone in charge to give me the position as lecturer. There was only one issue I had not accounted for: you normally need to be a PhD to be considered a lecturer. Unfazed I kept pushing and asking. I think at one point I found myself talking to either my supervisors or our head of department on a daily basis. If you want something, go for it; but be polite and show them what you have to offer. That was and still is my philosophy. No one owes you anything, but if you are able to convince others that you deserve something, they will eventually believe it as well.
As I entered his office, my head of department asked me to take a seat. He smiled at me before telling me that my persistence had paid of and that they would give me the job. The moment was so extraordinary and surreal. Just the night before I had found myself worrying about money and here I was looking at what seemed like millions; even though it was far from it. But when you go from counting every penny, thousands of pounds suddenly feel like a million.
It really does pay off to go for what you want. Never give up and keep fighting.
When I went to bed that night I fell back into the old habit of counting the last bit of money left in my account before realizing that I no longer needed to. Upon realization I smiled and the thought of financial security soothed me to a great night of worriless sleep. Money might not make you happy, but it has a very calming effect when you have it.