Well, it eventually happened… As far back as I can remember, I’ve been dreaming about becoming a net worth millionaire since the tender age of 15, when I was bagging groceries at the Moffett Field Commissary in Mountain View for nothing more than customer tips. Some days I would walk out the door with $50 in cash… Other less fortunate days, I might grind it out for 8+ hours and have less than $20 to show for my efforts. Such can be the life of a poor high school student who is just embarking out into the real world for the first time and fighting for any morsel he can get.
Nevertheless, even as a young buck, I was not to be deterred. I was always willing to work hard, stay humble, and learn from my mistakes. Even way back then, I just always had a feeling that better days awaited in the future…
I’ll never forget this life-changing event (which I still use as motivation from time-to-time). I had just gotten chewed out from a supervisor, and was in a rather foul mood. I was helping a customer carry-out groceries to her car, when she asked me:
“How old are you?”
“15,” I replied.
“My gosh you are so young… And you’re already working so hard. You will go far in life…”
That was it.
But for whatever reason, those words stuck with me… And whenever times get tough, I always make sure to think back to that encounter, and I replay that conversation in my head… over and over again.
At some point, most people will reach a point in life where they feel as though they have plateaued… and can strive for no more. Whenever that happens to me, what I like to do is recall the days of my youth, because in that particular encapsulated moment in time, the sky really was the limit. Even a stranger managed to observe a tremendous amount of untapped potential in me… So who was I to not also believe in myself and my abilities?
Perseverance and hard work played a role in helping me get to where I am today. The most instrumental component of all, though, was belief.
I was able to become a millionaire at age 30 because I always kept believing in myself.
Here’s how the story goes…
High School Years (1999-2003; Age 15-18)
I wasn’t the smartest or brightest kid. Although I worked hard in high school, my efforts were channeled elsewhere, away from traditional academia. As mentioned above, I was interested in making money, so I gladly traded in weekends to earn some extra cash on the side. When it came to my studies, I didn’t have the same drive and motivation.
Far from it.
I enjoyed less than half of my classes, and my mind just never meshed with the concept of a semester system where you had to do pointless homework assignments everynight (gosh how grueling and boring) and get graded on closed-book multiple choice exams that basically only proved how well your short-term memory worked.
We were reading novels that took place in the Middle Ages… Trying to remember every country (and capital) on the globe… And to this day I still don’t know how Geometry works…
There was little teamwork or collaboration. Worst of all, I just never felt like I had an opportunity to be creative and expressive. Ingenuity wasn’t encouraged… but mindless rote memorization was rewarded.
Ultimately, I didn’t feel like the lesson plans were preparing me in any way, shape, or form, for the real world (which I was sort of experiencing to a greater degree through bagging groceries on the weekends). I wasn’t learning anything I deemed “useful” in school. And I didn’t believe the real world worked in such a closed-minded, linear fashion…
So, I essentially gave up… and did very poorly in high school. My grades were mediocre and not anywhere close to good enough to get me into any prestigious universities.
Still, I kept on believing… and I never conceded for one second that my report card gave a true reflection of my potential or capabilities. After all, I was keeping plenty busy and had a bunch of extracurricular interests (hobbies) that kept me engaged.
I was growing and challenging myself… It just so happened to occur outside the confines of the school system.
Somehow, I always knew that my future would amount to more than my sub 3.0 GPA would otherwise suggest…
Nevertheless, the proof was in the pudding, and I was having a difficult time escaping from “reality”. Another conversation I will never forget occurred during the last week of senior year between a close friend and myself:
“Bro, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. If you would just shape up a little, maybe you can transfer to UC Davis in a few years and join me up there.”
“That’s a possibility,” I replied.
“Do you even know what you want to study?”
“Sure, engineering…” I declared confidently.
“Naw man, you can’t do that,” my friend scoffed.
“Because… you ain’t that smart.”
Talk about receiving a major gut-check. My own buddy didn’t believe in me… Just like the school system, he thought my odds of succeeding in the real-world were slim-to-none.
If you would have taken a poll back in 2003 on which high school student from my graduating class was most likely to becoming a millionaire in the future, I’m pretty certain I would have posted in the bottom 10% of polls…
Extra motivation (especially when you’re young and full of energy) is never a bad thing!
College Years (2003-2007; Age 18-22)
This forced me to take the path of least resistance and one which would turn out to be a major blessing in disguise in helping me become a net worth millionaire at age 30:
I attended a local community college for 2 years to help rehabilitate my academic career.
Little did I know at the time, but this decision would turn out to be one of the best ones that I have ever made in my life. By attending community college, I was able to shut out all the noise and purely concentrate. Basically, I was living in isolation and solitude. Which is exactly what a “slacker” like me needed at this point in my life.
There were no parties. No old friends to distract me. No college football games to attend to. Nothing.
I was there to focus on my studies. Period.
And to this day, I’ve probably not worked as hard as I did back in those early community college days… In a span of 2 years, I managed to force myself to finally understand math and worked my way up from: Pre-Calculus to Calculus I, to Calculus II, to Calculus III, to Differential Equations, to Linear Algebra, to Discrete Math, etc., etc…
Strangely enough, each subsequent course got easier and easier… For anyone who thinks it’s too late to learn a new skill, there’s my proof that it wasn’t. While my peers were starting out college taking Calculus II or Calculus III, I was starting from SCRATCH (essentially) and repeating Pre-Calculus, which I had already “passed” during my junior year in high school… That is, I earned a passing mark in my high school course, but I had no real comprehension for the subject material.
Even better, by forgoing the conventional path, I ended up saving a boatload on tuition in the process. Back in 2003, community college tuition was dirt cheap. I mean DIRT CHEAT! Further, because I came from a poor family, I qualified for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). So, in the end, the government actually ended up paying me money to go to school! After cashing the FAFSA checks, I would typically still have enough left over (after tuition) for discretionary spending (or play) money.
Also, I continued to live at home, so rent was nil as well… Looking back, I saved a TON of cash by going the community college route.
After 2 years, I finished with about a 3.7 GPA and was able to successfully transfer into my dream school: UC Berkeley (poor kids like me don’t grow up dreaming about attending prestigious schools like
Stanford Stanfurd!). I was accepted into a dual-major engineering program.
Throughout my time at UC Berkeley, I again focused solely on academics. It was no small feat taking 4-5 engineering courses every semester, but I had to do what I had to do… In hindsight, I do regret going the double major route because it was too grueling for someone like me… I had to sacrifice big time on my social life to make ends meet… I really did get my ass handed to me while I was at UC Berkeley… I am not going to lie.
It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination…
Before the start of my senior year in the fall of 2006, on advice from my brother, I opened my first investment account — Roth IRA. I invested $3,000 to get started. It was basically “set it and forget it” after this initial move since I was 100% focused on my studies.
Finally, all the hard work paid off. Ultimately, I did finally graduate college in 2007… with some debt, but it was a very small amount since I only had to pay for 2 years of “real” college education. Similar to junior college, I again qualified for FAFSA while at UC Berkeley, so my expenses were mostly confined to rent and living expenses.
I saved on rent by living with roommates every semester… I never had my own room. And believe me, I ate CHEAP! We are talking about typical college food here: ramen noodles, Eggo waffles, $1 menu from Jack in the Box, dorm food, etc.. I took public transportation when I needed to get around, and borrowed my old roommate’s car on more than a few occasions…
Because I had saved so much money while I was bagging groceries for 4 years in high school, I was in essence able to graduate from college with a clean slate and no debt… Which is almost unheard of these days.
But despite my thrifty ways, by the summer of 2007, I still managed to end up in the EXACT same place as the rest of my peers — I graduated college with a dual-major degree in engineering at a top-tier university in 4 years.
I screwed up massively in high school, but worked my tail off to recover.
I committed myself to this all-encompassing goal of graduating from college. I worked really hard. I continued to believe in myself, despite any haters. I was all in.
It can be done.
Again, the best part of all — I graduated college with ZERO debt!
To be continued…