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.


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. 

Busy Being Jobless: One Woman’s Struggles Of Finding Employment

dollar-piggyThe following is a guest post by Colleen Kong-Savage, an illustrator and writer who lives in Manhattan. She shares with us the difficulties of finding employment after a divorce and being out of the workforce for almost 10 years to raise her son. 

Some people are good at making money. Others are not. I am not. In fact I’m really bad at it, and the fact that I am writing for a personal finance blog is rather ironic, if not downright ludicrous. I am that retail worker making minimum wage, not even taking those earnings home because she’s spending it on the merchandise she’s selling. I am your kid’s martial arts teacher who isn’t getting paid because teaching is considered part of her taekwondo training. I am the volunteer parent in the school yard ensuring the kindergarteners don’t get trampled by the third graders. Or I was until I got divorced and now need to learn how to make money.

Now that I have sworn off jobs that do not pay me enough to live, I am unemployed. After 300 job applications where the only employers who acknowledged my existence were those introduced through contacts, or men on OK Cupid trying to meet me, I have decided that my Practical Plan, to procure a steady job in graphic design, is every bit as impractical as my Dream Plan, to get steady work as an illustrator. Thus I have moved on to Dream so as to not waste any more time on the Practical.

A New Adventure Begins: Consulting For A Tech Startup

Scuba diving with turtle in HawaiiIt’ll be two years this spring since I last worked in an office. There’s been some good times with 23 weeks worth of travel and some down times with periods of boredom. But if boredom is the worst of it, then time away from work isn’t so bad. I was able to write a book, spend lots more time with family, get SCUBA certified, and work on my online business to name a few things. It felt wonderful not having to answer to anybody.

But over the past six months I’ve been feeling this void, partially because I’ve got my online work routine efficiently locked down to under four hours a day. The Financial Samurai post queue is over 30 posts deep and there’s no longer a sense of urgency to keep up with an intense writing schedule. Furthermore, going from physically interacting with at least 30 people a day at my old job to only speaking with a couple of folks to nobody a day is a let down that takes time getting used to.

With “Filling The Void In Early Retirement With Part-Time Work,” I hinted at my desire to take on a new challenge, especially since I don’t expect my online business to grow much this year due to a normalization in search traffic. It’s shown promise this January so far, but trees don’t grow to the sky forever. The three year revenue target was reached after a couple years and once again I find myself twiddling my thumbs, wondering if I peaked too early with my endeavors. Maybe I just didn’t set high enough goals. As I’ve said before, the journey is almost always more rewarding than the destination.

So You’re Thinking About Quitting Your Job And Traveling Around The World

globeThis is a guest post by NZ Muse, a mid-20s writer who just completed a six-month trip around the world and lived to tell the tale. I took NZ Muse and her husband out for lunch in San Francisco when they stopped by. A lot of folks want to travel more for an extended period of time, but don’t because they’re either afraid they won’t have a job when they get back, don’t have the funds, or just fear extended travel in general. I feared taking a sabbatical because I didn’t want to risk making less since so much of my compensation comprised of a year end bonus. I also feared getting fired! NZ Muse’s travel is why I really enjoy Australian and New Zealand culture. They are much more relaxed about work and everything seems to always turn out alright!

When you make a life-changing decision, you generally expect some measure of shock and awe when you announce it to everyone you know. But due to the collective wanderlust that courses through the veins of most New Zealanders, the news that I was taking off to travel around the world for half a year didn’t make much more than a gentle splash.

American round-the-world bloggers usually speak of encountering serious pushback when they announce their plans to friends and family. For us, it was more like “About time!” or “Six months? Will that be long enough?”

In your 20s, farewell parties for friends going on their gap years are just as common as parties for birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries. I have plenty of friends who’ve already done their ‘OE‘ (Overseas Experience) and returned to New Zealand, and others who left for their gap year and still abroad a few years later. New Zealand can feel stiflingly small, even if you live in a big city. (A fun fact for American readers: our country is about the size of Colorado.) Escaping the country is a rite of passage that’s been around for decades and will probably continue to be for many more.

Long-term travel was never originally on my life list. I graduated university, started saving for travel, and laid out plans for three big trips: the USA, western Europe, and southeast Asia – roughly one per year, with a month allocated for each (we get four weeks of paid annual leave a year in New Zealand).

This was derailed, however, by my changing jobs and moving to a smaller company; I soon came to realise that taking a month off at a time would now be a lot harder. Around the same time, my wanderlust intensified. More and more of my friends started leaving the country, one seemingly taking off every other month.

My now-husband hated his job, I hated our mouldy rental house, we were planning to get married, and the time seemed ripe for a change. I started reading a ton of travel blogs, researched overseas volunteering opportunities, and kept an eye on STA Travel’s round-the-world deals for students and travellers under 26. And that’s when our tentative one-month European honeymoon turned into a solid six-month RTW trip.

Why six months? It seemed like a nice round number. It fit in well with the destinations on my bucket list and the lengths of stay in each country that we’d legally be entitled to (luckily, New Zealanders have it easy with visas the world over). And most importantly, it seemed about as long a trip as we could afford. Bonus: the Kiwi dollar was strong, and getting stronger.

What’s Life Like As A Financial Advisor? Depends On Your Pain Tolerance

Chart showing share of wealth accruing to various wealth groupsThe following guest post comes on the heels of “Should Your Financial Advisor Be Richer Or Smarter Than You?” where I discuss the plight of the less experienced wanting to break into a notoriously difficult industry with a high failure rate. Ben from Wealth Gospel shares his experience going through training as a junior financial advisor. I can’t help but wonder by the end of the article whether the key to any successful career is to just survive through the initial hardship. Hope you enjoy the insights!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a career in financial planning is on the up and up. Their research shows that the number of financial advisors is expected to increase by 32% from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the 14% average growth across all career fields. But if you take a look at the current group of advisors, less than 5% of them are under 30. That means the insane growth is more likely to come from career changers than young college graduates. Why is that?

Well, having worked in the industry, I’ve seen first-hand why the younger generation doesn’t want to touch it. But at the same time, I also learned how to scale those barriers that are scaring people away from a potentially lucrative and meaningful career in financial planning.

The Inverted Triangle