true WELLth Podcast: Manisha Thakor Episode Transcript

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Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones. Brighton Jones is the financial wellbeing firm that helps you align your wealth, your passions, and your purpose. Learn more about how you can live a richer life at BrightonJones.com.

Manisha Thakor:

Sometimes people ask me, “Is there anything you’re afraid of as you look forward into retirement?” And I’m afraid, I don’t know how to be a human being. I have been a human doing for so flipping long.

Manisha Thakor:

I started striving when I was in grade school, and I think I have a fear. Do I even know how to connect with people anymore? Do I know how to think about causes and contribute to things that are bigger than me anymore? And even something as basic as do I know how to have fun? So I think that actually is probably what I’m most scared about as silly as that may sound. Can I be a human being instead of a human doing?

Stan Hall:

Hello and welcome to the true WELLth podcast. This week, we have some bittersweet news. Our dear host Manisha Thakor is taking the leap into retirement. Don’t worry, true WELLth will still continue in its normal capacity, bringing in wellbeing experts that give you fresh perspective on aligning your time and money with your passions and purpose.

Stan Hall:

However, before we embark on this new chapter in our show’s story, we thought it would be prudent to turn the mic onto Manisha one last time, and have Manisha give her story and perspective of finding her own true wellth.

Stan Hall:

For those of you who don’t know Manisha, to say she’s accomplished would be an understatement. Manisha checks just about every box when it comes to what we think of as the traditional definition of accomplishment. High school valedictorian, MBA from Harvard, cutting her teeth working on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs, becoming a certified financial planner, starting her own investment practice centered around women, selling said investment practice, author of two books, multiple time guest on national media outlets, a professor, getting the coveted dot head illustration in the Wall Street journal, director of financial education at a national finance firm, hosting this podcast.

Stan Hall:

And I guarantee I miss some. However, what a checklist of accomplishments doesn’t tell us is the extremely personal struggles that an individual is faced with. More importantly, what they had to sacrifice and endure.

Manisha Thakor:

So I grew up in a small town in Indiana, and I was one of a handful of minorities in town. I’m mixed race, and I used to babysit for this woman who I thought was just the height of chic because she had the Talbots catalog on her coffee table.

Manisha Thakor:

And she had gone to a college named Wellesley and her husband had gone to a college named Princeton. And these were all just very foreign worlds in the town where I grew up and she encouraged my parents. I was a solid student. I was the valedictorian of my high school and she encouraged my parents to take a look at some of these East coast schools.

Manisha Thakor:

And so I ended up going to Wellesley College to do my undergrad and Wellesley is a major feeder into the business world and into business schools. And I went from Wellesley to Harvard Business School. And at Wellesley, a lot of alums come back to campus and talk about their careers in finance. And so that was another piece of the mix that got me to be on this path.

Stan Hall:

And that path being your career in finance?

Manisha Thakor:

So my career got started in finance in a room at Goldman Sachs. I was interviewing for an investment banking job right out of undergrad. And I remember this clear as day. It’s like one of those intense interview days, there they put you through like 12 interviews in a day.

Manisha Thakor:

And towards the end of the day, I was in with this guy and he looked at my resume and was like, “You look like a social worker. Why do you want to work at an investment bank?” And I remember so clearly telling him that money gives people and especially women voices and choices. And I wanted a seat at the table to make a difference going forward, and in order to do that, I knew I needed to have a sound financial foundation.

Manisha Thakor:

And it was so funny. He was like, “All right.” He moved onto the next question. And that’s how I got started. So throughout the 90s and into the arts, I feel like I had a very surreal experience. It was the kind of the heart of the belly if you will of the whole Gordon Gekko, greed is good mindset on Wall Street.

Manisha Thakor:

And I was proudly right there with my colleagues working these insane hours, 80 plus hours a week. And it was, I mean I can remember, I had even before Steven Jobs was famous for doing his black turtlenecks, I had like my power outfit. I would wear my black St. John suit and my black shoes, and my hair pulled back in a bun. So I looked as gender neutral as I possibly could, they didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing each day.

Manisha Thakor:

And I would go into the office in the mornings and sometimes have no idea if I was coming home at night, pulling an all nighter or just a small 14 hour day. And I felt like, many people love the world of finance, but I found it for me to always be a means to an end and not always in a healthy way for a huge … Well actually to be honest for that entire part of my life, I quite literally defined my self worth by my net worth.

Manisha Thakor:

At business school we talk about like, “What’s your number?” And your number and Brighton Jones speak is your BFA. The point at which your vocational freedom analysis indicates that you can stop working if you want. And I was so obsessed with hitting my number and that was who I was. And then I hit my number and I just kept going. And it felt like I’d almost gotten stuck into a cult where all that mattered was making more money.

Manisha Thakor:

And the girl who wanted to make a difference with the money when she had a seat at the table got lost somewhere. I’m grateful that I was extremely well compensated. And on the other hand, I do feel an awful lot of guilt because I’m not sure what meaningful value I provided in my pre Brighton Jones years.

Stan Hall:

Regular listeners of the show know that the feeling Manisha is allocating here is a common motif among our guests. And sadly, too many of us can relate to the concept and grind of the false promise of self actualization through the accomplishment of a singular goal.

Stan Hall:

Many times we end up doing way more damage to ourselves and wellbeing when striving for that singular goal at the expense of everything else. Not unlike the myth of King Midas, who though was already a King to a very rich city state, wanted to achieve even more wealth and in doing so ask the gods to turn everything he touched into gold.

Stan Hall:

And from the lens of wealth accumulation, Midas was definitely richer. Golden palace walls, golden bed, golden chariots, all gold, everything. But Midas soon realized that the golden loaves of bread and golden grapes would crack his teeth and keep him from eating.

Stan Hall:

And though richer than anyone else, he could not enjoy parties or even hug his daughter. Poor Midas was nowhere close to happiness.

Manisha Thakor:

So it’s interesting when I was at business school, people would talk a lot about your FU number, which is the number that you can just go off and do whatever the heck you want. So like many people who enter into finance, I was really fixated on, and I’m not particularly proud of this, but I was really fixated on how much I was earning and growing my net worth, and that whole set of activities basically resulted in quite literally my self worth being defined by my net worth.

Manisha Thakor:

And when I look back at that period, and I think what made me happy, I have this memory of on weekends in Houston and there’s a coffee house I used to go called Brazil on Saturday mornings. And the staff actually called it my table. I would just sit there for hours. I’d buy a scone and a cup of coffee, and I would read a book and I would lose myself in the sunshine that would stream through the window.

Manisha Thakor:

And I was able to make that scone and coffee last for like three hours. And it was the high point of my weekend, just getting lost in books and learning. And that really is my only memory of “fun” during all of those years of working. All the rest of the time, it’s like a gigantic blur.

Manisha Thakor:

I feel like that was because my values had just gotten completely, they jumped the rails. I still was not able to put joy into my life. I kept focusing, I had one speed, which was always on or always off. And in retrospect, I now know what was causing that.

Manisha Thakor:

It turns out I’m bipolar, bipolar II. And what would happen is that my mania would present itself as extreme workaholism and that’s why I didn’t get appropriately diagnosed until I was in my mid 40s because in the financial services industry, working like a maniac and staying awake and in the office til 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, or pulling all nighters, that’s not considered crazy, that’s considered being a good employee, especially on the institutional side.

Manisha Thakor:

And so for years I had these twin forces. I was affected very much by the institutional financial services industry, which puts so much emphasis on wealth creation and very little discussion on wealth distribution, at least at the time that I was working in it.

Manisha Thakor:

And on top of that, I had a mental illness that I was unaware of that was taking the natural propensity to work a lot, that you had just from being in the environment of institutional financial services, and leveraging that up to an unbelievable level in my manic periods, which would go on for quite some time, I would just be working literally around the clock, which ultimately caught up with me physically.

Stan Hall:

How so?

Manisha Thakor:

Okay. Physically the toll that all of this took on my body came in a couple of different parts. It wasn’t like, I had a heart attack and suddenly woke up and realized, “Oh, I need to change my life.” The first real trigger was, I had gone on a motorcycle trip with my ex husband, and we had gone through the jungles of Lao’s.

Manisha Thakor:

And unfortunately at the very end of the trip, I got bit by an infected mosquito and came down with a really nasty case of dengue fever, so much so that I almost died. I was in and out of a hospital for a month and then on bed rest for three months.

Manisha Thakor:

And that shook me up, the brush with death. I literally can remember the second time I was admitted to the hospital. I was chattering, my teeth were chattering like one of those cartoon characters and they kept layering me, the nurses with these hot blankets. And I just couldn’t stop shaking.

Manisha Thakor:

And I thought I was going to die, and I could tell that the rest of the doctors thought I was going to die too. My family was called in and they flew in from the East coast. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is how it’s going to end.” And it’s really true, nobody thinks on their death bed that they wished they had worked more.

Manisha Thakor:

And I just remember thinking how sad that I’m … This is my moment of reckoning and realization that it’s not a platitude, just eerily is real. And now I’m going to die. And long story short, I didn’t die. Thanks to some wonderful doctors who figured out exactly what was going on. I’m still here, but I didn’t learn my lesson right away. Old habits are hard to kick, and so I kept pushing and pushing and pushing.

Manisha Thakor:

And there’s only so much your body can take when you’re constantly living in an always on fight or flight mode. And I think so much of the modern capitalist world can put us in that place and good things can come out of it, right? We can create businesses and products and services that really make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Manisha Thakor:

But when that motivation comes solely from a place of money or collecting some benefit simply for yourself, I think that created with the energy of physically what’s happening to your body when you’re stressed and you’re constantly taxing your adrenal system, can be very dangerous. And that’s pretty much what happened to me.

Stan Hall:

So Manisha made some huge life changes though, not overnight. She decided she wanted to leave the world of institutional finance and all that stress and pursue a more fulfilling role, helping individuals with their finances.

Stan Hall:

Manisha also decided that she needed a change of scenery. And after a quick stent and a dozen or so of Airbnbs across the world, staging cities and critiquing their coffee shops. She finally landed on Portland, Oregon. And soon after started her job at Brighton Jones.

Manisha Thakor:

One of the things as I reflect back on my career that’s so ironic is I land at Brighton Jones, which has been the happiest chapter for me has … I’ve just never been in an environment that is so aware socially, emotionally, physically, and financially.

Manisha Thakor:

And I attribute that to the leadership of John Jones and Charles Brighton who really have created the most unique firm culture I’ve ever experienced. And on top of that, what I believe to the tips of my toes is the single best client experience out there.

Manisha Thakor:

And yet wouldn’t, you know what, my health issue started creeping back up. The damage that the dengue fever had done on my organs combined with this constant pushing left me in a state of having what I thought was a complete falling apart of my body. And in some ways it kind of was. I had acute Epstein-BARR and exceptional levels of inflammation.

Manisha Thakor:

And so we were trying to figure out really what was at the root of all of this auto-immune flare ups that I was having. And there’s so much we still don’t know about the effects of stress, the effects of various different viruses layered on top of each other. But if you stir together the dengue fever I had and the damage it did on some of my organs, and then you stir in a 25 year career full of manic energy, literally and figuratively around work. And then it appears from antibody tests that I’ve had mono several times.

Manisha Thakor:

In classic finance fashion, I didn’t know what I had powered through. It finally caught up with me so much so that it presented itself, not just as a normal case of mono, this go around, it presented itself as wildly acute Epstein-Barr to the point that I can remember Stan, us trying to tape some episodes of true WELLth in the studio in Seattle, and I would have to go into the wellness room and like nap for three hours in between sessions, because I literally could not keep my eyes open.

Manisha Thakor:

And at the peak, I was able to stay awake about five hours a day. And so finally I had to take a medical leave and the firm could not have been more supportive. And I pretty much slept 18 or 19 hours a day of that entire leave because Epstein-Barr, it’s a virus, and you sleep and water and healthy food or what you do to get over it.

Manisha Thakor:

And for many people that stays in them for quite some time. So hopefully it won’t, but it’s possible. It could flare up in me again. And so just really realizing that, wow, one day you can go from being this vibrant, highly contributory person to someone who literally cannot keep their eyes open more than five hours a day.

Manisha Thakor:

And when I say that, I don’t mean, oh, I’d start to feel a little sleepy. I mean, it would hit and I was out. And out cold. And so I really came face to face with how quickly health issues can creep up on you.

Manisha Thakor:

And then while I was recuperating, I got healthy and better, and I was ready to dive back in with both feet and whew, Coronavirus hit. And I had several extended family members pass, not from Coronavirus, but pass unexpectedly.

Manisha Thakor:

And one was very close in age to me, it was ovarian cancer and less than a year from death to diagnosis. And so that just really hit me hard, especially in the context of all of the firm’s beliefs and what we do at Brighton Jones to help clients live a richer life. And my realizing that, if I look back over the last 25 years, my biggest happiness memories are eating this scone and reading a book in a cafe in Houston.

Manisha Thakor:

All my memories were around work. And so between my health and just the surreal environment of COVID, and then the real kicker for me were these deaths in my extended family that just came out of the blue and just really … I hate the cliche, life is not a dress rehearsal, but that’s honestly what I realized, how precious life is, and how the purpose of money is to align it with the things that bring you meaning and joy in life, not to just keep collecting more and more of it, but to align the way you spend your money and your time with what matters most to you in life.

Manisha Thakor:

And that’s what we do. Our laser focus goal for clients at Brighton Jones is helping them align the way they spend money and time with what matters most to them and life. And I realized I’d been fortunate enough to have solved the money piece of the equation, but I was not doing for myself what we routinely do for clients.

Manisha Thakor:

And it all stirred up to make me realize that it was time for me to go out and figure out what my richer life is meant to look like as I turn 50.

Stan Hall:

In some initial, what does your richer life look like now on a go forward or how are you thinking about it?

Manisha Thakor:

So, I am turning 50 in August, and I decided much to my surprise that I was going to gift myself vocational freedom. Vocational freedom is a technical term we use at Brighton Jones to define the point at which individuals are able to pursue whatever type of work paid or unpaid, simply because they want to, that their financial needs have been appropriately covered for the future.

Manisha Thakor:

And when I really came to terms with the fact that I had hit my vocational freedom numbers, and I was also hitting 50, and that I didn’t have a lot to look back on in the past that weren’t memories in front of a computer at an office desk or in an airplane, it’s time to change this.

Manisha Thakor:

And so as I look forward and I’m thinking about what I want to do, I was actually surprised. A lot of people talk about how hard charging, very driven folks, oftentimes have a lot of difficulty in retirement, that their ego is so tied up with their professional identity. That letting go is like a death of a part of themselves.

Manisha Thakor:

And I think for me, had I not experienced two sets of illnesses, the dengue fever and the acute Epstein-BARR. Had I not had my body so damaged by all of the years of undiagnosed bipolar II expressing its mania as workaholism, I might not have had the courage to do this because back then my ego was tied to who I was at work.

Manisha Thakor:

But when I sat down to really make a list, I was blown away. I was like, “Oh my gosh. I don’t think they’re going to be enough hours in the day or weeks in a month or months in a year for me to do this.” So my list literally includes everything from taking hip hop classes, which will be a hoot to watch me do that, to taking tango lessons and salsa lessons. And I want to pick back up the piano and take my Spanish up to another level and start writing again.

Manisha Thakor:

I had written two books. I love writing. I don’t know what will come of that. I have the cutest little people in my life, and my brothers two sons and daughter and I want to spend time with them.

Manisha Thakor:

And my parents are now in their 80s and I want to be there for them just as they’ve always been there for me. And then of course, giving back. And there are so many different ways in Portland I’ve found that I can contribute that are in alignment with my interest in women’s economic empowerment. And so I’m excited to truly be able to do volunteer work in a really meaningful way. And I know everything that I’m saying sounds so … I feel like I sound like a gigantic cliche.

Manisha Thakor:

They always say like, “That’s what people want to do, is travel and learn a language and play an instrument in retirement.” That’s what you just heard me say. But I think it speaks to just right now in the world, we seem to be focused so much in so many ways on our differences, but really at the heart of things, we have an enormous number of similarities. And that’s why a lot of these platitudes have stuck around for so long because at the core, they are true.

Manisha Thakor:

So basically if I had to sum it up, I’m looking forward to being super curious and in a way, going back to the school of life. I’ll also mention, I am amazed at how many incredible courses you can take online. I’ve just been blown away. And in particular, I’m really excited to learn a lot more about philosophy.

Manisha Thakor:

So we shall see where that interest in philosophy goes. That is what I am thinking. And I’m viewing this stage of my life. I’m using the word retirement because I’m saying goodbye to the corporate world. But in another way, I feel like it’s a retirement of an identity that I had, and now the feeling that I have is one that I had maybe back in third grade when the beginning of the summer started, and I got to go to camp and you never knew what was going to happen that day and what you were going to create, and what you were going to learn. And it was going to be outside and fun.

Manisha Thakor:

And that’s what I feel like. I feel like I’m heading into adult summer camp and hopefully it’ll last another 50 years.

Stan Hall:

As we say, our bittersweet goodbyes to Manisha at the gates of adult summer camp, with her whole new take on life, focused on her wellbeing. That’d be a good time to check back in with our old friend King Midas.

Stan Hall:

Lying in his golden bed under a solid gold blanket in his golden room, Midas cold and hungry pleaded to the gods to reverse his curse. He too had an epiphany and his values had changed. He had learned that a life focused only in accumulation of wealth was not very enjoyable or let alone sustainable.

Stan Hall:

The gods heard Midas’ plea and took pity. They reversed the curse and one by one Midas began interacting with this former golden world, bringing it back to its proper form. He hugged his daughter and brought her back to life. He grabbed his loaf of bread and tore off a huge chunk with just his teeth. He grabbed a fistful of grapes and smashed them into his palm, just for the feeling.

Stan Hall:

Midas once known as the greedy King became known as a generous and compassionate leader. A King that didn’t hoard his money, but rather spent it to better the lives of himself and his citizen. It was said from that day on, Midas never rushed a meal but rather savored every single bite.

Stan Hall:

We will be checking in with Manisha periodically and gaining her insights into her adventures during her vocational freedom. But in the meantime, true WELLth will continue to bring you the same wellbeing experts to a feed near you. We have some amazing guests lined up so far. If you liked the show, please leave us a review on iTunes or perhaps recommend us to someone you know that would like it. If you have questions for the team or ideas for episodes or guests, you can get in touch with us at truewellthpodcast.com that’s W-E-L-L-T-H. Until next time.

Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast, made possible by Brighton Jones. Whether you want to save for the future or celebrate today, give back to the community or explore the globe, Brighton Jones believes your values are every bit as unique as your fingerprints. Brighton Jones aligns your time and resources to those values so you can go after the things that you truly care about. Explore your richer life at brightonjones.com.

Announcer:

Today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan Hall, alongside the rest of our true WELLth team, Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, Lindsey Hurt, Tara McElroy, and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the team is a trueWELLthpodcast.com.