Last month I took a long, winding West Coast trip, partially for work and partially to see some old friends. It was…shocking. Almost without exception the old friends are having money or career troubles, in some cases catastrophically so. Most, to one degree or another, have lost the lifestyles they once saw as every well-educated American’s birthright.
These are people who expected to live the life of the 10%, if not the 1%, right through to an easy, low-stress retirement. That most didn’t make it is both scary and instructive for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. But first, some stories, with names and details changed for privacy, but otherwise true:
* Rebecca was an investment analyst right out of school, and a natural. We worked together in our late 20s and there was no doubt which of us was headed for bigger things. After a few years of promotions and big raises she took a new, more challenging job for way more money, rode it for a while in the 1990s, and then ran into one of the conflicts typical of finance and got fired — and never recovered. Today she’s divorced and working multiple crappy jobs while going on a never-ending series of interviews, trying desperately to get back the life that seemed like such a sure thing 15 years ago.