Julie Piatt On How She Stayed Sane Through A Bankruptcy Scare — Before Building A Successful Career As A Creative
With an estimated 67 percent of Americans at least a little anxious about paying the bills, and 58 percent worried they won’t have enough money for retirement, it’s becoming increasingly clear that being financially well is an integral part of overall wellness. Of course, money management isn’t one-size-fits-all, so we’re talking to people from all walks of life to find out how they achieved a healthy relationship with their finances. We hope it empowers you to live a life Well Spent.
Julie Piatt is one of those rare people who has made a career out of her creative passions—but it hasn't come easy.
Julie realized that she had a knack for all things music and art at the age of 28, so she pivoted from a steady job in the fashion business to embrace her creative pursuits wholeheartedly—refusing to let anyone's perception of what was "normal" or "responsible" get to her. Her husband, Rich Roll, went through his own dramatic career shift years after, leaving behind his job as a successful lawyer to chase his athletic dreams. "We could get barely any work, either one of us. I was in my 40s creating my first album, and he was in his 40s doing triathlons—both of which make zero sense," Julie says of the time.
Looking at Julie and Rich today, you'd never know they teetered on bankruptcy for years. Rich is the two-time top finisher at the Ultraman World Championship and host of the mega-popular Rich Roll Podcast; Julie is a renowned spiritual figure, musician, and author of This Cheese Is Nuts; and together they've penned best-sellers The Plantpower Way and The Plantpower Way Italia.
In this intimate interview, Julie dives into the belief system that got her family through those tight financial times, shares her uniquely spiritual perspective on wealth, and drops advice that every creative needs to hear.
What does financial well-being mean to you?
It means having enough financial flow to be able to express yourself creatively in freedom.
What has your financial journey looked like?
I came from a middle-class family. We never really wanted for anything, but we were not a family that went on vacation. My mom's family divorced when she was young, and she had to support her mom when she was 16. She was always telling me, "You gotta know business, you have to learn multiple languages. Don't ever depend on a man." One of the great things about that is that I developed a great sense of independence and ability to thrive on my own, and then of course, I did go to a four-year college and grad school, and I financed all of that myself through school loans.
You're alive to know yourself. A good financial portfolio is not going to do that for you.
I worked in a garment center fresh out of school and actually did quite well in sales and found out that I was very good. One of the things that was horrifying to me was that at 28, I found out that I was a natural artist. It had taken me my whole life up until that point to find this out. No one had ever suggested that I try.
Now I'm in my mid-50s, and since then I have spent all of my extra income to fund my creative projects. This was not experienced with ease. It was experienced through a lot of trials, testing, and development of my creativity. This included a nine-year financial collapse that I experienced with my husband and my children. But during this time, I chose to foster my creativity and hold the vision that I would emerge from it, even though there was no physical evidence that I would.
Do you have any advice for people who want to go down a creative career path but shy away because of the financial uncertainty?
If you look at the reason for life, why are you alive? You're alive to know yourself. A good financial portfolio is not going to do that for you. It might make your life more comfortable on a certain level, but it gets to a point where, what else do you need?
From a spiritual perspective, your divine blueprint is the reason you came into living, and inherent in that is the seed of creation. If you fail to nurture that seed, you will not realize your true mission, and you will end up having lived someone else's life. And you may not realize it until you're later in years or until disease visits you, or something like that. If you're healthy and lucky enough to be healthy and have the opportunity to know yourself, that's the No. 1 focus of life.
How did you stay true to this idea during those hard financial times?
I thought I was going to have to file bankruptcy in my life, and when I went in to see the bankruptcy lawyer, I said to him, "I have no shame, idea, attachment, or emotional connection to this experience. Just tell me the scenario. Is it A, B, or C?" He was shocked, and he said, "None of my clients are saying what you just said." I said, "Well, that's because we have forgotten that we are not our credit score."
We've been disconnected from the reason we're in a body, and we've gotten into this rat race of competitive gathering of possessions, money, and bank accounts. Did Jesus have a 401(k)? Did Buddha have a savings account, just in case? Money is spiritual. It's just another energy.
How do you talk to your kids about money?
It's interesting. My kids went through the financial collapse with us—we didn't hide it from them; we were very honest and up front. I took my daughter to the pawnshop on her sister's sixth birthday so that I could have money to have a party for her. We really lived in it. Nine years in a child's life is a lot of years. So they saw me be supported time and time again by the Universe when we were down to the last potato or when someone was supposed to come and take our house from us, when we got our cars repossessed.
During that time, I just showed them how to be a vibrant being even in the face of all those things. I met it as a spiritual challenge so they would see me preserve my humanity, joy, life force, even when these things were happening to me. They would ask me, "What happens when they repossess our car?" I was like, "Nothing. It's a car." That was my answer. Had I been, "Oh my God, they're going to take the car. I'm not going to be able to get you to school!" If I did all of that, I would've been giving them that experience.
It doesn't cost anything to be spiritual.
What did your self-care look like in times when finances were tight?
During that hard time, all of my appliances broke. I didn't have washing machines, dryers, vacuums, and I had five kids living with me—four of my own and my nephew. I loathe housework because I suck at it. I was just so overwhelmed, but I decided I would approach house cleaning as a spiritual practice. With my heart, I would go into devotion and imagine when I was cleaning my house that I was infusing her with my energy and that this was going to allow us to go on this path and get a modification and keep the house.
It's not the spiritual objects that help you connect, or the guru, or anything—it's your heart. It doesn't cost anything to be spiritual. If you learn a yoga practice, you don't even need a mat. Yogis don't have mats. Just do it on the ground, on your earth.
How did you get out of that nine-year financial burden?
Well, Rich and I committed to nurture that seed that was inside both of us. I committed to it not only for me but for my husband as well. I did it because I knew I was connected to my divine design. I knew that if he went back to law, that it would be un-amazing. We would live an un-amazing life. That's not why I came here.
So we risked. And everybody thought we were insane, by the way. If you choose to do this, you threaten other people's safety, and they get angry. They take a stab: "Well, I pay my bills, and you're a loser, and that makes me better than you." It was not an easy thing. In our case, it bonded us like a tribe. My relationship was deepened by this experience rather than split apart.
In the media, you see our journey portrayed differently. People are like, "Look at Rich and Julie. Easy for them to say. They live in a totally cool house." Do you have any idea what I did for that house? I risked everything. I did everything against what everybody said.
How DID you manage to keep the house in the end?
I didn't pay property tax or insurance for five years. It makes no sense. But first of all, I did a lot of ceremony. In the eleventh hour, when I thought it was going to get auctioned, I wrote a love song to my house. As stupid as that seems, it was like "OK, I'm defeated. I tried everything possible, I made it four years, so I can sleep now and know that I did everything that I could.” Then I was in meditation and I thought, “Wait a second. There’s something I could do that I haven’t done. I’m gonna write a love song to her.” And I did. It’s the title track of my album, “Jai Home,” which means victory. It’s a victory home.
Ritual is natural to humanity. It's been torn away from us, and we're reawakening to it now. It's super cool. It's super fun for me to be in my 50s and to see the fruit of all this ceremony. Now it's like it never happened.
Want more from Julie? Check out her episode on the mbg podcast.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.