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The long road back: The advice
Our career rehabilitation experts have some advice for Rothberg. But it won't be easy.
August 17, 2005: 2:50 PM EDT
By Paul Keegan, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - There's no reason Rothberg can't accomplish his goals of a house with an affordable mortgage, and money for his child's future, say experts in career rehabilitation, but it will take hard work and patience. Here's what they suggest.

Make a plan and stay positive

"You reek of failure," Eric Aronson tells Rothberg not long after they begin a coaching session. "You see yourself at the bottom of everybody's list."

Harsh words, to be sure, but Aronson knows whereof he speaks. The founder of Dash Systems, a life-coaching company in Syosset, N.Y., Aronson served three years in prison for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and knows self-loathing comes with the territory.

Aronson's advice might apply to anyone trying to make a comeback from a self-created disaster.

First write down a list of short, medium and long-term goals. Then do visualization exercises in which you "see" yourself accomplishing those goals, like a football player's pregame ritual of imagining himself eluding tacklers to score a touchdown.

For Rothberg, a short-term goal could be to analyze companies that he wants to work for so he can show how hiring him would make the firms more productive. A medium-term goal might be to start his own consulting business. Long term: to buy a house. Making progress toward each goal will build confidence, Aronson says.

Have a good explanation handy

"Rob needs to practice a better way to explain his conviction," says David Nidus of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit group that counsels ex-offenders.

Don't launch into long stories detailing why you were innocent and how someone else was to blame. Instead, take responsibility for what you did and quickly move on to the positive changes you've made since. Even the tone of your voice can be a giveaway, so practice explaining yourself in a relaxed but upbeat manner.

"You don't want to lie," says Nidus, "but you can take steps to better market yourself."

Sacrifice now, rewards later

The Rothbergs are moving from a tiny $780-a-month apartment to a larger $1,500 place nearby -- a big mistake, says Bob Hurley, a Rockland, Mass. financial planner.

"They want to spend twice as much on rent and still save to buy a house?" he says. "I think they have a little problem with deferred gratification."

Rothberg says they have to move because their apartment is not child-safe and they're worried about lead-paint poisoning. Hurley counters that they could probably find a safe apartment for less than $1,500 a month if they venture a little further away. The Rothbergs reply that they love the North Shore.

"And I love Aspen," Hurley retorts. "If they're serious about buying a house, they simply have to adjust their lifestyle."

Unless the Rothbergs can find a way to earn more money, the family has to find ways to cut costs to accomplish several critical goals, Hurley says.

These are to buy term life insurance policies, which can be obtained for less than $100 a month; and to begin restoring Rothberg's post-bankruptcy credit rating by getting a credit card, even if the rates are high, making sure to pay the balance off every month.

This will improve their credit score as time goes on. Finally, they need to buy disability insurance for Rob.

Rothberg says he'll think about all of this advice. But for now, he'd rather focus on some recent good news: He earned $35,000 in the first half of 2005 from two freelance jobs (writing software and technical documentation). And Shannon just landed a job as a part-time nanny.

Taking the additional steps outlined by the experts is scary, Rothberg admits.

But then again, spending 15 months in prison is pretty scary too, and he survived. So, says Rothberg, "I'm willing to try."


How to bounce back from a big mistake  Top of page


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