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About the Author
Alan Corey is a well-recognized author, entrepreneur, and real estate investor. His debut book, A Million Bucks by 30, chronicled his first journey to riches as a penny-pinching real estate investor, bar owner, and reality-TV regular. His comedic and autobiographical tales of his finances have been heard or seen on more than 50 radio and TV shows, including CNBC's The Big Idea with Donnie Deutsch; CNN's Tips from the Top; ABC's Money Matters; Fox & Friends; and Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more at alancorey.com.
Read an Excerpt
I hope that after I die, people will say of me, "That guy sure owed me a lot of money."
— Jack Handy
At age 31, this was me:
Week 1: Sitting at home, unemployed, is awesome!
Week 2: Sitting at home, unemployed, is awesome!
Week 3: Sitting at home, unemployed, is awesome!
Week 4: Sitting at home and unemployed is the worst thing ever in the world. Please someone stab my eyes with a salted spork and kick my teeth in just to give me a different type of pain! I would not wish this horrendous boredom and depression upon my worst enemy (or any previous bosses). Please bosses, call me back and offer me a job! I promise to play slightly less Minecraft on company time!
So how did I end up here? After all, my parting words in A Million Bucks by 30 were, "Now at 29, I am in position to no longer have another boss again. I am financially comfortable, with multiple income sources, and I'm free to do as I please."
Now I am binge-eating crow, and it doesn't taste much like chicken — but a lot like burned tires and black feathers. How did I go from making that boastful declaration to requesting culinary eye torture just a year and a half later?
Well, it took a series of life-changing events. Many positive, some negative, some out of my control, but the combinations of them all led to my financial demise.
After "retiring" from my day job a month shy of my 29th birthday, I had envisioned living off the passive rental income I was earning from my house, money from my bar and restaurant, and hopefully some coin from book royalties. And that's exactly how I ended up — passive. Retirement now provided me entire days, entire weeks, and entire months to do as I pleased. I could go to the beach, travel, or just play video games all day. I was living the dream. But that dream quickly turned into a spiraling, bankrupting nightmare.
Like being unemployed, retirement was great for the first three weeks. Then out of nowhere, I became suffocated by boredom and overwhelmed by a sickening funk called depression. As an excuse to leave the house, I would spend three hours at the gym everyday just so I had something to do. (I may have been the first depressed guy ever in great shape. I imagined girls were like, "Damn, that unshowered emo guy's got a sick bod.") I'd be home by noon and just wait for my friends to get off work at 5 p.m. and pray someone would want to go out that night. (I am fully aware that I'm probably not gaining your sympathy, but hear me out.) Everyone I knew had to go to a day job 40 hours a week, so they weren't interested in staying out at the bars with me until 4 a.m. on a Monday. Or any other day of the week, for that matter. I had achieved my million dollar dream, but now that I had a whole new lifestyle, I found I no longer had anyone to share it with. So let this be a lesson for all you young future millionaires out there: don't befriend responsible adults with goals and dreams of their own. They will continue to be dedicated, determined, and focused on their goals even when you aren't. (I suppose if I had befriended the alternative, they would have just helped me spend my money faster.)
Yes, I could have volunteered, started a new project, or found something productive to do, but a depressed mindset has no motivation. It was hard enough to get myself to even go to the gym. I probably really belonged at a Left Bank café in 1920s Paris, with fellow expat existentialists bemoaning the banality of bourgeois existence. As the only 29-year-old I knew with no daily responsibilities, no deadlines, and endless hours of the day to burn, I was becoming a waste of flesh. I couldn't even do retirement right. Surely of all places, New York City would have other young retirees with these same rich guy "problems" as me, and we could be best buds, but I never found someone sharing my similar utopian pain. Plus, rich twenty-somethings seem to be such an egotistical and annoying bunch that, had I met one, I probably would have instantly wished for some sort of financial hardship to come their way.
So I started doing something that I had never done before. I became a reckless and aimless retiree by spending money. I started spending money like I had endless riches. I figured I was finally a millionaire and wanted to act like it. I had earned it after all. I started buying drinks for everyone at the bar. Anyone. Also, getting the bills for dinners became a thing. I had a reputation to uphold as the published bloke that was young, rich, and lucky. Why not share the wealth?
I justified it by thinking, "Why did I work so hard for all these years if there wasn't some satisfying reward in the end?" So I kept spending, and it entertained me during this slow period of my life. I was buying my happiness. And then when the spending stopped, the boredom and depression returned. And then I went out and spent some more money to give me something to do. I was in a cycle of blowing money and feeling down, one temporarily canceling out the other. It was a fruitless effort with no lasting satisfaction. (I imagine this is what being a Kardashian is like, but way less money. And way less booty. And minus the depression part. Well, probably nothing like them at all, thankfully.)
During this time, my bar and restaurant was spinning its wheels and just breaking even. Yes, I owned a dive bar and a restaurant, but my state of mind meant I began neglecting it. (Cue the world's smallest violin playing the coolest song you've never heard before.) The economy had soured, and everyone was in fear it would continue tanking, and it eventually did. Even in NYC, eating out became a luxury, and no one wanted to spend their savings in a dive bar. Because it wasn't earning the extra cash I envisioned it would with my hands-off management, I decided to sell the establishment that helped make me a millionaire. I had fallen out of love with it, and I was ready to move on. I sold it in an extremely down market and then split the pittance I made with my business partner.
Also, I quickly learned that living off book royalties is a feat only achieved by a handful of authors who sell millions of books a year. By comparison, I'll probably never sell 50,000 books in a lifetime. (You'll know when I do because I'll write 50,000 Books by 90!) I did have potentially lucrative movie, TV shows, and more in the works, but nothing came from them besides countless meetings that all ended with no approved budget. The media industry was also counting its pennies and tightening its pocketbooks. Its reasoning for not moving forward was that during our current depression, people wanted to turn to their TVs to forget about things like a sagging economy, money management, and personal finance. Apparently, depressed people want to watch really depressing things, like Toddlers and Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, or any other crap on TLC. (And to think TLC was once The Learning Channel.) Obviously I disagreed and thought this is the moment demand for personal finance would be the highest, but I finally came to the understanding it was out of my control and that things weren't looking bright financially speaking on that front either.
But then came good news. I met and married the girl of my dreams. (She married the man of her reality.) We both wanted a special ceremony and preferred a destination wedding. We came up with a $10,000 budget for the entire wedding and made the numbers work for us to have it as a week-long affair in Costa Rica. We had about 40 friends and family join us for the best time we've ever had. Returning to the United States as an officially wedded couple, we both wanted one thing: to start a new life in a new house.
With five months notice, I kicked out my roommates and tenants from my two-family house (and their monthly passive income along with it) to do a complete gut renovation of my only remaining asset. As attached to it as I was, I couldn't live in a bachelor pad anymore. The globes of dust balls, the permanent bath tub rings, and the floor-to-ceiling stack of discarded boxes had somehow now lost their allure. It was time to be mature! Like many home renovations, this project was an instant money pit. A starting budget of $250,000 eventually doubled due to hidden surprises found under every floor and behind every wall, along with countless project delays, and of course, the excitement of upgrades. "Might as well do it spectacular if we're going to do it," was my idiotic refrain. (Not so mature!) So yes, I had a dream home in the end, but this dream alone cost me over half of my net worth and completely wiped out every penny in my savings, checking, and investment accounts. My only asset now was a newly renovated home in a historic housing market collapse. I felt like a King of Garbage Mountain.
Throughout my financial implosion, I did find ways to earn a few bucks here and there. Because I "retired" and was not laid off, I could not collect government-issued unemployment checks like my other jobless friends received. So income from my day job just completely ceased the day I walked away as a tech support operator. What did work in my favor was that I happened to retire right about when the company hit a huge growth spurt. They called me and begged me to return as a contractor as they were overwhelmed with work. I accepted and temporarily worked as a contractor for a few months. I was paid hourly at twice the rate I was making when I worked as a full-time employee. But I was too proud to ask for a full-time job back. I couldn't admit it to myself that retirement was the dumbest thing I could have ever done. Instead with this contractor setup, I was able to finagle myself into working overtime pretty much every week just to make sure I made ends meet. They loved having me there as much as possible, and I definitely needed the money. This contracting gig was a saving grace for three months, until the company was bought and I was made redundant. Although I hated to see it end, I learned a lot about early retirement, contracting, and negotiating when you have leverage. I also learned the lesson that I shouldn't be ashamed to come crawling back to my job. As they say, shit happens. I should have taken that shit and turned it into compost to reap beautiful rewards. Instead, my own internal shit cost me the chance to get my $55,000 gig back.
So I was paycheck-less once again. Conveniently enough, this was just about the same time my wife and I became pregnant. (Well, her more so than me.) As my need to take care of my soon-to-be expanding family kicked into high gear, I went on a resume-bombing session and spammed every job listing I could. I had not job hunted in almost a decade, this was a whole new world for me. My tech support job was my first real job out of college, and I'd had it ever since. Besides my tech support experience, my resume was filled with random entrepreneurial endeavors I did for extra cash when the economy was booming. Those gigs had long dried up. Now I just needed any job, so I didn't even bother reading the online listings. I figured it was just law of averages on my side that there had to be a fit somewhere for me, eventually. So I sent my resume everywhere. For everything.
After a few weeks, I actually got one interview that was completely below my skill set, but I needed some sort of income, so I went to check it out. It was for a customer service manager job at an online electronics company. After a lengthy interview with the CEO, I got offered the job and spent the next week subversively negotiating the best incentive-laced contract ever. I was really proud of myself. The bad news was that my salary was for $40,000 — the same starting salary I had nine years prior. That was all they could offer, but I was quickly building a good rapport with the CEO, and we both knew he was getting a good deal if I accepted the job.
After some prying, I figured out his main concern. The company's online approval ratings on various e-commerce platforms were directly related to sales. The better customer service ratings they had, the more orders they received. Because online retail was a highly competitive business, a few percentage points could be a difference between hundreds of thousand dollars by the end of the year.
So I bargained with him that if I got customer service ratings up from the current 93 percent to 97 percent within my first year, they retroactively pay me as if I had been paid $75,000 from day 1? We both knew that would be worth it to the company, and I felt like the CEO thought that was an impossible task. Obviously, I didn't know how possible or impossible the task was, but I knew I needed more than $40,000, and I wasn't sure how easily the company gave raises, promotions, or bonuses. I pitched my proposal and crossed my fingers.
After thinking it over, the CEO, who was very skeptical, eventually agreed to my retroactive salary pitch. He said I reminded him of himself when he was "young and hungry." I was more accurately old and hungry, but I didn't correct him. I returned the next day to work out the nitty-gritty of the contract. His stipulations were that I couldn't increase the staff count, I had to accept a few additional responsibilities outside of customer service without neglecting my main customer service responsibilities, I couldn't take a day off during the holiday rush between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and I still had to be employed as the customer service manager within one year of signing my employment contract (so I would not take a new role within, leave the company, etc.).
I accepted and jumped at the challenge ahead of me, and immediately went to work at reaching my customer-approval goal. Like anything, if I can turn this into a game, it becomes fun. And there is always a need to find day jobs fun. Getting to 97 percent was a high-stakes game: if I won, I had a $35,000 bonus at the end, almost doubling my salary. That's motivation right there!
My background in tech support trained me well for this job, as I knew customers wanted to hear sorry and be comforted whenever a call came in. Upset users of your product are a forgiving bunch, if you give them the chance. The current operation had a ridiculous policy of "never say sorry" that the CEO had implemented years before. According to Ali MacGraw in Love Story, love means never having to say you're sorry, but customer service? That's unheard of. My CEO thought sorry meant you are admitting wrong doing and the customer would mention all the wrong things you did in their online feedback. In reality, the feedback would be positive, because you had stepped up and took responsibility.
I eventually undermined, changed, or removed all of the other archaic, illogical, and unnecessary processes and procedures he had the customer support team doing. From the get-go, and rightfully so, he was nervous of me altering this highly important aspect of his company. Because of this, I never really earned his trust and compliance, even as our support ratings were drastically improving. To get anything done I had to make changes, train the team, and then keep it from the CEO. If he found out about my changes, I'd ask for his forgiveness later. I learned quickly that asking for his permission upfront to make a change would never get approval. I found that the biggest obstacle in me getting my big payday at the end was going to be him (whether intentional or not). We butted heads over every single thing he found out about. I spent many a late night in his office explaining myself and my actions. I was on a mission that would benefit both of us, if he'd just give me the time and freedom.
With my hard-fought changes to seemingly obvious improvements, it took only three months to get to 97 percent approval rating. I asked for a review and showed up in his office with detailed spreadsheets, positive emails from customers, and response time stats showing how great we were doing. He pointed out the contract still specified I had to take additional responsibilities, be working there for a year, and be around during the holiday rush when he needed me the most. I agreed that is what the contract specified and took on some additional projects he assigned me on the spot. For the most part, the customer service team was on auto-pilot with my new changes and they didn't need my oversight much anymore, so I went full throttle with the new assignments, counting the days until my big pay day.
Eventually November and December came and went with no time off, and our support approval ratings were now up to 98 percent, above what I had committed to doing. I was ready for my year-end review. I had worked there 364 days and was so excited to get his congratulations (he's not one to congratulate often). Of course, I really just wanted to get his approval to retroactively increase my salary. It was going to be the best New Year's present, and there was no doubt I had earned every milestone laid on in my contract.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Subversive Job Search"
Copyright © 2013 Alan Corey.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Millionaire Mudslide 19
2 The Resume Jungle 45
3 Career Test Drive 67
4 Making Excellent Company 91
5 How Jill Can Out-Earn Jack 109
6 Brand New Branding 127
7 Contractor Cash Cow 149
8 Recruiter Rodeo 171
9 Goal Line Pay Day 201
About the Author 223
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Subversive Job Search by Alan Corey. A honest and simple guide and also a very entertaining book to read. The author also laid out several easy steps to help in finding a better job or career. Any job hunter should take inspiration from this book -- therefore I highly recommend it!