Ever had someone treat you terribly, turning your life upside-down and leaving you feeling foolish and dismayed?
Last year, we faced a setback when a builder absconded with $37,000 of our savings. Despite the initial pain, looking back now fills me with deep gratitude.
I’ve come to see this setback as the ‘life tax’—a unique and unfortunate event that inevitably crosses your path, simply as a consequence of being alive. Virtually everyone I know who has navigated life’s complexities has encountered their own version of a ‘life tax’—whether through a business failure, a misguided financial investment, or some other form of loss.
Adopting this perspective has proven incredibly useful, helping me learn from a tough situation. It not only imparted invaluable lessons but also paved the way for an unexpected opportunity!
“BUILD AN EXTRA ROOM” WE THOUGHT!
We built a four-bedroom house with the dream of having three children. Fifteen years later, with a young lady and two growing teenage boys, what felt like a spacious home is now bursting at the seams. When I permanently exchanged an office in the city for a home office, we were left one room short, and the boys were not keen to room-share long-term!
Our first idea was to build an extra room as a ‘simple’ renovation. A series of builders provided an estimate of $70,000. After the government stimulated the building industry during lockdown, the same builders provided a quote of $180,000. Way out of budget. After an 18-month process and thousands of dollars of sunk design costs, we reluctantly went back to the drawing board.
The ‘better’ plan was to buy a free-standing prefab studio—a small box with a bathroom and windows. We found a local building company that promised it would be fast and cost-effective. But given rising material costs, we needed to sign a contract and pre-pay half the build—$37,000 in total—in advance. We didn’t realise this was illegal or that our builder had a string of commitments that he was struggling to fulfill.
Over the next six months, promises were made and not delivered. We received an email ‘regretfully’ informing us that our money had been spent elsewhere. No phone call. No conversation. No apology. We have never seen or heard from our now-bankrupt builder again.
TURNING PAIN INTO LEARNING
We were livid. We had lost a lot of cash, and I struggled to sleep that week. I felt mad, sad, and confused about what to do next. We had to tell our kids that we were back to square one, again!
But now, with the gift of time, our ‘life-tax’ has been a gift, because of what it taught us.
1. Forgiveness is Healing
Forgiveness is never easy, even harder when it is purely one way. Our builder never answered phone calls, leaving no exchange of words or sense of ownership for mistakes made. And yet forgive we must.
Someone once suggested that “unforgiveness is like eating rat poison and hoping that the other person will die.” So true. I felt so justified in my anger, but all this was achieving was a sense of victimhood, a lack of sleep, and the fleeting pleasure of imagined revenge. None of these things lead to life, and the only person who was suffering was myself. You cannot hold unforgiveness without it hurting you.
The process of moving from disbelief to anger, to revenge, to forgiveness, took a few weeks to eventuate. In the past, it would have taken months, or maybe a year. Like building muscles, forgiveness is something we must practice and get better at over time. This is not the first time I have had to practice forgiveness. I started by praying a daily mantra that I learned through my faith tradition – “I choose to forgive X for Y…” I remembered that I have also been forgiven for the mistakes I have made. Even still, the feelings took a long time to follow. But it began with a choice to forgive, repeated habitually until the feelings followed.
Months later, when the Ombudsman’s office asked us to make a statement for retribution on our builder, we declined. There is no rat poison left in my system. It leaves me better placed for the next time I need to stretch my forgiveness muscles.
2. Productivity Skills Unblock Pain
It’s one thing to accept and let go, but we still needed an extra room! And we were out of time and short of cash. How do we find a way forward?
As a productivity consultant, I teach people how to achieve complex goals. So one night when I couldn’t sleep (in the first week of hearing the bad news), I opened my to-do list and started to brainstorm solutions:
- Sell and move house?
- Buy a ‘tiny home’ shipping container?
- Rent an office in the city?
- Design a permanent division in our boys’ bedroom?
- Ask friends for fresh ideas?
By mapping out ideas and taking small steps, eventually a solution emerged to help us move forward!
That solution? Buy a second-hand caravan for my daughter to live in. She loves it! It has been encouraging to know that productivity skills can help unblock even the most complex of problems.
3. It Could Be Bad or It Could Be Good
In the end, something ‘bad’ turned out to be ‘good.’ This is how life often works if we take the long view. Hidden within seemingly painful situations are seeds for a better future.
Once we had made the decision to buy a caravan, we needed help. To our joy, we could draw upon our community of friends who were willing to help! I am amazed at how generous our friends and neighbours have been—helping us buy our caravan, excavate our landing pad, and navigate finances.
A silver lining is a friendship built with one of our neighbours in the process. Paul is a beautiful soul, and after hearing our story, he donated his weekends to help me build retaining walls, garden steps, and infrastructure for the caravan. Work and beer – it’s a good mix for a new friendship—one that would not have been built had I not been fined a ‘life-tax.’
Finding Good In Hard Circumstances
Given the choice, I would not change a thing.
Through my life-tax, we have learned skills in how to forgive and let go. I have been reminded that breaking down complex tasks can solve problems beyond work. I have a new friend and the warmth of knowing we have a community of friends when times get tough.
Hopefully, I will be able to remember these lessons the next time a ‘life-tax’ comes my way.
Now, I’m curious – have you ever experienced the challenge of a ‘life-tax,’ and what lessons did you learn?