Something magical happens when we dare to get real and speak the truth about money. In this intimate conversation series, Money Memoirs, I chat with people from all walks of life about their money journeys: the good, the tough, the soulful, and the nitty-gritty. We share this beloved series every year to celebrate the opening of The Art of Money, which you can read all about here. Curl up with a cuppa as we pull back the curtain … and get ready to get inspired.
But first I want to celebrate our doors opening with our beloved Money Memoir interview series!
Today, dear friends, I’m delighted to welcome Christina Rasmussen to the Podcast — whom I’m lucky to have known for 9 years now.
Christina is an acclaimed Author, Group Educator, and Podcast host.
After losing her first husband to cancer at the tender age of 34 — leaving her alone in America with two young girls — Christina stepped into her acclaimed work on grief and life-reentry after soul-shaking loss.
Loss is very real. It happens to all of us, as much as we’re scared to dwell on it. And when we experience loss, it sets us on a new trajectory.
In this deep and joyful conversation, Christina shares openly and vividly about her loss story, her money story, and the profound ways those two intertwine.
We delve into her childhood in near-poverty in Greece — including how her father went against the grain to put her on a plane and change her life for the better.…
…how losing her husband impacted her money and career choices. And why who she has become in the world is such a surprise to her!
This interview brought me to tears at times, but I also left it with a beaming smile.
So cozy up with a cuppa, nestle in, and listen as we discuss:
- What grief does to human beings, and why the journey through loss isn’t a straight line.
- The reason it took her YEARS to share a credit card with her second husband — and the hard lesson she learned about credit ratings as a young widow.
- The belief she grew up with that “Money is hard to make” — and how her Dad went against the grain to help her create a better life.
- Why she stayed in a job that she was desperately unhappy in (though from the outside, she was doing remarkably in — rising through the ranks and raking in the money).
- The heroic baby steps she took to go from working in the corporate world as a means of security after loss — to taking the big, giant leap into doing her own work.
- The importance of coaching, and how one coach changed the trajectory or her business with a single comment.
- Why she’s not willing to work at a punishing pace anymore, or live from that fear-centered place of “always preparing for the famine” (and what her new way of working and earning actually looks like).
- The massive shift that happened when she slowed down, said ‘no’ and set boundaries.
- Her work/life/health/family/money equation today — and how her money goals have changed in a BIG way as she’s grown beyond grief, evolved in her work, and turned 47.
Bari Welcome, everyone to my Money Memoir interview series. Today I have the honor of interviewing Christina Rasmussen, who I’ve known for probably almost nine years. She is an acclaimed educator, author of Second Firsts and Where Did You Go? She’s the host of the Dare Life Podcast. In 2003, Christina’s husband of 10 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. On July 21, 2006, he died at the age of 35. While grieving, Christina continued working to support her two young children. She’s now the founder of the Life Reentry Institute, a model of grieving based on her professional, academic and personal observations of the bereavement process. Her mission is to change the way that we grieve, the way that we live and how we define our potential in this life and the hereafter. Christina’s model of grief operates on the assumption of psychological resilience. The defining characteristic of the model proposed by Second Firsts is the view of loss as a catalyst for change and self-growth. Redefining identity, it outlines a process of reentry or returning to life. Her institute’s mission is to bring forth a new way of speaking about and embracing loss within the medical, corporate and social environments. She currently works and lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Eric, their daughters and their two dogs. Welcome, Christina. Christina Hi, Bari. Can I just say that no matter how many times I hear my bio read in all the interviews I’ve done, my mind, my thought is, “That can’t be me. That’s not me.” But it is. It’s the weirdest thing in the world how we see ourselves and how the world perceives us. It’s always fascinating, you know? Bari Where we’ve been and where we’ve come and what we’ve overcome and where we are now. What we’ve created and what we’ve survived and thrived in all of it. Yes, it’s all right there in those three paragraphs. I don’t know if you know this about me, but in my 20s – from the age of 20 to 25, I lost four of the closest men in my life. I lost my beloved grandfather, my Papi. I lost my two uncles to AIDS and I lost my Israeli boyfriend from suicide. Christina I knew about him, but I didn’t know about all the others, Bari. Wow. Bari Yeah. That led me to doing some – well, obviously I was in a grief process for many, many years. That’s another story for another day. This is about you and your work. But it ties in. I found my way to hospice and overnight care for elderly before they were passing and I did some bereavement groups. I was in an active grieving process, which looked like me dancing every night, lighting candles for hours and hours. Every night for a few years. That’s how I entered into graduate school to train to be a therapist. Christina Wow. I didn’t – you know, I knew about the loss of your boyfriend, but I didn’t know the depths to which you went into this work. Grief changes our DNA, everything about us. I can tell that – I think it changed the trajectory. You became a therapist because of it, I think, Bari. Bari Yes. Yes. Exactly. I thought I’d be doing work on bereavement and grief and loss and death. Of course, it weaves in all the money work that I do at this time. That’s part of what we’re going to talk about today. I just wanted to talk about that because – it’s different from losing a husband or losing a child. It had an enormous impact on me as a 20-25 year old young woman as I was still just stepping into myself. Christina Bari, can I say about loss in general and grief. I often hear people say this thing, “It’s not like losing a spouse or a child,” but I have to say – and for everyone that’s listening – the thing is that loss of any kind, any kind of loss – whether it’s a friendship, boyfriend, mother, father or sibling, child or spouse, being bullied at school, being rejected, feeling worthless, not being seen, being sexually abused, loss of financial security, loss of identity – all of those losses can be equally catastrophic to a human being. Actually, as a matter of fact, the more invisible our loss is, the more nobody can understand our pain, the more alone we are in our loss, the more dangerous and long lasting that loss is. Sometimes the most tragic loss is the loss that society accepts as tragic like the loss of a spouse or the loss of a child. Some of them can be, however hard and tragic they are, they can be healed easier because we have a whole community coming around us. But when you’re grieving something so deeply unseen and so difficult for yourself with nobody else walking by your side, that’s how suicide happens. That’s how we lose people completely. Bari You named so many different kinds of loses in that list. I don’t know if you also said losing a really significant job that you’ve had for years or bankruptcy, health, health challenges, losing your home. We can go on and on. Right now, with all of the forest fires happening in California, everyone is potentially losing their home. They don’t know. Loss is real. Loss happens for all of us; everyone. I want to stay here a little bit before we dive into your personal money memoir, which I really want to hear some of your money story and more of your loss story. You were just defining loss and many of the losses that happen in a human life. I was really struck when we spoke recently when you talked about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ model of bereavement as first responder. It gives you a really important diagram of all of the different emotions and flavors and ups and downs that happen at the beginning – which can be a few years. Your work with second firsts and your model with second responder, it helps people realize that they’ve been hanging out in what you call a “waiting room” and giving them the tools to come back into life. It continues where her work leaves off. Share a little bit more and then we’ll go into your personal story about defining loss, what happens in loss and how to work with that place. Christina Yeah. Very well said. Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ model of the stages of bereavement is wonderful and amazing. We all go through it. Even though she created that model for the dying versus the people who are grieving, we do use it for grief and it’s wonderful. I even had dreams about Elizabeth. She’s come to my dreams and sat on the couch with me. We had coffee together. It’s been an amazing journey, personally and professionally, to see people through that process. The life change model picks up where she ends with her work and is ready to take people on a new journey to reenter life, to get out of what I call the waiting room because I believe what happens when we are grieving, we are being told to wait for time to heal us. We are being told to not make any decisions, to just stand down. That’s great. That’s good advice to begin with. What happens is – especially when the loss is invisible, when the loss is shameful, when the loss is something we do not really talk about, share or do anything with, we are not in the healing process. When that takes place, we get stuck in a place between two lives: the life we are forced to lead because of what happened and the life that we could have if only know that the place we are is only a place between, which I call the waiting room. What happens when we enter the waiting room is we are there to heal ourselves, but once we stay there for a while, the brain – brain science is one of my favorite hobbies – actually likes to stay in the comfort zone of that waiting room space. We walk in because of our grief, but we stay there because of our fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of the loss taking place again. The brain is now afraid to try anything new so we don’t experience the life we are dreaming. Bari, one thing I’ve learned with doing this work is that unfortunately the danger is that millions of people die in that place in between, the waiting room. They think that’s their second life and all that is is their waiting space. That makes me so sad. Not only do they die there, but they lose hope, they lose the belief in themselves. They never ever discover who they become after loss. Grief is a superpower, actually. What takes place during our grief is potentially a rebirth unless we get stuck, unless we cannot exit the loop – the infinite loop – of loss. Bari There’s timeframe on this, right? You are in the bereavement process for this much time and then you’re in the waiting room for this much time and now you’ve got to come back to life now. Can you just talk about that? There’s no judgement or expectation. That’s not how it works. While this is a waiting room that you’ve seen so many people get lost in and not come out and have the rebirth – I want to talk about that a little bit more – there’s also no set timeframe. Just say a little bit more. Christina Yeah. There’s no timeframe. One thing I want to say – and I smile when I say this – because men actually go through the stages of bereavement and the waiting room much faster than women. I know. There’s been so many studies on grief in men versus women. For some reason – and I need to really delve into that move – men reenter sooner. Also, in all of the years that I’ve done the life reentry work, 90% f the participants were women. 10% were men. It’s not because men are not grieving and not experiencing pain and men are not experiencing invisible loss. Men experience a lot of invisible loss. They suffer in silence even more than women, but we don’t see them. We don’t see them in the programs, we don’t see them anywhere. Some of it is because men do overcome these faster. I don’t see it as a linear experience. We grieve. When grieve begins, when something really, really terrible happens in our lives, we need to engage in the stages of bereavement and the life reentry work at the same time. It’s not the timeframe, but it’s the amount. It’s not how long it’s going to take, but what is the variety of action that you’re going to take during that process. For example, I’ve had clients – when I used to see clients many years ago – that something really tragic would happen to them and I would see them five or six weeks in. I would say we would do 90% just grief work – listening, validating the loss, listening to the story – and 10% or even less doing a bit of life reentry. When someone is in the early stages of grieving, we don’t want to push them too much out of that waiting room. We want them to be there. We want them to be comfortable. We also – and this is the significant part – need to learn to live and grieve at the same time. If we allow the brain to take over our process and basically get used to that grief by identity and that grief experience, the reentry is much harder many years later. You don’t have to reenter completely. The waiting room is a place that we go in and out of. Let’s say, even now after all of these years later, I’m having a down day. I’m having a day where I need a break. I need to not be so active in my life, my work and in everything that I’m doing and I choose to have a waiting room day. We choose to go back and to go into our comfort zone and to not become anything or anyone and just stay put. That’s okay. Sometimes that is a week, a month – as long as we know where we are and as long as we’re in control of when we want to leave. It’s not how long it takes to grieve. Grief, in many ways, lives outside of time and space, Bari. It doesn’t live in a linear, time-based reality. We all experience grief most of our lives and we all are supposed to be alive during that time as well and living. It’s a mix and match of tools and skills and experiences that we get to have. I believe with all of my heart – I hope… I don’t know if I’m going to succeed in this because this is a big mission to educate, to change the way that we perceive grief in our world, to not only have grief support groups in our churches and our hospitals, but to also have life reentry support groups and for the person to choose when they are ready to enter that life reentry experience, to go to that second responder experience. The timeline is different for everyone and the way they’re doing it is different for everyone as well. Bari Yeah. It’s so tender to even remember back, for me, during that time. I didn’t want any light coming through my windows. I loved the nighttime. First I wasn’t eating at all. Like you, I know you lost a lot of weight. Then I couldn’t stop eating. I needed to fill myself up. That was part of it with the dancing and the candles. It was so in-between worlds, which is in between time, space and all of that. Just to imagine how many of us are walking around at different points in our lives going through something like that. Christina It’s magical in many ways because when we’re grief, you are outside of time and space. You are in this non-linear way of life because you’re invisible. You’re in this suspension experience and the years or months or however long you’re in this no eating, mistake making, angry, denial, bargaining, screaming, yelling, crying phase. I have seen people in that phase where they’ll have these moments, they’ll experience these things and then they will do what I call the plug-in where they plug into their new life for a few seconds, let’s say. Even when someone is grieving deeply, you can have that person – even for just five minutes – laugh at a joke, paint a wall in their house a different color. I remember when I did my main book tour for Second Firsts when the book was released the first time, I remember this lady sitting at bookshop in Portland, Oregon. She said to me, “I’m disabled. I’m grieving. I can’t do all of the things that you recommend. What should I do?” I said, “Even if that’s the case, take the chair that you sit and watch TV and have someone move it in a different part of the room. That is called life reentry. That’s changing your life. That’s rearranging the pathways inside your brain. That’s you exiting the infinite loop of loss. That’s you saying, ‘I am not my grief identity and I am going to – even just for a very small percentage – reenter today.” These plug-ins in the beginning are only 5%. I’m very specific about this because the fear center is so easily activated during grief that if we try to have someone take a big step and jump – I actually don’t believe in jumping or jump and the net will appear. Maybe when we’ve trained our brain with these smaller steps for a while, then we can do that. But I believe that even in the deepest grief, in the hardest moments that we take really, really tiny small steps sneaking out of the fear center of our brain and reentry of life for a split moment. Bari I love it. I’m a fan of baby steps as well. The leaps come, but it’s hundreds of baby steps and then you get some leaps. I love how you’re saying that the plug-in is just 5% at the beginning after lots of grieving, after going through so much of that. I really feel how much you’re a champion for both the deep, deep bereavement process and for reentering into life again; that you’re such a champion of all of that. I don’t know why I feel like whenever we go to have an interview that I feel like I’m going to start crying. That’s all good. It’s all good. Christina It’s all the good energy. Bari, I just want to mention really quickly the three personas of life reentry, if that’s okay with you. Bari Yes, and then we’ll go into your money memoir. Christina I want to say this because – actually, Bari, did I mention that there’s a trial that’s starting with life reentry in the next couple of weeks. There was a big grant that was awarded to my work and we are going to enter a three year period of clinical trials of life reentry. I’m very excited about it. This work, to me, when I created it I thought everyone thought I was crazy. I’m sure I’ve told you this in the early years that people would think about these personas and say, “What is she going on about?” These personas that I’m going to share have been such a big part of the people understanding what’s going on with their brain while they’re grieving and what is going on with their narrative, their inner world. The three personas are, one, the survivor self. It is the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. That’s the part of us that was here to support us and take care of us during the very difficult time in our lives. It’s the voice that says, “Be careful here. Take care of yourself. Don’t overdo it. You need to take it easy. You need to go in the waiting room. You need to protect yourself.” I learned over the years that we actually do love that part of us very much. In our world, we call them cancer survivors. The word “survivor” is supposed to be a positive word. We survived something really difficult that we were not meant to survive. It is the truth. However, if we stay in that survivor self all of the time, we never get to thrive. The survivor self is a part of us that we can never ever get rid of. She or he will always be a part of us. We just need to know who is talking to us at what time. The survivor self. Then we have the watcher self, which is the wise, wisdom, soul, infinite part of us. I know you’ve heard many times when people say after grief that they can’t even decide on the simplest things. They don’t know the answers to the easiest questions. There’s the fog. There’s the noise. They don’t understand their life anymore. They don’t know who they are. When we’re grieving, we’re losing the wisdom. I call that part the watcher. We find a way to bring back the watcher, the knower, the part of us that has been here all along and knows everything about who we are. We make sure that we engage with the wise self that is here and will always be here – even though grief is shadowing that part. The third part is the thriver self, the kid, the kid-like part of us that is completely wiped out after loss. We have to work so hard to bring that part back to the living, to reenter the thriver self. The survivor self, the watcher and the thriver. These are the three parts of us that are engaging in the process in life after loss. The survivor takes us back to the waiting room, the thriver takes us back to life and the watcher makes sure that we’re making the right decisions and gives us wisdom. Bari Beautiful. Beautiful. Okay. I want to transition into how loss effects our lives and relationship to money. I want to do that by hearing some of your money story that, of course, helps form you and also plays out in your decisions in your 20s and 30s and getting married, then losing your husband and having to take care of two young girls. As we move into questions that are more about your relationship to money – but of course will include loss and life and all of that – I want to start out with just a sheer snapshot with where you’re at with family and work right now. I shared some in your bio, but I’d love to hear where you’re at with your family and then we’ll go. Christina Right now, we moved from California to Austin, Texas. The town that was on fire was my little town that I lived in for six years. Our friends had to evacuate. We just moved from there. Right now, I live with my second husband, Eric, and our younger daughters. They’re both about to go to college – both 17 about to be 18 in early 2020 – and the other two girls are already out in college in the world. After this year, we’re going to be empty nesters. We have two dogs. Eric works fulltime in the corporate world and I work on my work from home here every day doing the life reentry work and writing books and my podcasts. We are loving Austin, Texas. This is brand new. One thing that I want to say is that we’ve moved a few times in our life after loss because I believe in reentering many times in life and getting to know ourselves in new environments. There’s new identities that emerge when we do that. There’s a new Christina here in this. I’ll let you ask the next question, but this Christina here, the last few months – the reason why I decided to move from California to here is because I knew there was change that was going to take place within me. One of the biggest changes that I’ve had now – and as we talk about my life getting to here, you’ll see what a big thing this was – was the value of my time, the value of myself, my skills. Every word that I say and every moment that I spend with someone is super important and how I choose to do that. I changed a lot of things in the way that I work, how much I work, how often I work, how much I slow down and how much I care for myself now. I’ve never cared for my body as much as I have done in the last eight months before in my life. Bari I love it. I’ve known you from the east coast and then California. I knew you had moved, but I had no idea it was Austin. I love that this is part of your reentry. It’s cultivating resiliency. Moving home. Christina It’s huge. Bari It’s huge and you keep doing it, not just for fun but for everything that you’ve just mentioned; for all the reasons. Love it. I know that you’re not from this country. We’re going to talk about that, too. Let’s begin by what is the main emotions – or set of emotions – that comes up for you around money? Christina It’s struggle. This is why everything I’ve become, the money I’ve made with this work, the money I’ve made with my art has been a big shock to me and a big surprise. I come from a small town in Greece where my parents worked so hard to make money to raise us. My dad had three jobs at some point and my mom and him worked together during the day. We had a small shop that sold embroidery threads and needles and it also sold socks and leggings and bedsheets and towels. It was a shop that had a lot of home goods and home items as well as personal items. I saw – and this is why I think your work is important – I remember how my parents made money. They would sell a needle, thread or a t-shirt for a dollar and they would have to sell many of those every day to even make it. Money was made in a very hard way. Whatever money the shop made wasn’t enough, so my dad also worked at a factory. My parents were not educated. They never went to college, so they were just workers. They worked really hard. My dad worked at this factory, so he would wake up early and run to get the bus to go and work at the factory. After the factory was done, he would come to the shop to help my mom. They made sure that we had everything we needed. I grew up seeing my parents working for every penny they had. My first story and my first emotion about money was that it was hard. It was hard to make. Bari You watched them spending all of their time at a few jobs to make ends meet. Were you able to have enough food on the table? Needs met? Christina There was definitely enough food at the table. We also had a beautiful garden, so they had tomatoes there. There was always food, but there was definitely a time that I remember our car broke down and we had to find money to fix the car. We didn’t have the extra. I remember during those days we had to be super careful. Maybe we wouldn’t have enough to have food. We did have food always. I never remember not having, but it was close for a period of time. It was close. During that time, my dad got a third job to help someone put up curtain poles. I know you don’t know this part of my story. I never share it and I have not shared it. We really didn’t. We had a beautiful garden close to the ocean. We could see the ocean from my yard. That was a big deal, but the house was 1000 square feet, built overnight by wood. It was illegal as well. There was no permits allowed in that area, so my parents had to get all of these workers overnight to put the walls up and the roof. The house is still there. My parents live there. It’s standing still, but it was basically built with nothing. That’s how it was. When my dad believed in me and my sister, Artimus, getting an education and finding our way out of a life that was very restrictive. I had never gotten on a plane before age 18. He said, “I’m going to put you on this plane and you’re going to go to your great Aunt in the UK in a small town up north of England. You’re going to spend time with her there and you’re going to learn the language. You’re going to see if there’s any other opportunities for you out of this country.” Bari Wow. Were your grandparents helping to raise you? What was their work? Has your family always been from Greece? Are you Greek through and through? Christina Yeah. You’re so cute. There’s multiple origin stories here because my mom was adopted. She was left at an orphanage on a small cot box outside of a window. She’s never found out where she was from. She was always very fair, blue eyes. We never knew where she was from. My grandparents found her when she was around two. She spent the first two years in an orphanage. They adopted her because they couldn’t have children and I didn’t find out my mom was adopted until I was 18. I found out while driving the car. She told me one day. I was shocked. My grandmother had died by then, but my grandad lived with us in our home. The reason why I want to mention him in this story is because, even though we were not biologically related, for me he was my grandad because I didn’t know anything else. Even if I knew, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I didn’t know anything about the adoption. I have to tell you, this guy always had money. We were the first family to have a color TV. Even though my dad didn’t want his money because we were proud, he said, “I live here so I want a color TV. I’m going to get us one.” He got us a color TV. The first family to have it in the neighborhood. Somehow – and I don’t know how. This is a fascinating part of my money story. He was always wealthy. He wasn’t wealthy like we meet people here, but he was wealthy in our life. He always had extra cash lying around. He sold fabric. He was a fabric salesmen. In the 30s and 40s, he had this donkey and he would put the fabric on top of his donkey and walk the neighborhood, the streets, and sell it. That’s how he made his money. He made good money doing that. Bari You’re starting to share some of the threads of what influenced you – both positively, challenges and beauty… having a garden, having a grandparent live with you. Do you remember anything about what you thought was possible or wanted to be or what skills you were developing as a girl? Could you see into the future? Here, your father was saying, “I want you to get an education,” and that you would be the first in the family to do that. Christina You know, it’s so interesting and I’ve thought about this so much because to me, who I became and everything I created in the world has been the biggest surprise. A good friend of mine, Kristen Carlson – I don’t know if you know her. She’s awesome and would be a great guest for you, actually. She would say to me, “I feel like the first few years of your work, you’ve been pinching yourself.” It’s true. This is because, growing up, I’m trying to find the breadcrumbs or the evidence of any of this. I struggle to find them. I don’t think anyone believed I could do much or create anything. I was a B student at school. I didn’t want to study. I hated studying. Bari Me too. Christina I hated it so much. I didn’t like rules or anyone telling me what to do. Lately, actually, I discovered that I get so much anxiety when I have to deliver something to someone else. I’m so angry that I can’t do it. No wonder I work for myself. It’s, “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me there’s a timeline. I get to decide.” I think I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t like being told what I needed to do, how I needed to learn. I struggled throughout school completely. I hated going. I used to feel nauseous every morning having to get on the bus to go. My childhood was definitely hard. My dad was very strict. He wouldn’t let me get up from the chair unless I finished my homework. Very, very traditionally strict. It was hard for me to have a voice or to believe in anything. I fought with him a lot. I remember when he told me that I should go to the UK. I was glad to run away. I felt like I was running finally away from home. I didn’t run away from home, but I was escaping. I felt that I finally got to escape. Bari Did you have to work or did your father just really want you to focus on schoolwork? Christina He always said that he didn’t want his kids working. He wanted them to think about their education. However, that’s not what happened. I worked at the shop growing up. I can’t believe that I have not shared any of these stories with anyone. I worked at the shop. All of the other kids got to go home after school, I had to go to the shop and work there and help them with their customers and manage the cashier thing. I will have to say that I was so embarrassed and ashamed that my friends would come and shop at the shop with their parents. I would hide. I would hide behind all of the shelves and things. I would hide if anyone walked in that I knew from school. Nobody was working. I was working there. I worked at the shop and then I worked in college. Oh, my gosh, I worked. I worked all the way through at the movie theater selling popcorn. Bari Yeah, I’m seeing so many threads of you becoming an entrepreneur and creating your own space in the world. So many, including the struggle with your father. He was so strong and there was so much verbal sparring going on between you two and then you had to individuate from him. He gave you a gift of sending you off to the UK so that you could really… Christina Yeah, my life would be really different if he never did that. You know, at the time, we definitely traveled in the countries around Greece by car, but I had never gotten on a plane and I didn’t have any friends who had got on a plane. When he put me on the plane, I was the only one in my high school year that was leaving home. The only one. All of our friends, adult friends, my parents’ friends, they said that my dad was crazy. I know, right? Bari When you look back now on your childhood, what’s your heart view of yourself, of your family? What’s your perspective now? Christina That’s a good question. I have the best parents. They’re both still alive. They’re coming to visit me here in December. They’re hardworking people. They will be married 50 years on December 26. I think my dad was such a hard worker that that’s the only way that he knew – the discipline and the strictness. That’s the only way he knew how to raise – as he would say – “good children.” Honesty was a big deal. Even now, if anyone lies to me in my life, I find it very, very hard to forgive that. He always said, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t lie to me. We can deal with the truth, but not with the lies. I can’t help you with the lies.” There was always truth and honesty. Even though it was hard growing up under his roof – and my mom was very quiet. My mom was there, quiet, watching everything. I think she was… I guess I wish she had a bigger voice growing up. Now, looking back, I’m very grateful for my dad being such a leader in a community that couldn’t even imagine sending their kids off to a different country. He believed in this deeply. He fought with every relative about this. He had arguments about this. It was not a choice. It was, “You’re getting on a plane and you’re leaving.” It was supposed to be for a year. I wasn’t supposed to stay, Bari. Bari I have so many questions about that. Maybe we’ll come back to that, but I do want to jump. I know this story a little bit, but I want to hear more details. I know you decided to get a degree in grief and counseling. But then you had young kids and your husband got sick. You went back to school during that time to work in HR. I remember you naming – and I want to hear more – how much you made in that first job and that was so amazing for you and such a big deal. Then, after you husband got sick and passed, you had to keep working to support your young girls. You also had a male boss that really stood up for you and helped you value your skillset and time and helped you get another job making more money – which was so important for your family at that time. This is a question on multiple levels. The money that you were making and how significant it was for you at that time, the challenge of having to work during grief. Will you share more of this time? Christina Yeah. Living in England after Greece – my parents, everything they made they would send to me. Here’s an important part that I never really articulated. The standard living in Greece versus the UK was so different. Every dollar they sent, for them it was like they were sending five dollars. For me, it was a dollar because it was so much more expensive in the UK. There was definitely guilt spending that money that they would send us. I was there first and then a year later my sister joined as well. When I say us, after the first year I’m referring to my sister, too. I got a job while in college working at the movie theater. I would do 14 hour shifts as well as my first degree, which was education. I would teach in schools after classes and then I would also work at the theater cleaning bathrooms, toilets, theater screens. I loved it. I loved the people there, I loved doing it and I was very proud to make some money to help with the expenses. Bari That was from 18. Christina Yeah. 18. Here’s where the money story becomes even more complicated. Briana, my husband, was very healthy and well in the beginning of our marriage. We had dreams to move to the US. This is how it happened. We were in the UK. I met him in Denmark. I was there as an exchange student. I met him there, we fell in love and he moved. He moved to the UK while I was finishing my master’s in counseling guidance – the counseling work. At the end of that, we both wanted to move to the US. His job moved us to the US, but I was not allowed – this is the fascinating part – to work here. His Visa was the work Visa and I had, at the time, what was called the L1 and L2. That was the transfer Visa. The spouse is not supposed to work. Then, even when the Visa changed to H, at the time I was still not allowed to work. I was not allowed to make any money when I moved here. Bari What was that like for you? Christina I just never thought of it before. Christina, you can’t make money. I was like, “Do I do a PhD? Do I have children during this time while we’re waiting for a green card? Green cards take years, years to come. We started having children. Then we moved to California. I’ve moved many times, that’s true. We moved to California, Isabella was born there and then we moved to Boston. That’s when he was diagnosed. At the time, when he got diagnosed in 2003, we were in the process of getting a green card and I was still not allowed to work. We were about three years away from getting that green card. Bari Just to timeframe, from 18 to what year were you working? Christina 18-24/25. From 18-21, I was learning English. My English was very basic. The fact that I’m an author now and I’m writing books now blows my mind. Bari Writing books in English. Christina In English. Just pinch me. Where Did You Go was translated in Portuguese. Second Firsts has been translated in Chinese and German. What? That’s why the origin stories, people don’t know it and it’s so surprising how I got here. Between 18 and 24/25, I would work on the side in England to make extra money for expenses. We moved to the US on Valentine’s Day 1999. I am not allowed to work in the US. I can’t. He can. He has an amazing job, but at the time he was making only… I think his first job in the US – I shouldn’t say “only” because for some people that’s a lot of money. The first job in the US was $60,000. I got pregnant, had Elena, had Isabelle and then while in Boston – we moved to Boston in December of 2002 and he got diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in February of 2003. That’s the thing. He was told he was supposed to die within the next six months because it was stage 4. I had no job. I couldn’t work. No matter what, I was not allowed to work. Isabelle was nine months old and Elena was two and a half years old. Bari Your husband’s job was paying for things. Christina Here is the thing. He is the superhero. I use present tense because I believe in never die. We can have another conversation about that. He is working. He worked and kept a full time job all the way until 10 days before he died. Yeah. We got our green card, which meant that I could work, six months before he died. He turned around and he said to me, “I can die now.” Bari Oh. Christina Yeah. Bari How do you… I want to have a cry. A moment. This just brings up so much for me. How do you step into work when you haven’t been able to work for so many years? How do you step into finding a skillset that you can bring to the marketplace in the middle of a tremendous loss? Christina I want to say that he was everything to me, Bari. Not only was he the father of my children, he was an amazing father as well. He was just an exceptional father. At the time, I believed he was the smarter one. He was making really good money. He was bringing in and supporting his family exceptionally. He was Senior Director Architect for Novell – a big company. He had stock options. He was an incredible man, very smart. I used to believe that it should have been me that died, not him. He was the better one, I would say. I believed it, Bari. Bari Tell me his name again. Christina His name is spelled Bjarne. The j is silent, so it’s Bjarne. People call him Barney, Pajarni. He would always laugh at this. It’s a very Danish name, Bjarne. There’s a lot of Bjorn, but he’s a Bjarne. Even before the green card came, between the year two and three – he lived for three and a half years with the cancer – I went back to school part time to do the post graduate degree in Human Resource Management at Northeastern in Boston. Imagine, my kids were four and six when he died, so they were three and five. He’s in treatments. He works, he has chemotherapy treatments and he’s very sick. We have two very small children and I go to the university to get a degree, preparing for his death. We’re both preparing for his death so I could have a job. I never worked in the US. Never. I never worked. I never made any money in the US. My mind thinks I can’t do it. I want to say there was life insurance that I had as my foundation. If it took me a long time to find a job, I would still be able to pay the bills that were coming in. I have a story about credit cards. It’s not even a story. He dies and I don’t know if the life insurance will come through as well. These things are complicated. It does come through a couple of months later, but when he died I did not have any money for the funeral. My parents transferred their savings for the funeral. I’m in this place of the life insurance comes and goes into the bank account and I go to get a credit card and they declined me. Do you know why? Because I had no – for everyone who is listening to this, I learned this the hard way. I had no credit history because his social security number was the primary and I was the secondary. Because I was the secondary, it did not give me credit history at all. I was blank. He was the most on-time bill payer in the history of my life. I have never known anyone more on time. He had a perfect credit score. Perfect. We didn’t know this then. I had nothing. I remember getting rejected by the bank. I went to the cemetery and got mad. The woman said to me, “This is what you have to do. You have to spend $300 every month and you have to pay it for six months. Then we’ll give you a card.” I worked for that. I had to work for that credit history. Bari Yeah. My God, so much… Christina I’m sorry, Bari. I know it’s a lot. Bari No, it’s not that self-worth and self-value are determined by the money we make or how much money we make. It’s not. But at the same time, you came over here and could not work and could not make your own money. Then when he passed, you had to do all of that. You had worked for years and made money for years, but not necessarily supported a whole family. Christina No. It was money like working at the movie theater or coffee shop or my dad’s shop. It wasn’t jobs with my education, with my masters, with my business degree, my education degree. I was highly educated but I had never worked in the US. After he died, I went back and finished the HR business, post-graduate degree. I finished that. I have to say that I was destroyed with this death. Completely. This is why I’ve done all this work. I was so destroyed. I was a ghost. I had to go get my degree because my belief was that my other degrees would not be enough. My belief at the time was that in order for me to make enough money I needed to be in the corporate world and I needed that to also bring health insurance. I calculated how much support the life insurance would give me and how much money I needed to make every month so by the time the kids got to where they are now, I would be able to afford for them to go to college, basically. There was all of those things in my head at the time, as well as grieving deeply. I got my first job. I had this angel of a human being, who has passed since then. His name was Bob. He found out about my story and me. I was 34 at the time when Bjarne died. When I met him, I was 35 and that’s when he did this most amazing thing. I will never forget it. I’m alone, I’m a single mom. I cried morning to night. I cried all the time. I feel like I’m an alien living on this planet. All of my friends are with their husbands and families, happily. Of course, they’re helping but nobody can really make me feel better. This stranger comes and he has an HR agency. He has recruited all of the top talent in the Boston area and he does this thing, Bari. I will never forget it. He sends 100 letters, including Harvard University and the medical school at Harvard. All the top corporations in Boston – some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies – and asked them to hire me. I know, right? I got all of these interviews. My phone started ringing nonstop. I had to start at the bottom. I was interviewing at Harvard and I actually turned down Harvard – can you believe it? Bari It just wasn’t right? Christina It wasn’t right. I was supposed to be the right-hand woman for the Dean of Medicine at Harvard University. I turned that – I was the finalists. At the interview, I said to the woman, “Even if I get this job, this is not what I want.” I turned it down. Bari What did you say yes to? Christina I said yes to a big pharmaceutical company – clinical trial company – called Pyroxel. It’s the company that does the clinical trials of all the big drugs, the main drugs that you have out in the world. My first job there was an HR associate for $35,000 a year fulltime. At the level that I was at, all of my peers were at least 10 years younger than me. Bari Okay, wow. Where do we go? I know from there there was a significant raise, I think, at some point to 65 or 70. Christina It doubled, yes. Doubled. Within five months. Bari Wow. Christina In their history of all of their HR employees there – the HR branch was massive. We were in 50 countries. Nobody had ever done it in such a short amount of time. In five months, I get my own office. I was a hard worker. Even in my grief and a single mom with two babies – not babies, five and seven years old. They were growing as the years I was working there. I worked so hard. I had this job and during those years I met Eric. I was doing so well. For me, that 68-70,000 was definitely the beginning of me seeing, “I can do this on my own.” When there’s no life insurance money for the additional…I could keep the house still. I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I was like, I could get there. I could get there. I remember that I was so unhappy in that job. The only reason why I was doing it was because of the security, the health insurance the kids. Bari At some point you took an enormous leap to start your own work. I have questions about that, but I also have questions about parenting and money and what you have done in that realm – what’s been conscious, unconscious, what have you tried to do differently? Where do we go here? We have so many questions, but I want to honor time. Let’s answer a few of these. I’m sure some people would be very interested. How did you go from loss and grieving and stepping into the corporate world and HR world and making 35 and then doubling within five months? Doing that for however long you did and then saying… I know you were really scared to take that leap to start your own. Christina I was very sad and I cried about it. I was there for three years with that company. Two and a half years, I was an HR business partner. I hired and fired and I had 30 positions under me I was responsible for. I trained the leaders of this company. This was definitely a great job for anyone else. Bari Also explain, there were so many baby steps here. You took a leap and doubling. Then baby steps, baby steps, skillset growth, foundation, three years, having tons of people underneath you and then you finally stepped into your own work. I know you’ve had one leap after the next and you’re an enormous visioner and big thinker. What we’re clearing all hearing here is that this was not necessarily your childhood. It might have been you and your mind of, “I don’t like school. I don’t like rules.” Please share more of that story and then we’ll go into parenting and money, which we could – there’s so many questions that I want to know. Then we’ll complete with what money legacy means to you. That’s where I’m going. Christina Yeah. There’s a place – and I can’t wait to tell you about where I am now and what this means and how it all… it’s amazing as I’m telling my story and to pull the thread with the money part of all this. The struggle, the resilience the growth, when I was allowed to make money and when I was not allowed, working all the jobs and then not being allowed to work. It’s amazing to say that all out loud. While I was at this company, at night – because I was so depressed being there; I hated it. I performed at a very high level. Of course, it was a very new world to me because nobody in my family ever lived in a world like that. Nobody. Nobody had ever lost someone so significant in their lives. Nobody has been a single parent that I’ve known. My grandmother lost my grandfather – my dad’s mom – when she was 59. That’s not 35. I was definitely in new territory, new landscape. I became the person who would give advice and I also felt like nobody could advise me. I had so much more experience than everyone else. It was lonely. I actually have been lonely since then; very lonely in many ways. But that’s another call and another conversation. I decided to leave when I hired my boss, who I trained to do what I’ve been doing when they had to fire my boss. I was doing two jobs. I had taken on all of this responsibility and doing amazing, but still I didn’t like the job. When I hired her – I interviewed all of my bosses. Looking back, of course I was doing great. If I had stayed in the corporate world, now I would be a Senior VP with a pretty good salary and options and all sorts of things. This is not what I chose. One day, in the kitchen, I remember Eric telling me, “What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?” I hated Mondays so much. I was in the waiting room. From 2006 when he died until 2010, I was in the waiting room and I didn’t know. It looked like I had moved on in my life, it looked like I was doing great, but I was deeply miserable. Deeply miserable. At night, in those years at this company, that’s when I came up with the words Second Firsts and I got the domain name and parked it and didn’t tell anyone. That’s when Deeply Secretive Place. I wanted to help people after loss. I resigned one day and I gave them a two week notice. It took me two years from that day to say yes to sharing credit cards with Eric. Bari, the fear center in my brain… you cannot depend on anyone else, Christina, ever again. That was the story. Bari I wondered what that meant that you wouldn’t share credit cards with him, what meaning you were putting on that. The meaning was that you’re not going to be dependent on someone else again because they’ll die, because – Christina Yeah. They’ll leave, they’ll die. That, to this day, I still think about. One of the reasons also why I worked always. I want to bring people all the way to today. Bari Yes, yeah. Maybe ignore my question about parenting and kids because that’s a whole other – but I do want to hear about today, what you’ve created. Also, there’s something full circle here about your parents. Are you giving money back to them? They’re still alive. Also, do not want to depend on someone else because you weren’t allowed to work for so long. It’s really significant and meaningful for you to make your own money. Christina Yes. Bari Yeah, please share. Christina Yeah. I resigned from the corporate world, crying and afraid. Oh, my God. My brain told me at the time, “Christina, go and create a consultancy business around HR.” I would consult small companies in HR because I was really good at this job. I would be my own boss. This is how it started. Can you believe it? I got myself mentors around me and everyone was so excited to work with me. They couldn’t wait because I was going to do all of this great stuff. Then, one day, I spoke to someone – that’s why it’s so important for everyone that’s listening to have coaches and mentors around you. I had also done a year-long brain science coaching certification as well, on the side. I have overworked myself, over educated myself, over prepared for everything for the war, for famine, for not having anything. I was super equipped. This guy, when I told him about Second Firsts kind of in secret – that it’s a secret thing and a secret dream – he was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve got to do this.” What I did next was pretty important. Nobody wanted me to do this work. Bari Who is nobody? Who? Christina All the mentors. I had around me these great corporate retired CEOs who were helping me. I was in this great organization that, for free, gave advice. One guy’s name was Howard and this other guy, John. When I told them about me doing this, they said no. No. They were adamant. I cancelled all of those meeting with all of those people and went quiet for the first three to six months, building Second Firsts. Then I went back when I proved my concept. When I had tens of thousands of people greeting me and following me within months, what happened – for everyone who is listening who has a dream, who is afraid to believe in their own value, can that dream make money? Can that dream impact the world? The moment I stepped onto the carpet of Second Firsts, my God. It was destiny. Bari Yeah. It just exploded. That’s not the right word. It just grew. I was so needed and so wanted, so clearly and so quickly. Christina To me, the story of my life and the way I came here has not really been shared before in this detailed way. For the girl in that town in Greece, moving to the UK and not speaking the language, this was definitely… then when Hayhouse knocked on my door, offered a book deal for Second Firsts… they were blown away by the concept, the words. They didn’t want to change anything. They were like, “This is the book.” I remember my agent, Stephanie, said to me, “Sit down,” when she was telling me the news about getting our first – we actually had two book offers for the first book. This was 2011. This was early, really early. I stepped into that world and I started making money. My first course, my first life reentry program had one registration. All of my money stories and money beliefs came crashing me down. “I can never do this. This is impossible.” I remember sitting on the bathroom floor crying the week before my class was about to begin online. I had one registration. I said, “How in the world am I going to do this?” I was pooling from many thousands of people. I had a big audience at the time for what it was, for 2011. I got back up the next morning and I started calling people. I got that first class to 22. Thank God that I believed in myself and the value of what I was creating because that first group was so mind blowing. I have 300 people in these life reentry classes and now I close the doors at 100 because more than 100 is just crazy. I can’t help them all at the same time. I wrote another book in 2016, published in 2018. Now, here’s what happened with all my threads and what I believed about money. Up until very lately, in order to make money – as far as I’m concerned – I had to work very hard for it. That was a lie. That was a big, fat lie. That is not true that I had to work so hard that I had to sacrifice my life for it. Bari I think that’s what you mean. There’s nothing wrong with hard work. The belief was that you had to work around the clock. You had to work three jobs. Maybe one time in your life you did and your parents did. Sometimes we go through phases when we do. I think what you’re getting at is that it’s not true any longer. That’s not where you’re at. There’s other ways of working. Christina It’s not true in the way – I guess what I’m saying is that the lie was about in order for me to support my family, I had to sacrifice everything. The sacrifice was a lie. The sacrifice of myself was a lie. Bari It goes back to what you said at the very beginning. At some point you learned how to value you time, skills, money, time, value, energy in a completely different way. You’re not willing to sacrifice and contort yourself to be in the world. Christina This is where in the last six months I’ve stepped into a very different chapter of my life. Talk about money legacy, what is the legacy that I hope I get to rewrite for my kids. They have seen the struggle. They have seen the fear. They’ve seen the hardworking mother. They’ve seen all of that. Like you said, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I gave it my all. I gave it all. Maybe that’s not okay. We have to keep something to ourselves. Life is much more important than work and much more important than money. In the last six months – I tried to understand it myself since this is the beginning of this journey. My wisdom on this is possibly very basic, but I want to say that something hit me over the head last march so much. It was invisible what hit me. It wasn’t an event. Nothing happened. I didn’t experience a loss. I was actually at the most successful time in my work. It was a lot of work. It had exploded. I had classes, programs, books, things. Everything was going on. I turned around and said, “I am not willing. I am no longer willing to live like this for anyone, for anything.” I slowed down. I said a lot of nos. I set a lot of boundaries. Then something really strange started to happen. I was making money easier. It was so fascinating. The clinical trial came literally two weeks after they received – I don’t know if I should say the amount, but it’s a lot of money for the clinical trial on life reentry. It was as soon as I let go. I’m holding in my hands in the air right now. I let go. The universe just threw everything. Now I’m entering this place where working hard, for me, is now all about joy. Bari Did they offer you an amount and you had to negotiate that? Christina The clinical trial? Bari Yes. Christina The clinical trial money goes to the foundation that is going to conduct the study. I get paid for my time, but that was a grant; a very, very large grant from the Brain Injury Foundation to study me, to study Life Reentry. It’s not only an impossible dream, but most people never have their work studied in a traditional way like this. It’s an honor. Then we moved. I decided that it was time for us to me. I guess my brain wants to mirror inner change with outer change a lot. We came here. The house is cheaper – this is how the universe is weird – but it’s double the size. Less work, more abundance, more freedom, more everything. I live in a very abundant state right now. I have two or three appointments for my body every week. Whether it’s a float session – sensory deprivation tanks – a massage, my trainer at the gym, I meditate every day. Of course, I’m doing the best work of my life at the same time. Bari I love hearing about the nos. I love hearing about the boundaries. I love hearing that something invisibly hit you on the head and saying a big shift needs to happen, inner and outer, right now and that you’ve stepped into a whole new place of more ease, abundance and joy and care for your body. It’s just a really different time. It sounds like a really beautiful, healthy… menopause. Perimenopause. Christina Yes. It must be. I’m 47 years old. I actually love sharing my age because the opposite is not being here. I hope that I get to be more creative. I’ve always been creative. Obviously, I’ve don’t all this worse and it came out of my head. But I look forward to writing my first fiction – finishing my first fiction – and publishing my next books and doing the clinical trial, helping non-profit organizations locally as well and also giving money away. That’s what I want to talk about this last, my legacy. I want to – whatever money I make going forward, it is not for my survival anymore. That’s a big change. Bari Beautiful. Christina, thank you so much for sharing more of your life story and money story and parts of your story that you’ve never shared before. Thank you so much. How does it feel? Christina I love the place of the end because it’s the upside down of my story. I learned to make money for survival, but now I want to make money so that I can give it away. That’s all that I can think about. Who can I help? How much money can I make so that I can give it? I can give it. Not that charity wasn’t always a part of my life, but when you are in a survival mode and not a thriving mode – the three personas of loss and life reentry – you can only think of yourself. Even though you’re helping other people, everything you’re making when it comes to money is about your survival. I learned that as a child. We have to survive. We have to survive. I think I’m entering the thriving phase now and I’m looking forward to lessons and legacies that I was never given, but I get to create for my children and my grandchildren and hopefully for many generations to come. Bari Beautiful. Beautiful. Please share, lastly, how folks can find you. Christina ChristinaRasmussen.com is the main website. The blog – I write a letter every Friday. It’s at SecondFirsts.com. My books, Second Firsts and also Where Did You Go are at every bookstore and on Amazon as well. My most favorite project, which I did for fun and I’m loving every minute of it, is the Dear Life Podcast. Dear Life with Christina Rasmussen. We are four or five months in. I can’t wait to have you on the podcast as well. Bari I’m really looking forward to that. Christina Thank you for what you do as well, Bari. Your work is – I guess everyone goes through loss, but when people go through any kind of loss, somehow it takes away our worthiness. The work you do is so important because of that. Bari I feel the same about your work. They’re so interconnected. Thank you so much for being here today and for sharing everything and for the work. Christina Thank you for your time, Bari. Thank you.
I hope this buoyant woman’s courage, strength and compassion shines through our conversation.
She is the founder of The Life Reentry Institute and has helped countless people break out of what she coined the “waiting room” of grief to rebuild their lives through her Life Reentry Model. With this, she introduces a new model of grief based on the science of neuroplasticity. She describes grief as a catalyst for redefining identity, and outlines the process of “reentry”, or returning to life.
Her mission is to change the way we grieve, the way we live, and how we define our potential in this life, and the hereafter. She has consulted on the 2019 movie short Dreamwisher and currently working on her very first work of fiction as she believes that big change in an industry that has been left behind requires not only education and training through traditional settings but also in media, movies and entertainment.
Her Institute’s mission is to bring forth a new way of speaking about and embracing loss within the medical, corporate and social environments.
Her work has been featured at ABC News, Washington Post, Maria Shriver and the White House Blog. She currently works and lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Eric, their daughters and their two dogs.
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P.P.S. What’s a Money Memoir? In this interview mini-series, I talk to folks from all different backgrounds and walks of life — and ask them to share real stories about money. The good, the hard, and the triumphant. Because we ALL have money wisdom and gems to share. And sometimes, just hearing someone open up lets our own healing begin. As is tradition around Art of Money headquarters, each year we publish a new series of Money Memoirs to give you a taste of the kinds of things we help people within inside my flagship program: