Living in a tent by a river to engineer in the city

Published June 26, 2017   Posted in Guest Posts In Retirement

Yo gang! I have another guest post from Brian G from Get Money, Got Money, this time about a summer job living out of a tent that put things into perspective. Love the story and I think you will too.

“Wake up man! Brian, wake up!”

“Huh, what’s going on?”

“Get your ass out of your tent, check this out.”

Holy Shit.

Two years ago I was finishing up my junior year of college, the hardest year course wise, and one of the most important in terms of making connections. It’s the year you’re supposed to get an internship and start meeting with potential employers. It’s the year you get your shit together and think about what’s next. So that’s what I tried to do.

I was majoring in engineering and minoring in math, which are two areas I was strong in but I’ve never been overly passionate about. My mind would occasionally wander off in class, thinking about the next trail I wanted to hike or the next country I wanted to visit. My passions revolved more around traveling and the outdoors than numbers and electrical circuits.

As junior year was winding down, I had a couple random summer job options but no internship opportunities had worked out. One afternoon, a professor forwarded an email to our class. A local consumer goods distribution factory was looking for a quality engineering intern over the summer,
which could turn into full-time work upon graduation. It was critical I had some experience before I
graduated and the ultimate goal was a full-time engineering job so I applied – and my parents packed on the pressure.

About a week before the semester was going to end, I was told to come in for an interview. What I had not mentioned to my parents was that I received a job offer in Wisconsin to work as a Whitewater Rafting Guide and that’s what I was leaning towards doing regardless of how the interview went. It ended up going fairly well – and I learned that there were only two other people interviewed for the position, fellow classmates I knew I stacked up well against.

As I waited to hear back about the internship I couldn’t focus on anything. All I could think was that if I get offered the engineering position I have to take it or my parents will kill me. But you could get paid to raft the whole summer!!

Perhaps I didn’t do as well at the interview as I thought or maybe the universe was just sending me a
message, but I found out during finals week someone else got the internship position. I was in the library when I found out and nearly gave the kid next to me a heart attack when I hung up the phone and started yelling and fist pumping. I felt like I had won the Super Bowl because I was off the hook for this job. Granted my parents weren’t thrilled, but they had no other choice really but to let me go to Wisconsin.

A week later I pulled into a muddy grass parking lot with the sign “Employees Only”. As I pulled the bags out of my car a friendly face popped out of an Airstream sitting nearby to welcome me. Within 72
hours of arriving I had gone rafting, zip lining, canoeing, fishing, golfing, and met some amazing people. I was happy as hell I didn’t land that internship.

One of the things that concerned my parents the most about this particular job (but enticed me to it)
was that there was no housing provided, no food provided, and only one shower that worked for roughly 20 employees. River baths became a real thing. And since the position didn’t come with an engineer’s salary, options were limited. There was some space in the basement of the office, or if you had a trailer you could bring that, but the owners actually recommended all employees bring a tent and come prepared to sleep in that for the summer. So that’s what I did.

We made a ‘tent city’ with all the employees along the bank of the river where we led trips. So I wouldn’t exactly say I was homeless – but I was about as close to it as a person can get.

Two months or so pass.

I go to sleep one night after a long day on the river. I’m exhausted and fall asleep the minute I shut my eyes. In the middle of the night, I hear chaos outside.

“Wake up man! Brian, wake up!”

“Huh, what’s going on?”

“Get your ass out of your tent, check this out”

Holy Shit.

When I finally came to my senses and saw everyone getting up I knew something crazy was happening.

“Look up, dude.”

No way.

It was the Northern Lights.

In Wisconsin? What the hell is going on?

This green light was dancing across the sky, like lightning illuminating a storm cloud – but there was complete silence. No thunder, no rain, and not a single cloud in the sky. We sat for hours watching it, convinced we were all going to be abducted by aliens at any moment. It was a night that I’ll remember forever. Seeing that was a bucket list item for me and it just happened to appear without any prior warning and in a location much farther south than they typically occur. In my mind, it was just confirmation that I had made the right decision.

Fast forward two years later.

On three sides of me are the walls of an office cube. Outside in big blue letters sit the name of the engineering firm I work at. Funny enough, the building is located directly next to a river, but now I’m stuck looking at it instead of being on it.

I don’t mean to make the transition sound depressing in any way – I’m incredibly grateful to be where
I’m at and have a good paying job in the field I studied. I just think about the incredible contrast between these two experiences. Even though I had a blast that summer I was convinced when I got back to school I would never find a full-time engineering job without any relevant experience. Four years of hard work down the drain.

And yet after a couple of messages to an old neighbor I barely talked to, I became an engineer. All this to say that I have a feeling that life tends to work itself out.

Of course, there are probably going to be some hiccups along the way and the reasons for why some things happen may not be crystal clear at the time but if things didn’t go exactly as they did I wouldn’t be the person I am today – and you wouldn’t be either.

What does any of this have to do with personal finance or financial independence or early retirement?
I think people feel a lot of pressure to accumulate a ton of money as quickly as possible – or be insanely frugal at every possible chance (myself included) and are nervous that the day will never come when they can be free. I’m convinced that freedom is much more of a mindset rather than physical or environmental boundaries.

We can choose to be free in our daily lives or tell ourselves otherwise. But either way, in the end, things have a way of taking care of themselves.

If financial independence or retiring early is your goal, make it a top priority. This will force you to make decisions in your best interest – and although it may not seem like it will ever become reality, a few crazy moments may just land you right where you want to be.

This article was written by Brian, the author of Get Money, Got Money, who is a recent college graduate currently working as an engineer near Philadelphia. He is on a mission to retire early and help people with their financial situation so that they can live happier and be free to do what they love.

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Comments

8 responses to “Living in a tent by a river to engineer in the city”

  1. Excellent post! I too agree that financial freedom is mindset! Each personal gets to choose their priorities and then go after them. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. I love the message. In high school I worked at a summer camp where I essentially lived in a tent for the summer, albeit with electricity. In some ways it’s more enjoyable then work environments today as you pointed out. But, then again you make you happiness , your location doesn’t bring it. Happiness is just as much a state of mind as financial freedom.

  3. The Tepid Tamale says:

    A wonderful post. It sounds like that summer, you had the freedoms you wanted already, no need to save a stash of cash. I think you have a lot figured out when you say: “freedom is much more of a mindset rather than physical or environmental boundaries.”, good luck as you start to navigate the different phases of life!

  4. What a wonderfully written post Brian, that summer sounded amazing. The transition does sound a little sad to me, but as you say, our priorities can be different.

    I hope you manage to find a balance and get a bit of that magic back!

  5. Awesome story! I hope you can retire early Brian and swing back into the more casual and enjoys able likestyle you seem to desire. I’m working toward a few years of RV living myself. 🙂

  6. Mrs. BITA says:

    Well written Brian! And how wonderful to have that experience early, to hold it clear and beautiful in your head as something you can aspire to get back to ASAP. When you are surrounded by cubicle walls or have annoying meetings with coworkers, you will always know what you are working towards – getting rid of those walls so that you are free to be in a tent and look at the sky whenever you damn well want.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience. I never had an adventurous experience like that when I was in college. I was just too focused on the goal. The cubicle is the pit of hell… Anyway, I agree that thing will work itself out. Being frugal and saving is a good way to get there, but you have to enjoy life too. I was miserable for about 5 years at the end of my career. It sucked.. I should have changed job or do something to make life more enjoyable rather than endure it. Oh well, life is good now that I don’t have to work for a corporation anymore.

  8. Economymum says:

    I have recently found out that I’m expecting our third child, and instead of looking at it as a bump on our fi journey because I won’t earn any money, I see it as an opportunity to test out if early retirement will work for me! And after my 12 month absence they still have to give me my job back.

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