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The Elementary Years
Ever since I can remember I’ve had severe anxiety. Even in Kindergarten, I remember being nervous about meeting my new teacher and the first day of school. But I’ve also always sought out achievement. I can remember after thirty-some years asking in Kindergarten why I never went to preschool. My parents always told me I didn’t go to preschool because I didn’t need it.
The High School Years
I remember going to schedule classes for my freshman year. Again I was anxious about starting high school. When I went to schedule my classes I remember being required to sign up for college prep classes. I didn’t want to take college prep classes. I wanted to take the easy route. But this went against my need for achievement
I don’t recall much about high school and achievement other than outside of high school, my scouting career, which I will get into later. I was an average B student, unable to keep up with the A students. The rich kids. The ones who wore Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren and designer labels. Those whose parents were the high income earners. Those who didn’t work at the local Honda factory.
The Trail to Eagle
Since I was thirteen my anxiety to become an Eagle Scout was my motivating force. Eagle was the top rank, and led to colleges, money, promotions, the high life. My brother advanced through the scout ranks fast and was one rank away from Eagle. But he never made it.
I was on track to make Eagle Scout by fifteen. The youngest Eagle Scouts were thirteen or fourteen. They earned double digit merit badges during summer camps. They were the highest of high achievers. By fifteen I had most of the merit badges I needed. The Eagle Scout service project was holding me back. I took years off between Life Scout and Eagle Scout. My mentoring Scoutmaster always told me he “didn’t believe in thirteen year old Eagle Scouts.” There was a lack of maturity and life wisdom that couldn’t be gained by age thirteen. Although by thirteen completing the requirements is possible, I believe there is some truth to his opinion.
Leadership Roles and the Year of the Slacker
In between ages fifteen and seventeen I took on various leadership roles. I worked on building up the troop and the local Order of the Arrow chapter, being the youth leader of both through the years.
At seventeen I had all my required merit badges. I had my project set for a date and ready to execute. I decided to take a summer camp to enjoy. Since I was thirteen I had been to summer camps. Summer camp was always a busy time, earning as many merit badges and other awards and achievements. I wanted to take a break. I envied the adults sitting around the campfire, chatting away and enjoying the time away from the hustle.
When we came back from summer camp, during the awards ceremony for the troop, the adults presented me with the “Slacker” merit badge. I loved it. I got to enjoy being at summer camp and bask in my previous years success and just enjoy the other options the camp offered during the week.
The Anxiety Surrounding the Eagle Project
The project was planned out. Finally got ahold of the board for the wildlife reserve that I wanted to host my project. I was anxious to pick up the phone and discuss my project. I remember the overwhelm I felt when the board wanted to add even more
The day of the project was a disaster. I completely failed to realize that I was supposed to raise funds or talk to the board about the supplies needed. I broke down on the day of the project and cried. My dad (like throughout my child and adult life) bailed me out, yet again. He and I went and he paid for the supplies with family money.
I was afraid that I would have to schedule another weekend to get the work done. That it would be too late and my eighteenth birthday would pass. That I would be a “Lifer” Life Scout.
But my troop showed up, even if they were late. All the work got done. The board was pleased. We took pictures of the finished project. I was almost there.
The Last Hurdle – The Board of Review
I remember having to make the phone call. Calling the person who ran the Eagle Scout Board of Review. I picked up the phone and called. I called multiple times. Finally, I got an answer-back. I wanted my review date to be a certain date for significance. Unfortunately, he was unavailable at the time. But the next day was available.
I remember waiting on the review board. I knew most of the people on the review board but I was still anxious. My mentor’s son wanted to sit in because, as an Eagle Scout, he could request to do so.
I felt like nails were being thrown at me rather than questions. I knew what would happen if I failed the review. The board would outline what they thought I would need to do, in a detailed timeline, and I would have to wait to be reviewed again. My anxiety was creeping in. I remember I screwed up my project. Crying as a seventeen-year-old. I was ready to fail.
I sat outside the room as the board made their decision. This is it I thought, as they asked me to come in. But I was shocked. As I walked in they stood in line, handshakes all around. It was that specific day I was granted the rank of Eagle Scout. Amidst all my anxiety, I attained the rank of Eagle Scout. Less than six months until my eighteen birthday.
The College Years
I remember starting college and looking into majors. My love of working on computers helped me to decide to go into Computer Information Systems. I thought I would be looking more into networking and hardware but the major was actually changing more in programming.
My core classes weren’t a problem. However, my second round of calculus was a sticking point. Unfortunately, to move on in my major I needed a C- or higher. I just failed with a D+. I had to retake calculus. It was after taking and passing calculus the second time I decided to switch majors. This was not what I wanted to do for a career and the math was only going to get harder. Also, when the course director calls bullshit on a course where the average grade is less than fifty percent you know something is off.
I was looking at majors and settled on Communication Technology. I thought that was more of what I wanted to do with my future career. Also, I would be finished with my math requirements if I made the switch.
I recall making the Dean’s list a few times throughout my major. Also, I recall being a lot less anxious with an easier course load. I still was anxious about graduating and getting a degree though. I recall getting A’s and B’s and being satisfied.
However, I did not understand how to transition my major into a career. I didn’t have a counselor or anyone pushing me. My parents just equated college to a “good job” and all you needed was a degree. My mom being a homemaker and my dad being a maintenance technician for over thirty years. They never graduated college. My mother never even attended.
My thinking was I would just graduate from college and apply for a job that paid well. For reference I graduated in 2009 if you understand what the job market was like then.
I remember walking into the job market. I had no idea what I was doing. All these jobs had descriptions and required experience that I didn’t understand. Office jobs using computers weren’t widely available in my hometown.
I ended up living with my parents post-college while job hunting. Ended up in a few part-time jobs. Worked at a pizza shop for a bit washing dishes and cooking. I also worked in retail in the back. I did work full-time in a call center but that wasn’t for me either.
It wasn’t until 2012, 3 years after graduation, I found an office job more suited to me. My first real office job was data entry. I was still considered a part-time employee, working close to full-time hours.
Barely making above minimum wage, I managed after about a year to be promoted at my data entry job to a part-time shift leader. I felt undervalued not being promoted to full-time and I knew I was making less than a previous shift lead who ended up leaving.
This is about the time I kept chasing leadership positions and promotions for the wrong reasons. Leadership equals higher pay right? Promotions are more money. Climb the ladder, get more money.
The Anxiety of Job Hopping
Interviews made me nervous, but usually I felt if I could get there I could get the job. I was most worried when I didn’t hear back from applying.
It was the data entry job that started me on my current career path though. During the second year of my data entry job, I talked to a shift lead of another company. She told me to apply for my next job. Uncertainty for me leads to anxiety. I know the job would be an hourly pay cut. But there were two things that drew me into applying for my next job. Years of service of the employees and full-time hours appealed to me. Even with a pay cut I knew I would be getting full-time hours.
Another anxiety inducer of job hopping is time to learn. I’ve noticed a pattern, (at least I think it’s a pattern) that when I change jobs I struggle learning the ropes. I think that it takes me longer to learn the details of the job than others take. For me it takes an “ah-ha” or “lightbulb” moment. The time when something in my brain says, “I found the missing piece, the puzzle is complete.” When things about the job just start to make sense. Like compound interest, the understanding of the details in my brain exponentially grow.
The Next Office Job
I took the leap and the pay cut. I had data entry experience, I got an interview. The job was mine. I remember in the interview going over the details. I remember one of the first words in the interview. “The pay is non-negotiable.” Fine, I said to myself. Full-time hours, I’ll make it work. Plus mandatory overtime would be a plus when available.
I worked in that job for over five years. Chasing promotions and leadership roles. Unfortunately, it was looked at negatively and I struggled to find the right role for me. I ended up stuck in an emotionally draining role (and relationship at the time) where I had to come to the point where I quit that job. My transition from that job to my current one is talked about a bit more in my feature on the FI Show.
My Current Career
I had a single month emergency fund. I had a month to relax and work towards my next job. Luckily, the stars aligned and my timing was perfect. I was contacted by a recruiter for my current role.
The usual anxiety set in. Could I learn the details of the job quick enough? Would I struggle until I could get to that lightbulb moment? Was this going to be a role I could be fulfilled in and paid enough? All those answers were yes.
However, I’m still back to the high achievement and anxiety struggle. I did get a substantial raise. I’m working towards my future and investing and paying down debt. I have some great perks. But I am struggling with the idea of my full potential and not earning enough income. The role itself is not contradictory to this though. However, I do have one tool in my back pocket now. The side hustle.
I’ve been able to pay off some extra debt during my career. I’ve picked up some side work (that is non-competitive and allowed by my employer). As long as it doesn’t impede on the quality of my current work. I made a couple hundred extra toward student loans. I’ve sought out extra opportunities. Extra opportunities have sought me ought.
Although I’m not the high-achieving FIRE success story like the one you see on the big financial media outlets, I’m redefining my success. I’m working towards the lifestyle I want. I am setting myself up for a cozy retirement. CoastFI and SlowFI seem within reach. My net worth is compounding. I’m in a supportive relationship. I look forward to the future.
Anxiety Dwindling, Need For Success Is Not
As I grow my retirement accounts and pay down debt, I become less anxious. I have a role in my day job I enjoy. It covers my expenses and helps me work towards my future. There will be a point where if I don’t want to side hustle it wouldn’t be necessary. The side hustle is just to pay off debt and boost savings and investments.
Success for me is inevitable. It’s slow growth. Like when I struggle with job-hopping, it just takes my time and patients to apply and execute the knowledge. I have a vast knowledge of personal finance. Also, I love talking about money. I know what I need to do to boost retirement. I just need to focus on the SlowFI mindset. Apply the principles. I need to design my dream life now and let my investments do the heavy work.
Fear Not At All,
So for all the FIRE critics out there who don’t want to burn themselves out by earning as much as they can and retire at thirty, I can’t blame them. I’m a slow growth person. Always have been. Anxiety tells me it’s a net negative. SlowFI, my career path, and life experience are telling me the opposite. Since anxiety is losing the battle, I’m thinking it’s time to enjoy the ride.
My Focus Shall Not Fail
I encourage you to do the same. Whether you want to retire at thirty or work until ninety, just enjoy the ride. For now, I will just keep repeating my money and life mantra,