Five gems that I wish I knew in college

Published March 17, 2015   Posted in Having some fun

The learning never stops – well, perhaps I should say that the learning should never stop.  I like to think that every year I am a little wiser than the previous, and that I am better prepared to confront the world and my life with the newly-found knowledge of the previous year.

College TextbooksToday, I sit here as a 33-year old stooge who wants to retire by 40, thinking back to my college days and how far that I’ve come.  I’m preparing to retire by 40, and holy shit, this is actually going to happen!  Of course in college, early retirement was the last thing on my mind.  But now, I can’t get it out of my mind.

Actually, I kinda want it to stick around up there in the ol’ noggin.  It keeps me focused.  Please don’t leave, thoughts of early retirement.  Please don’t.  I like you.

Still, I cannot help but wonder if I’d be retired NOW if I had realized back in college that working for nearly half of my life (or more) is complete bullshit.  But then again, I was in college.  That whole experience was preparing me to work.  Work, work, work.  I thought that I was following the normal path towards death retirement.

Here are five things – five absolutely incredible gems – that I wish I knew back in college.  If I were a little bit smarter, I’d probably be retired now.

1.  College isn’t what it’s cracked up to be – I have already written at some length about how nutty this whole college thing really is, and especially how different schools automatically conjure up ill-conceived assumptions of potential for success for no damn good reason.  I value education, but college quite frankly prepared me for nothing – as it does most people.  It got my foot in the door and that’s it.  The work that I put into graduating Summa cum laude was nice, I guess, but it was also completely meaningless.  I figured that the collegiate environment would automatically envelope me into what I needed to know to make lots of money and be happy, so I just sat back and let it happen.  Fat.  Dumb.  Happy.

2.  Work is nothing but a means to an end – I always viewed work as something that people do until they are physically unable to work any longer.  Of course, how could you blame me?  Sadly, that’s what work has turned out to be for so many in this country.  Buy a big house, drive an inefficient gas-guzzling car, watch a huge LCD television while texting back and forth with your buddy on your unlimited data plan using your $600 clown phone – and then lament the fact that there just isn’t enough money for X, or that I wish I had enough time to do Y.

In reality, what I was being prepared for in college was a long career of work, and I was ready to accept that fate just like the majority of our population.  I turned off my brain to something better, instead relying on my understanding of “normalcy” to get me through life.  To hell with normalcy.  We don’t HAVE to follow the path that so many others follow.

And if you want to switch paths, college is the time to do it.  You’re prepared to face the next stage of your life.  Brimming with enthusiasm, you march forth down whatever path you feel is right for your life.  Unfortunately, the further down the path you get, the tougher it is to change course.

3.  Good things come to those who wait – Often said, rarely embraced.  But, I wish that I did in my earlier life.  Instead of plowing my way down a course of action, what I should have done was take things much more slow, focus on what truly makes me happy, and re-arrange my life so the things that I do, and the money that I spend, is in direct support of what I know in my heart to be right.  The truth is I was much more concerned with getting things done fast than right (just ask my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Messer).

The ability to reflect on life and take the time to learn from your mistakes and recognize the things that cause your successes is critical to making more thoughtful decisions throughout your life.  Use your head.  All the time.

4.  Professionals are not all that “professional” – I’ll admit it, I was intimidated by my hilariously misinformed understanding of the professional world.  I had assumed that people in positions of power were, well, the best of their breed.  I entered the professional working world straight out of college thinking that the people who I will be working with will just kick my ass back into the stone age with their knowledge and experience.

I soon realized how dumb that was.  Sure, I did work with many bright people who were not only experienced in their field, but genuinely smart.  But quite honestly, I was surrounded by mediocrity.  Most of these people weren’t in it for the science or the innovation.  They didn’t come to work every day because they loved what they do or thought they were making a difference.

Fuck no.  Most came to work because, well, that’s what you had to do to pay the bills.  It wasn’t about production or doing something meaningful.  It was about making a living.

And while they were obviously more experienced than I was at the office, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by “best of their breed” folks.  They were fine at what the did, but so was I, fresh out of college.  My dad always used to say that it’s not that tough to look good, and showing up was half the battle.  And you know what?  It is.  I found that putting in even the slightest bit of additional effort was easily recognizable, which almost effortlessly put me into a position of getting ahead.

5.  Money is meant to be saved, not spent – It’s exciting when college is finally over.  Over the past four or more years, you’ve scrimped by on rice and beer and now you are finally making some serious money.  So, let’s spend it!

And I did.  I blew through a half year’s salary my first year out of college and bought a used Corvette convertible.  Fun car, definitely a blast to drive, but completely overkill and without a shred of utility.  If my spending habits had stopped there, then I might be able to simply chalk that one up to a forgivable mistake straight out of college.  It happens, no big deal.

But it wasn’t.  I plopped another half year’s salary down over the course of several years upgrading the hell out of that car.  Supercharger, forged rear end, race camshaft, $1500 wheels, twin-disc clutch, headers, exhaust system.  That sucker was fast and loud.  It was also a money pit.

I also went out to eat…a lot.  I moved into an apartment with a roommate a couple years after college graduation.  We went out to lunch and dinner every day.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  The money left my wallet as fast as my waist line was expanding.  Phew, I was a wreck.

Then, I moved out to Arizona and a couple years later bought a brand new Cadillac CTS (which I still have).  Interest-free loan, but still expensive – way too damn expensive for a car.  I realized my mistake last year when I finally wrapped my head around the concept of retirement and silly cars that Americans believe to be “better”.

But hey, you live and learn.

Had I understood these concepts in college, I’d be enjoying jobless bliss right now.  But, I can’t look back into the past and wish for a different result because, well, that’s a waste of time.  The truth is I do now understand that money is meant to be saved, and that this whole professional working life thing isn’t all that tough, really.

In fact, life is quite easy.  This country offers far, far more opportunities than other nations, by far.  All we have to do is reach out and grab them.  If you want to succeed and retire early in pure and unabashed happiness, you can.  Anyone can.

You just gotta want it.

What about you?  What do you wish that you had known back in your college days?

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7 responses to “Five gems that I wish I knew in college”

  1. Its all so true Steve – I noticed the same things. People don’t seem to care about their jobs, those in charge are usually incompetent and afraid, and college didn’t prepare me for anything except having the required degree to get a job. That is it.

    I wish I had known not to spend so damn much on good alcohol (happy St. Patty’s Day), not to buy a brand new sports car, and not to skip throwing money into my IRA. I also wish I would have contributed to the TSP while I still could and not to take fun low paying jobs because they were fun. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life back then. Now I know that I don’t want to have to work for anyone else.

    It is kind of ironic that while we didn’t know what we wanted to do in life, now we want to not have to do anything.

    • It really is a sad state of affairs, Brian. But, this makes it all the more important, I think, to focus on yourself and stay determined to achieve your goals – irrespective of what everyone else is doing. This isn’t being selfish. It’s being smart. Isn’t it funny that the more focused one gets on finding true happiness out of life, the less “stuff” we want?

      And today is definitely a day to celebrate – celebrate St. Patty’s Day, or the NCAA college BB tournament, or hell…celebrate the fact that it’s Tuesday…with a good beer in hand. 🙂

  2. I agree with # 1 wholeheartedly. People rely too much on college as “the golden ticket” when its really just admission into the corporate world. Now in my opinion that is better than life as a laborer. But it is still a very conventional path.

    I went to a state school that cost 1/10th the price that my wife’s $160K education cost. School was easy and in all honesty I didn’t put much effort in and still came out graduating with honors. However, I don’t regret going to school and would likely still do it all over again.

    It was the unintended relationships and opportunities that arose from going to school. Let’s be honest, we are all the sum product of our life experiences.

    I will be the first to admit that I went to school and got a degree because it was the safe and conventional thing to do. Yes, I graduated and went to work in corporate. This whole time I had this burning desire to be an entrepreneur and go off on my own. But I was afraid of failure.

    If there is one thing I wish I knew while I was still in school is that it is not a “THIS” or “THAT” path. You can build something on the side and ease yourself into the transition.

    My aha moment came in December of 2013, when I finally decided to try and start a business on the side to see if I could make any money. In 2014 that business made $18,000 at an effective rate of $100/hour all from scratch. During that “test the waters” project I started thinking of what my ideal business would be.

    That is when I found the likes of John Lee Dumas and Pat Flynn who were making money online as lifestyle entrepreneurs. They were great examples of the abundant opportunity online and people that were truly living life by design.

    I had dabbled online but nothing serious because I always had this impostors syndrome. I am not good enough. Why will people listen to me. But then one day I said fuck it and said “WHY NOT ME”.

    That is when I started my blog in September of 2014.

    The only thing I wish I realized in college was the online opportunity. The ability to get paid to do what you love. The ability to be location independent. They say that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the 2nd best time is today.

    But even if I knew this then, I wouldn’t have the life experiences and knowledge that I do now. So its probably better that it happened last year instead of in college from 2004-2008.

    Great post!

    Thanks for letting me get all this out in a nice loooooong comment.


    • Hey Gen Y!

      “Why not me?” is right. You said that people get out of college what they put into it. I agree, and would apply that to life in general as well. People get out of life what they put into it as well, and fear almost always holds people back from ventures that, at the very least, provide valuable learning experiences.

      Keep fighting the good [retirement] fight. 🙂

    • Oh, and I think that my comments are still making their way into your spam folder on your blog.

      • Yes, for some reason you keep falling into spam. But I fish you out. I wish there was a way to permanently mark you as “not spam”.

        If you know of one, please let me know. Or maybe Brian you know?

  3. Professionals are not all that “professional” — This. 100% this.

    Also, I wish I knew in college that my career was not the same as my identity. I spent so much time worrying in undergrad about whether I’d get into med school that I didn’t really have much of a life. Turns out, I ditched the idea of being a doctor and really, there wasn’t a lot of there there in terms of things I liked/disliked/who I was. I wish I had spent more of that time taking risks and making connections with people.

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