The article “For certified financial planner, lifetime of struggle holds lessons for others” was originally published in Wealth Professional on March 8, 2022.

International Women’s Day: CFP reflects on life-changing tragedy and how she took financial control

This article was provided by Brenda Hiscock, of Objective Financial Partners in Markham, Ontario.

The ICU is buzzing with unusual sights and sounds as I enter. Who is this old woman, surrounded by machines and tubes, lying gray and motionless in the bed? Why am I afraid of her?

I’m 12 years old, and this woman is my mother.

She had a massive stroke, and after 18 months of hospitalization she passed away. She was a single mother with four children and had no life insurance. I often think about how different our lives may have been if she did. Many of the future challenges our family faced could have been avoided or minimized had she had the foresight and education to understand the importance of life insurance.

On International Women’s Day, I often think back on that time because it had such a profound impact on the rest of my life and my career choices — and I know so many other women have faced similar adversity.

The burden of paying household bills, assisting my siblings and holding down two jobs as a teenager was overwhelming, and I used alcohol to numb my feelings. When I was 18, we were evicted from our home. I was blindsided by the eviction, and my drinking got worse.

Around this time, I was in my final year of high school and signed up for a co-operative education program. I was placed in a Credit Union. I worked as a teller and was hired there after the program ended. I have been in financial services ever since.

I became a single mom at 25. I found it difficult to make ends meet as a single working mother receiving no child support, and it felt impossible to get ahead. Government supports were there for single working mothers, but at the time there was no focus on planning for the future within those systems, and little if any opportunity to save.

I held onto my job as my drinking escalated, and even made career advances during my downward spiral, but my employment became more precarious as my addiction gained power.

Eventually, two stints in rehab marked the beginning of the end of my drinking. In 2004, I went to AA and successfully quit.

Deeply in debt, I sought credit counselling and ultimately declared bankruptcy. As a financial professional, this was devastating. I felt like an imposter and was filled with shame. I’m grateful my new employer stood behind me during this time, and I slowly regained my confidence.

I rebuilt my credit history by obtaining a secured credit card. Once the bankruptcy was off my record, I established a positive credit history.

I was excited to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my sobriety. Instead, on that day, my doctor told me I had cancer. I leaned strongly on support systems, including an employee assistance program and Alcoholics Anonymous, to remain sober during this very difficult time. I required extensive surgery, chemotherapy and was off work for 18 months. Thankfully, I had disability insurance in place. As a single mother of a 14-year-old and fresh from a bankruptcy, I can’t imagine how things would have turned out without it.

After I recovered, I decided to obtain my life and health insurance licence as I saw the critical role insurance had played in my life both positively and negatively. I also obtained my financial planner certification to help people like me, especially women, who didn’t know how to work towards financial wellbeing after facing serious adversity.

Over my 18 years of sobriety, I have learned that in active alcoholism, emotions stagnate. Feelings aren’t processed, so they pile up. This is why support systems, especially for women, are so vital.

The deeply rooted scars of living in poverty and being homeless made me fear owning anything of value. These fears interfered with my financial growth. I never bought a home which I knew would benefit me financially because, deep down, I was afraid of it being taken away from me again.

I sought therapy to work through these patterns and bring to the surface the wounds that impeded my progress. I bought my first home last year, and I’m 56. I believe that my unhealthy beliefs about money have had the biggest impact on my financial choices. Logically, I knew all the right things to do, but innate fears kept me from taking action.

Effectively managing your personal finances goes far beyond numbers. If there are psychological barriers blocking one’s path, all of the education in the world may not help. My experiences have taught me that those of us who are financial professionals must talk to our clients and consider their attitudes, beliefs and feelings about money when providing advice, or we may be setting them up for failure.

On International Women’s Day, women should remember: It’s never too late for a fresh start, and to vanquish deep-rooted beliefs that can impede both personal and financial progress. Clearing psychological hurdles stemming from past trauma can help us make better choices and live the lives we have earned — and deserve.

Brenda Hiscock is a Certified Financial Planner. With over 20 years in the industry, she takes an educational approach in providing advice to clients at Objective Financial Partners Inc. She also holds the Registered Health Underwriter (RHU) designation, and has specialized knowledge in living benefits such as disability, critical illness, and long-term care insurance.