Seven truths that turned out to be myths in my 20s

Published June 27, 2016   Posted in How to Think

My 20s was a remarkable period of time in my life. I started my first full-time job after college and began putting my adult life together. Along with this process came the realization that so much of what I believed as a child was, to put it plainly, bunk.

Pinterest: Seven truths that turned out to be myths in my 20sIt is amazing what watching television and reading so-called experts on the Internet can do to otherwise healthy minds. As a wee lad, I had certain expectations about reality…things that my 20s quickly put into some serious eye-opening perspective for me.

Truths that turned out to be myths in my 20s

1. Everybody in the workforce is the best of their breed

While I have worked with some amazingly brilliant minds, the truth is our workforce isn’t always filled with the best. Some people are motivated while others aren’t. Some have work ethic, others don’t. Some always strive to go above and beyond the call of duty. Most won’t. Like I wrote in another blog post, showing up is half the battle, and looking good isn’t all that tough these days.

2. Managers need to be ruthless dictators to effectively control their staff

I’m not sure why I believed this, but I had always assumed that managers in corporate America needed to govern their staff like drill sergeants in the Army. Not necessarily the yelling aspect, but maintain a very tight control over everything that happens, all the time. I’ve worked with folks like this, and it is remarkable how dictatorial leadership stifles creativity and harbors deep resentment and prolonged animosity at virtually all levels of the organization. I understand the need for this type of leadership in the military, but in corporate America, it is often damaging.

3. There is always time to do “Fun Task X” later

Throughout my early career, I largely put my hobbies on hold, telling myself that there will always be time later to do them. Always, later. Keep telling yourself this over and over again and you eventually start to believe it. Eventually, “later” never comes. And that sucks.

Do not let life get in the way of pursuing what makes you happy. Easier written than done, but understanding that life isn’t always fair is an important step towards prioritizing your happiness over everything else. Find time to pursue your hobbies. Don’t relegate them to “later”, because life is short, and we never know what later is going to entail.

4. Owning a home is the mark of success and builds equity

The biggest financial mistake that I’ve made in my life was owning a home. The worst part about this, though, was why I owned a home. I owned a home because I thought that is what “success” in this country meant. I told myself that I was tired of renting and wanted a place of my own to start building some equity. And so I bought my depreciating asset, sunk money into it in the form of upgrades and repairs.Β All told, I’ve conservatively lost between $70 to $80k over the years.

While it is possible to make money on real estate, it is much tougher than many think, especially with your main home. Home ownership, to me, is entirely overrated – an expensive lesson to learn.

5. I will probably wind up wanting kids one day

I never saw myself having children. That desire to raise kids? Yeah, it was never there. Never an itch. An inkling. A “well, maybe…”. Just, nothing. Naturally, most people thought that feeling would change with time, because having kids is inevitable.

Virtually everyone around me (everyone with kids, anyway!) said they felt the same way, but their 20s magically changed that feeling over to “Actually, I want kids!”. Most people assumed that I’d “come around” and do what seems to be natural – have kids. For a while, I actually believed it. I mean, if it’s happening to everybody else, surely it’ll happen to me, too. Right? After all, this is probably just “a phase” or something. “Don’t worry, you’ll want kids”, someone once said to me.

I was never worried.

I never ended up wanting kids and definitely don’t see my wife and IΒ popping out some children. We’re DINKs for life, and we’re proud of that because it’s a decision that works the best for us. If you’ve never wanted kids, then sometimes, there may truly be something to that!

6. There is always a right way and a wrong way to do things

Perhaps the most important lesson of all – there are different ways to do things, but that doesn’t necessarily make them right or wrong. They are just different. I have a certain way of accomplishing a task. My wife might have another way. Our neighbors probably have yet another. And that’s all great! No law [currently] exists that requires us to perform tasks the very same way, all the time. How boring would that be? And, we don’t always have to be right.

I used to argue my point more forcefully in my younger years, insisting that even if I didn’t change someone’s mind, at least they understood my position. Today, I let things go much more easily. People’s belief systems will always be different than mine, and it’s a waste of my time trying to install something that I believe into the mind of someone else. More times than not, it just doesn’t matter.

7. A million bucks is nothing these days and certainly not enough to retire on

I distinctly remember believing that a million isn’t all that much money anymore. And if you live like a traditional American, that might be true. But for many of us who have taken personal finance by the horns and discovered what enough means to us, a million dollars is plenty! In fact, my wife and I won’t even have a million by the time that we retire from full-time work at the end of the year. Why? We simply don’t need that much, and it’s not worth the additional time working full-time jobs in order to acquire additional wealth. We prioritize happiness over wealth. We’ve already accumulated.

What say you? What did you believe as a child that your 20s revealed to be entirely bunk?

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


29 responses to “Seven truths that turned out to be myths in my 20s”

  1. Great post Steve! I immediately connected with the first point about everyone being the “best of their breed”. I am a motivated person with a strong work ethic and when I was young, I just expected that others were like me. I always wanted to believe the best about others so it took a long time to get past that one! People are motivated by different things – and yes, some just don’t seem to be motivated by much. I always believed if we worked as a team we could get things done better and faster – but often that was bunk (and really frustrating) too…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Vicki, appreciate you taking the time to read. It is strange, isn’t it? The impression that we both had of the workforce while young was superbly overinflated. I guess that just makes it *easier* for those of us who do have a little motivation to look good and advance in the corporate world. The competition isn’t all that tough!

  2. A lot of these myths go into the convention of the “American Dream”. The conventional American Dream is what everyone strived for and was very homogeneous. The American Dream today needs to be defined individually based on life goals, just like what you have done, and having the freedom to pursue life any way you wish. Not everyone figures out the conventional American Dream is a myth, but good for you for having done so. I think I’ve just started figuring this out in the last couple years, time to re-define my dream! Thanks for the post.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, Green Swan, the American Dream runs deep in this discussion. While it’s true that the “Dream” is different for everyone, it need-not depend on conventional wisdom and the traditional definition of “success”. I think the quicker that people figure this part out, the easier it will be for folks to design their own version of what success means to them.

  3. Amen to #2! Micromanagers and iron fist dictators are the worst. I’ve really come to appreciate working with managers who maybe aren’t the most brilliant minds but are the best at bringing out people’s creativity and fostering collaboration. That’s definitely what I am attempting to do in my final stretch as a manager! πŸ™‚ And #6 — yes! There are so many different ways to do things, and rarely a right or wrong way (well, okay, sometimes there is a wrong way!). Discovering that is so freeing, and feels like one of those things that all of us on the FIRE path have learned along the way — it’s like a prerequisite to getting on this path!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, ONL! I completely agree on your point about management. Even if you aren’t the brightest bulb on the tree, management is more than just “smarts”. If you can motivate your team and bring out the best in them while creating a culture where *smart work* is rewarded and respected, I’d say that’s the mark of an excellent manager. πŸ™‚

  4. I also believed many of these. Additionally, I thought retirement was too far away to imagine or think about. We still invested more than average, but didn’t realize it was something we could achieve far sooner than age 65, and so we didn’t start planning and dreaming for it until more recently.

    • Steve says:

      Oh yes, me too Kalie! I guess I knew that early retirement was “possible”, but I definitely never considered it within my reach. But once I asked myself a simple question, it all began to make sense for me.

      And that question was: Why?

  5. Number 2 is so true for me right now. In fact they are currently investigated a third of the staff over a “cooking breakfast” incident that was uncovered. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds and someone will probably get fired over it. Damaging, beyond belief. Where to they promote these douchbags from anyway?

  6. Apathy Ends says:

    I went one step further on the best of breed thinking everyone was constantly clawing for the top of the ladder. Majority of people are happy to come in, do some average work, collect a check and go home.

    • Steve says:

      That’s true, Apathy! And there is some wisdom in that, so long as you’re pulling your weight as a productive team member. I envy those who’ve figured out that they don’t want to be a manager early in life – though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I appreciated the opportunity to actually see what managers have to go through on a daily basis. I feel that I’m a better person for it!

  7. Mr. PIE says:

    Looking back, it was an era of fun, carefree attitude and having some money for the first time to do as I pleased. The first two are much of what a a child thinks.

    I actually started investing in my UK company pension plan within 6 months of stating work. Not really knowing what I was doing or why. But it seemed to make sense. Fast forward 23 years and those investments over the 6 years I worked in the UK have grown considerably. I did not not even think of the power of time and compound interest then. How things change…..

    It was also a time coming out of my Ph.D. that I though I would meet many new people and forge lasting friendships. Yep, that turned out exactly as I thought. The most important piece was meeting a beautiful girl in my workplace who became Mrs. PIE after we moved over to the US and built our wonderful life here together.

    • Steve says:

      Looks like you’ve made some advantageous financial decisions, Mr. PIE. Investing so early on in your company pension plan will definitely allow an early retirement on YOUR terms. Well done!

  8. You had me at #1. Such an eye opener when I landed my first full-time job. I was amazing at the wide variety of attitudes I witnessed. Many just wanted to come in do their jobs and go home, a few wanted to do as least as possible, trying to take advantage of managers, coming in late, leaving early, etc. Then there was a group who wanted to do a great job not matter when they did. The biggest challenge I faced was not being influenced by any of their attitudes and not get caught up in the drama, or the moral sucking tractor beam some of them tried to catch you in.

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, getting caught up in the drama is very easy to do – it happens to all of us, but the more experienced we get, the less susceptible we are to that kind of nonsense. We just figure out, finally, that we don’t have time for that stuff! πŸ™‚

  9. Great list! I believe a lot of these things in my 20’s too!

    One thing I believe in my 20’s that turned out to not be true? The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    For some strange reason, I believe that if I was honest and worked hard that I would find success in life. That I would get those promotions at work. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (in life).

    You know what…it’s bunk! Honesty and hard work have very little to do with success. I’ve seen the nasty and lazy get promoted. I never got those promotions at work, and you know what? I’m OK with it.

    I found something better…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mr. Tako, appreciate your comment. You did find something better – something that so many of us strive for even without truly recognizing it. Freedom and happiness, and there isn’t much in this life that can beat that.

  10. Mr. SSC says:

    Man, those are pretty spot on, nice compilation!

    I agree not everyone at any job I’ve ever worked was the best of the best, especially at a major oil company where you think they hire the best of the best. I’ve worked with lots of good people, but man, getting stuck with the guys who work for the weekend and want to be anywhere else but work… ugh…

    I always believed that getting a good education and having a good job would let you live like everyone on TV. Wow, was that so far from the truth. I now have an excellent job, and even when Mrs. SSC had her 6 figure income, we would still be tapped out trying to live like “the people you see on tv.” You know how they do it? Mountains of debt I’m guessing, and maybe no savings? In my 20’s that was how I rolled, broke, working full time, schooling full time, and accumulating debt. I was also contributing to a 401k, but I eventually cashed that out, because, well “I needed the money”…. massive face palm.

    A million bucks is pretty close to what we’re shooting for, and like you figured out, it just depends on how you want to live, what you deem to be “worth it” for spending, and what sacrifices you will make to get there. Everyone’s view of that is totally different, which gets back to the other one of there isn’t just one way to do things. ever…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mr. SSC. I work for a company who thinks they hire the best of the best as well, actually. There are some very talented people, but really, they are nothing more than a microcosm of the greater corporate America workforce as far as I can tell. And yup, having more than one way to accomplish something just makes life more fun! πŸ™‚

  11. Very good points. Number 2 is especially true when you have a group of professionals…the micromanaging and tight control can be counterproductive and reduces moral. And thinking that you’ll have time to do XYZ…yep! In your 20s, you have all the time in the world but now in my mid 30s I wonder where that time went (most of it was spent working of course!) And with #6, I also felt that way. This was especially true when it came to career/work/retirement…I thought the right way was get a job, put your nose to the grindstone work until retirement age, enjoy retirement etc, etc (traditional route)…but am now more open to other ways that life can be lived thanks to bloggers like you and others in the early retirement/FI camp.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Andrew! I thought the exact same thing about putting your nose to the grindstone. I think most people do. Talk about a change in philosophy…for the both of us! πŸ™‚

  12. I take issue with the comments concerning home ownership. I have made very good money in real estate and yes, lost some dollars when I HAD to move for a promotion. They key to real estate is to see property as an investment and be selective when to purchase it. Location standards are critical and the best deals come when the market is down. In the Bay area, people who bought homes in 08 and 09 have added amazing levels of equity to their property. Increased equity, historical low interest rates and government allowing a write off for interest makes a strong case for home ownership these days. Yes, CA real estate is not the Country norm, I get it. Lastly, home ownership allows you to lock in your monthly “housing costs”….rents will go up but, when you own, the cost per month is the same for 30 years. Just a few comments…..Steve-Hope you are staying cool in AZ right now.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Steve – actually, I completely agree. It’s definitely possible to make money with real estate. My point was more geared towards the assumption that “building equity” is a better approach to “throwing your money away” on rent. But yeah, I happened to buy at the exact wrong time, coincidently enough. Really, really wish I remained a renter.

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. I don’t think that people will necessarily change their minds on the kids issue, but I do think most people probably shouldn’t make proclamations in that regard in their early 20s. At least, not something ironclad like a permanent birth control option. If someone still hasn’t found a desire to have a kid by mid- to late-20s (especially if he/she has found a lifelong partner)… yeah, fair enough. But attitudes do change.

    That said, I think it’s ridiculous for people to assure you that your feelings WILL change. Kids are definitely not inevitable. Thank goodness or the world overpopulation issue would be even worse!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Abigail! I completely agree that it’s ridiculous for someone to just “assume” that I’d eventually want kids, as if anything other than a desire to bear children is abnormal. I think that’s why I am particularly incredulous sometimes about this issue. I understand that people do change their minds about kids, but that definitely doesn’t mean we all will. πŸ™‚

  14. When I was younger I thought it was greedy to want all my time to myself and not have kids. That was because in our society it’s generally out of the norm – just like retiring at half the normal age. But it’s probably more greedy to bring a kid into the world when you are not sure you want to be a parent. I suppose we may have to watch out for idiocracy coming true though πŸ˜‰

  15. MrSLM says:

    I still secretly believe everyone in their field is the best of breed, at least in my field. That’s probably largely down to Imposter Syndrome at this point though.

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