The American Dream Lives On

I’ve seen dozens of posts on the death of the American Dream.  You know, the house, white picket fence, dog and 2.5 kids.  The one where the guy works until he is 65 while the wife stays home and raises babies and frequents the tennis club and does charity work in her spare time. The one where at retirement they either have a fat pension, millions in the bank or perhaps both.   This is purportedly a myth, an anachronistic throwback to an earlier time, a time long long ago when dinosaurs and creatures known as Boomers ruled the earth.

The claims on the Dream no longer being possible center on a number of issues including high cost of college/student loans, lack of decent paying jobs, lack of opportunity to advance and a lack of affordable housing and tighter rules on obtaining house loans.  They are also sometimes portrayed as inherently less competitive in life due to being victims or poor parenting and the advent of the age of social media and digital overload.  So in short, against insurmountable odds  there just is no way they can achieve the American Dream the way previous generations did.

That is so untrue! Don’t get me wrong, the disadvantages are real inarguable truths.  But the idea that they represent some Great Wall of China impenetrable barrier is untrue.  There is a huge difference between something becoming more difficult and something becoming  impossibly  unicorn rare.

Full disclosure, I’m older than most in this space so I realize can’t use my own experience as proof that things can still work this way for you but I have lots of younger friends and three millennial kids that I can bring forth as expert witnesses because unlike me, they have current generation cred.  Since one of my side gigs is being an expert witness let me do this like we do in court.

“I call my millennial kids to the stand.”

“Raise your right hand, swear to tell the truth, etc.   How is life going for you, son?”

“Dad, it is going pretty great, I am heading to Tanzania in a couple of weeks for my last rotation of medical school and after that is over my wife is coming to climb Kilimanjaro with me.  I’ll be matching with my specialty in March and then headed off to six years of residency.  I guess we will sell our house since we probably won’t be coming back to the same city or maybe we’ll rent it to someone.  It took me awhile to decide on my career, I started of course in engineering and did that for six years while I put my wife through medical school and now she is doing that for me as I earn my MD.  We have some school loans but she makes great money and I will be earning at least a little soon so we are on solid financial ground headed forward.  Plus you and mom did teach us to avoid debt and invest for retirement so we are doing that as fast as we can.”

“Son, how much did Mom and I help you pay for school or really anything after high school.”

” Well Dad you didn’t pay for anything.  I had a free ride through college for my engineering degree and after that I was on my own.”

“Son, would you say you will earn more, save more and give more than I was ever able to in my life?”

“You’ve done pretty well Dad, but we will blow by you like you’re standing still in less than ten years, most likely.”

“Daughters?”

“Yeah Dad, you also didn’t shell out much of anything for our college and we also graduated with zero loans. Yeah, like bro we worked while in high school and college and learned to shop in thrift stores.  And we had free rides too including room and board through our four-year degrees because we had good grades and test scores. ”

“How did you get your advanced degrees after the scholarships ran out?  Did you rack up enormous school loans?”

“No student loans at all, Dad.  We both worked for the university to pay for our masters degrees.   We have good jobs, one with a pension.  One of us owns a house and one is renting but neither of us have any debt, except the house mortgage. We see marriage, kids and owning a house as near certain parts of our future.”

“I’ll call my last witness, Ms.M.  M you obviously have it going on for a millennial right now so I’m guessing you started out with rich parents, right?”

” You are hilarious, mi amigo.  I’ve told you my story on those many early morning six-mile runs we made together but I suppose you want these people to hear it from me.  Short version goes like this, at 16 I was literally starving to death in Mexico and in desperation ran away from home, crossed the river into the USA and started taking odd jobs.  I married and divorced from a bad man and ended up in your small town where I was working as a maid in a rich family’s home.  I had nothing, no family, no friends and no money.”

“Wait a minute M, you are now a Nurse Practitioner with four college degrees.  You are a wealthy lady, how did you get there in just a few years?”

“I did not really believe in the power of education but the lady I was a maid for nagged and nagged and finally dragged me to get my high school equivalent certificate and then convinced me to go to the community college and get my licensed practical nursing credentials.  I then got my RN, and then a BS in Registered Nursing and finally was accepted into medical school where I earned my Advanced Practical Nursing degree.  Along the way I married another Mexican immigrant, now a surgeon and a very good man, and we live in Florida.  Yes we are millionaires with no debt and yes we did all of that by ourselves with no financial help from anyone else.”

“So at the risk of leading my witness, M would you say you are living the American Dream?”

“Yes, it certainly feels like the American Dream, going from starving kid to medical professional.  From loneliness and poverty to a great life partner and wealth”

“I rest my case.”

And that is my version of why I think the Dream lives on.  No doubt it is just one side of the argument.  And, sure, it is tougher now than it was for me and my small set of examples do not adequately represent the millions of millennials struggling against odds I didn’t have to face. But the fact is most of the millennials I know, and I know a lot of them, are living lives that resemble mine at their age without a lot of obvious differences.  They have jobs they enjoy and are making nice salaries, buying houses and having kids just like their parents did.  And some of them like my, running amiga, can just drop the mic and walk away after they tell their story.  

The Unbearable Lightness of Being….early retired

As 2018 slowly begins now the holiday season has passed a strange thought has hit me this week. It occurs to me how different everything feels about my life now that I no longer have to go in to work. Two years ago I was facing the unrelenting pressure of a demanding CEO, working long hours keeping production maximized at a chemical plant. Worried about my workers’ safety, the competitiveness of the plant, staying within my operating budget and fearful that I would inadvertently run afoul of one of the hundreds of environmental, safety and transportation regulations that applied to my facility. It was about six months prior to leaving that I realized I had enough money, more than enough, and that I wasn’t having fun anymore after a mostly fun and long career with the company. I pondered that situation for six months then two years ago this week I walked away from my medium six figure compensation package to the strange and unstructured world of being retired. In my case what I like to call Slightly Early Retirement.

And…it…is… so much better. I never realized the stress that weighed on me, or at least not until the very end of my career. But as soon as I left, despite the uncertainty I walked into, I was amazed. I was floored actually by the incredible lightness of my body. I felt like I was 50 pounds lighter, like I was floating. It wasn’t in a physical sense it was metaphysical, a spiritual lightness that remains just as strong two years later and it makes me smile, makes the child in me laugh and the old man in me tear up with joy.

It isn’t that I live a life of pure leisure, I still work. In fact just before I started writing this I opened checks for over $13 thousand for work done in three of my five side gigs in December 2017. $6,000 of that was a one weekend consulting job for old friends in Texas. I don’t need the money but I loved earning it, and it validates me in some strange way. Plus I enjoyed being the one guy that could come in and solve their seven figure problem in a couple of days and nights of work. But it had none of that old weight or stress or fear of failure. I walk in and walk out and don’t have to worry that I’ll get called in the middle of the night because there is a fire, or worse. It isn’t my zoo, and they aren’t my animals any more. I’m just like a visiting veterinarian who can make a house call or not, my choice.

Back in my 9 to 5 days that stretched into decades I did not think it could be like this, be good like this. I told people I wanted to work until I was 70 because in my mind I really did not have an identity outside of work. I cannot explain why I saw things that way, I had and have a lot of hobbies and volunteer gigs but I did not think they could ever give me the sense of mattering that work did. And while I was crazy wrong about not having an identity outside of my corporate world I was actually dead on about that last part. I do need to work and the reason life is so good now is that I have great work.

Work that is challenging and significant but not work that beats me down and kicks me in the teeth. I have clients that respect me and look up to me. I am no longer a Sisyphus facing a never ending and impossible task. I’m in control and the freedom of being my own boss is almost narcotic in its power. The knowledge that I have the time and money to reinvent myself as many times in the future as I want gives me a safety net under my high wire act. I don’t want to fail at anything but if I do, it is more of a shrug than a death. And instead of crazy 60 to 70 hour weeks I usually only work about two days a week. 

I would like to say there was a master plan to get here but it happened more organically than that. Along the way in my career when I would find tasks that put me in the zone of deep work, contentment and excitement I began to consider what kind of jobs have a high percentage of that kind of work. And when it finally occurred to me that I was done with the old job I had a network of contacts that were receptive of my pitching them to become my clients and it all just worked from day one of being slightly early retired.

This post is not to tell you how to get to where I am. This post is to tell you that it is a lovely place to be no matter how you decide to build it. Whether it is teaching English in China or backpacking across Europe or being a part time consultant like me who spent this week hiking to frozen waterfalls in remote parts of Arkansas mountain country.  However you choose  tobuild your future life it is wonderful to have the freedom to live it on your own terms.

It is a new year, what are you going to do to gain financial independence and freedom? What life are you going to build?

The Incredible Lightness of Being….early retired

As 2018 slowly begins now the holiday season has passed a strange thought has hit me this week. It occurs to me how different everything feels about my life now that I no longer have to go in to work. Two years ago I was facing the unrelenting pressure of a demanding CEO, working long hours keeping production maximized at a chemical plant. Worried about my workers’ safety, the competitiveness of the plant, staying within my operating budget and fearful that I would inadvertently run afoul of one of the hundreds of environmental, safety and transportation regulations that applied to my facility. It was about six months prior to leaving that I realized I had enough money, more than enough, and that I wasn’t having fun anymore after a mostly fun and long career with the company. I pondered that situation for six months then two years ago this week I walked away from my medium six figure compensation package to the strange and unstructured world of being retired. In my case what I like to call Slightly Early Retirement.

And…it…is… so much better. I never realized the stress that weighed on me, or at least not until the very end of my career. But as soon as I left, despite the uncertainty I walked into, I was amazed. I was floored actually by the incredible lightness of my body. I felt like I was 50 pounds lighter, like I was floating. It wasn’t in a physical sense it was metaphysical, a spiritual lightness that remains just as strong two years later and it makes me smile, makes the child in me laugh and the old man in me tear up with joy.

It isn’t that I live a life of pure leisure, I still work. In fact just before I started writing this I opened checks for over $13 thousand for work done in three of my five side gigs in December 2017. $6,000 of that was a one weekend consulting job for old friends in Texas. I don’t need the money but I loved earning it, and it validates me in some strange way. Plus I enjoyed being the one guy that could come in and solve their seven figure problem in a couple of days and nights of work. But it had none of that old weight or stress or fear of failure. I walk in and walk out and don’t have to worry that I’ll get called in the middle of the night because there is a fire, or worse. It isn’t my zoo, and they aren’t my animals any more. I’m just like a visiting veterinarian who can make a house call or not, my choice.

Back in my 9 to 5 days that stretched into decades I did not think it could be like this, be good like this. I told people I wanted to work until I was 70 because in my mind I really did not have an identity outside of work. I cannot explain why I saw things that way, I had and have a lot of hobbies and volunteer gigs but I did not think they could ever give me the sense of mattering that work did. And while I was crazy wrong about not having an identity outside of my corporate world I was actually dead on about that last part. I do need to work and the reason life is so good now is that I have great work.

Work that is challenging and significant but not work that beats me down and kicks me in the teeth. I have clients that respect me and look up to me. I am no longer a Sisyphus facing a never ending and impossible task. I’m in control and the freedom of being my own boss is almost narcotic in its power. The knowledge that I have the time and money to reinvent myself as many times in the future as I want gives me a safety net under my high wire act. I don’t want to fail at anything but if I do, it is more of a shrug than a death. And instead of crazy 60 to 70 hour weeks I usually only work about two days a week. 

I would like to say there was a master plan to get here but it happened more organically than that. Along the way in my career when I would find tasks that put me in the zone of deep work, contentment and excitement I began to consider what kind of jobs have a high percentage of that kind of work. And when it finally occurred to me that I was done with the old job I had a network of contacts that were receptive of my pitching them to become my clients and it all just worked from day one of being slightly early retired.

This post is not to tell you how to get to where I am. This post is to tell you that it is a lovely place to be no matter how you decide to build it. Whether it is teaching English in China or backpacking across Europe or being a part time consultant like me who spent this week hiking to frozen waterfalls in remote parts of Arkansas mountain country.  However you choose  tobuild your future life it is wonderful to have the freedom to live it on your own terms.

It is a new year, what are you going to do to gain financial independence and freedom? What life are you going to build?

The American Dream Lives On

I’ve seen dozens of posts on the death of the American Dream.  You know, the house, white picket fence, dog and 2.5 kids.  The one where the guy works until he is 65 while the wife stays home and raises babies and frequents the tennis club and does charity work in her spare time. The one where at retirement they either have a fat pension, millions in the bank or perhaps both.   This is purportedly a myth, an anachronistic throwback to an earlier time, a time long long ago when dinosaurs and creatures known as Boomers ruled the earth.

The claims on the Dream no longer being possible center on a number of issues including high cost of college/student loans, lack of decent paying jobs, lack of opportunity to advance and a lack of affordable housing and tighter rules on obtaining house loans.  They are also sometimes portrayed as inherently less competitive in life due to being victims or poor parenting and the advent of the age of social media and digital overload.  So in short, against insurmountable odds  there just is no way they can achieve the American Dream the way previous generations did.

That is so untrue! Don’t get me wrong, the disadvantages are real inarguable truths.  But the idea that they represent some Great Wall of China impenetrable barrier is untrue.  There is a huge difference between something becoming more difficult and something becoming  impossibly  unicorn rare.

Full disclosure, I’m older than most in this space so I realize can’t use my own experience as proof that things can still work this way for you but I have lots of younger friends and three millennial kids that I can bring forth as expert witnesses because unlike me, they have current generation cred.  Since one of my side gigs is being an expert witness let me do this like we do in court.

“I call my millennial kids to the stand.”

“Raise your right hand, swear to tell the truth, etc.   How is life going for you, son?”

“Dad, it is going pretty great, I am heading to Tanzania in a couple of weeks for my last rotation of medical school and after that is over my wife is coming to climb Kilimanjaro with me.  I’ll be matching with my specialty in March and then headed off to six years of residency.  I guess we will sell our house since we probably won’t be coming back to the same city or maybe we’ll rent it to someone.  It took me awhile to decide on my career, I started of course in engineering and did that for six years while I put my wife through medical school and now she is doing that for me as I earn my MD.  We have some school loans but she makes great money and I will be earning at least a little soon so we are on solid financial ground headed forward.  Plus you and mom did teach us to avoid debt and invest for retirement so we are doing that as fast as we can.”

“Son, how much did Mom and I help you pay for school or really anything after high school.”

” Well Dad you didn’t pay for anything.  I had a free ride through college for my engineering degree and after that I was on my own.”

“Son, would you say you will earn more, save more and give more than I was ever able to in my life?”

“You’ve done pretty well Dad, but we will blow by you like you’re standing still in less than ten years, most likely.”

“Daughters?”

“Yeah Dad, you also didn’t shell out much of anything for our college and we also graduated with zero loans. Yeah, like bro we worked while in high school and college and learned to shop in thrift stores.  And we had free rides too including room and board through our four-year degrees because we had good grades and test scores. ”

“How did you get your advanced degrees after the scholarships ran out?  Did you rack up enormous school loans?”

“No student loans at all, Dad.  We both worked for the university to pay for our masters degrees.   We have good jobs, one with a pension.  One of us owns a house and one is renting but neither of us have any debt, except the house mortgage. We see marriage, kids and owning a house as near certain parts of our future.”

“I’ll call my last witness, Ms.M.  M you obviously have it going on for a millennial right now so I’m guessing you started out with rich parents, right?”

” You are hilarious, mi amigo.  I’ve told you my story on those many early morning six-mile runs we made together but I suppose you want these people to hear it from me.  Short version goes like this, at 16 I was literally starving to death in Mexico and in desperation ran away from home, crossed the river into the USA and started taking odd jobs.  I married and divorced from a bad man and ended up in your small town where I was working as a maid in a rich family’s home.  I had nothing, no family, no friends and no money.”

“Wait a minute M, you are now a Nurse Practitioner with four college degrees.  You are a wealthy lady, how did you get there in just a few years?”

“I did not really believe in the power of education but the lady I was a maid for nagged and nagged and finally dragged me to get my high school equivalent certificate and then convinced me to go to the community college and get my licensed practical nursing credentials.  I then got my RN, and then a BS in Registered Nursing and finally was accepted into medical school where I earned my Advanced Practical Nursing degree.  Along the way I married another Mexican immigrant, now a surgeon and a very good man, and we live in Florida.  Yes we are millionaires with no debt and yes we did all of that by ourselves with no financial help from anyone else.”

“So at the risk of leading my witness, M would you say you are living the American Dream?”

“Yes, it certainly feels like the American Dream, going from starving kid to medical professional.  From loneliness and poverty to a great life partner and wealth”

“I rest my case.”

And that is my version of why I think the Dream lives on.  No doubt it is just one side of the argument.  And, sure, it is tougher now than it was for me and my small set of examples do not adequately represent the millions of millennials struggling against odds I didn’t have to face. But the fact is most of the millennials I know, and I know a lot of them, are living lives that resemble mine at their age without a lot of obvious differences.  They have jobs they enjoy and are making nice salaries, buying houses and having kids just like their parents did.  And some of them like my, running amiga, can just drop the mic and walk away after they tell their story.  

First Real Post

Finally I figured out how to get rid of the “site coming soon” page and open my blog to the public.  Now I’m just full of questions about how in the world anyone will find it?  How can I get on Rockstar’s directory so that maybe somebody will take a look?  What plugins I need to fix the place up, and so on and etc.  But mainly I’m happy I can finally Google Steveark.com myself and see this post!

I’m also very pleased that my first guest post ever, which appeared on 99to1percent  was submitted by Ms 99to1percent herself to Physician on FIRE who included it in his Sunday Best!  All in all this has been a good start to something new and highly entertaining for me.  As a slightly  early retired guy who typically only works a couple of days a week it will be a fun way to grow some new skills.  I look forward to meeting many new people in the FI, FIRE, Retirement, Investing and Side Gig communities.