Growing up, I had a particularly lofty expectation about professionals in the working world – heck, about the world in general. I thought that high level executives were the best in their field, that perfection was a critical element to success, that my competition would be my greatest limitation.
I was fearful of what the world was about to hoist upon me.
After releasing myself into the wild nearly 15 years ago, I quickly began to realize that I had nothing to be afraid of – not because I was supposedly “smart” or anything like that.
My assumptions about professionals and what it would take to shine were largely wrong. In fact, quite wrong. Managers are often promoted beyond their capability. Staff at all levels routinely come in to work late and leave early, complain about everything and work only for the weekend. They surf the web on the job, slack off and do the bare minimum, often concerned more about covering their own ass than just getting the job done. Of course, there are exceptions to these observations – but those exceptions are way too few.
Honestly, the competition is not that tough.
In truth, it is not hard to look good. As my dad used to tell me as a child, “showing up is half the battle”.
I have learned a lot in the last 15 years of my life about not only being a professional, but working with other professionals. And without further ado, below are the 8 most interesting life lessons from my humble existence in this world that I’ll never forget.
My Lessons Learned
1. I have worked with a wide variety of people with different educational backgrounds – from PhDs to high school graduates. In that time, I learned that those with college degrees are not necessarily smarter, wiser or more prepared to intelligently confront problems than those without higher education. They tend to be more confident in their ability to think, and I admire confidence. But many times, problems need more than sheer confidence to solve. Problem-solving takes rational thought with a solid foundation in reality, and experience is often the best way to compile the necessary understanding to confront complex problems.
2. Those who insist on prefacing their job title with “senior” (ie: Senior Software Developer, or Senior Product Buyer) are often quite a bit less productive and capable than those below them. Too often, the true definition of “senior” means nothing more than someone who managed to keep a job in the same industry for a long period and narcissistically insists on the inclusion of “senior” in their title to make up for shortcomings that they believe can be masked under the cloak of seniority – not necessarily an indication of skill or capability.
3. Never confuse a Type-A personality with automatic intellect. Type-A personalities are confident in their ability to make decisions, right or wrong. Their opinions often come across as gospel, and those around them may interpret these opinions as such. Certainly, all rational opinions should be taken seriously, but I have found that Type-A opinions are neither more nor less credible than others.
4. It is always easier to critique the work of others than to create the work ourselves. Remember writing term papers in high school or college? Unless you are a gifted writer, coming up with a well-crafted original piece is not easy. But read a term paper of one of your fellow classmates and their mistakes often jump off the page. Same concept for new ideas or proposed solutions. Try not to be discouraged when your thoughts get struck down by others, because criticizing others is far easier than coming up with a sound and original thought.
5. Contrary to popular myth, we are not all created equal. Some of us are naturally more gifted in athletic abilities, math or public-speaking than others. Some of us were born to be an astronaut. Others were meant to be accountants, software developers or vagabonds who travel the world and bum a cot and maybe a leftover sandwich from strangers. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses make us very different and unique people, capable of starkly different achievements and driven by a wide variety of motivations.
6. Unfortunately, very few people have a concept of money and how much they spend on trivial and unnecessary pleasure items. Like this blog post discussed, the morning Cup-of-Joe keeps people at work YEARS beyond when they could have retired and started to enjoy life more fully. What about that cell phone plan with unlimited data, cable TV, expensive car or house, those season tickets to your favorite sports team? All of these items cost a good chunk of change. Ironically, these same people lament the fact that retirement seems to be a goal that keeps getting more and more distant into the future. People have the right to spend their hard-earned money however they see fit, but understanding how lifestyle choices effect retirement is a concept that too few understand.
7. Nobody is better than you; then again, you are not better than anyone else, either. Drive up next to an expensive car like a BMW or Mercedes, and the driver might look at you as if you are downright inferior. And why? Because they are driving a car that put them further into debt than the one you’re driving? Some people have a 5 foot vertical leap. Others can downhill ski faster than lightning. Good for them, but ask yourself a simple question – who cares? Have you ever mumbled under your breath “I wish I could do that”? If so, all that you have done is willingly put yourself down. In the greater scheme of life, it does not matter who downhill skis the fastest, or jumps the highest, or drives the most expensive car or walks around with the biggest arms. Who cares? Focus on your life and your immediate goals. Never be envious of someone else and their situation because it rarely helps to improve yours.
8. I am convinced that people’s IQs drop about 10 points in the driver’s seat of a car. I have witnessed very smart people drive as if they were completely out of their minds. Rolling over curbs, speeding up and slowing down in rapid succession, changing lanes suddenly and without signaling (generally right in front of someone else). These are smart people, but when behind the wheel of a car, they turn into clumsy and unaware drones in control of a 5,000 pound death machine. The larger problem is few people take driving seriously, and almost nobody saves gas by hypermiling these days.
The moral of this story is about how different reality and our expectations truly are. In my lifetime, it has become clear that education does not necessarily make someone smarter. Those above you in the food chain at work are not necessarily more productive, more intelligent or more deserving than you to do that same job. Their decisions are not necessarily any “better” than yours.
And likewise, it may seem that retirement is so far off that the idea of retiring early is a far-fetched dream because that idea does not nicely conform with conventional wisdom and what “ought to be”.
To hell with conventional wisdom.
Here’s #9, a bonus: I learned that conventional wisdom is a pile of shit. All this so-called “wisdom” does is hold you back under the assumption that it simply can’t be done. But, I have news for you: it can be done, and it is – every day. All it takes is focus and determination, staying accountable for the decisions that we make and the confidence that yes, we will achieve.
The truth is a properly motivated and determined person can retire by 40. Hell, how about 30, as was the case with the ever-popular Mr. Money Mustache, or this dude, who retired at 38? Guess what? Early retirees are all over the place, blending into society as if they work just like the rest of us. They took a huge dump all over conventional wisdom, and I bet it felt great.
Remember, achieving financial independence at an early age is about the journey. It does not demand perfection. It demands a motivated and determined attempt and ignoring what “ought to be”.
Are you motivated enough?
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.