Financial Samurai, one of my favorite PF wealth bloggers, asked me to write a guest post for his blog after we went back and forth in a comment thread where I vehemently disagreed with his promotion of an Ivy education as the only serious way to a $100k salary. As someone without an Ivy-certified degree who is making a six-figure salary, I had to share my story to pose food for thought. F.S. is a libertarian from what I can tell, posting frequently on how anyone can be wealthy if only they just worked hard and followed the right formula to success. I do believe that anyone can get ahead, but for some people it’s a lot harder. It wasn’t necessarily easy for me, but I had my share of privileges to get me where I am today. I often wonder, had I not had those privileges, where I’d be.
Looking back on the past seven years of my life since college graduation, I’m astounded by just how far I’ve come. I’m definitely hitting a ceiling for this phase of my growth, and getting to the next phase just might require that Ivy MBA, but even without the pedigree I’m happy with where I’m at. As I looked back on my life to date writing a post that was supposed to explain the forumla I used to get to $200k networth by 29, the only advice I could give was to take risks, avoid having kids in your 20s, and don’t be afraid to fail, and try to fail fast. My depression forced the fast failure on me — when I wasn’t satisfied with my situation I couldn’t cope, and that effected my performance. This was especially the case back in my intern days when I was being paid next to zero and wasn’t clear how the work I was doing would help me get a job once I completed it. I became depressed because suddenly after a lifetime of very clear structure, I was a college graduate with no plan other than “for the love of god, do not move back in with your parents.”
I try to be proud of my progress to date. Still, this professional life seems surreal to me. It made sense when I was working for scrappy startups as that felt natural, and in a way cathartic as we were all in together, trying to do the impossible. One the impossible has been achieved, it’s time to polish the finish. I’m really good at editing content and telling stories. I’m not so good at management due to my chronic illness known as perfectionism. I want to always work with people who are hungry, creative, driven, and who live to work, at least for the time being, versus the other way around. Perhaps that will change later in life as my priorities shift, but today the only thing I really care about or feel passionate about is my job. I can’t say I’ve felt that before outside of my work in the theater. In a weird way, I feel like I have more of a functional family at work than I ever did in real life. That thought scares me, as I’d be completely devastated if I lost my job. But, just like I have before, I’d push myself to move on and find my next family.
The next 10 years are going to require determination and making choices I don’t want to make. If I happen to ace the GMATs and can get into an MBA program in 3 years – when I’m 32 – what does that mean for my life? It would be silly to go to an MBA program at 32, if they’d even let me in, if I then would decide to work part-time and stay home with “my kids.” I can’t even figure out if I want kids. I know I’d regret not having them later in life, but I feel like my job is my child and I couldn’t be able to focus on a career and kids at the same time. Or maybe I just think that, and when the time comes it will all work out. I look at women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marisa Mayer and think, wow, they’re doing it all – yet I also know they have a giant bank account of multi millions of dollars to pull from when they need to hire a full-time nanny and chef so that they can have it all. For the rest of us, what is realistic? What should we want?
I didn’t grow up with my heart set on being the world’s greatest marketer, and today I don’t know if I’d want to make a long-term career out of it. What I really want to do is found something of my own and build it from the ground up (or at least design the product and hire the right team to build it.) I definitely have the entrepreneurial itch, but I don’t trust myself enough to jump off that cliff yet. I’m committed now to doing the very best in my current position for the foreseeable future, and I hope I can continue to impress, improve, and grow. I’ve been given such an amazing opportunity to watch a company go from practically nothing to a very serious and successful business — and I absolutely adore watching and listening to what goes on around me. I’m a teeny tiny cog in the machine, but it’s a very efficient machine, and I’m running at full speed to make sure it doesn’t break due to a moment when I forget to turn.
The past seven years is as blurry as the next seven. I look at how I went from a $15k salary to $100k, and how I went from $15k in networth to $200k, my honest answer would be that I’m a good actress. People seem to think I’m capable. But what I’m learning now is that most people are faking it to some extent. No matter how old or experienced a person is, they are always putting on an air of knowing more than they do, and the truly successful are those who can consistently act the part, with the exception of the rare geniuses who are likely too busy tied up in academic research to create something entirely new and innovative. I’ll always feel like I’m faking it, but the acceptance that everyone is faking it to some degree gives me a new solace in my ripe old age of almost 30. Life is flying by and I really don’t want to watch it disappear without doing something meaningful. But what? Perhaps having kids is that meaning. Or founding a company. Or continuing to join small companies over my career and help grow them. There are so many roads, some disperate, some that might be intertwined. Life is exciting because you don’t know where it will lead you, but so far, I’ve walked straight off a few cliffs with legs of jelly and landed stronger standing tall on my two feet. Reminding myself to trust that uncertainty has its own logic, and as long as I continue to work hard, expect little, and accept smart risks, I’ll win more hands than I lose. And in the end, that’s all that matters.