With Valentines day only a few weeks away and our move to Malaysia still a few months away, I started contemplating what to write for my next post as another Monday morning arrived. Having used almost all the thousands of travel pictures housed on our hard drive and realizing that stories about selling crap on OfferUp.com gets boring after two or three posts, it kind of jumped out at me. As the author of the blog, our stories are probably a bit one-sided and not really a true reflection of our lives. Having patience plays a huge role in our lives as you’ll see from this chronologically organized post.
While I normally hate posts that expose too many personal details involving emotional states of mind, it seems reasonable to share my appreciation of the second half and photographer of The Experimental Expats; my wife Diane. Understanding I also despise “poor-me” pity posts (and I have come across thousands of them), my intent is NOT to complain about regrets or missed opportunities but rather to simply share my appreciation of being married to one of the world’s most tolerant and patient wives ever. Expressing my love through spoken words has never been my long suit, I can’t sing very well and the start of early retirement will put a damper on any expensive Valentines Day plans so I’ve decided to share a bit of my not-so dirty laundry as a way of saying “Thank you for putting up with my shit”.
Clarifying a bit, I have never cheated or chased other women. I’ve never had a secret affair and my worst infidelity is probably remaining Facebook friends with a previous flame. Disclosing everything, I have no secret bank accounts, don’t make large purchases behind Diane’s back and my Jewish guilt usually forces me to tell Diane things that most husbands keep to themselves like parking tickets.
Unlike many marriages in western society, however, I’ve clearly not been the dominant breadwinner in the relationship. While I’ve rarely ever taken a sick day in 30+ years of working and can’t think of one single day where I was late due to sleeping in or dilly-dallying, longevity at any job is not a high point on my résumé. Although many people change jobs often in today’s world where company loyalty is obsolete, my track record is a bit high and it’s truly amazing I was able to stay gainfully employed for so many years as the financial services industry changed and evolved so may times.
Counting from my first full-time job that began in an office three blocks from Wall Street in 1983, I’ve worked for 17 different organizations in the financial services industry, either as a full-time employee or a contract worker. In almost every case, I simply quit the job before I had another one due to boredom, shitty bosses I couldn’t deal with or low pay. Considering I fell into my “career” as an overpaid clerk, which is the truthful job description despite fancy titles like “operations product specialist” or “senior client services administrator”, jobs always came easy to me right up until the Great Recession of 2008.
Completely opposite of me, Diane hates everything involving changing jobs and has only done so every time we decided to move to another metropolitan area (three times in 14 years). Updating a résumé is something I can do in about 15 minutes, using all the skills and tricks they’ve taught people with no great effort. Writing comes naturally to me and although I’m no scholastic genius, my bullshitting skills on both resumes and interviews has always given me an added advantage over candidates equally qualified. Through smart sounding “accomplishment-based” interviewing techniques, I can easily convince a hiring manager of my “great enthusiasm” for a job that a trained orangutan could easily learn.
Returning to the theme of the post, consider the circumstances and you’ll understand why Diane has the patience of a saint. Having made the first move not only to meet, Diane also voluntarily packed up and moved to San Francisco three years before the wedding. All I had to do was kick out my old roommate. Already hating my current job for the subsidiary of a “too big to fail” bank, I quit shortly after she arrived and found another one quickly. Taking only a few weeks to find employment in a Dialysis Center, Diane gained an immediate comfort level in her new country and stayed put until we left for Canada. (Diane is a Registered Nurse with a university degree).
With the Clinton bull market in full swing, I easily bullshitted my way into full-time job number 13 but cited boredom as a chance to move to Canada and try something new. Blessed with great timing, Alberta lost so many nurses to America thanks to budget cuts in a social healthcare environment it created a crisis and they begged her to return, offering a huge relocation package and even asking me if I’d be willing to become a nurse (in Canada, there is no homosexual stereotype attached to male nurses).
Probably the point in our marriage where the real tolerance began, I began my first expat experience in the same situation as today; as a House Husband. Needing to start over, I knew I’d have to wait for my landing before I was eligible to work and probably have to take a course or two to transition my peon skills into the Canadian securities industry. Significantly smaller than the USA, Canadian cities offer very few financial administration opportunities. Summarizing a long story, it turns out there were only three possible choices where my skills would likely be a good match. While Diane settled into her comfortable job at a local hospital, over 18 months went by and I still couldn’t find work in my field.
Finally a three-month contract opportunity at a small branch of a large Canadian brokerage firm came along. After being supported by Diane for so long, I thought my “in” to the local industry had arrived. Unfortunately, the job entailed mostly being the front office receptionist and included greeting clients, making coffee for traders and other menial tasks. Without even a college degree, I understood I wasn’t exactly a professional like Diane but despite needing the money, I’ve always drawn the line when the job was a glorified secretary. Easily seeing my disdain at the job, they terminated my employment after the three months. Although disappointed, Diane never really complained too much.
Desperate for anything to do besides send queries to newspapers and magazines hoping I could actually become a writer in my new Canadian life, I surrendered my pride and hit the streets looking for “help wanted” signs. Feeling like a young Anthony Bourdain, the local gourmet food market somehow agreed to hire me at a whopping $8.25 an hour to slave away making “grab and go meals” in a hot steamy kitchen. Although I actually enjoyed the mostly under 21 coworkers, the heat of the kitchen got to me so I asked for a transfer to the deli department.
Thinking I’d finally found low wage Utopia, they gave me mostly opening shifts where kids were in school and shoppers were at a minimum. Sampling all kinds of delicious salamis, meats and gourmet items like truffles and caviar, I might have stayed there forever but naturally, the manager started being an asshole and by now you know my attitude towards being a blue-collar slave after working for prestigious Wall Street firms. Within three months, I was back at home. Again Diane didn’t complain and even complimented me for swallowing my pride and contributing something towards the marriage funds.
Six months later there were still no jobs available at the magical three companies so I humbled myself down once again, this time taking a job as an “aisles clerk” in Staples for an even more pathetic $7.75 an hour. This lasted about four weeks until they forced me to work on Boxing Day. Equivalent to America’s Black Friday, the day after Christmas is the busiest retail shopping day of the year in Canada. Unaccustomed to anything but sleeping in, I defiantly dragged my ass to Staples at 6 AM. Guessing what happened is not that difficult and I should have known that working in retail for a 22-year-old asshole stuck in a dead-end career would not be the solution to my working issues.
After eight more months we almost gave in and moved back to America but I finally got a call from a small locally boutique investment broker and gained my first full-time position 2 1/2 years after arriving to Canada. Hired at 35% less pay than in San Francisco, I jumped ship to one of their few local competitors when they offered a 10% pay increase. As (bad) luck would have it, the manager who lobbied for me was mysteriously “let go” two weeks after I started with no explanation given. Unsure what to do with me, they shifted me all over since an American with extensive experience was clearly too sophisticated for their corporate culture.
Oddly enough they kept me 11 months before abruptly leading me out the side door and citing my inability to get along with team members. Knowing they had little justification to fire me they made me sign a release from in exchange for two months severance pay. Realizing we’d never meet our early retirement goals, Diane agreed to give up her comfortable job and return to the USA. I’d worked less than half of our six years in Canada and still Diane stuck with me.
With bullshitting skills still strong and the housing market debacle not yet in full swing, I somehow convinced a large San Diego based investment company to fly me down for an interview. Paying for a first class ticket, I assumed a job offer was a shoe-in. Unfortunately, they disagreed and wasted hours of my time on countless interviews where I met everyone including the janitors only to be turned away. Like Calgary, San Diego presented very few jobs suited to my experience and three months later, we retreated back to the San Francisco Bay Area. And once again, Diane left another job although we both didn’t really like San Diego very much anyway.
There’s a hilarious episode of Seinfeld called “The Penske File” where George gets hired for some corporate project but has no idea what to do and sits in the office all week doing nothing. That really happened to me at my first job back in the Bay Area. Collecting a check for one week’s pay and supposedly hired as some consultant’s assistant, , I literally sat in an office doing nothing for a week and they dismissed me after complaining to human resources about improper (no) training. Diane sarcastically laughed this one but at least we were making progress.
Next came the one person office of a local guy from an affluent town that called himself a registered investment adviser but spent about an hour a day at work. Leaving me with little to do besides some menial paperwork, he expected me to sit there for 8 hours in case a client showed up. None ever did. Finally getting a serious offer from another large Wall Street bank in the financial district, I bolted from job # 16 after three boring months.
Lo and behold, there had to be yet another problem. Being legally blind in one eye, I can’t work longer than 8 hours a day on a computer and my doctors back this up with written documentation. As the only nation that squeezes millions of work hours out of its workforce despite negative income growth, this doesn’t sit well in the financial services industry. Covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, I fought with the bank but they basically told me work longer or quit and sue us. Unwilling to sacrifice the other eye’s health for any asshole company, I joined the ranks of the unemployed yet again.
By now I’m willing to bet your spouse would have left you high and dry despite the strength of your marriage. But Diane remained optimistic and fortunately, the last five years of my 31 years in the business started right at the beginning of the biggest bull market in years. Possibly the last person hired before the industry began shedding 30,000 jobs worldwide, *%$@* Bank hired me on September 15, 2008, the day Lehman Brothers collapsed and all hell broke loose for the next six months.
Always knowing my job was at risk, I never really thought they’d lay off someone who works more efficiently than most, never takes sick days, voluntarily logs in on weekends and finds a way to get to the office during transit strikes when everyone else simply stays home. Ironically, most employers claim they hate today’s generation of young workers raised on social media, many of which have poor social skills and have a sense of entitlement unknown to my generation.
By 2013 my string of luck finally ran out. Calling me into the office, I knew they’d finally seen the light and decided that my high salary and medical condition was a perfect excuse to “eliminate my position”, although they cited “a poor market environment”. (Ironically, the S&P 500 had gone up over 500% since I was hired). Ridiculously, I received almost five months of continuous pay, the annual bonus and a profit-sharing contribution to my 401k while spending the first half of 2014 getting fit and sleeping in.
Summarizing my real thoughts, there’s probably not a lot of guys lucky enough to have a wife willing to put up with so much in 14 years. Granted I have increased our net worth by 165% in the last five years and early retirement wouldn’t be possible without my investment prowess. But it’s been a long slow year of waiting around and not many wives would agree to work another 18 months while their husband stays home. Needing to wait until my 50th birthday to make the MM2H visa financially practical, I understand how taxing and frustrating the last year has been for Diane.
Although I do all the cooking and most of the cleaning, it takes an enormously patient and wonderfully generous person to put up with me and for that, I’m grateful, thankful and forever indebted to my wonderful wife. My Valentines Day gift comes from my heart since my wallet would be empty were it not for her. Hoping she gets whatever she wants out of early retirement, I can honestly say she really deserves it.
And now you know. To anyone who knows they’re taking their spouse for granted: Stop it now and say thank you once in a while.
Have you had more than 17 jobs since you started working? Please share !!
Coming next week:
New York state of mind: Since we can’t make it back to my hometown before Malaysia, I’ll share my insights on where to stay if a trip to NYC is in your future