2014 marks my seventh year working as a professional engineer. It seems like only yesterday, but it’s been over 10 years since I first started the journey to becoming an engineer.
It was Fall 2003. I had just graduated high school and was attending community college. I had screwed up royally in high school (I was a C student), so I was determined to “make things right” this second time around. You don’t declare a major when you are in junior college (JC), but you do have the freedom to enroll in any courses that you think will point you in the right, desired direction. Since I wanted to pursue an engineering degree, I loaded up on math and science courses.
I’ll never forget my first week sitting in the lecture halls of Chemistry 101 and Intro to Programming 101. The classes were jammed pack, and everyone I met that first week was saying the same thing: “I want to be an engineer“.
Holy smokes did I have my work cut out for me! My college career had only officially begun, and here I was, sitting in a CHEM 101 lecture hall filled with 200+ students who all wanted the same thing as me.
This Girl I Met…
Some of the first few friends I made at JC were also aspiring future engineers. I still remember this one girl in particular who stood out from the pack. One day after lunch, I stopped by the computer lab to start a programming assignment. She was the only other person in the lab, so I struck up a conversation with her and asked her if she had started on this week’s assignment. She replied, “I finished the assignment last week. I’m reading ahead and getting a jump on next week’s lecture…”
Wow, talk about setting the bar sky high! We continued talking, and had an interesting conversation. She told me about her BIG Dreams, and how Energetic and Motivated she was to succeed (both her parents were engineers). “C’mon, you start out making $100k out of school,” she would often remind me.
I recall that girl doing extremely well in that programming course. The teacher absolutely loved her (teacher’s pet!), and she would often times tutor me on assignments. The next semester, she was again in my programming class.
This time around, she wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. The second class was a lot more challenging, and I remember seeing her frustrated on more than one occasion. One time in particular, we were working in the computer lab, and she even had to ask me for help. For whatever reason, the topic of ‘classes’ and ‘data structures’ resonated more with me…
She wasn’t going to have that. This girl had a lot of pride, and the fact that she couldn’t understand something, I think wounded it. Over the course of the semester, she became more distant and I even stopped seeing her attend classes. At the conclusion of the school year, I asked her about her plans next Fall. She replied, “I don’t think I want to do engineering anymore. It’s not what I thought it would be…”
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it was a foreshadowing of things to come. After I transferred to a four year university, this type of behavior became the norm for a lot of people, and each semester, you would start to notice less and less people in your classes. The classroom sizes shrank from 200+ to just over 20 students. When I got to my senior year, I no longer had any classes in those giant auditoriums… everyone they wanted to weed out had already dropped out. When I finally did graduate, my graduating class for my specific major (I did a double engineering major program) contained 13 people. Overall, the College of Engineering awarded a few hundred B.S. degrees.
What happened to all the people who wanted to do engineering?!?
These days, my focus is much more concentrated on my investing career, as opposed to engineering. With the help of this blog and other networking channels, I’ve been meeting up with a lot of young investors who are Energetic, Motivated, and have BIG Dreams!
I must admit, in some ways it almost feels like deja vu. Haven’t I heard this song before?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s absolutely wonderful for someone to have such high hopes for success as an investor. And I would even encourage you to set the bar pretty high…
I would just caution against relying solely on THAT business model for long-term success. The truth of the matter is, EVERYONE who starts investing is Energetic, Motivated, and has BIG Dreams!
Set Yourself Apart
With investing, and in life, if you want to achieve what others don’t, you have to do what others won’t. Just like with running a marathon, or with engineering, you’ll always have plenty of people who are eager to get started. But it’s only after the race commences, and after the novelty starts to wear off, when you truly get tested.
The weak will fizzle out because they don’t have what it takes. Being Energetic, Motivated, and having BIG Dreams will only take you so far…
If you want to succeed as an investor, you also have to be able to do the following:
- Continual learning. Your investing career doesn’t begin and end after buying one stock… or one house. You must adapt and learn how to adjust to the changing markets. What works today won’t necessarily be the best strategy for tomorrow. The savvy investor is the one who can admit to themselves that they don’t know how to time the market… Instead, they simply fine-tune their strategies to best utilize the current market conditions.
- Take a punch to the gut. As New Edition liked to sing, “Sunny days, everybody loves them… Tell me, can you stand the rain?” Every investor who invests in a rising market looks like a genius. But what goes up always comes down. Nobody likes to see their portfolio deep in the red… but it happens to the best of us. When the time comes, will you panic, overreact, and want out of the game? Or will you be able to stomach the market volatility (keep your emotions in check) and stick to your investment plan? Do you really have as much conviction as you say you do?
- Take a kick in the face. It’s not enough that the markets won’t always cooperate with you, but someday, you’ll realize that you invested in some lemons! The company (stock) you purchased just the other day announced a dividend freeze… Another company you own elected to slash dividends completely. Oh, and that rental property you bought two year’s ago just went through another year of negative cash flow… To make matters worse, your PM decided to skip town… Are you ready to jump ship?
- Embrace monotony. Successful investing is the opposite of exciting — it’s monotonous. If you own rental properties, this means: your tenants consistently pay on time every month, you don’t ever have to evict them, and they take great care of your property (minimize maintenance costs). It’s good that you’re so energetic, but you really don’t want (or need) your investments to be… I’m learning this first-hand myself. 😉 If it really is excitement that you are craving, you’d be better off taking your money to Vegas, instead.
- Keep going like the Energizer Bunny. To get to financial freedom and beyond, you must be as consistent as can be. If you are truly determined to succeed, you will set goals each year and do everything possible to achieve them. What’s the easiest (and truest) way to measure success as an investor? Net Worth and Cash Flow. If you’re doing it right, one (or both) of those measures will be increasing each year.
- Nurture the tree and give it time to grow. Unless you happen to get extremely lucky trading some high flying growth stocks, chances are good that you won’t have overnight success in your investing career. In fact, most investors are glad to accept a “two steps forward, one step back approach” with their investments. Wealth building comes gradual and slow… Compounding needs time to ramp up, so the trick is to keep investing and re-investing your capital (and gains). With enough time, you’ll start to reap the fruits of your labor. Just make sure you don’t start cutting off branches prematurely… Patience is indeed a virtue.
When I hear from new investors who are just starting out that they are Energetic, Motivated, and have BIG Dreams, I tell them that they need to bring more to the table.
To make it as an investor, you must also possess GRIT, and have an Unwavering Determination to succeed, in good times and bad. You must also be adaptable and open to learning new things. Further, you need to focus on maintaining Consistency, and work on mastering the art of Patience while on the journey.
I understand that it’s especially exciting when you’re first starting out on the road to early financial independence. I felt the exact same way, and I still remember vividly what it felt like to stumble upon the thought of early FI.
Over time, you learn that having enthusiasm alone is not enough… It doesn’t mean that not everyone can do it, but just like with most things in life worth having, financial freedom won’t happen overnight… and it won’t come easy. Otherwise, everyone would be financially free!
When I first started JC in 2003, almost everyone I met wanted to do engineering. By the time I graduated university in 2007, only a select few remained. Whether it’s engineering or early FI, everyone wants to run the race at first…
But how many really have what it takes to finish it?