This is your life. You are you. You are in control. You set the measures of success. There are no inherently wrong or right decisions, just your decisions. And once made, it’s up to you to make them right.
All this freedom and life can be exhilarating or even frightening, depending on your perspective. So what should you do with all this freedom? Well, chase your desires! Seek those activities or qualities which will make you happy!
What if you don’t know what will make you happy? Well, that’s ok. There’s many ways to start figuring that out. One of my favorite options is the Get-a-life Tree, but that’s another post.Today, we’ll look at another option: mentors.
Mentors are great. Even, if you do know what you want in life, these people can show you how to get there more efficiently. They are all around you, you just have to be diligent and find them. Once you’ve found them, study them and decipher their example into a set of attributes you’d like to borrow and the other stuff you can leave behind. Remember, we’re talking about YOU here. There will never be a perfect copy to emulate (nor should there be). Take the various examples you find, and piece their best parts together as you continue to learn how to make you a better you.
In my case, as someone on the fairly unique path to FIRE, there are not as many potential mentors as I would have if my goal was to drive a bigger truck. However, if what I was doing were easy, everyone would probably do it. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last 6 years of my working career looking, and I’ve only managed to find a couple who are strongly aligned enough with my values to say, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” Obviously, there are people blogging about this stuff, but it is nice to meet a real person in your community. A neighbor in your daily life who is available to talk to directly. Below I’ve listed a few characters and also a few anti-examples. They’ve helped me, if for no other reason, than to consider my path and its nuances. Hopefully, they will do the same for you, or even help you find some great new mentors in your own life.
The Old Hat- This guy worked hard for many years in a strong-paying career as a hospital administrator despite getting a degree in something completely different (architecture?). He was reasonably happy with the job and the job location (is home town) and made it to an early retirement in his mid-50’s. He has a small, old place in a nice part of town that he has been living in for a long time and drives an old minivan to accommodate his lifestyle of endurance aport activities. After retiring, he started working part-time at a bike shop.
What I take- He is a smart, wonderful, friendly guy with a carefree spirit. He has FU money (probably getting close to his first $10M) but lives sustainably. He’s active, riding and swimming (and even running when his body allows him) around town. He has a fun job and never lets his boss book him for more shifts than he wants.
What I leave- The boredom: He is a facebook poster who likes to stir the pot of politics. The trades: He likes to time the market with his investments, and again, post about market speculations on fb. The pain: He was the victim of falling for the woman of his dreams who cheated on him. For whatever reason (not my business), he refused to forgive and has had trouble finding happiness. This also makes him extremely socially distant in person, despite the frequent facebook posts.
The Downshifted Engineer – As an employee of heavy industry, it is pretty hard to find an alternative working arrangement. The only exception are consultants who are so old that they should be retired anyway. This guy however, found a loophole. After over a decade at a mid-major, he decided his passion was programming and decided to take a pay cut and find a job as an engineering technician specializing in programming. He graduated in the same class and school as my SVP, but he spends his time in a laid-back support role.
What I take- Work/Life balance: He works normal hours and doesn’t work on projects he’s not interested in. He doesn’t have to pretend to be a leader or ambitious or stay late and make sure the management presentation gets done. Exceptionality: He’s a complete anomaly. He’s found a way to do it through steadfast, deliberate proactive drive. Stability- As a senior tech, he’s probably making $80-110k per year with normal corporate benefits. Chillness- Whether he is or not, he’s totally relaxed and happy at work (where I see him).
What I leave- Corporate- He still works in a high-rise at a corporation. As a person in his unique position, HR and management doesn’t quite know what to do with him. When times get tough, he gets pushed back toward the engineering role.
The Family Man- Around age 30, this guy is great at his job and smart enough to carry the load at work without huge amounts of overtime. While he is a living example of diametric opposition to the values of FIRE, he and I can still have objective discussions about life, purpose, and long-term goals.
What I take: Clarity & Purpose: He comes to work for the money. He has a 1 year old and stay-at-home wife who he must support. Positive attitude about work: Even though he does it for the money, he is genuinely interested in the work. He regularly goes above and beyond base expectation because he enjoys solving the challenges.
What I leave- The leadership: Work begets work and while he leaves on time and takes vacation, he is a go-to guy for management. He regularly works late at night from home and stays glued to his phone when on family trips. Family balance: He suffers a common theme I observe with coworkers: princess-bride syndrome. His wife has trouble empathizing with his needs and supporting him. She makes many decisions which make his life more difficult, but he does not voice his own needs out of principle and commitment. His commute is over an hour and demands more than 40 hrs per week, yet she quickly gets frustrated if he’s gone too long. She exacerbates their dependence on the job by buying expensive baby clothes and hosting lavish birthday parties (i.e. renting clowns, circus tents, and bounce houses for a first birthday). When his mother-in-law wants to come in town cause she’s bored, he pays the airfare. It works for them because he’s dedicated and proud that he can support all her desires.
The Young Ambitious- I have met many young employees who show up with a great resume and make a good rank their first year. These people think they are God’s gift to engineering. The first one I met, introduced herself by pulling out the corporate shareholder report and showing me where her name was going to appear. Another told me how his plan was to get on the gravy train and become a board-member of multiple companies. These people are very different from me, but even here, I look for opportunities to grow.
What I take- Enthusiasm and dedication: These young go-getters are inspiring to work with. It is amazing what hard work and tenacity can do for you.
What I leave- Naivety: I don’t have much in common with these folks and I don’t have a need for a chairman’s salary, so let’s just leave it at my lack of faith in the viability of their intended career path.
These are just a few examples from my daily life. There are plenty more, and I expect as I get more off the traditional path and onto the FIRE path, I’ll meet better guides for that journey!