If it all went according to my parents’ perfect plan, I would’ve been riding horses, living in boarding schools, spending summers at overnight camps and, one day, working as a lawyer, just like my dad.
But at 5 years old, my destiny for this perfect, privileged life fell apart along with my parents’ marriage. They broke the news to us on the car ride home after my brother’s bar mitzvah. Bam! The silver spoon was yanked out of my mouth.
I moved from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment with my mother, who worked a couple of jobs and did her best to support us. My brother, 13 at the time, stayed with my father until he was kicked out for using drugs a few months later. When he moved in with us, my mother moved into my bedroom.
Money was always an issue. Child support was not enough. For years, I watched my mother struggle, and what little extra she managed to borrow, my brother would wrestle from her.
Finally, when I was 11, my mother remarried and it seemed like things would get better. But they didn’t. My stepfather got sick with cancer, and my mother had a nervous breakdown. Both of them were hospitalized.
That’s when all hell broke loose. My stepbrother and his friends, all drug dealers, took over our home. We had no money for food. My stepbrother told me we had to steal if we wanted to eat. He came up with a “divide and conquer” strategy, and I played along. I remember going into the supermarket one time with the task of stealing two steaks. Petrified, I forced myself to slide the frozen steaks up my jacket when no one was looking. I kept telling myself that this was a game, then walked slowly out of the store and into the car.
Photo Credit: Caroline White Photography
When my mom finally came home from the hospital, it was clear that she and I needed a fresh start. My stepbrother had gone to jail for robbing a Sizzler and my stepfather died from cancer, so we moved back to Philadelphia, near the neighborhood where I lived as a child.
In high school, I found a job at a designer clothing store outlet. But for a long time, every cent I made was spent on clothes or drugs to feel better. Thankfully, my aunt intervened before I graduated: When I confessed that I worried my past would get in the way of my dream of working in fashion, she told me: “You can be whoever you want to be.”
I took her words to heart. When I graduated from high school, I used money my aunt and uncle gave me to move to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was lucky to have a friend drive me in her VW bus, so I only had to pay for gas. I put myself through college, working long hours in retail and using my first credit card to get by — but I felt inspired by the possibility of a life I could build for myself.
After school, l worked hard to build that life. I became a window display designer, fashion editor/stylist and even started my own PR company. Eventually, I landed at Prada, working as a fashion publicist.
But as soon as I thought I’d finally made it, there was another obstacle: In 1996, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to face my biggest fears of failure. This took me on a road to find healing. I decided to move to Los Angeles in 2002 to follow another path.
I became a yoga instructor, while still keeping a foothold in my old life, working as PR director for a clothing line. Despite my success as a yoga teacher with full classes, private clients and a DVD, my relationship with money was still broken: My career success wasn’t translating into financial success.
Though I was earning a lot, I was struggling to save any of it because my childhood patterns were strong. After attending a weekend money workshop, I discovered why. I associated money with pain — so much so that when I had it, I spent it. I lived with the memory of my mother getting beat up for money. Money didn’t feel safe.
Changing my perception and my habits wasn’t easy, but eventually I learned to view money as my friend instead of an enemy by taking care of it. If I wanted to feel abundant, I would carry $100 in my wallet. But I would not spend it. When I was tempted to spend, I’d repeat mantras that money was safe for me to save. After awhile, I started to see results. I started to save more, invest, pay off debts and, unexpectedly, I began to feel better about money.
Around this time, I heard about a life coach, Marie Forleo, who transitioned from fashion to fitness to coaching. I was inspired by her story. I wanted to help others improve their lives by teaching them valuable life lessons, just as I had learned. So I enrolled in the year-long online coaching program Marie was offering at the time. It gave me the coaching support I wanted, along with the exact steps I needed to build an online business, make more money and transition into coaching.
Recently, it occurred to me I’m now making (and saving) more money than any of the women in my family ever did. Today I have a six-figure business as a spiritual life and career coach and even have an online training program for other coaches. But if I hadn’t faced up to my money issues, there’s no way I’d be where I am at today, getting paid a lot to do what I love — and saving much of it. Changing my relationship with money changed my life.
Hillary Rubin, spiritual life and career coach and creator of The Art of Becoming a Coach training program, helps women around the world create lasting change to live a more soul-fulfilling life. She’s been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Yoga Journal and Origin Magazine.