Not many people know this, but I suffered from what the public school system labeled a “learning disability” when I was in grade school. And, some of that was absolutely true.
But, it was also kinda bullshit, too.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, I took up residence in what they called the “LD Program” – LD = Learning Disability. It’s a term that I’ve always found curious. As politically correct as our society is, designing a program called “Learning Disability” just seems out of wack.
In any event, I was in it.
That meant I took what was called a “Basic Skills” class during the school day. It was designed to allow “disabled” kids like me additional time to do my homework with at least one teacher – sometimes two, in the classroom.
It wasn’t lecture time. We all took our seats and started working on our own assignments. I could have been working on math homework while the kid next to me was knee-deep in an English assignment.
The teachers would come around and help us get through whatever we happened to be struggling with at the time.
Personally, I loved it. I loved going home without having to worry about doing homework. Once my books closed after the Basic Skills class, that was it. Mentally, I knew my school day was pretty much closed.
I’ve admitted several times on the blog that I’m an economist by nature. I look for maximum reward with minimum effort. And, this Basic Skills class I took through grade school complemented that behavior well.
But, it wasn’t always so rosy, either.
My struggle was reading
Though I’m making it sound like I milked this whole thing, that’s not entirely the case. Yes, I enjoyed using that time to get my work done. My goal was to get my homework done before the end of the class so I can get home and actually start having fun.
But, I also had a remarkably-annoying ability that plagued me throughout my entire grade school career.
I was one of those kids who could read a couple pages in a book and have absolutely no idea what I read. Like, not a clue.
It’s not that I was distracted, either.
I’d read every single word. I’d hear myself read in my head. After every sentence, I formed a mental image of exactly what I was reading. Sentence after sentence, I’d assume at least a basic level of comprehension because I’d understand every sentence.
But as the sentences ran on, and the pages got flipped, my comprehension level plummeted.
As I read, the mental images I formed would immediately leak back out of my head. Like water through a filter, damn near 100% of what I was reading was lost. For the life of me, retaining the stuff I read was a challenge that I had the toughest time conquering.
Sometimes, I would suddenly stop, almost like I hit a brick wall. I would look up from the page and give myself a quick mental task. I’d force myself to try and summarize exactly what I had read over the past several pages.
Nothing detailed. Just, at least a basic understanding. Could I answer the most elementary question on a test?
I wasn’t looking for perfection. In fact, I never do.
In one ear and out the other?
I’m sure you’ve already picked out where I’m going with this one. More times than not, I didn’t remember a thing.
Worse, I’d go back and re-read a few pages and I actually remembered reading it! My recall once I started re-reading was there. But without the aid of the words on the page – without looking at the page, I couldn’t just pick out
Talk about frustrating. I spent time reading something – time I’d much rather spend outside playing sports. Instead of having fun, I tried to be a good student by, you know, actually doing my work.
Not only was I a slow reader…but, I was a bad reader.
For me, school was a chore. I never excelled at anything except for earth sciences (like meteorology and geology, for example). For some reason, I “got” those subjects. But everything else? Struggle.
Getting a C in a class was fine. B, even better. The B might as well have been an A in my book. B was above average. Boom, good enough.
I don’t consider myself the smartest knife in the drawer. Then again, I’m also not the dullest. I’m sorta in the middle with everyone else.
And, this makes it all the more fascinating when I think about everything that I was able to accomplish.
This grade school situation also helps to reinforce something remarkably important in personal finance:
Early retirement isn’t a grade school competition.
Early retirement doesn’t require straight As
Here I am…a solid B/C student who was sent to remedial classes in grade school due to a “learning disability”. My reading comprehension skills downright sucked. I struggled through so many classes, especially math.
But yet, I worked 12 years in information technology and found a partner in crime to retire early with. In our mid-30s.
Like I wrote in the FAQ, we had a lot of help. We grew up in loving families. We had support. Then again, we made decisions that were in support of our goals. We spent our careers working high-paying jobs in a highly-marketable career field.
Yay for us.
It’s not lost on me how much I’ve accomplished even through the mental struggle. More than ever, I’m so damn convinced that it doesn’t take a straight A-type of person to accomplish huge goals, like early retirement or financial independence.
I understand that my struggle doesn’t even compare with other people’s. But, I’m also not interested in competing for who had the biggest struggle.
I don’t care.
I care about the realization that good things come to those people who want them the most. Those who are most determined and motivated. Those who spend the time necessary to work the system, play by the rules, but take advantage of their opportunities.
Yes, I fully realize that there will be outliers to this.
Some of us are born into abject poverty. Bad or absent parents. Abuse. Neglect. Though I never had to deal with these things, I get it. Unfortunately, it happens way more than it should.
But then again, these outliers also don’t disprove the notion that people can achieve amazing goals even if they weren’t dealt a royal flush from the beginning. It happens. It happens all the time.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you need straight As to retire early
Steve is a 38-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.