The “flame” withers and starts to die
I distinctly remember going through my final years in college lamenting “true” adulthood. My vision of post-college life meant more obligations in the form of waking up to be at some dead-end job at 9 o’clock in the morning, working on the (most likely) menial stuff day after day. Maybe this unromantic view of adulthood resulted from too much exposure to adults I knew to be tired, frustrated, disgruntled with work/life and with less of a “spark” towards the fun and creative activities I held close to my heart.
I know, I know: “you should strive to work in something you enjoy. That way, the work won’t feel like work.” I could hear that familiar line playing in the back of my head as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. “Are people actually happy just choosing a career and working on it until retirement around age 65?” I couldn’t help but think that from my observations and some healthy skepticism that more than a few people might be lying about the transition to joining the adult workforce.
I’d worked a few part-time jobs as a kid, and while I’ll credit a few of them with helping me build my social and professional network, I don’t especially remember any of them being incredibly fulfilling or something I’d wake up in the morning with a fervent desire to rush off to. I did them without much thought for the future and more out of an obligation to my parents / to help contribute to the “household.”
Much of my childhood up until that point had been spent on being a closet gamer and an otherwise normal/quiet kid with a handful of hobbies: cycling, chess- and tennis-playing. Barring a bit of first-world inconvenience, life so far had been relatively okay, and all I could wish for was to be able to wake up each day and have the freedom to do whatever the heck I wanted to do that day, be it getting up and going on a trip on a whim, or getting in on a marathon gaming session.
But back in college, reality had set in: the template for “life” seemed to be “graduate, get that well paying job, and work hard so you can retire around 65, and then you can live however you want.” That didn’t sound particularly better than my current level of freedom/happiness. Add to the fact that I’d be hopping into the workforce just off the heels of the 2008 recession, the devastated job market, the dismal earnings prospects for millennials, on-going talk of increasing the retirement age and social security vaporizing, and I hope you can see why I was a pretty unhappy camper.
I’d once convinced myself – having grown up on comics, video games, and wildly entertaining Saturday morning cartoons – that life would most certainly be some fantastical adventure full of following my dreams and doing amazing/ground-breaking things (or at least stuff that mattered to me), but it was starting to look more like it would be 50+ years of work, eat, sleep, repeat – and that was a pretty depressing thought.
Finding another way
My first job out of college seemed to confirm my fears. Getting that first job at a fledgling tech start-up (despite my studies having not been in computer science) felt like a lucky break – it was fun, exhilarating, synergized well with my childhood computer hobbies, and brought with it a whole set of amazing challenges that helped me to push myself, but I’d be remiss not to admit that there were some days where I wish I could be doing something else. The feeling of wanting the freedom to be able to choose what I wanted to do that day rather than working on someone else’s business/goals never quite went away.
I hugely undervalued myself, my qualifications, and my skillset at the time and started as a software engineer making $50K in NYC. In addition to working my butt off (and what I can only describe as a serious fear of upper management losing me if I wisened up to the job market), I was quickly increased to $75K a year later and then $100K a year after that. I knew full-well how much harder other peers my age had it with regards to wages and the cost of living in NYC. I felt incredibly lucky to have made it to where I did at that point.
I’d always been naturally frugal and thrifty as a byproduct of my upbringing. I’d never owned a car (not really needed in NYC), didn’t really have any significant bills, was living with my parents at this point, and was able to pay off my ~$24K in college debt after about a year and a half.
Seeing the income add up in my bank account and how I could use this to fuel my passions and hobbies is what ignited the initial spark to save even more aggressively. I would discover a few years later that the official name for not needing to work to sustain one’s lifestyle is known as “financial independence (FI)” and boy was I hooked on getting there.
I’ve still got quite a ways before I’m fully FI, but I’m hoping to chronicle some of that journey here, as well as record some learning experiences and insights about frugality, saving, money management, and travel among other things.
Welcome to FIring on all Cylinders!