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When a Roman general returned from a foreign campaign the people of Rome would line the streets and cheer. The enthusiastic crowd was surreal, so surreal the general risked thinking he were a god. And the emperor did not approve of a general usurping his ground.
A wise general would take steps to prevent ego from costing him his life. A slave would stand behind the general as the crowds cheered and whisper repeatedly into his ear, “Thou art human.”*
I am writing this late Sunday night after FinCon 17 in my hotel room. Conference recaps are fun for attendees and those who missed the event. Normally a recap will include a listing of events and people the author visited during the event with additional highlights of special events. I’m not that kind of writer.
Point of View
Tony Robbins in his first Personal Power audio series of motivational tapes (no longer available) talked about differing stories about a party. Two people attending the same party can have radically differing opinions of the event based upon what their personal experience was.
One guest of the party might have witnessed a bitter verbal fight and reports the party was intense. Another guest may have conversed with a group to the side about something interesting and beautiful, reporting the party as uplifting and tranquil.
My worldview is fundamentally different from everyone else’s FinCon experience, as you will see in a moment.
Prior to FinCon I was on pins and needles, anxious over this blog’s Plutus Awards nominations for Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year and the Blog of the Year. These are not minor awards! For bloggers in the personal finance arena, these are the top of the line recognition awards. I was hopeful, yet nervous. A loss would hit the ego even though the competition was equally as worthy of the honor. A win would push this blog further before the crowd and center stage. People will notice.
My ego wants traffic while my subconscious warns of the pitfalls of recognition. A whisper started to annoy me from behind. I was feeling proud due the nominations and nervous regardless the outcome. And the nagging whisper continued.
Thou are human.
Friends in Education
My flight to FinCon was long. My rerouted airline itinerary turned a short jaunt from Wisconsin to Dallas into fourteen hours spent on planes and in airports. Exhaustion set in before FinCon ever began.
Finally at the hotel by 11 p.m. or so, I ran into a group already there, including J.D. Roth. J.D. has been a strong advocate of my work. If you are going to have a groupie, J.D. is the right guy to have in the group. He wished me good luck on my nominations. It was the most wonderful feeling ever.
J.D. sold his blog, Get Rich Slowly, many years ago and recently bought it back. This is exciting news because J.D. is one of the founders of the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement and is very respected for his groundbreaking work. His return to Get Rich Slowly is the best thing that could happen to this community. And I consider him a friend. Unfortunately, I never saw him again at FinCon 17.
The next morning I met friends from around the world. The personal finance conferences and conventions have built my list of friends from around the United States and a few from abroad. This is a weird feeling for a country boy from the backwoods of nowhere. I’m still adjusting.
Rather than bog down the narrative with all the souls I pressed hands with and hugged, let me point in another direction so no one feels left out when I inevitably have an elderly moment while typing.
Thou art human.
Be My Guest
Before FinCon I received a comment on this blog (it’s a secret for now unless you uncover it naturally) which piqued my curiosity. He also wrote a guest post for another blog similar to his comment here. His name is Bill. You have to wait for the rest of his name and story. I need a way to get you to come back. Remember how important it is to salve my ego with pageviews.
For non-bloggers, when you leave a comment on a blog, WordPress provides the site admin with your information, including email and IP address. I used the email to contact Bill. I wanted to hear more.
He mentioned immediately he was headed to FinCon so Mrs. Accountant and I set a brunch date with him Wednesday morning before the conference. It was a most productive meal.
Bill told me his story and I asked him to consider writing a guest post for this blog. Bill is extremely literate with one of the most powerful, encouraging and optimistic stories I ever heard. I need this guy to write his story for this blog on a level he never did before. I pray my editorial skills are strong enough to pry the story out of him.
Bill’s story is unique. After he told his story and he agreed to accept the commission, he asked why I was so eager to take him on. I told him my story and reason why. He was excited to be part of the project when he knew we were kindred spirits. Bill, if you’re reading this, I’m pulling for you. This will set the FIRE world on fire as we pull another demographic into our fold desperately in need of this community’s guidance.
After our brunch life got hectic and I never got another chance to speak with Bill before FinCon ended. As I thought the process through, I decided Bill’s guest post will be a leader into a 5-part series on an experience in life I’ve never shared publically here. Some people already know the story; other will be floored. At the risk of being arrogant, Bill’s guest post followed by my 5-part series will create a massive stir. But it must be said.
Thou are human.
The pace of the first two days of FinCon was dizzying. I was talking with people non-stop. My voice was going; I was sleeping a few hours a night max; and I was flying high with euphoria. And then I did what many people do when under stress and tired: I said something stupid.
It really wasn’t super-stupid. It was one of those plain Jane, out the box, off-hand, stupid comments. Nobody’s feelings were hurt and it reflected 100% on me. Period. But with all the friends I have here talk spread to the breaking point unbeknownst to me.
People who know my personal life began reading more into the comment than they should have. They worried I could harm my brand. My opinion: If my brand is so fragile then it isn’t much of a brand. Besides, Jeffery Dahmer (another famous soul from the great state of Wisconsin), had a fan group. And if someone like Dahmer can have a fan base, my mere writing is unlikely to destroy this blog’s story arc.
Talk, once started, takes on a life of its own. My friends whipped themselves into a furor until a full-blown intervention was in play. Thursday after 10 p.m. I got a text from one said friend to visit me in my hotel room. I agreed. And the cavalry charged to my rescue.
Since the conversation revolved around Bill’s guest post, my story and the 5-part planned series (it could change as time flows by), I will refrain from further discussion. Yes, I know. I’m such a tease. It’s okay. It will be worth the wait. I expect Bill’s guest post with the following series to go live somewhere mid-December. Just in time for your holiday entertainment. (Please, you your own safety don’t eat or drink while reading the upcoming posts in December.)
Thou art human.
Friends being who they are felt badly after the intervention. They shouldn’t. I was caught off guard and a little pissed at first, but they did what they thought was best. What more could I ask for? I received an apology text the next day, but never replied. I didn’t want to talk about it more now. I had other plans.
There has been talk since at least January of this year about how I would proceed. People worry about things they can’t control. They need to read my Stoic advice.
Low levels of sleep for the prior two weeks turned into no sleep Friday night as I digested what happened. I was so upset I stayed in my room with Mrs. Accountant until the Plutus Awards on Saturday.
Reaction is a bad motivator. That is why I needed to chill. I was deeply wounded; wounded enough I no longer wanted to win an award. To stand before a crowd accused is not something I encourage. Been there before and from personal experience can attest it is no fun. (Unless you are prepared and ready for battle.)
By the time the Plutus Awards began I had licked my wounds enough (and formulated my response) to come out of my cave and act like an adult. The wound still hurt and my pride was bruised, but once I had time to think things though and plan an appropriated response, I felt better.
By now I realized the intervention was the most important part of FinCon for me. What I have delayed for months will now happen. A part of my story has been dying to get out and I finally got it; my friends are well intentioned, but wrong. My brand is damaged as long as I tell only a select part of the story. Hiding the difficult and painful parts means I am creating an illusion and telling a lie by default. I can’t serve you, kind readers, unless I am brutally honest. Brutally.
Thou art human.
With trepidation I crawled to the Plutus Awards ceremony, fearful I would run into my friends eager to salve the inflicted wound. I had no desire to discuss the matter. I had an award to consider.
This award isn’t for me. It’s for you, kind readers. I may spank these words onto a virtual page, but you make it happen. You create the demand which encourages me to share. Your interaction in comments, even the ones that hurt, greases the skids which keep this beast crawling forward.
As the awards ceremony began my mouth was dry with anticipation. I was scared as a four year old of the boogie man under the bed on a stormy night. I was afraid to lose and afraid to win. Once I was nominated there was nowhere to run. Old farm boys from the boondocks of Wisconsin never receive this kind of public attention (unless Netflix runs a documentary on our justice system called Making a Murderer).
With each passing award the categories I was nominated in crawled closer. Yes, your favorite accountant was nervous. Very nervous.
I leaned over and whispered in Mrs. Accountant’s ear, “Come with me on stage if I win.” She was shocked her head and said no at first.
She had to come on stage. Her work on this blog is too significant to go unrecognized. She is an integral part of this collaboration. I write rough draft, but the edits are where the tire meets the pavement and Mrs. Accountants’ work there is vitally important.
Then the moment came. My head was spinning, my mouth dry. I wrote my first novel in high school and have put millions and millions of words on paper since. I have published many blogs in different genres over the decades. Was it possible after all this time I would be honored with such significant recognition? My subconscious told me it was all a dream. None of this is real.
Thou art human.
“And now we present the award for the Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year.”
I swallowed hard. Could this be real? Any of it?
The emotions were overwhelming. I tried to stand, but needed a second attempt. Mrs. Accountant never hesitated. She is the most awesome woman alive! She took my arm and guided me to my feet as she walked with me to the stage. Decades of writing culminated in my writing career’s most important moment; the moment I knew what I did alone in a quiet room as I produced my work meant something to living, breathing human beings.
The crowd clapped. It felt wonderful, if surreal. It was all a blur which will have implications in a moment.
Thou art human.
I had to remind myself as my emotions ran wild: Memento mori.
People congratulated me from the moment I left the stage all the way back to my chair. It all happened in a fog.
A new friend I found the first day at FinCon with the awesome name of Keith shook my hand and hugged me. I met Keith at the round tables FinCon had the first day. I sat at the tax table, but decided to make the rounds later. I ran across the 50+ table (my people, all six of them in a demographic of millions!) where Keith was sitting. We hit it off instantly. A Texas boy and a Wisconsin boy chatting like long lost friends the second they met. What are the odd? Damn near 100% when there is so much in common.
I put my swag gifts from the award in my room and returned to the party mostly because I passed Bianca in the hall asking me to attend. My frazzled nerves should handle the public eye. I decided I may as well attend the party.
The music was loud, but the shot of whisky I ordered with my free drink ticket provided the calming effect I needed. After a hundred or more handshakes I ran into my good buddy, Keith. Carl was running wild having a good time and everyone was smiles.
Thou art human.
The music kept amplifying. Keith and I couldn’t hear a word we said. Darn kids. The FIRE community leans young hard and us old codgers didn’t stand a chance. Good thing neither of us had our cane or we’d of raised holy hell. Dang whippersnappers.
We found a place outside in the hall to talk. It was quieter (relatively). Then the music stepped up a notch so we moved even further away to talk some more.
Thou art human.
It was only now, well out of range of the crowd did the ‘congratulations’ interruptions stop. Keith and I talked for a few hours, Mrs. Accountant at my side. Our age and wealth gave us plenty in common.
Over the last few years since I joined the FIRE community I found only one man I fully recognized with, a guy everyone knows as Nords. It was an unusual relationship. Nords is a retired military guy and the military is about as far from my sphere of influence as you can get. Age and respect brought us together.
When I won my award, Nords was in the back to congratulate me as I made the corner. It meant a lot to me. Nords in a bit older than I (sorry buddy). Still, we have much in common as long as you don’t consider military and surfing experience. Nords has me whipped in those categories hands down.
Now I have two close FIRE friends.
Thou art human.
While I talked with my new friend, Keith, it occurred to me I was acting juvenile over the intervention. I was pissed for no reason. People who really like me will stand with me regardless. That’s what friends do.
I gave one last hug to my new friend as the old guys headed back to their respective rooms. The warm feeling of having a new friend felt good. The list keeps getting longer.
Thou art human.
The next morning I slept until a quarter to nine. This may not seem strange to most people until I explain I have never stayed in bed that late in the morning since I was laid up with hantavirus ten years ago. (I never had hantavirus!)
I was still tired, but needed a cup of coffee. I felt safe most FinCon attendees had blown town so I could stay ‘turned off’. I said it out loud as Mrs. Accountant and I approached the elevator.
As we stepped into the elevator a woman came around the corner. “Keith!” Opps. I didn’t have my nametag on and someone still recognized me! Yikes!
Thou art human.
She said her name and told me she was the one to hand me my award the night before. The night before was all a blur; I didn’t remember.
She was happy to see me and I was still prying my mind from the world of slumber. I explained I was tired and smiled. I said a few words which I doubt were coherent.
Thou art human.
I felt bad as she walked away with a smile. I’ve been in that place before, meeting someone I admired and getting less than an enthusiastic response.
It was then I realized people respect the work I do and find my presence a blessing (hear that kids?). It is a pleasant encounter to spend time with someone you respect.
It is an awesome responsibility. I hope the young lady is happy with what I offered, barring the complaint of exhaustion.
Once again the echo of the cheering crowd rang in my ears . . . and the whisper of the devil.
Thou art human . . .
. . . and so are you.
* I have taken some liberty with a story almost certainly apocryphal. The Roman words are Memento mori and literally mean ‘Remember you will die’. A better interpretation might be ‘Remember you will die someday’. If you will allow me some literary license, I propose the twisted translation of “Thou art human’ as a way of indicating not only mortality, but to include our vulnerable nature.
Here are the notes I wrote a week or so ago as I planned this post. As you can see it took on a life of its own.
Win or lose, I am floating on cloud nine.
In ancient Rome when the emperor was on parade before the crowds a slave would stand behind the emperor and whisper, “Thou are human; thou art human,” to remind the emperor he was mortal when worshiped by the people.
When things are awesome we need to remind ourselves luck is currently favoring our success and luck is a fickle lady. We need to remind ourselves we are human from time to time. This is no time for arrogance.