Joel's Note: This is a guest post from Raam Dev.
Shortly before my 21st birthday, I took advantage of a special first-time home buyer program and began investing in real estate.
Over the course of three years, I purchased three multi-family properties, all of which were to be long-term investments, a means of ‘securing my future' so that I could eventually travel the world.
The properties were rental units and the income from the rent paid for the mortgages. If the rent was not paid by the tenants, I couldn't afford to pay the mortgage. So maintaining fully rented properties was of utmost importance.
It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
Shortly after purchasing one of the properties, all of the tenants – who told me they'd stay after I became the new landlord – decided to move out. I was left with an empty property and a several thousand-dollar mortgage payment looming over my head.
I had purchased this particular property at a discount because it was distressed. As a result, the units needed work before I could rent them again. So, I emptied my savings to pay the mortgage and worked every day for three months straight to renovate all three floors, completing all of the work myself to save money.
After completing the renovations, I placed ads in the local newspaper and then spent several weeks showing the units and interviewing tenants. Eventually, I collected security deposits for the units. Three families were ready to move in at the end of the month.
In the middle of winter – and just two weeks before all three tenants would move in – a blizzard with howling winds and sub-zero temperatures dumped several feet of snow on the area.
After the storm, I went to check on the vacant property and clear away the snow from the steps and sidewalk. When I entered the building, I heard something very strange.
It sounded like a waterfall coming from the back of the house. I ran to the back and discovered that a water pipe on the third floor had frozen and cracked.
Water was flooding all three units and pouring down like a waterfall. There were pools of water several inches deep in the bedrooms and, as I stood there, watching my three months of hard work literally being washed away, I realized that I had two choices: overreact and get stressed out or stay calm and simply do what needed to be done.
Making Conscious Choices and the Value of Emotional Detachment
The natural response was to overreact and get stressed out. I was attached to all the hard work I had done. As I stood there, all the time and energy I put into this property was being destroyed, literally washed away in a few short minutes.
The second option required emotional detachment. It required letting go of the past and staying present, responding calmly to the situation and moving forward.
The second choice seemed far more practical, so I consciously choose that one.
After getting the water turned off and calling the insurance company, I hired several contractors. Within a week, all three units had been restored and were ready for the new tenants. They had no idea what just happened.
As if that lesson wasn't enough to teach me the value of detachment, a few weeks later I received a voicemail from the insurance company telling me that, despite their verbal assurance that I was covered for the damage, broken water pipes were in fact not covered.
The $16,000.00 owed to the contractors was now on my shoulders.
This lesson of emotional detachment seemed to present itself over and over in the years that followed. Eventually, the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007 caused me to lose all three of my investment properties and file for bankruptcy.
At each step along the way, with every challenging situation that presented itself, the practical response was always the same: simply remain detached and respond to the situation at hand.
Those experiences led to my continued expulsion of material possessions and the rise of freedom and simplicity in my life. Every possession, goal, or idea that I released seemed to create a freedom-high.
As this happened, I began to see what really mattered to me.
I was saving money, creating investments, and climbing the career ladder for one goal: to eventually have the financial security to travel the world. But if I had remained attached to my idea of how to achieve that goal, I wouldn't be living out of a small backpack and traveling the world right now.
The Biggest Lesson Learned
Whenever I've been attached to people, ideas, outcomes, or goals, the result has always been an over-complication of my life. The less attached I am to things, the easier it has been to simplify. So emotional detachment is the core principle that has added simplicity to my life.
When I became attached to my career path, I began to lose sight of what actually mattered to me. When I became attached to making money and ‘securing my future,' my life quickly turned into a scattered mess of jobs and investments that sucked away my time and energy.
Only by releasing emotional attachment to those things did I discover true flow. Only by releasing attachment did I discover the true beauty and power of simplicity.
Raam Dev is an explorer, thinker, and world traveling nomad. You may catch him crafting words in a cafe, running barefoot through a forest, or lost deep in thought wondering what it all means. Discover his latest work on RaamDev.com.