Skip to main content

Couch Surfing

In My Own Words Spring/Summer 2009

By Natalie Pace ’94

Illustration by Robert P. Hernandez.

Some of our most beloved CEOs were once just couch-surfing college drop-outs, which is a ray of hope for anyone stuck in a rut or just tired of the ramen diet.

It was while Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, was bumming beds in his friends’ dorm rooms that he crashed a college calligraphy course, which inspired Apple’s font styles. It was during my house-sharing days — as a struggling single mother — that I launched my financial news company. 

Don’t get me wrong. Having my USC diploma, an exceptional alumni network and the wisdom of the classes I took were all assets that helped me become a published author and No. 1 stock picker, but you feel more like an a** than an asset when you are counting pennies to afford a fast-food burger. 

And yet, these ridiculous, embarrassing, humbling moments of hardship are often the fuel of our most important, lasting and positive change. As an English literature graduate, I would have never dreamed of entering the world of personal finance, if I did not have to find a better way of budgeting and investing for myself after my divorce. 

So “tough times” are the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, if we’re willing to reach out for help. Lend a hand; pull together. Think partner, not competitor. And couch surf.

Armed with these ideals, you too, might become the next USC VIP to use a breaking point as the “tipping point” of your life.

Couch Surf. According to Jobs, the seeds of Apple were quite humble. In a commencement address he delivered in 2005, he said, “It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the 5-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” 

Even if you don’t invent the iPhone, and your couch-surfing period returns little more than drool on a pillow, let Steve’s story give you the inspiration (and humor) you need to move forward. 

Invest for Lifetime Wealth. Buy and hold doesn’t work. Mutual funds don’t work. The Blue Chip Index has become the Bailout Index. If you’re freaked out about your losses (and who isn’t these days), understand that fear and loathing only create more problems. Turn instead to a winning game plan. What does work? Modern portfolio theory. Exchange traded funds. Rebalancing twice a year. Avoiding dying companies. Investing in products and services of tomorrow. Reach out for wisdom instead of blind faith when you are deciding which companies you will take ownership in through your Buy My Own Island Fund (formerly known as your IRA or 401(k)).

Find Another Alternative. One investment analyst has decided to volunteer her time at a local nonprofit organization. She is going to keep her skills sharp and learn some new chops, so that when she does get a job, she can enter one rung up the career ladder!

Take One for the Team. There is a city in Connecticut where the staff has volunteered to take one day off every two weeks to cut costs. This has reduced expenses across the board and prevented layoffs.

Remember the Currency of a Smile. Don’t underestimate the value of your positive energy and willingness to give. Mario, a waiter at a restaurant that I frequent, gets free L.A. Lakers seats, avocados and hands to move because he is so ready and willing with his time and energy.

Every cent you own and every moment you spend is always an investment, so be generous with your smiles, your charity, your creative solutions and even your couch-surfing, knowing that you are always walking toward a better life.


Natalie Pace ’94. Photo credit Stacie Isabella Turk, stylist Arlene Hylton-Campbell.

Natalie Pace ’94, author of Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is (Vanguard Press, 2008), is featured in the movie, Spiritual Liberation and is CEO of a highly respected, independently owned financial news company. She has been ranked a No. 1 stock picker by and has been featured on CNBC,, Good Morning America, Fox News, and more. Check out her forensic, investigative financial reporting at Sign up for 30 days free at the Join Now link.

USC College alumni may send “In My Own Words” essay ideas for consideration to or USC College Magazine Editors, 1050 Childs Way, RRI 308, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2910.

USC College Magazine Staff

Susan Andrews

Managing Editor & Designer
Emily Cavalcanti

Senior Writer
Pamela J. Johnson

Web Editor & Writer
Laurie Hartzell

New Media Producer
Mira Zimet

Letitia Franklin

Contact Us

USC College Magazine
c/o Letitia Franklin
1050 Childs Way
RRI 308
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2910