Thankful For Luck: A Phone Call That Changed My Life For Good

We need to all be thankful for the luck we've had so far. Personally, I'm thankful for luck. The more we can recognize luck in our lives, the happier we will be.

I've been a super-optimist all my life and I plan to continue being one until the day I die…. a 100 years from now.

I wanted to re-share one extremely lucky event that occurred in my life. Without this lucky event, my life today would be totally different.

The story also supports my view that any outsized wealth we have is mostly due to luck. Therefore, let us count our blessing and always be thankful for what we have!

Thankful For Luck That Changed My Life

The year is 2001 and the Nasdaq, down 50%, just celebrated its one year anniversary of hitting its peak. I'm finishing up the second year of my analyst program at GS, paranoid that I won't be getting a offer back for my third year.

I always knew my chances for getting a third-year analyst role were slim since only strong performers get to continue. Unfortunately, I was an odd duck who didn't belong at one of the best investment banks in the world at the time.

I dressed poorly because I didn't know better as a public school kid who never had to dress up. Once, my VP barked at me, “Get that dog collar off your neck!” referencing a Hawaiian puka shell necklace my girlfriend had given me. I guess there is a benefit of going to an expensive prep school after all.

I annoyed people. 

One time, I was humming something indistinguishable while reading some research material. An MD on the Latin America desk named Michelle told me to keep quiet. She was the same MD I had had to get permission from to buy an MCI Worldcom call option. The option quickly went to zero after my purchase.

I'm sure she thought I was an idiot.

There was a reason why I had to go through 7 rounds and 55 interviews to get my job. No desk wanted me. I was an outsider who was forced into their vaunted club by a recruiter named Kim Purkiss. She plucked me out of a career fair and I owe her so much.

The Secret Phone Call That Determined My Fate

As an analyst on the sales trading floor, one of my jobs was to pick up and screen phone calls for all our senior colleagues. Our desks were arranged in I-formation, with my boss sitting at one base of the I and me sitting on the side. His face was always obscured by a couple Bloomberg trading monitors. We communicated by shouting.

At 9 am, my boss's phone rang and I hit his button on my large 20-line turret as quick as lightning. The trading floor was buzzing with activity in anticipation of the market open at 9:30 am.

Hello, can I speak to Tom, please? It's Jim,” said the man on the other end. Jim was calling from Hong Kong, where it was 10 pm. Jim was the Head of the Asian Equities business at the time. He was the big, big boss.

Hi Jim! It's Sam. Nice to hear from you. It's late there. Hope all is well. Let me see if Tom is available. One sec.” I blurted out, nervous like a middle school boy trying to talk to a girl.

I zoomed in between Tom's monitors and saw he was staring at his screen while pounding away at his keyboard.

Tom! Jim is on line one!” I yelled as the buzz on the 49th floor of 1 New York Plaza started to crescendo.

Wall Street Trading Desks In "I-Formation"
[Sales traders sat in I-formation]

Overheard The Danger Of Being Let Go

Tom didn't acknowledge my call, but he picked up the line by saying “hello.” Not wanting to hang up on big bossman Jim in the middle of the night in Hong Kong, I stayed on to ensure they connected.

In the past, I had sometimes accidentally hung up on the caller before a teammate hopped on. Our phone turrets were confusing as hell.

Jim immediately blurted out after Tom said hello, “I need to talk to you about new third-year analyst opportunities, including Sam's. We need to make a decision on whether to keep him or not.

My ears perked up! Ethically, I should have hung up. But out of sheer curiosity and survival, I pressed mute instead. My future depended on it.

Jim, it sounds like we have a position open in Taiwan? But I don't think Sam would be a good fit, despite his Mandarin skills. He's unfocused because he's always trading stocks while at work.

Oh crap! I knew all my day trading would come back to haunt me.

I was already given a talk a couple times before about how I was spending too much time trading stocks, and not enough time focusing on my job. It would have been a dream come true to move to Taiwan to work.

OK Tom, we'll look elsewhere to fill these open positions. Guess that's it for Sam. Goodnight.

My heart sank. My boss didn't like me and I knew my days were numbered. It was mid-April, 2001.

On The Hunt For A New Job

Knowing my last day for employment would be sometime in June was depressing. It felt like I was waiting for the electric chair, especially since we were in a bear market.

Some people I knew were starting to get laid off and I was starting to panic mentally. Tom, my boss, hadn't explicitly told me I wouldn't be asked back. But I wasn't going to wait to see if he did.

That evening I went home and brushed up my resume and looked for new job opportunities in New York City. One opportunity did come up, another analyst role on Bear Stearn's Asian Equities desk.

I visited Bear Stearns the next week to meet with Toby and the rest of his team. The space was even more cramped than the cramped offices we had at GS.

Bears Stearns felt like a let down, but I had no choice but to play along if I wanted to remain employed.

The Lucky Break Came

There didn't seem to be a sense of urgency for Bear Stearns to hire me in the current environment. As I was waiting on a next round of interviews in early May, another phone call came in. This time, there was no need for me to pick it up because Elaine, the GS VP sitting next to me did.

During my job interview process, Elaine had been my harshest interviewer. A graduate of Barnard College and The Wharton School of Business for an MBA, she was a strong woman you did not want to cross. Just when I thought I had gotten the job, she requested to interview me again over coffee and asked more grilling questions.

My lack of pedigree didn't seem to sit right with her. But she eventually gave me the green light. More than two decades later, Elaine is still working in finance as a senior managing director. Impressive!

She Passed Over The Phone

After about a minute of conversation, Elaine said while on the phone, “I think you might want to speak to my colleague here.” She turned to me, told me to pick up the phone and have a chat.

I was confused, but I did as I was told. On the line was a guy named Michael. He had a nervous stutter.

Hi there. Your colleague Elaine said you might be interested in working for a competitor covering west coast clients in San Francisco. Are you interested?” Michael said.

Are you kidding me? Hell yeah, I'm interested! I thought to myself. But I didn't tell him that. Instead, I responded calmly, “I'm not sure Michael. I'm in a really good spot here. The offer would have to be extremely compelling for me to leave.

Sure, I understand. Let's talk more in private when you're off the desk about what it would take to make you move.” Michael responded.

I was thrilled! I turned to Elaine after I had hung up and thanked her. She was looking out for me because she also knew my days were numbered.

The Job Offer, So Thankful

A couple of weeks later, I took a day off in order to fly out to San Francisco and meet the team at Credit Suisse on a Friday. This was at the end of May 2001, a month before I was to be let go from Goldman Sachs.

They were a great group of fellas and I especially liked the guy I was going to work directly under. Bart was intelligent, hardworking, and loved to enjoy life. At Berkeley, where he went to undergrad, he was the Bud Light rep on campus. Everybody loved hanging out with him.

One thing led to another and the new firm offered me everything I had asked for:

  • An Associate title, reserved for those who had gone to business school or those who continued to be strong employees after finishing their third or fourth year as an analyst.
  • A 64% base salary raise to $85,000 from $55,000.
  • A guaranteed bonus of $50,000 for the year, even though there would be only six months left if I joined.
  • Subsidized housing for two months and $6,000 for relocation expenses
  • More responsibility and career upside

I went from being out on the streets in a month to getting a raise and a promotion in a new city with a new firm! This series of events was absolutely one of the luckiest turnarounds of my life.

When it's all said and done, that one phone call may have been worth tens of millions of dollars.

Didn't Waste The Opportunity

Getting a better job right before I was about to get laid off felt like I was playing with the house's money. Therefore, I decided to take full advantage of the opportunity.

For the next seven years, my boss and I competed against my old firm and we often won. When my boss decided to leave to a large client, I ended up running the business and hiring a couple of people to work for me for the next four years. That was another lucky break.

Of course, since my boss and I had such a good relationship, we ended up doing a lot of business together. As we get older, our network gets stronger.

I ended up working at Credit Suisse for 11 years. It was a fantastic ride that culminated with me engineering my layoff in 2012. I was so thankful they allowed me to keep 100% of my deferred compensation.

In retrospect, I may have had the opportunity to join Bear Stearns if I stayed more patient. However, if I did, my career would have been cut short given Bear Stearns went under on March 16, 2008.

Be Thankful For Luck

It's easy to get down on ourselves, especially during a bear market or a pandemic. I'm my worst critic by far. But sometimes, we've got to look back and appreciate all the good that has happened to us. Let's not take our good fortune for granted.

If you want to be more thankful, try give writing a go. Being able to write about my time earning only $40,000 a year in Manhattan reminded me of this lucky memory that had so long been shelved away. Writing will extend your life because you will remember more of it.

Finally, I strongly believe the more thankful we are the happier we will be. When we have unreasonable expectations, don't appreciate what we have, and constantly compare ourselves to others, we lose our happiness.

Stop focusing on the negatives. Think about all the lucky breaks you've had in your life. If you do, I'm sure you'll become more thankful and happier as a result.

I'd love to hear about your lucky breaks!

Get Lucky Making Money Investing In Real Estate

Ever since 1999, I've tried to convert some of my lucky stock market gains into real estate for capital preservation and growth. Unlike stocks, real estate is a more stable asset that provides utility. I suggest everyone consistently invest in real estate over time to protect and growth their wealth too.

Own your primary residence and some rental properties. Once you're at your maximum capacity, invest in real estate passively through funds offered by Fundrise. Fundrise offers private real estate funds that strategically invest in the Sunbelt, where rental yields are higher and valuations are lower.

I've personally invested $953,000 in Sunbelt residential and commercial real estate to diversify my real estate holdings. I believe in a long-term demographic trend towards moving to lower-cost areas of the country thanks to technology. To be able to earn 100% passive income is also great as a busy father.

Manage Your Luck Better

One of the best things about investing is that the longer you invest, the luckier you will feel. At some point, the money you make will feel like free money since you didn't do anything to earn it.

As you build your wealth, you must diligently track your wealth. Check out Empower, my favorite free tool for tracking your net worth, x-raying your portfolio for excessive fees, and planning your retirement.

I've used Empower since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket since, partially thanks to better money management. Link up all your financial accounts and feel the power of managing your finances all in one place.

Empower is free to sign up and use for everyone.

Empower Personal Dashboard

Related post about being thankful:

The Best Financial Move I Made Is Something Everyone Can Do

Readers, what are you thankful for this holiday season? Please share a lucky break that you may have forgotten or taken for granted until now. If you're interesting in reading more finance-related stories, you can join 60,000+ others and sign up for my free newsletter here.

You can also receive my post in your inbox every time I publish three times a week. All my writing is free so that we can all achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later.

Finally, you can subscribe to my podcast on Apple or Spotify. I interview investors, authors, entrepreneurs, educators, freelancers, and anybody interesting that can help you live a better life.

69 thoughts on “Thankful For Luck: A Phone Call That Changed My Life For Good”

  1. Thank you for sharing the story. Sometimes, you never know how luck plays a role in life until you look back and you realized you seized the opportunity and took a chance.

  2. Thank you for this article as it is uplifting. I’ve been in business for some time and it’s easy to resent the rather difficult times and not embrace the blessing that comes your way. I won’t go into all of the details but you are correct, our luck sometime is our greatest blessing and we need to remember it. This article reinforces it for me as I navigate some more pain in the near future.

  3. What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. It’s funny how life works out sometimes thanks to luck and good fortune. I have lots to be thankful for this year and am so grateful to have family and not be sick. I had a bad head cold last week and was reminded how important and precious being healthy is.

  4. Isn’t it interesting how analogous our lives are in terms of dealing the turmoil and happiness? Although the enlightenment happens during different periods in our lives, moving forward with positive momentum creates a better world.

    Happy Holidays Bruddah Sam!!

  5. I’m thankful for you and your blog, Sam. It has taught me a lot about finances and saving money. I can honestly say that I would be a poorer man if I had not read the Financial Samurai.

  6. Ruchita Chaudhary

    I’m just now coming upon your email about luck. Below is my true story:

    In late January 2009, my father was scheduled to travel from India (where he and my mother had been visiting family) back to their home where I grew up in Buffalo, NY. My mother would be traveling home a week or two thereafter. At the time, I was 27 years old working in banking as an associate at Citi in New York. I booked a flight to visit them for the long President’s Day weekend given I would have Monday off (I worked in the bankruptcy restructuring group, and my MD was very accommodating for people to take bank holidays off given we were getting burnt out from the financial crisis). There was a Continental Airlines flight that would leave on Thursday night from Newark to Buffalo, a flight I regularly flew and would take off on a Friday. It was much easier to get to Newark airport from downtown Tribeca, where the Citi building was located, rather than travel to Laguardia or JFK, so I flew this flight often. I booked the Continental Airlines flight for Thursday night, February 12, 2009 leaving from Newark airport to Buffalo, NY. I was excited to see my mother and father and spend the long weekend with them.

    My father flew back himself at the end of January 2009. Unfortunately, he had flown the entire trip with a fever and what later developed into pneumonia. Immediately upon landing in Buffalo, the next day, he checked himself into a hospital. He requested that my brother (who was living and working in Atlanta) and I fly home immediately. For him to have asked that of us meant he must have felt very ill. We also booked a flight for my mother to fly home from India early. I booked a flight to fly home from NYC to Buffalo on January 23, 2009.

    My father was diagnosed with pneumonia, which then developed into Acute Respitory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). He spent about 4 weeks in the hospital. Luckily, my MD at the time, who was my greatest mentor, allowed me to take a leave from work and stay home in Buffalo to be with my father at the hospital. We did not realize he was dying as his lungs were failing. We were advised by the doctors that his lungs would not recover. My family and I made the difficult decision to take him off the ventilator on March 2nd, 2009, and he passed away.

    I had never used my Continental Airlines flight 3407 ticket to fly from NYC to Buffalo as I had flown a few weeks earlier to be at my father’s bedside. It was only a few weeks later did I learn of the news of the airline crash that happened in Buffalo (as we were so engrossed with being in the hospital with my dad). All 49 passengers on that flight died on board. My ticket elapsed and went unused, and I assume some other soul, who may have been flying standby, took my seat that day.

    For a few years after my dad’s death, many people would ask if they thought I was “lucky” to have avoided that flight – that, in a way, my dad gave his life for mine. In my grief for many of those early years, I would say I did not consider myself lucky as my dad died (a healthy 66 year old with no medical conditions, develops pneumonia, then a freak illness and passes away?). It is only now, almost 11 years later, that I can now look at my husband and 3 year old daughter and say yes, I am lucky. Extremely lucky. Recognizing luck can take many years for many people to realize.

    1. Wow. That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. So sorry for your loss but so happy for what you now have in your life.

  7. “Finally, I strongly believe the more thankful we are the happier we will be. When we have unreasonable expectations, don’t appreciate what we have, and constantly compare ourselves to others, we lose our happiness.

    Stop focusing on the negatives. Think about all the lucky breaks you’ve had in your life. If you do, I’m sure you’ll become more thankful and happier as a result.”

    I love this mentality! You will be as happy as you are content.

  8. When asked would I rather be lucky or good, I always answered ‘Lucky’ – as there will always be someone better and you never know where luck might take you. Regardless, you still had to have the ability to take advantage of what you were offered and no amount of luck will compensate for that.

  9. Your post triggered some interesting recollections for me. My definitive LUCKY break was just after arriving from Australia (’81), I was lucky to meet an older couple, Bill & Ann, who mentored me in my pursuit of real estate investments & subsequently triggered my early retirement.

    They had a magnificent older home, (I had bought the dog of the street). On a whim I decided to shovel the snow from their garage apron & corner lot sidewalks/steps, as I had done for a couple of other older residents. Unbeknown to me they were both semi-retired real estate brokers who still had their own company. Long story short they appreciated my gesture & took me under their wing.
    Without a doubt they were solely instrumental in my accumulating a very profitable real estate portfolio. They allowed me access to their exclusive pocket listings & they introduced me to the amazing advantages of lucrative seller financed sales to both acquire & then exit.

    One small gesture can reap a lifetime of gratitude !!

  10. Asia_mystery

    Hey Sam,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    I would also like to share a similar story of luck and being grateful where my life has taken me.
    I’ve been fired 3 times, and laid off once over my 30 year career.

    As a fresh graduate from an unknown Canadian university, my first real job was for a consulting firm in Los Angeles – I thought life was good (a small prairie boy ready to conquer the big lights of LA). I was one year into the job and in Jan 1991 – walked into my cube and saw a message flashing – I was given a voice my from a senior manager that I was part of the massive office wide layoffs. I was shocked and stunned. I didn’t see it coming! I was sent home, where I cried — my world had collapsed (I was only 23 years old). I was unemployed for 6 months and through a friend a landed a consulting job in San Francisco. Being laid off gave me an opportunity to reflect – being laid off as such a young age, made me realize that career/ life is not smooth sailing and IN now realize that has directed my thinking about purposeful life/ career.

    I worked in San Francisco for 3 years and there was a moment/ calling I had when I was cycling across the Golden Gate bridge. I quit my USD40k pa job and in 1994 I left San Francisco (one of my favourite cities, where I was living the good life) to teach English and Math in Tianjin, China – where I would be paid USD80/ month. Everyone thought I was nuts! My dad was threatening to take away my passport. Why did I do this? Purpose: I wanted to have an international career with some links to China/ Asia. I just knew China was going to be an economic powerhouse – I wanted to be part of the action. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that I have worked/ lived 26 years in Asia. For sure, there was some bumps (getting fired a few times) and at the same time some incredible breaks (being sent to Shanghai after being fired from my Hong Kong job).

    Fast forward today (2020 – I’m 54 years old), I have beautiful wife and two kids and I would say living very comfortably in Singapore. Got lucky in buying properties in Shanghai and Singapore. I’d rank Singapore the best Asian city to live in and raise a family.

    2020 has been a bizarre and strange year. It’s been a very reflective year. Right during the middle of pandemic, I got a job offer to join a well known global bank (based in Singapore). It was a difficult decision, because I had very comfortable, well paying and secure job at well known media/ fintech firm (It’s mentioned in the article). I rolled the dice and went for the bank job, which I now regret…because the job simply sucked……the bank culture is not for me. I was miserable. I regretted leaving by previous job. FYI – The previous firm has this policy once you leave you cannot return.

    The main reason I left my secure is that I had plateaued on pay and growth opportunity. Otherwise I really enjoyed working there. My pay has remained flat for 3 years and my boss gave me the usual bs..”we really value you blah blah…but can’t do much on comp because you are the highest paid team member” and what really broke the loyalty is when my boss suggested that only white ppl move up the corporate ladder (BTW: I’m Asian). It was George Floyd moment!

    My wife was telling me to quit the bank job, and I was prepared to hang on for 3-4 months then quit. As luck would have it I was offered a sweet job from an insurance company (higher pay, great medical coverage, unique role). Last week I announced my resignation – unbelievably my second resignation during the pandemic. I don’t know if my new insurance job will work out, but I am truly grateful that God has provided and blessed me over the years. Life/ work will always have its moments in being down, but never lose hope.

    1. Wow! Two resignations in one pandemic is pretty lucky when a lot of people are getting let go or can’t even find a job!

      I like Singapore, but I have a difficult time taking the humidity. Man does it get really muggy!

  11. Sam, this is hilarious, you saying to the recruiter, you were in a really good spot when you were sure you were going to be let go. Elaine was probably listening to you too. You are smarter than you give yourself credit for, amassing a small fortune and real estate in very
    expensive cities isn’t easy.
    A few of the best things that ever happened to me were getting a green card in a lottery at 21 when i was sure i couldn’t spend my life in rainy old U.K., then being able to work in this country for 25 years and purchase an apartment and amass a sum of money i could never have amassed in the U.K. Inspite of making some really bad investment mistakes along the way, i’ve accumulated more than i could have saved just by working alone. Although i lost my job 3.5 years ago, i didn’t care as it had turned into a nightmare after various company mergers and acquisitions. i knew i wasn’t going to go back into a long daily commute again. I have had enough to pay my bills and then some, living conservartively for the last 3.5 years while looking for my next investment, that has come along lately with the pandemic giving me the opportunity to get close to 1M if i don’t screw it up, although i lost $64, 000 recently in 1 stock while i decided to get out after a spate of bad news, i have quickly gained it back plus another 75k recently in another stock that had come down a lot, now i’m earning dividends, enough to live on, while i wait for the stock to appreciate and get me close to 1M. although i’m still not where i need to be yet financially, i’m making money (while i’ve never even updated my resume or by choice done a day of work since been laid off), and heading in the right direction, better to be making money than losing it. i have more money now than when i was laid off by careful investing.

  12. Nice story, Sam! As you probably tell, you are not alone. I’m retired now from a 40 year career as an Organization Development consultant. I specialized in leadership development for corporate leadership teams. Over many years of running week long intensives for leadership teams as parts of large cultural change initiatives, I slowly came to a realization… (or it came to me)…

    The truth is, MANY people “find” their real career by what might be described as pure luck. They started out on a path they thought was “right” for them after college. But at some point on that path, they discovered, sometimes painfully, that it was NOT the path for them (it happened to me too).

    Many people describe it as a serendipity inflection point or a “turning point” that led them to discover the career that truly excited them… one that brought out their best… and generated great results AND an experience of satisfaction. That “turning point” could NEVER have been predicted. In essence, I realized that many people, like ME, literally bump into the real career they were meant for… almost like backing through a door they did not know was open to them. This insight led me to name our consulting firm, “Turning Points Inc.” I am convinced i was meant to do that work.

  13. I used to feel that luck was simply a byproduct of hard work. That, “we make our own luck” through positioning and action. Looking back on my life, career and family, I unequivocally feel like luck played some major roles. I certainly do not discredit hard work and perseverance, but there IS something to being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right person.

  14. Looking back on my life, I’ve had countless lucky breaks. As I look back, I feel like I should have been an unfortunate statistic and sometimes wonder why God has kept watch over me. I’m so grateful for my family, for some unwavering friendships, and my financial stability.

    1. Growing up in the rural midwest with an ambitous–but abusive alcoholic father (but an amazing mother) within an extended family that valued education (I started reaching at 3 years old).
    2. Moving to London after college and landing an administrative job that paid 4x what my roommates were making working in pubs. It allowed me to save travel throughout Eastern Europe before the wall came down. It was an amazing experience as an African American because most Eastern Europeans had not met a “chocolate girl” before. I would hop off a train and be invited to stay in private homes that allowed me to really experience the culture. I vividly remember traveling to Gdansk during “Solidarity.”
    3. Going to law school, suffering a major depressive episode, (I had lived years with an undiagosed bi-polar mental health condition, which my father also suffered from, and leaving law school to work as a paralegal for a DC corporate law firm to determine, “Do I really want to be a lawyer.”(My father had told me from the time I was 12 that I was to be a lawyer). Realizing no, law was not the right career field for me but knowing I wanted to live in Colorado, a dream since I was 12. Telling my boss I was quitting to move to Colorado and her replying, “We have a job opening in Denver,” in 1991 during a poor economy.) Moving to Colorado with a salary that was quite low by East Coast standards but high by Colorado standards.
    4. Quiting that job after one year to work as an administrative assistant to the COO at a seemly growing Boulder tech firm. Withing two months, the firm began major layoffs while at the same time I was weeks away from closing on an inexpensive housein a nearby town because Boulder rents were outrageous (mortgage $600 vs. $1,400 rent). My conservative parents counseled me not to purchase it. My aunt told me, “I’m 60 years old and I’ve never owned a house–buy it.” I took a chance and purchased it with $6,000 and an FHA loan. Between a roommate and a generous East Cost unemployment made it work for a year. Eventually accepted an administrative job at a small environmental firm making maybe $14,000/year. Six months into that job, after long ignored symptoms, discovered I needed brain surgery. The firm had 10 employees and did not offer health insurance but fortunately I had purchased COBRA through my previous employer. I lived in Longmont, CO and my condition was so rare that there were only two surgeons qualified in the state of Colorado to perform the operation–one in Colorado Springs and one in Boulder–a 15 minute drive. My mother was able to move to Colorado during my convalescence . Insurance paid for the $80,000 operation and about two months of cognitive/physical therapy before I was declared uninsurable.
    5. My sister worked for the Peace Corps and called me up and said, “I found a paralegal job for you.” Four months later, I was back in D.C. working for the Peace Corps with health insurance because the government insurance does not disqualify people with pre-existing conditions. I kept my house as a rental all these years and was able to leverage the equity over the years to pay down dept and also eventually use it as a deposit to purchase another house.
    6. Unhappy to be back in D.C. and with the job, four years later, I quit and moved back to Colorado jobless. Found another federal government agency as a paralegal working with a team of lawyers clearning up hazardous waste sites on public lands. Spent a rewarding nine years with this team before accepting a job in Idaho working for a sub-unit of said agency. (Town demographics where I was moving to showed a .06% African American population out of 36,000 people as my white co-workers were happy to point out and, after being offered the job I started to become anxious and wanted to back out. My boss insisted I needed to leave and do something different. It was 2007 and I lost money when I sold my house but the new job came with a grade promotion and the job I was in had no upward mobility. Suffered a major depressive episode while living in Idaho, but fortunaty was allowed to return to Colorado for three months of treatment with my psychiatrist. After returning to Idaho, my supervisor, who knew I wanted to return to Colorado, told me she knew an agency director back in Denver. She picked up the phone and called him. Within a few months, I was back in Denver on a detail. When the job was flown, I was selected and it came with another grade promotion. So within two years I jumped two GS levels. (My sister was a nurse with an advanced degree and it took her 30 years to advanced to a GS level one grade below mine).
    7. I’m not rich like I visualized growing up but without following no set career path, (my dream is to be a full-time antiques dealer but try making a decent living selling antiques. . .) but making some good financial decisions–interrupted by episodes of being spendthrift and accumulating significant credit card debt–I’ve saved almost six figures in my 401K; I will be able to retire in two to five years with a pension). It’s taken almost 60 years, but my mental health is the strongest it’s probably ever been and I’m finally beginning to realize what I want to do with my life.

    1. just for accuracy, looking back over what I wrote, I realized there’s a typo–I mean’t almost seven figures in my 401k and two rental properties.

  15. Hi Sam and Happy Thanksgiving!

    I really appreciate your emails and look forward to reading them when I open my email. I’ve also used a vendor you’ve promoted on your website, CIT bank savings account. Thank you!

    You expressed you’d like to hear a lucky break that I am thankful for so I thought I’d share before I’m too sleepy from the tryptophan wave from today’s meals.

    Last year around this time I was approached by my mentor to start a real estate sales firm in Charlotte, NC. We had both worked together for 5 years at the same firms. We had both been pushing ourselves night and day 12-18 hrs days 7 days a week to make a good living and have a good reputation in the area selling residential real estate. After several discussions of figuring out how to combine our forces, we found a mutually beneficial way of managing/sharing profits, and then we started the business. One year later, we have 16 total agents working for us, started another income generator within the firm and have now managed to completely supplement our old ways of generating income by managing our associates. This has given me a renewed sense of freedom, increased wealth, more time for valuable self reflection, and time to spend with my loved ones. This was an exponentially positive life change and forever grateful for his trust and enthusiasm to partner with me in business.

    I now see the power of the exercise of writing this down Thank you.

    Keep up the great work.


  16. Sam – you asked for a lucky break – here is mine:

    – I left college after 3 years – no degree (I was a lousy student – but great at running anything)
    – Ran a 9 hole golf course for 2-1/2 years, then attended to a computer programming school (mainframe – this was 1978) – cleared straight A’s
    – Started looking for jobs in the IT world – but all those offered were “maintenance jobs” – not something I wanted
    – A family friend of my parents told me to call his brother as he knew I was looking – I didn’t… a month later same question was asked and I told him no – so he called his brother – his brother graciously said to come in next week to talk
    – I showed up in my only suit (a brown plaid) with my cowboy boots on
    – We talked for an hour, then he asked me to follow him – he had decided that I might be a fit – so I was given a logic test – the only kind of test I every really liked and excelled at…
    – After the test he took me to lunch, when we returned I had 2 more interviews..then gave me an application
    – Asked to return 2 weeks later and interviewed with the Branch Manager – this was 1 of the 2 largest branches this company had at the time
    – He asked if offered would I accept a job…that answer didn’t take long – Yes…
    – I was one of 100 applicants for 4 positions and the only one without a degree – the others all had Bachelors and 1 or more Masters.
    – 12 years later I returned to that branch for a visit – as the head for the company of the group of folks I was hired to be part of 12 years prior
    – 30 years after I started I retired from IBM having done far better than anyone in my family could have ever imagined after leaving college as a failed student…

    All because a friend of the family knew I needed a kick in the right direction…

    Enjoy, Chris

  17. Canadian Reader

    Very thankful for luck. When I was a directionless 18 year old I was luckily hired at a home auto/insurance company for about 2.5x minimum wage doing data entry. I also got my car insurance for half the cost of a new driver and free parking downtown. I had time at work to upgrade high school courses and use the office to apply for post secondary school. I got into a fast tracked RN degree program which was 20 consecutive months, instead of 4 years. The program only let in 50 people. I was wondering how I was going to support myself and do the program when my boss at work came by my desk and offered me to work evenings and weekends for her doing private home care for her elderly father. The pay was better than the insurance company and the job was actually pretty easy, allowing me time to study. I was hired immediately out of school into intensive care because of the intense programming and her recommendation letter. Obviously nursing isn’t comparable to a bankers wage, but with overtime I was making 90k+ a year when I was only 23. This sequence of events set me up very well.
    My luckiest break ever though was meeting my (now) husband on an online dating site before posting pictures was even a thing!

  18. Happy Thanksgiving Sam! I was at GS during your time there and worked very closely with the Equities Division. I was on that 49th and 50th Fl at 1NYP all the time, so probably saw you many times before you became the Financial Samurai.. small world. I had many similar examples of luck in my career that took me around the world and allowed me to retire by 50 with tens of $millions. Indeed we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

    1. Ah, very cool! What did you do at GS? The International Equities head was David something. I worked with Tom Morrow, who is also still there with Michelle Docharty.

      The only person I know from my class who is still there is Alex Anido.

  19. Sam, Thanks for sharing a great story. You should make a book of that roller coaster ride! Title is A Phone Call That Changed My Life For The Better
    Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy Slicing through parenting! :)

    Ferry K

  20. Yes, there is luck involved – but you have to put yourself in a place to make that luck work – if you hadn’t gone through those 55 interviews and the pain of working in a place that wasn’t a fit for you, you would NEVER have received a call like that, or gotten that favor from Elaine… “Luck” won’t happen unless you put yourself in a place where it can find you!!!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all, and stay safe – reflect on what we have , not what we don’t……

    1. Not to mention that early morning long bus ride into the city to attend the job fair event where Sam met the GS recruiter!

  21. Worked first at a start up research firm that focused on certain Chinese sectors. They had a lot of smart people but none knew what a research product should look like, even though their clients were western hedge funds and investment banks. So my role was a product manager streamlining their research.

    Then I moved to a biz services firm that had the western investment banks as clients (specifically, the HK offices of those banks) and managed engagements, developed client relationships, etc.

    Eventually, my wife and I hope to split our time between China (preferably a more pleasant and ethnically diverse area like Jinghong/Yunnan) and NYC.

  22. Ah, yes – I remember the stresses of working at the banks in 2001. Interestingly, I was also at 1 New Plaza but at a different bank.

    In 2008 in the carnage of the Global Financial Crisis, I found myself out of a job. Instead of sticking around competing with thousands of others, I moved to Shanghai to reboot my career.

    At it was in SH that I met my now wife and traveled all throughout Asia.

    So I am so thankful for the 2008 Global Financial Crisis!

  23. Fascinating career story! Certainly most of us who have had great careers have had good fortune along the way. But don’t forget, no matter how smart you are, a monkey throwing darts is just as likely to get the next five years right as your are.

  24. Great story! Interesting, we were just sharing “lucky break” stories at Thanksgiving dinner this year. At 53, I finally realized a lucky break that I received years ago but never quite appreciated until now. When I got out of the military (right after high school), I had always planned to go to college. My grades and test scores were far from stellar. When I applied to the school, the director of veterans affairs, a retired Army Colonel, took me under his wing. He pulled strings and got me into engineering school without me having to apply. I basicially just showed up for classes. There is no way that I would have gotten accepted based on my prior academic performance in high school (having too much fun and not enough focus – LOL!) Without that degree I would never have worked for NASA (now withing 2 years to retire) nor started writing books. By far the biggest break I ever got. Einstein said that the only reason he could see so far was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. How true. I wish that everyone gets a break, and if you have the opportunity to help someone move along, then give it out of love and faith in that person. Take care!

  25. Luck plays such a huge factor in all our lives but I am not sure that we always recognize it when it happens; how lucky we are usually becomes clear in retrospect. My father and I drove through a snow storm for my AFROTC interview; I was under weight but had the grades. I had a late growth spurt, and grew about a foot over 18 months ending in the middle of my junior year of high school. Being a runner, you can imagine how skinny I was. I got the scholarship, but I was also on a weight gain plan. If I was still below the minimum weight for my height, the military would not take me. Fortunately, I put on the pounds as my body caught up with my height, but I still think there may have been a thumb on the scale. By the time I graduated college, and actually joined the military, I was comfortably fit 6′ 155lbs.

    A funny related story is that a few years later while flying commercial, out of uniform, but for a military event, I happened to be sitting in an exit row. The stewardess asked me if I thought I was able to open the emergency door; if not, I would have to move. The older man next to me had a smile on his face when I said, “I hope so. I’m a LT in our Air Force.” I said that as I showed her my active duty ID. We all had a chuckle.

    During economic downturns, one key thing to do is to look at them as buying opportunities. The very reason that my wife and I are as close to retirement as we are, is the 2008 downturn. That was the first one where we had any appreciable savings, and in the years that followed we saved a ton.

    1. “During economic downturns, one key thing to do is to look at them as buying opportunities.”

      I am going to do this.

      Going to stack some money in my savings account so that when/if the predicted 2020 financial crisis hits, I can buy shares/etfs/etc at discounted prices.

      Thanks for posting your comment. It is interesting reading the stories of Sam’s readers.

  26. These are the memories that stick with us forever. Thanks for sharing!

    Have you wondered what would have happened if they had transferred you to Taiwan? Maybe FS may have never been realized!

  27. I was 23 years old making 26k a year and just bought a condo in 2005. The mortgage was clearly more than I could reasonably afford without appreciation so we all know how that went.

    Starting trying to figure out ways to make more money to offset some of these Real estate losses. Opened a few diff side businesses but not enough success to stop working and focus solely on that.

    Opened my first Roth IRA with full funding … the day before the market crash. A month later, was fired from a government job that essentially no one can get fired from … for running a side business without disclosure

    That led me and forced me to run my business full scale. I just hit 10 years a few weeks ago. My net worth has gone from negative 50k in 2006. To almost 5 million in 2008

    All thanks to the housing and stock crash.

  28. Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg is in the news this Thanksgiving season for giving over $1B to Johns Hopkins University for undergrad education. Well, it isn’t the first time he gave because I entered as a Bloomberg Scholar in 2003 and graduated without a dime of debt because of him covering all “financial need”, my parents’ savings, and me working hard to graduate in 3 years.

    In this day and age of college costs, I’m very thankful for that lucky break to start out my adult life at break even.

  29. GREAT STORY! Happy thanksgiving to you and the family. I am in my sixties and the mom of a child that attended a top IVY target school. Had many job interviews for the critical summer analyst position after junior year in college. Back then there were only a few TARGET SCHOOLS they visited. So I am wondering how you wound up at GS from William and Mary to begin with. Did Goldman actively recruit there? Btw my son wasn’t hired by Goldman after a few rounds of interviews with them and would up at JP Morgan and given offer at end of summer internship which he took. Thanks.

      1. Sam, you mentioned GS analyst program in this article. :) hope you had a happy thanksgiving!

        “I’m finishing up the second year of my analyst program at GS, paranoid that I won’t be getting a offer back for my third year.”

  30. First of all Happy Thanksgiving!!! And wow what an incredible story. You really lucked out. It just made me remember I had a somewhat similar experience during my career. I was working at my second fulltime job as the second lowest ranking member of a small department. I was friends with a teammate who was a year or two more senior than me. We had been noticing our clients were shrinking and were kinda wondering if our days could be numbered. Low and behold one day my friend found an email one of our bosses forgot to pick up from the printer and showed it to me. It was from the MD of the office ripping our boss a new one and basically saying our department was going to get shut down. I started looking for a job that night! I kept aggressively looking for a new job until I found one and gave my 2 weeks notice. It ended up being an excellent job hop and because of that email I was able to transition into a new job quickly before my old department was shut down.

  31. Great story Sam! I’ve had several like that in my life (I’m 52 now). One of my first was applying for a job while I was in college. I had zero family support and was on my own. The job I had was barely over minimum wage with no benefits of any kind. I had worked there for just over a year and had done a good job. I asked my boss for a raise, and he responded that the pay was set an there was no opportunity for a raise. My new job search started at that moment.

    A few weeks later I interviewed for a clerical position at United Parcel Service. I got the job and was extremely excited! It was a 50% pay raise and included significant additional benefits. I was promoted within 3 months! That opportunity laid the groundwork for me to finish my degree with honors and much less stress!

    My main point is this: always be grateful for even what may appear be the smallest opportunity and make the most of it. Always position yourself to be able to jump at an opportunity. They are all gifts to be treasured.

    Several decades later, I’m working to teach my sons and daughters these lessons. I pray they pay attention!

    Thank you for the inspirations.

    A Blessed Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  32. FS, what a great post. As long as I’ve been following your journey, you always have new information and lessons for us readers. Your thanking of VP Elaine sums up the sentiment of your moment then, as well as today.

    My takeaway from this post was your observation, “The value of money comes nowhere near the value of time.” So true. Recently came across a similar sentiment, “There will always be tons of millionaires. But there will never be any immortals.” Happy Thanksgiving to you, and all family and readers of Financial Samurai.

    1. My goal is to tell at least one Thanksgiving story before I forget them all. I followed up with my old colleague Elaine, who is now an MD and on the board of another bank, and she told me she doesn’t remember passing the phone to me when the head hunter called her or grilling me over coffee for another interview! It was funny.

      So fun to relive and record these memories.

      Hope all is well!

  33. What a lucky set of events starting with a phone call. Seems the universe was looking out for you.

    Of course part of it was you making the most of the opportunity. A lot of people have opportunities come in front of them and either don’t recognize it or are complacent and don’t want to push out of their comfort zone.

    If you did not get that first phone call but only started the story from the second one would you still have jumped at that opportunity? I’m sure there were some that would have stuck it out only to be terminated before 3rd year.

    Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy it with your family

  34. Thanks for sharing- I’ve been an avid FS reader for 2 years, thanks to your writing I was looking to convert my stock success to real estate, and went 80% cash at the market peak as a result. Please keep posting Sam – you have real talent for it.

      1. Thanks Sam, indeed I did find my dream residence after much looking, including online and summer road trips. Its turned out to be a great thing, I’m leaving 90% of the details out here.

  35. Observing the good in your life when times aren’t favorable is a healthy exercise. Your story is a great reminder of how life brings you unexpected gifts when you least expect them. It’s a great one to share on this holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

  36. Awesome post Sam and very timely! We all have to be grateful for all the blessings and the fortune that we have in life. Family, Health, Friends, Careers, etc. It is so easy to get wrapped up in some of the things that are not perfect in our lives and forget all the lucky breaks.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  37. Hi Sam, really enjoy receiving your informative emails. Truly thankful for being married to my wife of twenty years which traces its roots back to a time of tribulation in my life. I had just graduated college (USC) and started working for a top CPA firm. The initial enthusiasm quickly dissipated after the long arduous hours required of new accountants. Boredom quickly set in and I became very restless and quite often found myself day dreaming staring out the window of companies where I was holed up analyzing reams of data. After two years of 12~15 hour day grinds I received a call from a headhunter (yes, we called them that back then) who asked if I wanted to double my salary and go overseas on an adventure, to work. It was that one lucky break back then that literally transformed my life and pointed me in the direction that got me to where I am today. I did a four year stint with an aerospace company in the Middle East which was followed up with a couple years in S Korea. Met my wife who also happened to be working overseas at the time, we traveled the world together, and I was able to save up a boatload of money. These days when we are out with friends and the question comes up, and it always seems to, of how we met, I reflect back on those days of ‘paying my dues’ at the first company right out of college, and the one day when that phone call came in and the circumstances leading up to it. And as they say, the rest is history. Very lucky and truly grateful.

  38. There is nothing like a little luck, which favors the prepared, and there is nothing like gratitude — not all who are prepared are also lucky.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  39. Cool Post!! Stuff happens and we all need to make the best of it and be Thankful for the opportunity. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  40. FullTimeFinance

    Great reminder Sam. There are so many times in life things could have easily gone a different direction. Be thankful for where it went right.

    1. College Homework

      If it is difficult for you to start a new life, then get a special notebook for yourself. Write in it that for which you are already grateful, and for what you want to have in the future. Every day, go back to this list. Soon you will begin to notice how your business will go up. You will begin to concentrate on the good, stop feeling sorry for yourself and complain about life.
      Feeling sincere gratitude over and over again, you will become happier, more inspired and cheerful. This feeling will help you achieve success. If you want your wishes to come true and life will be adjusted, communicate with the world in the language of gratitude!

  41. Great story Sam! Sometimes good things just come your way and it’s important to recognize them. But it’s way more important to do what you’re doing now and still have gratitude that they did years afterwards. That mindset of gratitude can carry a person through really hard times.

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