We’ve all faced financial setbacks in one way or another. A bad investment, an unexpected bill, a business venture that didn’t go according to plan — these financial hiccups can leave even the best of us feeling discouraged and unsure of how to move forward.
That’s where After-Action Review (AAR) comes in. The AAR was originally developed by the US Army as a structured way to learn quickly from soldiers’ experiences in the field. But the AAR is also a powerful tool that can help us recover from financial setbacks and turn them into stepping stones for future success.
In this episode, Dylan walks you through the AAR process, illustrating its potential with his own financial setback. Stick around to learn how you can leverage this tool to transform financial losses into valuable lessons.
- [04:34] The importance of the grieving process
- [11:26] What is an After-Action Review (AAR)?
- [14:03] Step one of an AAR
- [16:48] Step two of an AAR
- [18:21] Step three of an AAR
- [21:09] Step four of an AAR
- [22:15] Applying an AAR to a divorce
Links & Resources
🟢 @TheDylanBain on Instagram
🟢 @TheDylanBain on Threads
🟢 @TheDylanBain on YouTube
🟢 Intuitive Finance on Facebook
🟢 Intuitive Finance on Twitter
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:16] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And today, I want to tell you about, well, it’s a tragedy. And it’s eight o’clock in the morning and I’m getting home from my third shift job. I had enrolled in graduate school because I really wanted to be a teacher, and there was this recession thing that everyone was talking about in 2007. And I’m walking up to my mailbox and I am opening it up and I pull out a letter that is a foreclosure notice. And this hits me hard because I had had no real missing payments, but there had been some other issues and just given the environment at the time between, you know, the TARP funds that were going on, the bank had decided that my mortgage was going to be one of those that they were going to write off because they were going to list it as, well, troubled. And they were not willing to negotiate. Now, I tried to explain to them like, “Hey, like, I’ve never missed a payment. Like, this is still a performing asset for you.” And they said no or “We’re executing this part of the contract and you’re going to lose this house.” And I’m struggling because I’m most of the way through graduate school. My fiancé has just recently moved to Taiwan. And I’m planning to follow her when I graduate with my teaching license. And I’m kind of facing this really uncertain place, holding this foreclosure notice in my hand.
[00:01:53] Now, ladies and gentlemen, I tell that story because one of the things that I’ve started to get requests for is to talk about how do you start over. And I think like so many people, 2008 was a very weird time for me. I, you know, on the one hand, I was fortunate enough that I had, you know, my retirement accounts that I was contributing to and I was trying to put money into. And that, you know, as I’ve said on the show before, was some of the best investing I’ve ever done. But on the other hand, my mortgage company was able to execute what I always kind of thought was, like, a one-off phrase in the mortgage documentation to put my property into foreclosure, and I had no real recourse to stop that. And there’s a lot of details that are involved in this and we could go into. What I’m trying to get across here is that when you lose in the game of life, there’s a process to starting back over because the options to not start back over are probably more terrifying than taking the risk again. And I understand how that feels because it’s not my first major loss in life and it wasn’t my last. And I’d like to believe that as I’m sit here recording this that I’m done with major losses in my life. But if life has shown me anything, it’s that that’s not ever true.
[00:03:20] So the question is is that how do we start over once we’ve suffered a loss and particularly financially, but I’m speaking more generally for this episode because the arts and crafts of how do you make yourself whole after a financial loss are very similar on an energetic and emotional level to how you would deal with a lot of other losses. And, of course, I’m not an expert in this field. I’m a guy with some knowledge who’s trying to share it. So, you know, please don’t, you know, say, “Oh, yeah. Dylan’s handing out therapeutic advice” ’cause I’m not. But when you have a loss, whether it’s a divorce or you’ve lost money in the market or there’s suddenly a global pandemic of unspecified origin, these things, when they hit us, they hit us hard. And it’s important that we take, no matter what our loss is — the collapse of a business, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a child — you need to take a moment to grieve. When we suffer losses, we need to take time to grieve. If you are looking at it, like, well, I need to start over, like, yes, that’s true. But step number one is going to be learning to grieve.
[00:04:34] And it’s important to understand, like, if you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve lost a lot of money in a market collapse or you lost a job, a home, you know, anything really, you’re not just losing the thing itself. You’re losing the dreams you had. You’re losing the future that you had attached to this thing. You’re losing all of the work that you’ve put into whatever that thing was. But more than that, when you have a loss, it is a direct challenge in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because if you lose a bunch of money in, say, a stock market collapse, well, you know, go think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That very bottom one is your physiological needs, which is, you know, food and shelter and water and warmth. And we procure all of that with money. So when you have massive loss, this is why investing in really volatile things will give you really outsized returns over time, but the ride is really hard. But this also applies to losing a job. This also applies to losing, you know, a partner. Going through a divorce is a direct challenge of how do I deal with this. And being able to grieve that loss is critical in order to be able to move beyond it in a much more whole way.
[00:05:57] And this is where I think my mentor, Duey Freeman, is incredibly insightful in this particular case. He will be coming on the podcast here in the next couple of months. We’re trying to work out the timing on that. But Duey Freeman is a man who has worked with attachment his entire professional life. He is incredible from his wealth of experience with probably well over a hundred thousand contact hours with patients and clients in a therapeutic setting. He’s also the founder of the Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies, and you can find him at DueyFreeman.org. But he has his own attachment model that is copyrighted by him, and I’ve talked about it on the podcast before. And one of the things that Duey has taught me is when we suffer a loss, we have to go through the attachment hierarchy again. And in his conception — again, this is his work. This is copyrighted by him and I am quoting his work — is that when we are very, very young, the fundamental question that we ask ourselves that we attach to is: is the world okay? Then: am I okay? And so on and so forth. But when you suffer a loss, you always go back to that very fundamental young place inside of yourself and are suffering from: is my world okay? If you’re going through a divorce: is the world okay when I’m not married? If you’ve lost a child: is the world okay without my child in it? If you’ve lost a parent or a loved one of any sort: is the world okay without that person here? When you’ve gone through a pandemic: is the world okay when there’s so much uncertainty? Over and over and over again, we go back to that place, and then we work our way up to bring ourselves up to our current developmental age. And that’s part of the grieving process — is to come to terms to say, “The world is okay. I am okay. There’s so much more that I can do as we move forward.” But the important thing here is you have to tend to yourself. If you’re gonna start over and you haven’t grieved and you haven’t gone through that and you haven’t tended to yourself, then it’s going to be next to impossible to move on.
[00:08:27] I get some clients, not the bulk of my clients, but some that will come in for financial coaching and they are looking at it and going, “I’m terrified. I’m scared. I don’t know what side’s up. I don’t know which way my bubbles are going. I need you to fix it.” And I’ll say, “Well, I’m not here to fix it. I’m here to coach.” And part of coaching is where are you, what has happened, what are the hallmarks, the attributes, the feelings that go with where you’re at. And what I’m looking for in that case is, you know, is there a block here of something that they have not faced. And when it comes to money, particularly for people who have lost a lot in a recession because the market dropped, they hit sell, they panicked, and now they’re waiting, and now the market’s going up, and they’re just, it’s gotta go up, you know, here, here, and then I’ll buy it. So they’re literally selling low and buying high. But they’re doing it for a reason. And, you know, they’re making choices based upon their available information. And as a result, here we are 10 years, 20 years later after that event, and they realize that wasn’t good, but they don’t know what else to do. And so we have to work with them in that space.
[00:09:38] One of the things that Duey has said that I think is just absolutely critical to understand here is — and this is a quote — quote, your greatest wounds come from the shame around what you did to survive, end quote. Again, that’s Duey Freeman saying that, not Dylan Bain. But it’s really important to understand. Your greatest wounds come from the shame that you did to survive. And so when you’re reacting to a global pandemic or you’re trying to navigate your way through a divorce or you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one or a bankruptcy or foreclosure or a job loss, all of these things are things that you must grieve, but you’re also probably not in the best frame of mind to make decisions in that particular space. This is why we always talk about like, well, you have to have a plan before the thing happens. This is why you have things like a will and, you know, this is why you set up trust. This is why you have an investment plan. This is why you budget every single month, on and on and on. Because if we don’t do that, we’re not gonna make the best decisions. And then as a result, we’re gonna make some pretty bad mistakes. And then when that happens, we’re gonna feel shame. And that shame is going to be a block for us to be able to move forward. And you can even think about this in your own interpersonal relationships. How many times have you been in a heated situation where you kind of got thrown for a loop, you were surprised, you didn’t know it was going on, and then you ended up spouting off and saying stuff to your partner that you to this day regret or to your kids or to your parents or — hell — even to yourself. So it’s important to understand that even in all of those things, there’s a grief that has to go along with it and we have to allow ourselves to be able to face and feel that.
[00:11:26] Now, once we’ve done that — and that process can take a while, right? Grief is not one of these things of, like, well, I shed my tear and now it’s over and I’m moving on. No, no, no. That’s not at all how this works. You have to allow yourself to feel the feelings. You have to tend to yourself. You have to know that you are okay. And you need to show up for yourself to be able to get through that. When people lose a lot of money, it’s huge. But once they’ve gone through that grieving, now they come to the opportunity to do something called an After-Action Review or AAR. An After-Action Review is you looking at these events with the benefit of hindsight. And remember hindsight’s 20/20. If we have gone through the grieving process, we will be able to look at those events and be able to relive them in a very holistic way that is without judgment. And that’s the key — without judgment. There is no place for judgment in an AAR. Judgment is a useless, expensive energy. You don’t get anything out of it, and that person only ends up being hurt. There has never been a case in human history in which somebody has been judged harshly and they went, “Yeah, I’m better now. That was a very good and kind thing for people to do, and I’m totally good.” That doesn’t happen. And there’s never been a time in human history where somebody’s like, “Yeah, and I judged that person and I judged them really harshly, and I judged every action they did. And you know what? I’m a better person for it. I have better relationships with my kids and my wife and my family.” No, that also doesn’t happen. And this is not to say that there isn’t places where there’s tough love, like, you know, well, you know, I love you, but I can’t be part of this anymore. And people will come back and go, “Yeah, that was an amazing part of my life where I really had to learn to rely on myself.” But you’ll notice there’s a huge difference between that and the judgment of like, “You’re terrible. Get out of my life.” That also isn’t that great. And you need to be there for yourself without the judgment. When you do an AAR, there is literally no benefit to beating yourself up about it. One metric that you can use is to say — in my inner talk, my inner monologue, the way that I am dealing with myself — if I did that to another person, would the general public look at that and go, “That’s a good relationship?” Because if they didn’t or they wouldn’t or they won’t, well, maybe it’s time to park the judgment.
[00:14:03] And when you’re doing these After-Action Reviews, there’s a couple of steps that you should really go through. Number one is: what happened? So, like, in my case, when I’m looking at losing this house, so what happened? I’m losing my house because I was working third shift and I had gone to Taiwan and, like I said, my fiancé now my wife had gone to Taiwan to take a job and I had spent Christmas break ’cause I was working third shift security at the university that I was going to graduate school that gave me free graduate school tuition and a nice salary and, well, a decent salary and health benefits and all that other good jazz. But with, you know, Christmas break, there wasn’t a lot to do, so I took three weeks off and went to go see my fiancé. And while I was gone, I hired a friend to, you know, shovel the walk. Well, the thing about it here is is that in Milwaukee, it snows. And that winter, it snowed a heck of a lot. And what happened was is that that person that I was relying on had not actually shoveled my walk. And as a result, I got a ticket. The mortgage company found out about the ticket, and then they executed a clause in the contract to say, “Well, you know, you’re no longer taking care of the property. It says in our mortgage contract that if you do not take care of the property, therefore the property value will go down. That’s a threat to our investment, so we have the right to foreclose.” That is what they did. Now, I had a different type of mortgage. It wasn’t a standard 30-year fix because I was young and dumb. And really, if I’m looking at it more broadly, the bank wanted to get that off their books. And so when the TARP funds came by, they looked at my loan and went, “Any excuse to get that off our books because it’s risky and the government will pay us for it.” So what happened? That’s what happened. It wasn’t that I was late. It wasn’t that I missed the boat. It wasn’t that I had been, you know, out of hand. I was literally just having something happen to me through circumstances well beyond my control. And so it’s important for me to understand that all those things — now, I could sit there and I can immediately then judge the government and judge the bank and judge my friend. But, like, none of those things are going to be helpful. To understand that I had started to rely on somebody else in that situation and that person let me down. And as a result, this person, I’m going to lose this house. Now, with that person specifically sitting there and going, “My God, you’re costing me this house,” like, that’s not — that might make me feel better temporarily, but it doesn’t actually work that way because on all likelihood, that was a surprising result. Even now as I tell that story, most people are like, “Wow, that’s just crazy.” Well, it was 2008 and I was dealing with a big bank, so of course it was crazy.
[00:16:48] So then, the next thing is: well, how am I responsible? Well, I was the homeowner. I am responsible for it. So whether my friend showed up or not, I selected them. I’m responsible for that. I’m the one who selected to have a non-standard mortgage because I really wanted to have a house even though at the time if I was gonna be really honest with myself, I probably couldn’t have afforded it. So that’s how I was responsible. That’s how I am the one who had power in the situation for all of these things that led up to the loss that I was gonna suffer, which was lose my house in foreclosure. How else am I responsible? Well, I’m responsible because I didn’t do a really good job in undergrad. I didn’t graduate with a high GPA, and therefore when I kind of walked out of the undergraduate degree going, “Hey, somebody hire me,” nobody wanted to do that. I had no internships. I had a poor GPA. I didn’t really have a good track record of success. I had been told just go to college and get a degree, which is what I did. But I failed to understand why I was there. I failed to be curious. I failed to ask questions. I failed to take myself seriously. Those are all things that I did. So I’m responsible for this because if I had been in a better financial position, this would not have happened. So what happened, and how am I responsible for it. Now, yeah, I could blame all sorts of other people, but that’s not gonna help me. It’s important that I understand what was within my power and my control and own that 100% with no extra qualifiers.
[00:18:21] Number three: did I make the right decision with all available information? Well, okay. So let’s just look at my situation. Did I make the right decision in trusting my friend, and did I make the right decisions with everything I did to get out of that foreclosure? Well, with everything I had all the information I had at the time, yeah, I think I did. Because if you stop and think about it, I probably could have picked a better friend to try to shovel my walk. But the idea that the mortgage company would be notified of a city ticket is just outrageously weird. And to be fair, there were plenty of stories that came out of 2008 where really weird things happened because it was a really weird time. But did I make all the right decisions? This is where it’s tricky specifically when you talk about 2008 because there are people who will say, well, like, “Well, yeah, I made all the right decisions. I sold everything. I sold low and I bought high.” Like, no. That’s not a good decision, right? Where this person — where I would say like, how are you responsible? Well, you didn’t do enough education to actually be able to handle your own money because if you did, you would’ve known to just hold on at a very bare minimum. But ideally, you would’ve also known to just keep buying. That information is out there. It’s available. It was available at that time. So did that person who sold everything at the bottom of the market when things collapsed in 2008 and then probably did it again in March of 2020 when the S&P lost 30% in the course of a month, did they make the right decision with all available information? No, they didn’t, and they need to own that.
[00:19:56] And we need to look at it and say, “Okay, if I didn’t make the right decision with all available information, why did I make that decision?” 99 times out of a hundred when it comes to money, because I was scared. Because I was afraid, right? I was looking for certainty. This other person told me, “Well, yeah, just pull everything back and wait for things to cool off a little bit and then get back in the market at that point.” And that person sounded really authoritative or maybe they had done something in their life, like started a business, and they’ve been a successful business person. So of course they should know what they’re doing. Why would I know what they’re doing? They should know what they’re doing. And we fail to understand that just because that person runs a successful medical practice doesn’t mean they know the first thing about finance. So did you make the right decision with all available information? No. You, in fact, made the wrong decision with the information that you curated in order to make yourself feel better. Again, let’s go back to what happened and how you are responsible. So did I make the right decision? I believe I did. I believe that I did because it was such an outlandish situation that I’d found myself into that I just I could not have dreamed it up. And even here recounting the story, having gone through it and still holding onto all the documentation that would prove it, well, it’s still really weird.
[00:21:09] Okay. And what might have been a better option is the last part of an After-Action Review. So I’ve suffered this loss. I know what happened. I know how I’m responsible. I know whether or not I made the right decision with all available information. So even with all of this knowledge now, what would’ve been a better option? So, like, in my case, the better option probably would’ve been to make sure that I have a standard mortgage, not go with a boutique weird product because remember I bought my house in 2005. So, like, this is at that time where like liar loans were a thing, and it was kind of like the Wild West with very little regulation in the mortgage market. So I chose a bad option. A better option would be to just get a 30-year fixed mortgage because then I would’ve been a normal mortgage and the bank wouldn’t have targeted me to list me as a, quote unquote, troubled asset. If you look at the person who panic-sold in 2008 or March of 2020, well, what would’ve been a better option? To have done nothing or even just keep buying. Those would’ve been far superior options.
[00:22:15] You’re looking at an option for a divorce. Divorces are really tricky. What happened? One thing that a gentleman by the name of Traver Boehm, who runs “Man UNcivilized” — link to his podcast, which is excellent, in the show description. It’s called “Man UNcivilized” — but Traver has talked about when he’s been coaching and working with people who are recently divorced. And he has a great book called “Today I Rise” all about his divorce. One of the things he’ll say is like, yeah, take a moment to grieve. And part of that grieving is just, you know, being angry and, you know, oh, my partner’s this and this and this and this. And he says, yeah, get all that out. Get all that out. And now once you have it all out, now explain to me how every single thing that you just listed was actually your fault. This goes back to the what happened and how am I responsible. Divorces happen because of both parties. And now, yes, there are certain times where, like, you know, one party really truly is at fault. But I mean, I’m married, I’m trying to stay married, and a big part of that is understanding what is the 50% of my relationship and then taking 100% ownership of my 50% of the relationship. That is something that I have learned from listening to Traver. And so it’s really important for us to understand what our other options would be. So if your marriage is failing, looking back and going, “What should I have done instead? Maybe I shouldn’t have given up my friends. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped working on myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so comfortable. Maybe I should have had better boundaries. Maybe I should have invested in learning how to communicate better” — all of these things are how you assess the better options. Because if you don’t know what the better option should have been, then there’s no way you’re gonna see it in the future when you have the choice again. Because if there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that I’m going to have the option again. Because once you’ve gone through the grief, once you have answered the question of “Is the world okay?” once you have gone through your After-Action Review, then you get back on the horse a little older and a little wiser, and we move forward.
[00:24:21] It is important to always understand that the gifts that we have in this life that are truly impactful are those that we forged in the pain of the past. That’s what it really comes down to. When you’re looking at having lost things and having to start over, if you grieve, if you do this right, if you go through and you reevaluate and you understand what your better options are, you will move forward a much wiser person. The growth always involves setbacks and failure. That is inevitable. That is the only guarantee that you can have in relationships, in budgeting, in investing, in jobs, in business — it really doesn’t matter. Growth always involves setbacks and failures, and that’s okay. That’s part of it. As one popular song that I once heard called “The Sunscreen Song,” there’s a line in there that’s always stuck with me, and that is “The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself” because at the end of the day, you’re here to live your life for you.
[00:25:30] And so ladies and gentlemen, if you are one of these people who have found yourself in a position where you need to be starting over for whatever reason, understand that it is okay to take a moment to grieve. Understand that the world will be okay. Take time to go back and review everything. And when you’re ready, stand up, brush yourself off, and move forward. And that’s how you take control of your financial life so that you can live free.
[00:26:01] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.