Looks tasty, right?
Wait till you’re looking at these bad boys 3 meals a day, 6 weeks in a row.
To me, this looks like goosebumps on my forearms as I write this.
looks down to confirm
Yup, they’re still there.
Cue the PTSD.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Not the most appropriate quote, but its been my bosses’ flavor quote of the week, so unfortunately its now made its way here.
I’d just flown back to Manchester after my first Christmas break of university.
New calendar year, new academic semester.
As I thought about what I wanted to achieve before the summer, only one thing came to mind: leaving the Navy. Breaking my bond.
My previous experience working onboard a navy ship was a terrible concoction of culture shock, me being immature, superiors who were super stressed out and taking it out on their subordinates (i.e. me), and just overall low morale and a defeatist culture among the 30+ man crew.
“Is this what I signed up for? And I still have 6 more years?!”
I was determined to do something about it.
Earn enough money and get the hell out.
I searched for online platforms to trade stocks, and while exploring one of them, I get a call:
“Hi Eugene, I’m Christos from Alvexo, calling you from our main office in Cyprus. Thank you for signing up to our platform.”
I tell him I just want to trade stocks.
“You would need a Gold tier account, which means a minimum £10,000 deposit, to start trading stocks. For now, you can trade Forex. And if you want the kind of money you are thinking of, stocks won’t get you there anyway. Its too slow. With Forex, on the other hand, you can multiply your money in no time. And don’t worry, I will be here to teach you. Trade with you.”
Every day he would call, walking me through the world events that were happening that day, and which positions to open, which currency pairs to trade.
Hesitantly, I started off small - couple of hundreds. But Cyprus dude was relentless with the upsell game.
“If you want better spreads, better leverage, more tools for analysis, you need to deposit more money into your account.”
I increased the size of my positions.
Some wins here and there, but mostly losses.
And Cyprus dude would always have a reason why: “oh it’s because you didn’t consider this indicator” or “you didn’t factor in this other piece of news that came out”.
And I bought into it. Hook, line, and sinker.
£10,000 lost. That’s when it clicked for me that maybe the real problem was this shady Cyprus dude.
So I went to do my own research, buy books on Forex trading, learnt some key concepts, then set out a bunch of rules for myself to follow.
A disciplined, principled approach.
And it was doing well for abit - I earned back about £2,000.
Then Brexit came.
The law to make it reality was going to be signed.
And I was like ‘Mate there’s no way GBP would stay strong after the event’ and took up loads of big positions betting against GBP. Threw aside all the principles and broke all the rules I had set.
And I got burnt.
Lost the remainder of the money I had. A total of £20,000. Gone. Reduced to zero.
Literally got stopped out. Margin called.
I couldn’t continue even if I wanted to.
There was no more money to play with.
And the worst part? That wasn’t my money to play with in the first place. Those £20,000 were my next year’s university tuition fees.
Out of the Game
I had gambled away my tuition fees.
£200 left in my bank account.
And it had to last me till June, when I would fly back to Singapore.
3 more months.
So I set out to spend £1 a day. That’s it. I couldn’t go anything more than that.
Every morning, I would go to the Morrison's supermarket next to my flat, buy 1 pack of Digestives biscuits, which cost exactly £1, split it into 3 parts (~6-7 biscuits per part), then consume each part for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were the most filling thing I could buy with £1, hence the choice.
I would buy a new pack every day instead of mass-buying multiple packs because I wanted to get the ‘freshest’ biscuits. Bless me.
It took a toll on me.
Physically, I looked terrible. My cheeks were puffy, facial fat around my chin, acne breaking out.
Didn’t go for haircuts at the time because they were too expensive. £7? That’s a luxury good. Can’t afford that. I allowed myself 1 haircut from March to June. That was it.
My face was fat, but my body was scrawny.
I’m blessed with skinny genes, sure, but man, this was something else.
I got proper thin.
I looked gassed out all the time. Life drained out of me.
I wasn’t working out at all, because I felt that if I did, I would need to consume more food to compensate/recover for the burnt calories.
Mentally, I was in a really bad place.
First is the failure in itself. Losing 20k pounds effectively gambling on Forex markets. How was I so stupid to fall for this shit? Why didn’t I listen to my parents who warned me about forex before? Why didn’t I stop earlier, after losing the first 1-2k? Why didn’t I stick to the principled approach I developed near the end?
Second was the fact that the money was meant for my school fees. I needed to pay it before June, or else I would be kicked out of school, not being able to progress to final year. How was I going to solve this? Was there even a way out? I don’t even have money to earn more money. Maybe I could take up a part time job, try earning some cash before investing again?
Third was telling people about it. I was so embarrassed by the experience/ordeal/failure. I didn’t tell anyone for the entire 6 weeks. Maybe some people pieced it together, when my mood, my diet, and my social situation were all plummeting. But I don’t know.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents. We would Skype every week, and for the 6 weeks I would tell them that everything was okay. I’m studying hard, making friends, etc.
But everything was definitely NOT okay.
I was lost.
Wrecking my body, mind and spirit.
Eventually, after 6 weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. People were starting to get really concerned - ‘Eugene are you alright? You don’t look too good.’
Friendships were getting frayed.
No need to talk about relationships - that was the last thing on my mind.
I was losing it. Barely holding on.
I couldn’t keep this up for another 6 weeks. No way.
So I told my parents.
They took it really well, to be honest.
I think they could see that something was terribly wrong. They probably sensed it for a while now.
Eugene is typically able to keep up a strong front, able to solve and overcome the problems in front of him independently.
So if he calls for help, you know he’s in some deep shit.
And they pulled me out of it.
They sent over enough money to cover the school fees, and allow me to start eating decent meals again.
Nothing fancy - none of that Dim-sum buffet into vodka-fueled karaoke nights kinda stuff.
But enough for me to get to a better place.
Physically, emotionally, mentally.
I don’t think back or reminisce about this chapter of my life often - its probably only come up in conversations with my closest friends about 3-4 times in the 5 years since.
I suppose its a part of my life that I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want to live through that again, in my head. Of course, I wouldn’t want to go through that 6 weeks ever again IRL too.
But the silver lining is this - our failures define us. At least, they shape us pretty significantly.
And when I think back to this period of my life - 6 weeks of Digestives - I think about how it set me up for success later on. As weird as that sounds.
It taught me that if I could survive on £1 per day, I could endure a lot more than I thought.
I think Elon Musk had a similar thing where he went on a dollar a day for one semester in university.
We fear what happens if we lose our jobs, if the projects we work on fail, if our friends or partners leave us - but its episodes like this which teach you that in those times, you will find the strength within yourself to survive, and come out of it better.
There was a deep sense of satisfaction in seeing that in myself.
There was also a profound paradigm shift.
Do we need jobs that pay 100k a year? If it got reduced to 10k a year, would I be okay? How would I adapt?
We say we value security and stability, that’s why we slog it out in the 9-5 rat race. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think what’s really going on is we are driven significantly more by a FEAR of everything crumbling around us - our identities are so tied to our salary number, to arbitrary status symbols, that the thought of losing them is not just uncomfortable, but unbearable. Unthinkable.
So we never think of a life other than this sterile, comfortable one. We literally shut the thought out every time it tries to emerge.
But its the discomfort that helps us grow.
My relationship with the navy improved - I became more mature, learnt how to show up better, contribute more, and do decently well in the job.
I came to see my job and my bond in a better light - it was a choice that younger Eugene made, and future Eugene will make the best of his time there.
It may not be my favorite place to work at, but how bad can it be? Can’t beat 6-weeks Digestives bad, can it?
“Seek discomfort.” - Yes Theory
It was during those 6 weeks that the idea for Rats to Riches came to me. The profits from that endeavor have easily recovered the money lost from Forex, not to mention the myriad other benefits it brought in terms of creative expression, business experience, connections, leaving a legacy, etc.
I eventually paid off the debt to my parents, and when I felt ready to get back into investing, I did so with a much more principled approach - rethinking assumptions, putting my money in places that have immense upside, and sticking to my own convictions. Not needing anyone else.
Definitely not some shady Cyprus dude.
My recommendation isn’t for you to go on a 6 week Digestives diet - please don’t.
It is this: take a good look at your life. What material possessions are you afraid to lose? What would happen if you did lose them?
And if you are brave enough, try living as though they were indeed lost.
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: 'Is this the condition that I feared?” - Seneca
A sort of ‘Planned Suffering’. I haven’t done one in about a year, but I intend to have my next one soon.
Through the experience, you realize that you are a lot stronger than you think.
You can be content with a lot less than you’d imagine.
Not just content, but happy.
Truly, deeply, happy.
The kind that comes when you see the unconquerable depths of the human spirit. YOUR human spirit.
I’ll share more about my Planned Suffering Plans in a subsequent blog - so stay tuned! I’m hesitant to do an email subscription because it feels mainstream, inauthentic and low-key scammy. So for now, follow my social media 🙂 If you have ideas for how I could connect deeper or add value to avid readers of this blog, hit me up! Appreciate you reading all the way till here, I hope its been valuable for you!