Several years ago I was a new college grad with a steady job who thought he had it all. Maybe I should say that I thought I could buy it all. I was wracking up debt faster than the income I was making. I was in a sales job (and not very good at it) and figured that one day, my ship would come in to rescue all of that debt. I was literally out of control.

One day I walked into a Nissan dealership (Bedford Nissan for the folks back home) with my mind set on getting a brand new Nissan Pathfinder. I didn’t have the income or the cash to pay for it. Truth be told, I was already upside down in the Pontiac I was driving because I traded in a different car to acquire that one. I didn’t know or care about negative equity. The last dealership made it all pretty easy so I figured these guys would too. I had done my research and was ready to make the purchase. That is when it happened.

As the finance guy in the dealership looked over my paperwork, I sat quietly hoping he would just move right to the part where I signed my name. He paused and his next words I will never ever forget….

“Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to get up, walk out of this dealership, get in your car, drive home and not return until you have paid that car off. Do I want to sell you a car today? Sure. But the best thing I can do for you is tell you to get up, walk out and go pay off that car you drove in with.”

He handed me my keys and I walked out of that dealership caught somewhere between ashamed and enraged. Never did I imagine that I would get a tough love lesson from a man I would never recognize today. I never got his name. I have no idea if he still works there. I just know what he said that day forever changed the trajectory of my financial and personal life.

I went home and after a few days of self pity, got up the nerve to call one of those debt counseling services. When I went for my appointment, they said “you don’t really need to be here.” I said “I don’t need to be here today, but I will need to be here in about 3 months.” We drew up the paperwork and for the next several years, I (along with my new wife that came about a year later) “did the hard” and made those monthly payments. After many years, we eventually paid it all off. It was brutal at times but those hard years taught me lessons I’ll never forget.

And they came from the most unlikely of places.

I have never shared that story publicly. Most people don’t know that early in our marriage, my wife inherited a mountain of debt (another reason she’s my hero). I share that story today because I want to encourage you to always be aware of those random people that will come into your life. My ship came in, but it looked nothing like what I thought it would. The captain was a guy in a car dealership delivering the news that I needed to get my act together. It wasn’t a pile of money from a big sale, it was a dose of horrible medicine that would eventually make it all better.

As you start this new year, be willing and available. Be open to who comes into your path to change the trajectory of your current situation (financial or otherwise) too. It could literally change your life.

I know it changed mine.