Today, I interview Eric Brotman who was very entertaining in childhood. He loved doing standup comedy or singing, always mimicking his favorite stars. He enjoyed putting on a show for his friends and family, goofy and carefree. But he never actually used his own voice or his own style when he did these things.
In school, he fit in everywhere and was friends with everyone, now referring to his younger self as “chameleon-esque”. Still to this day, he has a tendency– as many of us do– to tailor his speaking style to his audience.
However, the changes that took place after his parents’ divorce led this high schooler to face adulthood much earlier than expected. Eric began working at age 14, made his way through college, and completed some internships that led him toward the finance industry (although his studies were in English and Psychology). In this field and in his work with clients, he realized the vulnerable work he was doing as people shared their fears, the financial mistakes they’d made in the past, and their hopes and dreams for the future.
He found his voice through moving forward, trying different things, and being open-minded to opportunities that came his way. He didn’t plan to end up working in finance, but he says it’s the best outcome he could have ever hoped for, and he loves helping others to open their minds to the possibilities that life has to offer.
Eric D. Brotman, CFP®, is the CEO of BFG Financial Advisors, host of the Don’t Retire… Graduate! podcast, author of the Don’t Retire… Graduate! book, and regular contributor to Forbes.com.
He and his team believe that financial literacy is the key to financial freedom, so they provide free and affordable educational resources and accessible financial planning with no asset minimums. Free Resources: Ebook to help you save on taxes can be downloaded at lowtaxbook.com Ebook to help understand the financial planning process can be downloaded at whatisfp.com Complete library of resources, including webinars, podcasts, and articles can be found at brotmanmedia.com
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #44 Eric Brotman
“From Blending In to Standing Out”
(00:03) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I host the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I invite guests here who have a story and that story is about not having a voice. What does that actually mean? It means, it could mean that somewhere along their life, maybe early childhood, or maybe high school or maybe when they got out into the work world, it was difficult to express and connect to who they really are and communicate from a sense of “hello world. This is who I am,” like a stronger sense. So, today I’d like to interview Eric Brotman. Let me tell you a little bit about him first. He is CEO of BFG financial advisors, he’s hosted Don’t Retire, Graduate. I can’t wait to hear more about that one. He’s a podcast host and he’s also author of a book called Don’t Retire, Graduate. He’s a regular contributor to forbes.com. He and his team believe that financial literacy is the key to financial freedom. This is the good part. So, they provide free and affordable educational resources and accessible financial planning, with no asset minimums. Well, welcome, Eric. This is a brand-new conversation. We’re just beginning our relationship. So, it’s learning about you from start. So, hello.
(02:15) Eric Brotman
Well, hi, Doreen. It’s great to be here. I’m excited and enthusiastic, and of course, on the hot seat, so I’m ready for you.
(02:24) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, because I’m a psychologist, I always like to start and inquire about early childhood, because that’s the first place where we go “goo goo gaga”, and we get mirrored back to us what our voice is. So, just if you can wander back into earlier childhood, and what your experience of having a voice/ not having a voice might have been.
(02:56) Eric Brotman
It’s interesting growing up, I had a knack for– I watched a lot of comedians, clean ones, of course, because I was a kid, and also loved music. I started at a young age, both singing and doing comedy routines, basically, for myself or for my parents. But I was always in the voice of the other person. So, I was really learning to mimic someone else. Even when I sang, I sang like it was an impersonation. I never actually sang in my own voice. I’m still not sure I know what my voice is when I sing. I still– to this day, I’m 50 years old. I still when I sing, whether it’s with a band, and I’ve sung on stage with Grammy nominees, I’ve also had the good fortune to sing both karaoke and, in the shower, and in the car. But I tend to take on the voice of the person who I’m emulating.
(03:53) Dr. Doreen Downing
Wow, that’s such a good start. This is brand new information for my audience. I have not heard anybody start with a sense of themselves taking on a voice early on, and have it been singing and then have it developed into something where you’re on stage with a Grammy nominee. Wow.
(04:17) Eric Brotman
I’m a little bit like Forrest Gump, in the sense that I wind up in interesting places, meet interesting people and have become very non-fazed by it. I’m not in awe of celebrity. So, at this stage of my life, I’m not afraid to walk up to anyone and say anything. Sometimes having that lack of filter can get me in trouble, but generally, it’s a good thing and I don’t think it was always that way for sure. But at this point, I’m just unfazed. I think people are all people whether they’re famous or not.
(04:49) Dr. Doreen Downing
That’s a wonderful message. I remember myself putting on little performances for my family when I was young. It was really a warm, wonderful audience that gets happy when their little kids come out and dance or sing.
(05:08) Eric Brotman
My parents used to have dinner parties, and I used to entertain their guests, and sometimes it was with comedy routines, and they used to love it. You know, half the time, I just wanted to be part of the fun. I was the oldest it was just me and my younger brother. When we were 6, 7, 8, 9 years old, we used to have fun. When my parents would throw a dinner party for adults, we’d have fun like bussing tables and being part of the comedy. So, we actually got a chance to participate in some very unique ways.
(05:37) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, I remember those parties too. There used to be a lot of drinking. I know that my sister and I would go around the room and slurp up. So, it was not such a good experience in that way. Yeah, well, that was my early days of learning how to be an alcoholic. It started really young. But I have left that behind and that was all part of learning about myself and growing. That was what my psychology degree helped me do. But back to you, my dear. Wow. So, your message, though, what you said is there’s a sense of taking on some sense of somebody other than you who you really truly are. Let’s just keep on going through the life cycle, and you’re moving into grammar school, high school, what are some of your memories there?
(06:40) Eric Brotman
I think I was one of those young people who really didn’t have a group or a clique. So, growing up, I sort of fit in with everybody, I hung out with the artists, I hung out with the athletes, I hung out with the preppy kids and I hung out with the troubled kids. I was just sort of very chameleon-esque. In fact, when I travel– to this day, when I travel, if I’m in North Carolina, I sound completely different than if I’m in New Jersey. Not on purpose and not in some way that’s like not– its authentic. It’s authentically me. But I just tend to take on my environment, very significantly, not an attempt to defraud anyone but in an attempt to ingratiate myself and attempt to fit in. So, I managed to fit into almost any crowd because I morphed myself to do it. It was very natural. It wasn’t something I was thinking about.
(07:39) Dr. Doreen Downing
I really get what you’re saying, I know that already, it feels like you and I must have learned some of the same things growing up because I’ve traveled, I’ve, been in the Peace Corps and I feel like I can fit into quite a few different societies and classes. But what I just realized about you, maybe I realized it about myself too, is that you’re right, it’s not so much about trying to hide, it’s about trying to fit in, it’s not like you’re hiding. But what I just got, Eric is that our voice, we have multiple aspects that because we are so layered, and as humans, we have aspects. So, why not have these aspects have voice.
(08:32) Eric Brotman
It makes sense to me. I mean, when you’re in different conversations with different kinds of people, you will speak differently, I will anyway, if I’m speaking to somebody 90 years old, I’m going to speak differently than if I speak to somebody nine years old. That’s an extreme example. But that’s not to suggest that I’ve lost my sense of self, it’s to suggest that I want to be relatable, and I want to be approachable, and I want whoever I’m speaking to, to feel like I’m speaking directly to them on purpose.
(08:59) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like the sense of connection that you’re talking about that what’s priority in conversation, or communication is finding the link that connects and it sounds like just today I feel like I’m learning a lot just by talking to you. Voice is a way that we of course communicate. But it’s how we connect.
(09:22) Eric Brotman
It is and I’m an open book today and in fact, I’m usually an open book, but today I figured I was going to get some really, really expensive therapy for free. So, here I am.
(09:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, but one thing about being in transformational work is that the person who’s engaged is also getting transformed. That’s what I love about the work that I do nowadays. You know it’s less about you having a problem and me having the answer. It’s like ah, we get to go explore together and discover together so I’m really having a lot of fun with you.
(10:01) Eric Brotman
(10:02) Dr. Doreen Downing
So high school say a little bit more about you in high school?
(10:05) Eric Brotman
Well, in high school, my parents divorced when I was 12 years old. It’s one of those things, it’s one of those moments in life for anyone who’s been through this, you remember where you were sitting, when you hear that your parents are splitting up, it’s like where you were on 911, or Kennedy are these big moments in life, the Space Shuttle. I remember everything about it, this was now the tail end of middle school, or somewhere in middle school. Without getting into all the details of the story, it really changed my trajectory, because it forced me to grow up pretty fast. So, I became sort of a full-blown adult, not chronologically, but by necessity, somewhere around 12, or 13. There’s pros and cons to that. I mean, the pros are I learned self-reliance, I had a job by 14, I was really not that I was supporting myself, but I was taking on a lot of responsibility at a young age and I did that out of necessity. But I will say that the downside of that is, I think some of my childhood was missed. Not as a kid, I had a happy childhood. But in terms of my teenage years, my teenage years weren’t pretty. I have a sixth-grade daughter right now and I’m hoping that nature does not decide to pay me back for what I did in my teenage years, to my own parents. My parents would love nothing more. Of course, they love their granddaughter, but they’d love nothing more than for me to get a small taste of what I put them through in my adolescence.
(11:33) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. Well, there we go again. Mine were divorced much earlier in my life, like around five, six years old. So, I had that sense of having to grow up and take responsibility really early on. You were an older brother. I’m the older sister and I took care of my little sister. So, I think that is some of the origins of my natural ability to go into a field where I am paying attention to people, and helping them find and grow themselves.
(12:08) Eric Brotman
Well, in financial planning, it is almost as intimate as medicine, in the sense that we really do have to connect and have conversations that are about real things. It’s not just about math and money. It’s about life, it’s about kids, it’s about dreams, it’s about who in the family maybe is having a gambling issue or a drug problem or is in a bad marriage, or has all these different types of behavioral, not biological generally, but psychological issues. Behavioral finance is a growing field and a fascinating field. I actually studied in college, I studied English and psychology. So, I was not a finance major. I’m in financial planning, because it came naturally to me, and I loved it. But what I love about it, is the relationships, not the math, I can do the math. But a computer can do the math, but a computer can’t do and the reason why I don’t feel threatened by the robot advisors out in the universe are that they can’t create human connection. They can’t relate to what it’s like to have a loss or to have a big win or to have something happening in your life. So, I think it allowed me to use– I think I’ve used my English and psychology background to my advantage professionally in finance, even though they seem totally unrelated.
(13:28) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, I think that we are already getting a good sense of you way back when before you even became a professional, where you’re already enjoying being connected to people. It looks like it continued through your high school years. Then you’re starting, I’d like to definitely move on to how you then even though you didn’t go to school for being a financial adviser. Tell us how did you come upon this?
(14:00) Eric Brotman
I will call it blind, stupid luck. I had been interning in both high school and college for a number of– I interned for law firms and interned for a brokerage firm. I took a job at a brokerage firm when I got out of college in the legal department. Like lots of English majors, I was either going to teach or go to law school and I was thinking maybe more like law school. So, I took a job in the legal department of a financial company. Within six months to a year, I fell in love with the financial piece far more than the legal piece. Despite having taken lSATs and applied to school and gotten into law school and paid a deposit for law school, I didn’t go. It was not my path. So, I actually ate a deposit for law school many years ago and I don’t regret it. It was the best decision I ever made because it helped me chase what I really loved. So, I fell in love with the financial world right away and I fell in love with it because I realized just how much incredible need there is for people to understand personal finance. So, when I say personal financial literacy is the key to everything, to me, it is, to me financial literacy is as important as literacy. Because without it, you really are helpless and there are predators and creditors out there, and so you become prey and that’s not good. A lot of people make financial decisions, either blindly or using the guidance from those who really shouldn’t be giving the guidance anyway, the blind who led the blind a lot of the times and something like that. So, I found I could really make a difference in lots of people’s lives. That was– it was Kismet. It was an accident that I found finance.
(15:44) Dr. Doreen Downing
Predators and creditors … what an alliteration, I’ll always remember that.
(15:49) Eric Brotman
Oh, well, I’m not going to try and say three times fast. But yes, I mean, when you think about it, protecting yourself and your loved ones from those kinds of things. Whether back in the day, it was having a moat around your castle to protect against invaders. Today, it’s cybersecurity. But no matter how time changes, it’s still about protecting your loved ones and your wealth and your resource.
(16:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, and having somebody like you, it feels like who cares, I get that today. Hopefully, my listeners are hearing that you aren’t just some robot out to make money. You’re really relatable. I think that that’s what we need is support along the way. Because, in a way, I’m thinking about you in a position like me, I’m looking at people and I’m looking at possibility and I’m looking at growth, and I’m looking at what could be for them. That feels like you are looking at people knowing more than they know about what’s possible.
(17:00) Eric Brotman
Helping people realize a mindset of abundance. Yogi’s, figured that out 3000 years ago, but there are ways to find abundance and joy that stem from making good decisions. So, a lot of people are driven by fear. I’m one of those preachers, my fear of failure has driven me professionally my whole life, not because I’ve had a history of failing, particularly at anything, but because it’s the one thing I didn’t want to face was not being good at something or failing at something. So, it forced me to work and I think I outwork a lot of people. I outworked my peers, I know that and not in school, not academically, academically, I really grabbed the bull by the horn and enjoyed my college years. I didn’t spend them nearly as much in the library as some, I spent them, relating to people, and I spend them in more bars than I care to admit too, so we could talk about that if you want to. But the reality is, I had a lot of fun in college, I made a lot of great friends and I learned a whole lot about life. I’m not going to say I didn’t apply myself; I’m going to say I didn’t stress over the grades. I made sure I had a great experience. I don’t regret that today. My transcript is not something someone asked me about anymore, it’s been 30 years.
(18:26) Dr. Doreen Downing
That’s so true. Well, one of the things I realized looking back on what you just said a few minutes ago about being in law school, I’m not going to law school, but also being in an internship where you started to feel yourself gravitate being pulled by and I was thinking that it’s a little– because my podcast is about voice, it seems like this is kind of a far-out idea that your future has a voice.
(18:55) Eric Brotman
I don’t know if it’s that your future is calling, I think you have to hear a lot of sounds to be drawn by one. So, if you’re going to– I think it’s important for people to try lots of things. Try lots of experiences, whether it’s travel, or whether it’s hobbies, or whether it’s jobs, whatever it is try lots of things to help discover what you like. Sometimes it’s important to discover early what you don’t like, because the path you might think you’re on, I’m sure there’s some young people right now who are in their third year of med school who realized they don’t want to be doctors. You hit a certain point on your journey where it feels like it’s further to go back than it is to go ahead and so you just sort of finish and then you’re in this life you might not want. I think it’s far better to try a variety of things. One of the reasons why I think liberal arts education is still important. There’s lots of people who think it’s a waste of time or a waste of money, or I think a broad education and being exposed to lots of different people and ideas and concepts allows you to figure out your place and therefore your voice.
(20:00) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like the connection and therefore your voice. Well, the idea that you have found your, let’s say, your environment where you feel like you can speak in a way from experience, lots of experience, it sounds like and knowledge and you did the hard work. But also, what I’m getting is you use the word literacy, financial literacy. That’s a language, isn’t it?
(20:29) Eric Brotman
It’s very much so and it is. All industries have their own jargon. But the financial world is so extreme. In its jargon, it feels like a club that most people aren’t allowed to join. There’s a lot of disenfranchised people and families and couples, because it feels like there’s this club out there. Whether it– and I don’t necessarily mean the club of wealth, but this club of inside, it’s like inside baseball, like people who somehow know things that we don’t know, and are privy to things that we don’t receive. It’s not to suggest something criminal or nothing illegal, I’m just saying, it feels like we’re not invited to that party. I think it’s really important for folks to realize that the way to get into those conversations, is to make sure you understand enough about those conversations to participate. It’s really easy, but you have to participate.
(21:31) Dr. Doreen Downing
You seem to be somebody who knows both languages, that you can be a bridge to help people understand what financial literacy actually means. So, that then they can speak it themselves,
(21:50) Eric Brotman
To the best of my ability. That’s exactly right. So, we support Junior Achievement, which is an international organization that teaches young people, teach school aged kids, financial literacy concepts, everything from budgeting to entrepreneurship. It’s just an awesome program and we have a whole lot of fun with that and supporting them. I think the kids don’t get financial, personal finance, in school, in most areas of the country. I remember in third grade, having a course that at one point as part of our math course, we learned how to balance checkbook. Now, of course, kids today will never probably have a checkbook. It’s more like a video game now. But at the time, it was a checkbook and figuring how to do that register, and how to figure out debits and credits. It was a very simple thing for an eight-year-old, but it stuck with me. I think most kids don’t even get that anymore. Because there’s so much pressure to teach to a test and to pass certain tests and certain standardized scores and sort of move to the next level, that some of the basic practical skills finance being one of them, but certainly not the only one, really are getting left behind and the kids are– it’s a disservice to a whole generation.
(23:01) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, I’m glad you’re saying that, and that it helps us understand that we now need to find those who are educated like you around what financial literacy means. So, that you can help wake us up. You can help teach us, you could help, we can learn now. I mean we didn’t get it early on in life. But guess what, we’ve got people like you who can help us. Well, I feel like I’ve combed through a little bit of your history, going through college and finding your realm of expertise. You’ve got a book and you say, Don’t Retire Graduate. Tell us about that.
(23:44) Eric Brotman
In the simplest terms, retirement is a punishment worse than death. The idea of retiring in today’s world is the idea of retreating and disappearing and becoming irrelevant. That makes no sense to me. It makes no sense to spend 45 years growing a VJ and a network and all of this wisdom to then sit in front of daytime TV with your feet up or play golf or shuffleboard. It makes no sense. In most cultures of the world, the elders are the ones who have the most important wisdom. They’re revered. They’re the ones who go through with life’s biggest problems. In this country, and not just this country, but specifically here. We tend to put people out to pasture and I don’t understand it. I think these are folks who’ve seen more than we have. We could learn more from them if we would just shut up and listen. So, I think it’s important for retirement, not to be a retreat or a disappearing act, but to be a graduation, a commencement of the next phase of your life, which should be moving forward towards something, towards something important. I consider the idea of retirement, the same as financial independence. To me being retired is the absence of needing to work, not the absence of working. Because the absence of working, if you don’t have something really rewarding to fill your day, it leaves you without, forget voice, without a voice, it leaves you without a purpose. People who don’t have a reason to get out of bed every morning eventually stop getting out of bed every morning and that is a tragic way to end a life well lived.
(25:20) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, I like the idea of what you’re proposing for us is graduating into something that is really a compilation of all of our brilliance and our wisdom. What I get, I just have this vision myself of our society going– the voices of the elders, in a lot of more traditional societies or primitive societies, like you say, the elders were honored and revered. But we need to do that. It sounds like your book helps point to that the people who are quote, retired, have a voice that we can learn from.
(26:02) Eric Brotman
The book is designed to be a tool for financial literacy, and to help reach financial independence. But it’s also designed to help reach financial independence with a purpose with vision. It’s not enough to have a scoreboard, it’s been said, he who dies with the most toys win. I don’t believe in that. He who dies with the most toys still dies and probably didn’t play with half of them. I would rather see us figure out how can we leave the world a better place than we found it? How can we use our own talent to create a financial independence? Then to pay that forward in profound and important ways? Things that connect to us? What is immortality? Immortality is not slapping your name on a building. I don’t know about you. But where I went to college, every building had a name. They were all from major donors. I knew which building my classes were in, but I didn’t know those people and I didn’t care what they were. That’s not immortality. That’s graffiti. At some point, it’s better to find a way to– for me, I would rather and do have named scholarships so that we can help kids graduate from college and make sure that they finish education. That to me is immortality. You’ve just changed the trajectory not only of an individual and their immediate family, but their heirs for what could be generations. That is profound. That’s immortality, not having my name on a building somewhere.
(27:80) Dr. Doreen Downing Well, Eric, speaking of profound your voice, today feels like it carries so much for people to listen to and learn from you. How do people find you?
(27:90) Eric Brotman Best place to find me is at Brotmanmedia.com, which is where you’ll find the podcasts where you’ll find the books and workbooks and online financial literacy courses, some of which are free. You can also go to bfgfa.com, which is BFG financial advisors and learn more about what we do every day.
(28:01) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, Eric, I was so glad to have a platform where you could come and speak about what you love and it’s clear that just by looking in your eyes and seeing your smile that you love what you do, and you’re excited about passing on this information. So, thank you for being here today.
(28:20) Eric Brotman
Oh, thank you for having me. It’s been a treat.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.