Financial independence. What a beautiful phrase.
(I love that Steve is one of the few bloggers who curses. I get to say “crap” and I love it.)
My mother firmly believed I was going to make a lot of money one day. She looked at me one day from across the dining room table and in Chinese she said “you’re going to make a lot of money one day.” It could be motherly pride or delusions but I remember scoffing at that statement in my head.
Of all the defensive things this woman says to escape her own poverty, that one was the most far-fetched.
Look at the facts: I was not the smartest kid in class or even the second smartest most of the time. Being a CEO rocket scientist was beyond my scope of abilities. I’m only a Lily.
Regular girl next door.
More often than not I was a contender in the top 3 poorest kid in class at any time. Not to mention I was emotionally underdeveloped and chronically awkward socially.
I knew the best I could have hoped for myself would be a middle-class life, logically, coming from the lowest caste. I knew there were bigger tides pounding against me than just my lack of abilities. Outside influences like my parents getting older. One day I will have 2 aging dependents on my single salary in San Freaking Expensicisco.
If this completely unspecial immigrant girl is going to be rich someday then that’s the day dolphins should start teaching in universities because the world would have ceased to make sense.
I came out of college with a mish-mash of temp jobs that paid less than half of what I thought I was going to get. My biology science professor told me even the best universities fudge with the statistics for the prospective students. My university had a “92% placement rate!” What was their definition of employment? Wage? And “placement” in a related field of study or shipping packages for your uncle?
And it wasn’t just my starting pay, it was how hard I had to kick to get a job that would even give me a callback.
I thought I would come out with a $65,000 office job next to Panera Bread waiting for me with my shiny Bachelor’s degree when I was doing the research online.
I was so cocky and misinformed about that number that I even turned down a full-time cushion-y desk-job offer at a charity I volunteered at right before I graduated.
I thought I could do better.
“Wow, I haven’t even graduated and I got a job offer. The market must be poppin’ out there.”
Well, I didn’t do better. And I blocked out that memory until now because, holy crap, that was stupid.
You know how people become friends with people like themselves? It is so true. I formed a pity party of sorts with some college friends who felt exactly like I did when they graduated. One of them was a political science major and he had envisioned campaigning for causes and making a difference, all that stuff.
Turns out his only call back job was for spending 9 hours on his feet giving flyers to strangers door to door who couldn’t give less crap about his legalized littering.
It got so discouraging at one point in my job search that I locked myself up in my old boyfriend’s bathroom to ball my eyes out. He was a young chief engineer executive. I had a bad case of the green-eyed monster because I was only landing part-time gigs and it was starting to sting big time.
Looking Back Now
I’m one of those people who is their own worst enemy.
I mean, I knew my frugal genes wouldn’t have allowed me to spend money I didn’t have. I was making good on my student loans and getting better and better after each job interview. I am an overall responsible person. But I still spent soooooo much time discouraging myself, worrying, and beating myself up for the smallest things that looking back now, it’s like, “Why did you do that to yourself, Lily?”
The thing is, I wasn’t even doing anything wrong. I wasn’t winning at life but it’s normal to stagger after college.
I wish I believed things were going to be just fine back then because there was nothing else I could have done besides my respectable, personal best. The extra slew of disappointment and discouragement I threw at myself was useless. Absolutely useless. It did a lot more mental harm than turning down some job offer before.
I didn’t believe my mom or my own abilities to grow and develop. I didn’t believe that first-year post-college salaries are typically very low. I thought swinging under $40k a year forever in San Freaking Expensicisco was going to be my life.
Lastly, I didn’t take the time to learn about personal finance and retirement like I should have. All my worries could have been solved with a few Google searches. If I had an income issue, I would have benefited a lot from knowing Roth IRAs, Solo 401ks, and how to geoarbitrage to stretch those hard-earned dollars.
But I didn’t because I didn’t have an ounce of faith that I was ever going to.
Oddly, this discouraging and depressing mentally is how I met and bonded with my husband who was going through similar emotions. Fast forward a few years later, things turned out dandy for both me and my husband because we found each other. That was a curveball.
He was certain he was going to die alone. I was sure I “failed” at life enough by 23 to consider a suicidal flourish out.
When Life Makes No Sense
If you told 22-year-old Lily that she CAN find a Prince Charming, run her own Airbnb castles, and retire very early someday…she would scoff again.
And that’s what most people do when they see the topic and title of “financial independence” then swipe it away on the news page. It doesn’t have to come with headlining early retirement stories – actually, those kinds probably do more harm.
Stuff like that sounds like honking to a person who truly doesn’t believe in their earning/saving potential and the gift of time.
Most of us think on a linear line, we were taught to think in linear form. Good grades = good school = good education = good job = good life. That has been hammered into us because it sounds logical and it has a nice correlative linear flow that our younger minds can accept.
Is it always the case? No. But that’s part of growing up. You learn we all live on krazy kangaroo island and nothing has to make sense.
I would say to hold all discouraging concepts before they self-actualize themselves. If you have a long, far-fetched dream that sounds like a bucket of scoffing, I would still say to reach for it because you never know.
Goes The Other Way Too
It makes sense sometimes, if you get a nice job, it is likely you will move up from there. And I would say on the same flip side even if you’re feeling like the king of the world and invincible to remember the same thing. Life doesn’t have to make sense.
Some curveballs are long and slow and some shake you up like a snowglobe in a toddler’s hands.
Another guy I knew had a hotshot civil engineering degree and started out with a gloat-worthy $90k salary. Then ripples from the recession hit, his department didn’t get their contract renewed, he was fired. Took 6 months off to pull himself out of a funk. His girlfriend at the time had an accidental pregnancy. Rehired after 6 months again but his salary went down to half at $45k. They started a family together with no money and 7 years after all those ordeals is he starting to hover near the $90k mark again.
Now that’s a curveball. That’s years of lost wages and a sudden increase in the number of mouths he had to feed.
I think discouragement should be held negligible within reason until you’re on the deathbed if it even mattered then. This is coming from a “glass is half empty” person too, remember!
Unless it’s being used as a pre-motivator, it’s totally stupid to talk yourself down from trying to reach financial independence or doing anything you’ve always wanted to do. How do you know what’s going to go down? Hold all discouragements until the very end because the world doesn’t have to make sense.
This is Ms. Lily from TheFrugalGene.com. My husband and I scrimp and save $150,000 a year in the grandest pursuit of financial independence. We choose to live car-free and moonlight as your pillow fluffing hosts on Airbnb. Follow along if you like a little spark in your morning money read.