My story isn’t really as interesting as other things I write about in my honest opinion, but it can be useful to understand where I’m coming from and why I see things the way I do. I believe our personalities are heavily influenced by our environment during our formative years of late childhood and adolescence.
I grew up in a small rural town in southern Indiana with two younger siblings, a sister 11 months younger than me, and a brother a full seven years younger. My parents were nonunion factory workers since graduating from high school. Neither of my parents have a college education nor any of my grandparents or my parents’ brothers and sisters. We always seemed to have enough to get by and I never went hungry growing up, but I knew there was more to life than spending 45 hours a week doing menial manual labor and living paycheck to paycheck.
I went to public school (not that I had any other choice). In high school, I graduated with just around one hundred other students. This was a public school for the entire county with a total number of students at around 500 from grades 9 through 12. Some of my classmates had to drive over a half hour on rural highways to get to school.
I was not a very good student in high school though. I never had a need to study, I neglected home work, I played a lot of Euchre at school, and when I wasn’t working at my part time job, video games at home. Regardless, my grades were great and I had nearly perfect attendance. School was important to me, but not challenging. I graduated fifth in my class based on GPA. I still kind of regret at least not attempting to be the valedictorian though as it was well within my ability to do so and college would have been a little cheaper for me.
A few months before I turned 16, I got my first job. I became a tour guide at a cave in my hometown. It was an awesome job for a nerdy, yet somewhat outgoing kid like me. I learned a lot about speleology and had a great time giving tours. I also had other less glamorous responsibilities like cleaning the gift shop. My parents gave me control of our old 1986 Chevy Custom Deluxe which I drove for several years. It wasn’t great on gas mileage, but gas was cheap then.
Several months after turning 16, the cave laid off a lot of tour guides myself included. It was a slow year and there wasn’t enough work to go around for a bunch of kids let alone the few adults who also worked the same job. I didn’t stay unemployed long however, I got a job as a dishwasher at the finest sit-down restaurant in a 50 mike radius. To be fair, it is quite nice with a beautiful view of the Ohio River, but there’s really no competition in the area. I wasn’t being paid more, (minimum wage at $5.25 an hour) but I was working more, so I was able to save a decent amount of money. I also worked as a busboy cleaning tables and serving patrons drinks although I never was a true waiter. And I finally ended up working as a cook making the main courses as they were ordered. When the old truck broke down, I used the money I had saved up to buy myself a 1998 Chevy Malibu, paying for it with cash. I worked at the restaurant for the remainder of my adolescence until I moved away for college.
I had decided that I could do just about anything I wanted with my life, and since I was very interested in science and mathematics, and I was smart, I decided to major in aerospace engineering. I choose Purdue University (boiler-up!) since it was highly rated, in-state, and a public school. I got a work-study job and worked in the dining court in my dorm and began a life on my own trying to balance school and paying for school. I made it work though, with the money I saved up in my teens, my scholarships and grants, and working, I managed to get by without going too far into debt. My parents didn’t really have to give to support me during these years with my siblings still at home and with some massive debt obtain from medical bills from a necessary surgery my father had to have while he was unfortunately not covered on any health insurance plan. I still got a small stipend of around $100 a month from my family which wasn’t much, but every penny helped.
My first year of college was a major challenge. My academics in high school had not prepared me for the rigor that I faced and my grades showed for it. I didn’t fail thanks to the generous curves. I quickly found that I was no longer a big fish in a small pond, but instead was just a medium sized fish in a big lake. After my first semester, my GPA was around 3.0 and fell in my second semester to somewhere around 2.8. I spent the rest of my undergrad slowly improving my GPA, but I still only got out with a 3.1 GPA. I guess I wasn’t really horrible, but school was no longer easy. I had to actually apply myself to achieve decent grades. And I still needed to worry about finances and the constant dread of going further into debt. I was always envious of my peers who had their parents pay for their school. I also joined a few engineering organizations on campus, hoping to build my resume and have some fun. My favorite of which was an organization to mentor high school students in robotics competitions. It was great and the high schoolers never ceased to amaze me with their talent and abilities and simultaneously irk me a bit on how unfortunate it was that I never had opportunities like they had.
In my senior year, I got a job as a resident assistant in one of the university-owned apartment complexes. It was an extremely rewarding experience to me, but more importantly, it completely eradicated my financial woes. My housing and meals were provided and my in-state tuition was covered. I also received a small stipend each month and picked up extra hours in the main office to make a bit more. With this money, I began paying off my loans I had taken out to fund my previous 3 years. I also rethought my choices of career. Engineering was hard and I wasn’t sure if I absolutely wanted to do it, so I started to consider a business degree. So, with my new-found financial freedom, I cut back on engineering classes and picked up a minor in business management. In the end, I decided that I did want to do engineering, and pursued my Masters of Science rather than a MBA.
I worked several summers in the buildings that I was a resident assistant during the academic year. It was there that I met my future wife. At the very end of summer, we started dating. We got married while still in school and managed to graduate at the same time, myself with my master’s and Eccentric “Cute” Aunt with her bachelors. ECA helped me a lot with studying. That is really her forte, something she’s trained for all her life. She was a nearly perfect student making two B’s in all her classes while in college simultaneously taking enough classes to graduate in 6 semesters rather than the standard 8. And she worked a part time job even though her parents were paying for her school. I’m extremely lucky to have met someone who is in many ways far more capable and intelligent than I am and somehow convinced that person to spend the rest of her life with me. In fact, with her pushing me to study harder, I even made the dean’s list in my last semester of my undergrad with a 3.5 GPA. My graduate school was much better as I had finally learned how to be a good student and I wasn’t trying to dig myself out of a hole I buried myself in. I ended up with a 3.6 GPA upon graduation for my master’s.
After graduating, we moved to Seattle. We paid off my student loans which totaled to just around $8,000. ECA had landed a nice job and although I had not gotten a job yet myself, I figured Seattle was a great location for someone with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in astronautical and aerospace engineering. I did quickly find a job and my wife and I started our careers on the same day. We lived in an apartment for the first year, but very quickly found it to be a waste of money, so we started saving money and bought our townhome, easily making over %20 down to avoid the mortgage insurance. And that basically brings us to the present day. We both have good jobs, making lots of money. Our lifestyle has improved considerably from when we were starving college students, but we still stay quite frugal. Our plans are to continue to save for an early retirement and financial independence. Our journey has only just begun.