This is Part 3 of the “How I Became a Millionaire at Age 30” series. For more details, please refer to the preceding sections of this story:
By the start of 2011, I can honestly say that things were going well. By conventional standards, I was succeeding in most facets of life: good job, healthy (for the most part), finished with school, and re-focusing on my social life (finally).
Further, The San Francisco Giants had just won their first EVER World Series title since moving to San Francisco in 1958, so as a diehard fan, you could say that I was definitely riding on cloud 9 from that victory! I was beyond ecstatic and running and screaming onto the streets after Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to end it in the 9th in Arlington!!! In addition, I was dating a girl who really believed in me (much more so than myself), which gave me more confidence than ever to keep on growing and evolving as an individual.
Again, life was awesome. And I was motivated to make things even better…
Life Marches On (Spring 2011; Age 26)
Since I now had some experience in my working career, I no longer felt like I had to go “above and beyond” with every single task that I was assigned. Luckily, I was smart enough to take the foot off the gas pedal, as even back then, I knew well enough that there was more to life than just hard work all the time. Yes, it was hard work that got me my foot into the door, but even a Type A personality such as myself knew that I had to take a chill pill every now and then! 🙂
In the process of “taking things easy”, I started to find myself at work… It became much easier for me to make friends with other co-workers, and as a result, I forged a lot of strong friendships; friendships that I still carry with me today.
By the spring of 2011, however, I started to feel a little restless. Sure, I was still enjoying my engineering job, but the repetition of going to work from 9-5, M-F, was starting to get a little stale. At this time, I had no clue what early retirement or early financial independence were, but something felt amiss…
Although I was doing my best to enjoy a social life, everything that I experienced always felt so short-lived. I hated the idea of meeting up with friends on Friday night and only getting to spend a few hours with them before someone would ultimately decide to “call it a night” because everyone was so beat up from working all day… I usually made time to hang out with my girlfriend on the weekends, but it was no different with her… After awhile, life just felt so predictable and routine… so boring.
Is this all that there is to life? I wondered… But since all my peers around me were doing the exact same thing (and not complaining about it!), I figured that I was just over-reacting…
Struggling to find any real answers, I searched for the solution in the only place I really knew where to look — work. Even though I was now finished with school, I started burying my face into engineering books… again. I started to consider a career change away from applications/product engineering… For awhile, I was convinced that I needed to become an analog design engineer (for whatever reason). Since that position was more technical (and intense) than what I was doing, I started spending a lot of extra hours at work with a respected, senior analog design engineer.
Dave was not only my friend, but a newfound mentor. He could sense that I was this extremely eager young buck who was just never satisfied with his lot in life… In many ways, he saw a little of himself in me (he was a former product engineer who taught himself design). Gracefully, he took me under his wing and started teaching me the basics of design… We would spend a lot of time on his Cadence machine in his office running design simulations, and for the first part of 2011, I was again burning the midnight oil…
In the process, we started forming a bond… Instead of just talking about work and engineering all the time, we got to know each other and could talk more about life.
And although I greatly enjoyed our conversations, and learning about design engineering, in the end, I felt no better about my current situation. Here I was, feeling completely lost with life and looking for answers… that I still couldn’t find.
Not in my social life. Not at work.
I needed something more drastic.
I’ll never forget when I walked into his office one sunny day in May…
“You’ve got that look on your face, sir…” Dave said to me.
“Yeah…” I replied back.
“What’s up? Your boss pissing you off again?” he wondered.
“You’re bored out of your f*ckin’ mind now, are ya?”
“You could say that…” I admitted.
‘Then do what I did… Go join the military!” Dave shouted.
“You know… maybe. I need something and I don’t know what it is… I think it’s change.”
Dave was a jokester… and he was often crude. But the man would tell you things straight-up and keep it real. Especially when you just needed some butt-kicking truth. The everyday grind was starting to get to me… and he could see that:
“Don’t think I don’t know what it is you’re going through. I’ve been there. You get sick and tired of doing the same bullsh*t everyday. Life is too short to be unhappy. And you’ve got to mix it up from time to time… So, I joined the military. And it was the best decision I ever made in my life. It let me travel. See the world. Experience new things. And kick some major ass in the process… Once I finally got all that out of my system, it was only then that I came back to this crap…”
That was the first time I ever spoke to a fellow engineer who was able to give me such a real, candid response… Most co-workers around me were mindless drones who just went through the motions and didn’t want to disrupt the apple cart… I was getting sick and tired of hearing politically correct responses all the time… I really needed someone to give it to me straight, and Dave did.
And my life would never be the same.
I was back in his office in June and had an announcement to make:
“I got a job offer that I can’t refuse. I’m moving to Southern California.”
“Oh… and I almost forgot… Thank you.”
Change of Scenery (Summer 2011; Age 26)
I wouldn’t say that it was depression that drove me into accepting a job offer to relocate to Orange County, but just like Dave had observed, I knew that there was something wrong with my life.
I just didn’t know what.
Here I was, 26 years old, in the peak years of my life, doing well in a career, and I felt utterly trapped and confused. On the surface, life was wonderful… but I had never felt so empty and alone in my entire life.
I thought that a change of scenery would do me wonders… And it did… for a few months. It was just what the doctor ordered:
Fresh start. Gorgeous weather. New job. Wonderful salary. Nice apartment right next to Newport Beach… For me, it was Life 2.0.
While in Orange County, I reconnected with some old high school friends. One guy in particular, who was studying for a PhD at UC Irvine, would often remark out of admiration:
“Dude, you’ve got it made! Do you know how little I make and how hard it is for me to scrape by here? I would kill to be in your position! You think you can get me an internship at your company?”
But the song remained the same. It was around September when my brother visited me, when I started to make some revelations while we were at Corona Del Mar beach:
“You see those kids playing in the water over there?” I asked my brother.
“What about them?” my brother responded.
“They look so happy and at peace… Why can’t I have that too? I’m just so lost right now, man… I thought moving here would make me happy, but I just can’t seem to shake this funk that I’m in. Everyday feels the same… I’m already settled in and bored at work… It’s all routine again.” I rambled…
“Isn’t this everything you wanted?” he asked.
“No… I want to LIVE! I want to remember what it was like when we were growing up as kids… Always running around and experimenting with new things… Learning, growing… embracing LIFE! I shouted, as the dots were slowly connecting for me.
“I don’t know… Quit your job and go backpack across Europe then…” My brother suggested.
“Have you ever thought about retiring early and doing something else?” I finally asked him…
That would mark just about the first time that the thought of early retirement and early financial independence ever really crossed my mind. I remember leaving the beach that day with a newfound sense of direction — Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a worker bee for the rest of my life. Perhaps, a different (and better) destination awaited me.
I had a lot to ponder…
The Red Pill (Fall 2011; Age 27)
I continued going through the motions until I again burned out around November timeframe… I had just about had enough…
While my co-workers were working harder than ever, I requested for an entire week off around Thanksgiving. I knew that I had to get away from Orange County and reconsider my options once again. I booked a flight home to the Bay Area to be with my family for the holiday break. On the flight home (it was a really empty flight), I looked out the window as the plane was ascending and thought:
Maybe I won’t be coming back here… This whole experience hasn’t worked out the way I had envisioned…
It felt good to be home. Seeing familiar faces brought me a great deal of joy that was now missing in my life. But more than anything, it felt wonderful just to get away from work for once and to have some free time to relax and contemplate.
I wasn’t home for maybe more than one day when I started to reflect back on the conversation that I had with my brother at the beach in early September… Finally, I mustered up the courage to “think outside the box”.
I opened up a search browser and inputted the following:
“ways to retire early”
Back in 2011, the following search results appeared before my eyes on Page 1:
At last, the long sought after red pill that I had been searching endlessly for had been found! I feasted on those two websites (morning, noon, and night) while the rest of my family and friends were stuffing their faces with turkey and mashed potatoes…
I couldn’t digest enough information… I kept on reading more and more… Until finally, it was time for me to return back to Orange County. On the outbound flight, my body language and demeanor were a sharp contrast from before — I carried my head up high and for once, I felt like I had a solution to my problems!
With a newfound sense of confidence and excitement, I closed out the year strong. In my spare time, I continued learning, and had comprised a list of a dozen or so blogs that I now frequented on a daily basis.
All along the way, I managed to continue being as frugal as I possibly could. Even though I lived in a really nice apartment, I didn’t splurge on rent and made things more affordable by living with 3 other roommates. Further, the new company was really good to me — subsidized food, free soda/drinks, free gym, etc. Most Wednesday nights, other co-workers and I would play full-court basketball, which was my favorite (and cheapest) hobby. I also spent a lot of time at the many sublime beaches… Orange County is so incredibly beautiful!
By the end of 2011, my retirement accounts were valued at $79,000. Further, I had around $70,000 saved up in my savings account. Clearly, this was enough funds for a downpayment, although the thought of investing in real estate had yet to cross my mind in 2011.
I stumbled upon the concept of dividend growth investing, and I purchased the following books to help me learn more:
My journey to early FI had begun!
To be continued…