From the time we were small we’ve had ingrained in us the idea that climbing the corporate ladder was the result of hard work, ethical behavior, and networking with the right people. For the most part that is still true. However, corporate life is not quite as revered as it once was.
I was no different growing up. I dreamed of becoming a football player, or a doctor, or a successful businessman. Those were big dreams, but dreams that kept me on track, academically, throughout high school. After a back injury my senior year of high school derailed any hopes of playing football, I turned my attention to my studies and finished on a high note, intending to enter college the next year and declare pre-medicine as a major.
Photo courtesy of TimWilson
Somewhere along the way I burned out on the whole process. I grew tired of college, the idea of being a doctor, and I was really floundering. After a death in the family, I returned home and lived with my grandfather while working a string of part time jobs, because I couldn’t find a full-time one.
Not long after marrying my college sweetheart I found a full time job as a customer service representative at a bankcard call center. The starting salary was $18,000, but I could earn 10% more by taking the graveyard shift, so I did. Looking back, we felt rich! My wife and I worked opposite schedules for a few months, until the stress at her job, and being seven months pregnant, brought her home.
I bounced around the bank from the call center to back office operations, credit, fraud investigations, disputes, etc, eventually landing in software development, which was the focus of my studies after returning to school after the birth of my daughter. Again, I thought I was on the fast track up the corporate ladder. I ultimately landed a better job after finishing my online business degree, but again, somewhere along the way I had a change of heart.
Reflecting back, I don’t remember a specific event that changed my perspective, rather a combination of events that changed my priorities. I had spent a decade living above my means, acquiring things, and racking up debt to finish school. The events of September 11th drew me closer to my then 1 year-old baby. The thought of traveling away from her, and my wife, terrified me, and the first time I flew after 9/11 (only a few months after) I remember feeling a panic that I had never felt before. I was lucky my new job would not require travel, because it was something I endured prior to 9/11, and downright dreaded after (not necessarily out of fear, but because of the new restrictions and the increased hassle that came with traveling).
Then my family was dealt a double-whammy as the economy started to turn late last summer. My mom was diagnosed with a giant cerebral aneurysm in early August at 53 years young. My mom raised me as a single parent, and had done well climbing the corporate ladder herself, despite lacking a college degree, and being the lone female manager in a male-dominated industry. She remains an inspiration to me. But the aneurysm, seven surgeries, a stroke, and a 102-day hospital stay from September to December wiped her out, financially, emotionally, and physically. She and my stepdad survived without an income as he cared for her for 6 months until long-term disability insurance kicked in.
A second scare came in February of this year when we almost lost my mom because of a new bleed in the aneurysm. She endured an 11-hour brain surgery, and despite even the doctor’s dire predictions, she survived. This time her hospital stay was 45 days. Today she is wheelchair-bound, unable to walk and use her right arm. Her vision and speech were affected, but she still has her wit, and we still love spending time with her.
Photo courtesy of ellievanhoutte
I share all this because it sort of explains how I got to here. It’s funny the things that shape our beliefs, and our dreams. Twelve months ago I viewed a 6-month emergency fund as a luxury; now I think it is a necessity. Same for disability insurance. Being debt free went from a nice-to-have goal to our number one priority. Next we’ll work to pay off our house early.
I’ve become content with my current career, and my “side hustle” here at Frugal Dad. No longer do I long for a corner office and a six-figure salary. I long for a mortgage-free, modest home in the country with a garden, some room to roam, and the abiliy to spend some extra time with my kids, and one day, my grandkids. I’d gladly trade in that office chair for a comfy rocking chair on our front porch overlooking our land. Flashy cars, big houses, expensive clothes and gadgets are all just obstacles in my way of achieving this goal.