POST: It’s kind of funny how life goes. When I was an undergrad student I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to study let alone what I wanted to do with my life. My degree in Social Sciences didn’t get me very far in my home town of Buffalo, NY. After college, I resumed the same jobs that I had during my summer breaks – working for the Parks Department and as a waiter at The Crouching Lion. I pursued other jobs to no avail. It wasn’t until I answered a misleading ad in the paper (it turned out to be for a slaughter house), that it hit me. I was trapped and looking for a way out!
I launched my escape plan when I passed the Civil Service test which is how you got hired to work for the Federal Government in those days. They offered me a training slot to work for Social Security – in Austin Texas. I jumped at the chance. Two years after graduating from college, I found my way out!
After I finished the Social Security Claims Representative training, I was assigned to an office in Houston. I felt great to truly be on my own and earning a decent living. I got along well with my co-workers one of whom left an indelible impression – for all the wrong reasons. If you read Dilbert, you know Wally. Well my Wally was named Solly. Solly hailed from Louisiana and was miserable. He hated his job and his life. Whenever we talked he urged me to do something else. But I was happy in my job and life so I just wrote Solly off as a malcontent. However things changed when I was passed over for an opportunity to join the management track. Suddenly my future was unclear. I was being left behind. I didn’t want to end up like Solly.
Escape Version 2
In many cases, opportunities arise when you least expect them. That’s what happened to me. I met a friend of one of my co-workers at a happy hour. We got to talking and I learned that he worked for an oil company downtown and that he had an MBA from the University of Houston (UH). I expressed interest so he offered to give me some material about the UH MBA program. All I had to do was stop by his office to pick them up. I remember thinking when I stepped into his office that I had entered a different world. And I liked it. So when I got home, I decided that I wanted be part of that world. The ticket to enter was an MBA.
As I alluded to at the outset, my undergrad career was undistinguished to say the least. I won’t get into the reasons why. I accept responsibility for how things (didn’t) worked out. So when I applied to UH I was offered conditional acceptance, not full acceptance. UH required that I take four courses and maintain at least a B (3.0) average before admitting me. By that time I was a different person – more mature, motivated and focused. I was determined not to blow this chance at redemption. I took the four required courses and was admitted full-time.
I choose finance as my major and enjoyed every one of my classes. I minored in accounting and liked most of those classes (I hated something called cost accounting). After graduation, UH’s career services helped me get recruited by IBM to work in Tucson, AZ. As you can imagine, I am forever indebted to UH for giving me the opportunity to start over again.
My job at IBM was very specialized. It had to do with inventory management and forecasting. While it was related to finance, our department was in manufacturing. After a couple of years at IBM, I had the good fortune to move the Bay Area where there were dozens of great companies and jobs to choose from. I worked in customer service, logistics, IT and project management. As fate would have it, I never worked in finance. However my finance education helped me understand business. And it greatly improved my financial literacy to the extent that I’ve always managed my own personal finances – from budgeting to investing. Looking back over my career, I am satisfied and very appreciative. (If you’re interested, you can read more about it in ) I’ve always said that I’d rather be lucky than good. And in many cases I’ve been very lucky such as meeting that guy at happy hour. The difference the second time around was that I was prepared when opportunity came my way.
Twitter and FinCon
Fast forward to November 2017 which is when I joined Twitter based on the recommendation of one of my podcast guests – Fritz Gilbert of The Retirement Manifesto. I wasn’t sure where Twitter would take me but one place it did was to the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community. Over time I’ve found the people in the FIRE community to be friendly, intelligent and mutually supportive. They share lots of great information and stories about the road to financial independence (FI).
Earlier this year one of my favorite Twitter followers kind of leaned on me to attend FinCon 2019 in September. I was aware of FinCon, the annual convention of the FIRE community, but wasn’t sure it was worth the time and cost to travel all the way from Arizona to Washington DC. But instead of flat-out rejecting the idea, I looked deeper into FinCon. I discovered that it’s a huge gathering (2,500) of people like me – finance nerds and introverts (or introverts pretending to be extroverts). There are parties, motivational speeches, a business expo and lots of learning sessions. I talked it over with my wife and we both decided to go. We had an amazing time. It was wonderful to be among like-minded people regardless of age, career, gender and race. While it’s true that the FIRE movement was popularized by millennials, FIRE includes many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (who I refer as Late2FIRE).
Ever since my first podcast, Retirement Journeys (and now Retire Hoppy), I’ve taken time in the summer to think about ways to improve the show for the fall season. This summer I came up with some ideas which I ran past my creative consultant (Claire) but she didn’t like them. Then I thought, why not create a new show? How about a show based on FIRE? It would check a lot of personally desirable boxes: education, finance and early retirement. Plus there’s a large target audience with a built-in need. Claire liked the concept so much that she agreed to join the podcast team. And that friend is how our new show FIREwalkers was born. You can listen to our introduction here FYI, our new website and podcast will launch in October.
Closing the Loop
Blogging and podcasting about financial independence feels like picking up where I left off from grad school – finally. I’m looking to sharing experience, guest interviews, stories and resources with anyone who wants to improve their financial literacy and achieve FI. And like many in the FIRE community, by doing so, we hope to pay it forward.