Reflecting On Two Years Of Freedom From Work

Why work when you can SCUBA?March 2014 officially marks my two year anniversary since I last held a full-time job. It’s been an amazing two years, filled with uncertainty and excitement as I worked to balance play with trying to feel useful.

To keep some discipline, I created a “production schedule” that officially began at 7:30am and ended at 11:30am. Sometimes I’d cheat by calling it quits before 10am because there was nothing left to do. Other times I’d keep going because I’d get hooked on what was happening in the stock market until it closed at 1pm PST. By spending three to four hours a day trying to produce something – writing in my case – I would never feel guilty spending the rest of the day doing whatever I wanted.

“Feeling useful” is probably the single most important attribute I’ve needed to experience during this time away. I’ve spoken to other people who no longer have to work and everyone agreed they need something meaningful to do in order to feel fulfilled. I’m thankful this site provides an easy way to add some value to society, no matter how small it may be. If you’re an early retiree who is bored and would like to share some insights, I’d be happy to publish your post here.

This post will share with you some thoughts after two years of being away from the days of always wanting to get paid and promoted faster. I’ve written a similar post about what early retirement feels like, but that post was written immediately after emancipation – like when Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption finally broke free. 

My GS Elevator Moment

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since I interviewed at Goldman Sachs in NYC. But there’s one incident from my interview time at One New York Plaza that I remember clearly above all others: my GS elevator moment.

For those of you who haven’t been following the funny story on Twitter, for years, @GSElevator Gossip has been posting tweets about what many assumed to be overheard gossip exchanged by GS employees from around the world. The tweets range from cringeworthy to poignant in nature. The goal was to stereotype the ridiculousness of Wall Street culture, while inciting outrage from every non-Wall Street person imaginable. With 650,000 Twitter followers and a potential book deal, I think it succeeded.

Here are two examples of @GSElevator Gossip tweets:

GS-elevator-gossip

Goldman Sachs is an easy target on Wall Street because it consistently ranks at the top of the league tables in terms of deal flow and profits. Furthermore, GS alumni permeate the ranks of senior government officials, including folks such as former US Treasury Secretaries Bob Rubin and Hank Paulson. The GS Mafia is out there, and conspiracy theories abound. When you’re the top dog, many want to hunt you down. (This is why it’s important to practice Stealth Wealth if you get too far up the food chain in any field.)

It turns out the person behind @GSElevator was not a Goldman Sachs employee after all, but an outsider named John who worked at Citibank and “left” in 2008. I love Citibank as a commercial bank, but on Wall Street, Citibank isn’t considered to be in the same league as a Goldman. Citibank has always been seen as “the backup bank” if you got rejected from Goldman or Morgan, much as Columbia would be a backup to Harvard – both are excellent schools, they’re just not quite the same. Such are the petty attitudes of type-A recent college graduates. Coming from a non-target, public school myself, I would have been happy to get any job on Wall Street, let alone one at GS.

I give props to John from Citibank for creating @GSElevator because he was able to “fake it until he made it“. Here’s a guy who never worked a day at Goldman, made up a bunch of attention-grabbing tweets, and yet was able to create a brand based on Goldman culture that is followed by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide on Twitter. If his book is published, it should net him at least six figures in compensation. John’s example demonstrates yet again that it doesn’t matter whether you fully know your stuff or come from the organization in which you represent; as long as you can manipulate the system, money and attention will follow.http://cdn.financialsamurai.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif?56862f

Is “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” The Reason We’re So Screwed?

Faking It Until You Make It Leads To Being ScrewedI remember when Milli Vanilli got busted for lip synching. I was so sad. They made their millions, garnered tremendous fame, and just like that, were humiliated off the stage forever. They probably would have kept selling albums for years if they hadn’t got caught, and Rob Pilatus may have never died from a drug overdose. After that incident, however, everybody started watching singers and music videos with a very close eye. No music fan ever wanted to get duped like that again.

But there are fakers hidden everywhere in the public eye, not just in the music business. It’s peculiar that so many fakers feel no guilt pulling the wool over people’s eyes when livelihoods and finances are at stake. I’m constantly surprised with how much nonsense there is online. I’m not talking about mind-numbing Buzzfeed articles. I’m talking about articles that pop up in search results when you’re looking for useful information on the web. What appears like helpful content written by niche experts is often plagiarized or written in a hurry by a random person with no relevant experience.

WHAT ARE YOU REALLY READING?

The online publishing ecosystem is fascinating. I’ve thought long and hard about making Financial Samurai into a magazine-type site with 10 different staff writers pumping out news and factoids. In order to grow readership, I’d direct my writers to write in as plain vanilla as possible so as to not offend anybody. There’s a reason why vanilla is the most popular flavor in the world.

In my quest to become a Vanilla Online Media Tycoon (VOMIT), I’d sit back and shake my head at all those starving writers pouring heart and soul into their craft. My fellow VOMITs and I would clink our glasses of Macallan ’46 together as we laugh at the poor schmucks who toil for hours over original pieces based on hard-won experience, yet receive no traffic…and therefore, no money.

Of course I’m joking about this evil plan. I would feel too guilty, churning out content about things I know nothing about in a greedy quest to make millions from the internet. That being said, it’s always good to see the other side of the story, so recently I had a nice conversation with a real VOMIT who is just killing it online. He said I could share his thoughts if I kept him anonymous. So read on what follows, if you’re prepared to handle the truth.

How To Get Paid And Promoted Faster: Is Your Nose Brown Enough To Get Ahead?

Great Redwood TreeI’ve written extensively about how to get laid off in order to get a severance package and ultimately live a more purposeful life. While learning how to get laid off is a fantastic way to learn how to never get laid off, in this post I’d like to share some direct advice on how to excel in the workplace so you can make more money, get promoted faster, and reach financial independence sooner.

So, what are my credentials for advising people how to get ahead in the workplace? I’ll sum it up this way: at the age of 27, I made Vice President at my Wall Street firm from a non-target, public school with no connections.

The VP title is generally reserved for people with at least eight years of experience out of college, or with at least three years of experience after attending business school. I had just finished up my fifth year out of college and my first year of part-time business school before getting the nod. The percentage of students getting into an institutional front office position at a bulge bracket firm like Goldman, Morgan, and Merrill from a non-target school is probably less than 1%. Of that 1%, less than 25% make it directly to Associate. And of the 25%, less than 40% make it to Vice President after three years. Basically, if you can get your foot in the door, I estimate there’s only about a 10% chance of ever becoming VP.

Most people don’t last beyond three years on The Street, one of the most unforgiving industries on the planet. It’s an environment where your competitors are not only smart and ruthless, they’re also willing to consistently work insane hours to get ahead. The pressure is unbelievable. In fact, the longevity of a Wall Street employee is very similar to that of an NFL player. Like a halfback who’s plowed through a career’s worth of goal line surges, my “legs” finally gave out. I was done after 13 years.

This is the environment in which I learned five key lessons applicable to all industries I’ll share with you here. I’m pretty sure if you take my advice to heart, within a year you’ll see a noticeable difference. Like making more money, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to put in the effort or not. 

That Sinking Feeling Of Falling Further Behind

Sinking in sandDuring my days off from consulting work I tend to schedule other work to help me stay in touch with reality. I love teaching people who want to learn, but not so much those who are forced to learn. My tennis student is that ideal client who enthusiastically listens when I instruct her to step into her ground strokes or stiffen her wrist for a more impactful volley.

Before each lesson she politely hands me a check her mother writes for $80 dollars. I thank her without opening up the folded check and quickly place it into one of my tennis bag’s many pockets to not make things awkward. We warm up from the service line and gradually work up a sweat until the sun goes down at 6pm.

I often wonder whether she feels $80 for 1.5 hours is a lot of money as a high schooler. To me $80 feels like a healthy sum, even though I’ve been working since 1994. Perhaps it’s exactly because she appreciates her parent’s support that she’s so enthusiastic about her lessons. I remember telling myself there was no way I would do poorly in college since my parents insisted on paying.

At the end of each lesson I always feel a sense of satisfaction to have put in the effort to make a little more money and help someone get better. Often times I don’t even want to cash the check because it’s a physical reminder of accomplishment. Little wins are savored until bigger bills come due.

Moose’s gas light lit up on the way home so I decided to fill him up with some premium fuel. By the time the gas tank was full the meter flashed $79.55. It is as if the gods were mocking me. Oh, how nice it is to walk away from an evening of hard work with a net profit of 45 cents. I laughed the spite off and stopped by the grocery store for a freshly squeezed container of orange juice for $6. There goes all my earnings and then some.