My college internship in finance turned into a full time job when I graduated. I was extra lucky: this was during the financial crisis, in January 2009. “The pay will be $3,000 a month,” my boss told me when I was hired. That sure seemed like a lot of money to me, right out of college. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. It wasn’t mostly because I wanted to live in the city. There went half my monthly take-home, right off the bat. But I got along fine.
After a few years and a couple of inflation-level raises, it was about time for a real bump in pay. I had been putting in extra time, turning in more reports, the whole nine yards of being a good little analyst. In finance, we get quarterly bonuses, which are basically just part of your salary that can be adjusted if management does or doesn’t like how you’re performing. I was pretty hopeful that my next one was going to be significantly more than it had been over the previous years.
I squirmed a little- I didn’t know how to express to them that I thought I deserved a raise. I talked to a partner or two because I didn’t know how to talk to the big boss, even though his office was right next to mine. Frankly, I didn’t do a very good job advocating for myself. Somehow, I thought to myself, they’re just gonna know. Come bonus day, I checked my bank account first thing in the morning. My bonus had doubled from $4,000 to $8,000. My indicated annual salary was now about 30% higher.
I was over the moon! I couldn’t believe it- this was everything I had dreamed. I went out that night and celebrated. I bought a bottle of wine. I bought a new suit. I responsibly put the rest in savings, with the knowledge that there was more to come.
I felt good for a month. Two months. Then I realized- I wasn’t any happier. I was making 30% more, and nothing had really changed.
You might be thinking to yourself, “That isn’t really that much more money- if he were making $100k+, then things would be different!” That’s the same way I had thought for years. But somewhere between graduation, my motorcycle accident (that’s another post (or three)), and my raise, I had gained the audacity to ask, “Wait, would yet more money really help?” That question, asked thoughtfully, earnestly, and on the back of a big raise, was the turning point.
How did you feel when I implied just there that you, dear reader, would react by saying, “Oh, he just needs a little more!” You probably said, “Oh no, not me. I know things wouldn’t really be different with $100,000 a year.” Ok, I guess you know that, but do you believe it? What are you working towards right now in your life? What are your current medium-term goals? A raise? A promotion? A degree? A car?
How do those goals line up with your ultimate, best-life, pie-in-the-sky dreams? If you can’t draw a straight, bright line between your medium-term goals and your best life, I think that you don’t really believe that money won’t buy you happiness.
“Crazy! I have to make a little more, so I can buy a house, so I can create a nest egg, so I can buy this and that and have things just right, and then maybe I can think about some travel. A couple of nice vacations a year to Europe will be so exotic! I’ll have earned it! Paris! Buenos Aires! Ooh la la!”
Stop it. That isn’t your dream. You know that isn’t your dream. Dare to dream.
Let’s be clear. Big dreams take a lot of doing. Ruby and I have worked really hard for a very long time to get to where we are, both independently and together. And for a long time, we didn’t even know what we were working towards- we just got lucky. Had I known four years ago that financial success doesn’t guarantee my dreams, I wouldn’t have sunk a lot of money into a not-so-passive investment (which went south – that’s another post too) that would have cemented me in Baltimore if it had succeeded. I’d be way ahead financially- but I wouldn’t have learned.
I hope this piece, and ones like it, plant a seed. I hope that when you get that raise, you will remember this and say to yourself, “hang on.” I hope you keep saving. I hope you are simultaneously responsible and honest with yourself. I hope you are open to new experiences and ideas, so that you can learn all this first hand.
But most of all, I hope you have the bravery to have a dream that fills your entire life with the urgency you need to make it a reality.