Matt Weinstein: What Bernie Madoff Couldn't Steal from Me March 1, 2009
Motivational speaker Matt Weinstein talks about how he and his wife survived being defrauded of their entire retirement fund in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal.
This past December, I went on vacation in Antarctica on this ship, the Academic Yuffie - a Russian Ice Breaker. And it was an incredible voyage - gorgeous icebergs like floating works of art, and penguins running around all over the place, and just spectacular, spectacular scenery. And about half way through the trip I got a page to go up to the bridge for a satellite phone call, and I thought I knew what this was about. Before I left on the trip I had been working with the speaker's bureau on a series of dates, and they were supposed to call me if they needed my final approval on the deal. So I went kind of running up towards the bridge - up this steep flight of stairs - cause I knew these satellite phone calls were $10 a minute. And at the same time I'm thinking to myself, 'this is kind of cool - doing business in Antarctica. But when I pick up the phone, it's not the speaker's bureau - it was in fact my wife Jeanine. And she said a few words to me that just totally turned my world upside down. She said to me 'Bernie Madoff's been arrested. His entire fund is a complete scam.' And what she didn't have to say, but which both of us knew very well in that moment was, we had just lost our entire life savings. I felt really sick inside. Jeanine and I had both started out with nothing, worked really hard for 30 years. Built up our retirement fund, given it over to Bernie Madoff to invest - he was the former chairman of the NASDAQ - what could be safer than that? And it was gone - just like that. Turned out - Bernie Madoff stole $65 Billion; not all of it was mine however.
But it turned out to be the biggest financial scam in history - totally dwarfing anything like Enron or WorldCom. We both were really anxious about the future; we didn't know if we could afford to keep living in our house. Just everything was up in the air. And after a few minutes, one of us had the presence of mind to say to the other one, 'you know what? We are no longer the kind of people who can afford to talk on a Satellite telephone (audience: laughs) at $10 a minute.' So we hung up.
And as soon as I hung up just a wave of fear washed over me. You know wherever I've traveled in the world, I've always been able to get home during an emergency, but this was Antarctica - there was no way to get home. Now I did have some good friends on this ship, and of course I told them what was going on, and they were incredibly supportive. But you know, they were on vacation. I was thinking about Bernie Madoff 24/7, and they didn't want to be hearing "Madoff! Madoff! Madoff!" all the time.
Now two or three times a day we did get to go to shore on these rubber zodiac boats, and I thought 'okay, at least I can go out in nature, I can go see this beauty, it's really going to help me forget about what's going on.' But that didn't really work out, because every where I went all I could see was "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie."
As one of my friends later said, 'Matt finally traveled to the South pole, just in time to see his investments go even further south.'
Now you don't need to have invested with Bernie Madoff to be feeling the pinch of the current economic downturn. I dare say, there isn't one person in this room right now who's not feeling the effects of the economic meltdown, you know - whether your house is losing some of its value, or your stock portfolio is in free-fall, or you know someone who has lost their job, and you're not feeling too secure in your own job right now. Every where I go I hear the same things - people talking about slashing budgets, and travel restrictions and hiring freezes and everybody having to do more with less.
So stress is an everyday fact of life - everybody has it right in their face right now. But dealing with stress is not something that's unique to our generation - people have been thinking about it for a long, long time. And one of the people who has been a real solace to me during this time, is Epictetus, the stoic philosopher who lived nearly 2000 years ago, who said 'people are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.' In other words, it's not what happens to you that's important, it's how you react to it. Pain and suffering doesn't come from what happens to us - pain and suffering comes from the stories we tell ourselves about the consequences, about the future, about what's going to happen as a result of what happened. Or in another famous Epictetus quote - 'we cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them; we can always choose how we react.' And yes, Jeanine and I knew that Bernie Madoff had stolen our money. But it was up to us to make sure he didn't steal the rest of our lives.
The real wealth between people is created when we reach out to each other, make connections with each other, build a community together. And that kind of wealth doesn't disappear during an economic downturn. If anything it gets stronger and stronger. (audience: applause) Thank you.
You know, you hear everybody say that 'money can't buy happiness', but it's rare that you actually meet anybody who lives as though that's true in their life. I've been reading a book I really, really have been impacted by recently by Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard Psychologist, called Stumbling On Happiness, and here's what he has to say:
'We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships, and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We know that it is significantly more important than money, and somewhat more important than health.'
See intuitively, everybody knows that's true - love, connection, community - those are the things that are going to give us long-term happiness in our lives; much more so than anything that can happen with our bank account. So you don't need to be rich, in order to feel loved and appreciated in your life. You don't need to have a lot of money to make real human contact with other people. You don't need to have a big stock portfolio in order to feel creative and passionate and joyful and alive every day. In spite of the downturn in the economy, we all have the capacity inside for love, for joy, for connection.
Every single day, we have opportunity after opportunity to reach out, to connect, to build community. We can be doing it right here, right now, in this moment. Let's make the most of every opportunity. Thank you so much for this chance to be with you.
Eckhart Tolle stops by Google for a fireside chat with Bradley Horowitz. The subject is: "Living with Meaning, Purpose and Wisdom in the Digital Age."1 people like this