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Senior Correspondent

The massive banyan shot fifty feet into the air in the front garden, creating a perfect canopy for the bromeliads and orchids I had collected over the years. A straight line of old oaks stood like sentinels along the driveway. Old bricks shipped to Miami from Chicago, where they had been salvaged from old torn-down buildings, led a second life as the courtyards and walkways throughout.

This is what surrounded the perfect house. At least the perfect house for me. Proof of my achievements … of having grabbed the brass ring … of living the American Dream.

Charmed Sunday breakfasts under the arbor. Rowdy dinner parties with a dozen friends voicing their political opinions.  Romantic dinners for two.  Weekends hosting foreign friends. Christmases with loved ones. New businesses. Failed businesses. Hurricanes. Lost kitties. Lost loves. The house had witnessed it all.

Then the economy shifted on me and my business took a hit.

The first step was to review expenses, line by line, and cut out everything I could live without.

And then one night, another round of analysis told me that the economy had hurt me more than I had calculated and I could no longer afford my dream house. I could no longer afford my American Dream.

I had a choice. I could wallow in my sadness. Or I could get proactive, save as much as I could and quickly get out from under the weight of my familiar lifestyle.

I chose the latter.

I invested the time to get very clear on my exactly numbers: what I owed, how many days until next payments, what I could negotiate … and what options I had. Clearly the house had to go.

I put the house on the market (it was easier then), then took the intermediate step of putting everything in storage and moving in with a friend. Where I’d live next would come with time.

Throughout that process, the healthiest thing I did was to keep looking forward. Not looking back and thinking about what I had lost. What was behind me … the fulfilled dreams and the not-yet-fulfilled dreams … went into a figurative box called “yesterday’s fond memories.” They were safely set aside to be taken out one day and revisited, when I could afford to.

And meanwhile, all my energy went into planning how to move ahead. What I envisioned. What my ideal was. What I’d accept as I waited for the ideal to arrive. The steps I’d take to get there.

And then I took the first steps.

When I look back to that winter of 2001-2002 and think of what I left behind, it is not wrapped in pain and loss. It’s wrapped in reality.

I took responsibility for what had gotten me where I was. I learned from everything. Then, except for the good bits, I let everything go. I did what I had to do in order to give myself the greatest chance to succeed.

Most important, I safeguarded the energies I’d need to reinvent myself. My next “incarnation.” My next home. My next business. My next life.

For many people, the past few years have meant giving up something, being forced to let go. Maybe you’re even still hanging on to something that’s very heavy and making it difficult to move forward.

My greatest advice is that, in order to move ahead … towards peace of mind in your finances … the lighter you travel, the better.

As my friend Carly said recently,

I have lost everything and nothing. All things LOST served their purpose. If we all looked at loss like this, we would realize what we have gained — we actually haven’t lost anything — for without those experiences we wouldn’t be who we are now …

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