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FROM $50,000 IN DEBT TO AWARD-WINNING PHOTOGRAPHER LIVING IN SWITZERLAND
I overcame making the most difficult decision of my life in my mid-30s. I hunkered down and slowly rebuilt from scratch. In my early 40s, I accomplished getting out of the resulting debt from my divorce. When it was over, I had built a new life for myself, found happiness, and all this in a new country.
In every “About Me” page I’ve seen, people list their successes – what they’ve achieved, where they went to school, etc. My close friends and family have seen me at my highest highs and they have also seen me at my lowest low. This is my story, and I hope it gives you an idea of who I am.
SAN FRANCISCO HERE I COME
There are only 3 things I knew for sure after spending 5 years studying Electrical Engineering at California State University Northridge.
I did not want to stay in Los Angeles
I did not want to be stuck indoors designing someone else’s circuit boards
I did not want to wear a suit in 100-degree temperature
My heart was set on San Francisco, so that’s where I was headed. I was so determined to go there that I left the very evening of my graduation day.
A SUIT, A CAR, AND $1000
My graduation present from my parents was a suit. It was my first suit ever, and it would allow me to go on job interviews looking professional. I had saved up $1,000 from various part-time jobs throughout my college years, so I took that with me too. My crummy two-tone blue Ford Crown Victoria “Crown Vic” was barely able to make the journey, but I did manage to arrive safely.
Luckily my brother was living in San Francisco and he allowed me to sleep there. He was renting a tiny 1 bedroom apartment so I installed my desk at the far end of his little kitchen and made a sleeping area right behind it.
My full-time job was to get a job. I would wake up each morning at 7 am, get ready for my day, and spend 8 hours at my desk searching and applying for jobs that were looking for recent college graduates. The last thing I wanted to do was return home to L.A., proving my father right that I should have never left to find a job in San Francisco.
Fast forward a few years and I was rising as a Commercial Sales Engineer at a leading electrical distribution and control device manufacturer (in San Francisco!). This included selling everything from circuit breakers for small commercial buildings to conveyer belt motor controllers at large production facilities, like the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA, which at the time was called NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.)
One of the programs I devised to help improve the relationship with our newest distributor ended up being recognized in our company newsletter. This was circulated to all 40,000 employees nationwide. I managed to impress my boss’ boss, who wrote a brief note explaining how the company could use more people like me!
$20,000 WITHOUT Insurance
A few more years later I found myself married, living in Austin, and working as a Business Development Manager for a manufacturer of dissolved gas analyzers. Life seemed to be going well and so we decided to have children. 18 months and 4 miscarriages later, we learned my wife had PGD (Pre-determined Genetic Disorder). This meant it was far less likely she could bear children.
Thanks to advice from our doctors, and after spending 3 years saving our money, we opted to try IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). This would cost us $20,000 which insurance did not cover. Things seemed to be going well until Christmas Eve that year when we learned none of the embryos were viable and the doctors could not proceed.
SHOPPING TO FILL A VOID
Sometime later we moved to Europe after I had accepted a 2-year ex-pat opportunity, which had us earning US Dollars while spending Euros to live. Unfortunately, the exchange rate between USD and EUR was steadily moving away from being in our favor. My ex-pat contract didn’t accommodate this, and we found ourselves needing to borrow money to pay our basic living expenses, like food and rent.
This, combined with the emotional hole left by the failed in vitro attempt, and other factors, made the situation much worse. As I later learned, shopping to fill a void is one of the most insidious yet overlooked factors of compulsive spending.
After 6 months of soul-searching, and several consultations with experts in their fields, I made the most difficult decision of my life. I decided I needed to divorce. I would wake up at 4 am wondering how “we” were going to pay our rent, knowing my wife had not, and could not, see that we shouldn’t spend money we don’t have.
We were going further into debt, and I was the only one bearing the weight. I realized my wife and I were no longer on the same team (and it had been like that for quite a while already).
REBOOT, START AGAIN
When I woke up in my tiny studio apartment I scanned the room and realized it was like I went back in time to when I first graduated. The bookshelves looked the same, and the items on the shelves were the same few things I treasured the most (some books, photos, and my childhood Snoopy). Most of the other material objects were gone, which was fine with me, and I needed to figure out where to go from there.
This was the first day of a new chapter in my life. A reboot. I got up, turned on the computer at my desk, and started making a plan for paying back the $50,000 I was somehow now solely accountable for paying back. To make matters worse, my salary would be split in half for the next 6 months due to alimony payments. Then, I would be free.
FROM ANSEL ADAMS TO MILKY WAY SELFIE
Photography has been one of my hobbies since I was a teenager. I suppose my father, a big Ansel Adams fan, influenced me. I recall one road trip to Death Valley National Park where he would set up his huge wooden tripod to take black-and-white photos just like Ansel Adams had so long ago.
What I enjoy most about photography is the aspect of playing with time. In one photo, I can capture much more than a single moment. I can leave the shutter open and allow time to pass while recording it all in one frame. I do this at night and during the day, thanks to a neutral density filter that limits the amount of light entering the lens.
I eventually made my way into astrophotography. I enjoy overcoming challenges, and astrophotography is certainly at the extreme end of challenging ways to capture images. I now spend hours capturing the fine details of distant galaxies and faint nebulas. My photographs have earned several awards, including
Curator’s Selection Award
Top Shot Award 22
People’s Choice in Wide-Angle Views
Today I’m happily (re)married and living in Switzerland. I work as an IT Project Manager at an independent international non-governmental organization. Phew, that’s a mouthful, I know. I continue to pursue my passion for astrophotography.
I have traveled all around the United States, to dark-sky locations in California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, etc. Currently, I’m learning how to overcome the challenges of light pollution in Europe to bring out more details in my astrophotos.
This website is my way of giving back to the community of amazing astronomers and fellow photographers who have helped me in my journey so far. I am learning and improving every day. The articles I write and share on this website allow me to go back to basics, to understand better, so that I can help and inspire you to be your own Astro Rover!
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story, and I hope the story of your life is filled with wonders.
If you would like to send me a message, then please visit my contact page.
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