The Cost of Maintaining Your Image

Imagine that you are on welfare. Every week you buy a lottery ticket for one dollar. Each week when you do your bookkeeping, you make entries indicating that for every ticket you bought, you won the lottery prize for that week.

At the end of the year, your income, according to your balance sheet using this system, is about half a billion dollars. Now imagine that when you file your tax return, the IRS congratulates you instead of pointing out your error or insanity.

Then imagine that tens of thousands of people pay you to buy lottery tickets for them because they think you have the golden touch. Sounds crazy?

A version of this unlikely scenario happened in the real world, with Enron Corporation.

You are probably wondering what you have in common with a large corporation that was the focus of a huge scandal. Read on, because as you will soon figure out, the same issues that lead to Enron’s demise can also plague and destroy our own lives.

Enron, a company that bought and sold natural gas and invested in electricity had a CEO that used what’s called “mark to market accounting.” This basically means that projected future earnings are put on the books as actual cash assets the moment a deal is made. Using the lottery example above, once you buy your lottery ticket for a dollar, if the prize is 7.5 million dollars, you would record that 7.5 million as your cash asset before the lottery numbers are even called.

Enron continued to use mark to market accounting and reported that it was making money, investing in winning projects and was poised to make more lucrative deals. It seemed to be doing great financially and attracted more investors.

In actuality, it was all a mirage and Enron didn’t have any money. In fact, Enron was in debt billions of dollars and the projects they invested in were unsuccessful. However, even though Enron lost money, the company recorded massive earnings that didn’t exist, and they hid their debts by not listing them.

Eventually, lies and deception were not enough to maintain the illusion of prosperity and the company collapsed. But not before the upper ranks cashed out their stock options while still defrauding investors and lying to the employees who lost their jobs and retirement pensions when the scandal was exposed.

The CEO was sentenced to 24 years in prison for fraud. The founder died from a heart attack after being found guilty of fraud-related charges. Another top-ranking employee went to prison and another committed suicide.

So what does this sad tale have to do with us?

Maintaining an image of prosperity and success is not a driving force only for large corporations. Individuals also face mounting pressures to manipulate the truth and to mishandle their finances in order to project an image of success in a culture that places such a high value on wealth and physical appearance.

Stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Should I really max out my credit cards in order to get a designer wardrobe for the workplace?
  • Should I go even deeper into debt for a luxury or sporty-looking vehicle?
  • Should I take on an unsecured mortgage so that I can get the best house possible even though I may have trouble making the payments?
  • Should I overdo it at the gym and adopt a diet that would make the average anorexic nervous?
  • Should I borrow more money to have cosmetic surgery?
  • Should I continue to have false relationships with people because I am invested in creating the illusion that I am more exciting or prosperous, at the expense of forming genuine friendships?
  • Should I continue to tell lie after lie while praying that my real self and life will not be discovered?

The stress of maintaining a false reality and the fear that our deceptions will be exposed, drive us to create more lies and spend more money in order to keep being perceived as a winner.

Ask yourself another question:

  • How long can I keep pretending that I’m something that I’m not?

Individuals continue to engage in these dangerous charades because they fall for the misconception that there’s no way back to an honest stability. That isn’t true.

  • Admit that you have a problem and stop playing the game.
  • Get your credit under control by changing your budget.
  • Accept that you can’t afford your house and sell it before you lose it.
  • Do the same thing with your car and buy a second-hand vehicle.
  • Stop lying to everybody and yourself about how fabulous things are.
  • Stop buying the lie that a false life is superior to a genuine life.

Take back your life before it’s taken away and you end up being the subject of humiliation or worse like the culprits in the Enron Scandal. Eventually, your secret will be revealed, just as if you were secretly addicted to sex, drugs, alcohol, or gambling.

You can’t win this game; you can only lose in the end. Quit and win back your self-esteem and freedom. Your soul will thank you for it. You will be able to see what you really have going for you, instead of your setbacks. Then you can begin to live a life that is honestly satisfying and be more spiritually fulfilled.

And then you really will be a winner.

(Source of Enron information: Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, 2005 documentary directed by Alex Gibney)

Other Articles by Advisor “Marshall Delaware”

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