When you want what other people don’t have, you need to do what other people don’t do.
It can be a long and lonely road.
I can remember spending many lunches at my $22k per year job in the break room, studying, while other people chatted.
I would head off to school until 10 PM, while others were headed off to home, parties, or just a night in front of the TV.
There wasn’t a winter break for me. After all, the school I was going to offered winter courses. So my “vacation” from work was spent in class.
Summer vacation wasn’t backpacking around Europe, or even in a part time job. It was working full time, 40 hours a week, and taking two classes at the same time.
After graduating college, I didn’t have the luxury of taking a low-paid job in my field. I couldn’t live with roommates and have fun at parties on the weekends. I was married, with a baby, and a mortgage payment. Working full time in a steady job and taking care of an infant was my plan.
It was taking the hard and lonely road less traveled that got me where I am today.
From $22k to Six Figures – A Recap
This is expansion on one of my points from Monday’s post on how I went from earning $22k per year in community college, to a six figure earning MBA. In that article, I said:
“If you work in low paying jobs, you’ll notice there are a lot of people who have been in similar jobs forever and have no desire to change. They do the bare minimum to not get fired. And you’ll get to know a lot of people who do get fired for stuff like calling out every Friday when they have no days off, and stuffing their work in a desk drawer instead of doing it (that’s real).
They also typically don’t want you to succeed. They don’t understand what you’re doing, or why. Sometimes they actively make fun of you. Other times, you just don’t fit in.
It can be hard working against the grain, and working harder than all the people around you. It can also be lonely.”
I would say that’s actually true even of jobs where you earn a good income, although less so. In my experience, the higher up you go in income and expertise, the more you’ll bump into people that want to improve themselves and their careers. And the less you’ll have to deal with people coasting or actively trying to bring you down.
Oh, it’s very lonely to do the kinds of things I’ve done to get where I am.
Sometimes, friends and coworkers will talk about the fun they had in college – sleeping in, partying, and interning at companies. Or they’ll laugh about their fun, carefree days after finishing college and before they had adult responsibilities. They made some great friends, had some fun times, and have wonderful memories.
That can make me feel wistful. I think that it would have been fun to have an internship, instead of talking to angry people on the phone for forty hours a week. Or to go to a party instead of two classes on Saturdays. Carefree post-college life would have been fun compared to figuring out how to take care of a baby.
People will make fun of you. They’ll think that you’re “no fun”. People your own age will think you’re ten or twenty years older than you really are. You’ll actually relate more to people ten or twenty years older than yourself, than to people your own age.
Apparently, online, people still think I’m ten years older than I am. For the record, I just turned 38 a month ago. I don’t get that – is it how I write? Let me know in the comments.
They’ll think you’re weird, and different. Because you are. And that can be lonely.
At the time you’re doing all these things, you won’t know if they’re going to pay off. Are you giving up fun, parties, and a care-free 20’s in exchange for…nothing? Will you stay stuck where you are forever, with no friends, and people thinking you’re a weirdo?
Sitting in the break room studying instead of talking to your co-workers, turning down a night out to finish a paper, being unable to take internships because you need to work 40 hours… it all takes a toll.
You don’t know the end of the story when you’re in the middle of it. You know there’s no guarantee that your work and sacrifice will come to anything.
It’s a hard thing to fight through the loneliness, to believe in yourself, your abilities, and your dreams. Keeping up that believe
People Pulling You Down
Yes, there are people who actively don’t want you to succeed.
These people will tell you that your dreams are dumb. What you’re doing won’t work. They have a friend, co-worker, family member, or child that tried it, and it didn’t work for them.
They’ll make fun of you. Taunt you. They’ll try to tear you down. Why?
Because you’re doing something they can’t understand.
They can’t dream as big as you do. Maybe they gave up on their dreams long ago. Or perhaps they never dreamed big in the first place, looking no farther than they next day.
Or maybe it’s that they haven’t matured yet. Most teenagers and 20-somethings don’t look beyond the weekend. Even if they land a good job, they have a long way to go to maturity. This is particularly true if they have had a lot handed to them. They don’t get why you would work so hard, isn’t someone else paying for your school? Don’t you have parents to fall back on if you lost your job? It’s fine!
They don’t understand you. And people fear and mock things they don’t understand.
People don’t want you to succeed because you prove it’s possible.
They don’t want to know that it’s possible to get into a better situation, to change careers, or to earn more. They prefer to live in the reality where they’ll never succeed and it’s not their fault. Nothing they could do would change things, so why try? Why work hard and make sacrifices?
You often see these people in comments sections of early retirement blogs and articles. They don’t want to believe it’s largely their choices that have led to their situation, or their choices that prevent them from changing their situation.
You’re proving it’s possible. And it can’t be possible, or else that means they could make changes and do the same thing. So something must be wrong with you.
Some People Just Don’t Want To Work Hard
I can’t count how many people told me they “wanted to” get an MBA, but “couldn’t”. Excuses usually involved work and kids. I had a full time job and two kids. Heck, I did it while my husband was in the hospital and in rehab, away from home for a month.
It’s hard, but very possible.
People don’t want to hear that. They want an easy route to success. This is how online degree farms make so much money, because people want to do things in their spare time in pajamas instead of taking the GMAT and showing up to college on Saturday.
There are single, teenage mothers who have gone to Yale Law. Don’t know any? Meet my Instagram friend, and lawyer, One Big Happy Life. And then watch this video:
People love success stories, but they also love tearing down why your success story somehow doesn’t count. Or why their situation is so different.
All our situations are different. Some disadvantages are harder to overcome than others. Just because it’s harder for you than someone else, doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.
This is also how people get ripped off by MLM’s and by get rich quick financial/online business schemes (*cough* blogging *cough*). They don’t want to hear there is no quick and easy path to riches. They don’t want to work hard, and sacrifice.
You’ll see this in the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram sometimes. Every once in a while, you’ll run into a member of the community who wants to know how they can change nothing about what they’re doing, and still pay off debt. They don’t want to make sacrifices, work hard, or take years. They just want the debt to disappear and go on living their life the same way they do today.
In fact, they would prefer to just do what they do right now, without changing a thing, and just have someone just give them more money. Or career success.
If you find yourself thinking you “couldn’t” or “can’t” do something, you need to reflect on that statement. Is it really that you can’t? Or that you don’t want to? Take ownership of what you can control in life, and try to find a way you can. If you really can’t, then find a different thing you can do.
But don’t expect to do exactly what you do today and have things totally change.
Because if you do what you do today, you’ll get what you have today.
The Long Road – There Is No Get Successful Quick Formula
Changing your life takes a long time.
People want to succeed quickly. They love to daydream about winning the lottery, or starting a business that will bring in a million dollars a year with just a few hours of work. They want to become an overnight success.
Little do they realize that many “overnight successes” are actually the result of years of hard work.
Take Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto, “279 Days To Overnight Success“. This tells the story of how, in under a year, he was able to become a full time pro blogger. Sounds great! Not quite overnight, but still pretty short.
If you read it, though, you’ll notice that he spent a year studying successful sites before launching his. So it’s really “A Year and 279 Days To Overnight Success”. But wait, there’s more.
His site (at the time, at least) was all about living unconventionally. He spent years living unconventionally himself, which shaped his world view and gave him things to write about. So it’s more like “seven years and 279 days to overnight success”.
This is true of most things in life. It’s the compounding of many small choices, which can at times seem unrelated, that lead to a large success.
It’s hard to stay on the long road when you can’t see those things adding up. Other people question you. You question yourself. Is it going to be worth it? Will these choices lead to success? Wouldn’t it be easier to do something else, to give up, to simply accept your lot in life?
The easy choices rarely lead to success.
The Road Is Hard – But You Can’t Give Up
We’re all going to experience bumps and potholes in this road of life we travel. Some of those bumps will be small, some huge. Occasionally you’ll fall into a giant ditch and stay stuck there for a while. See also, that time my husband almost died and was away from home for a month. It took well over a year to get out of that ditch, and occasionally we fall back in.
To be successful, you can’t give up.
Giving up means accepting where you are, accepting that things won’t change, and deciding that you’re just going to stop striving for more. As soon as that happens, you’re not going anywhere.
There are so many times it would have been easier to give up. When my husband was in the hospital, I wanted to just quit going for my MBA. How was I going to finish, with life like this?
I was working, in school, had to bring the kids to school and daycare (and pick them up), had to take care of them by myself, run errands (kids need to eat!), visit my husband in the rehabilitation center, and do homework. It was exhausting. It took everything I had. I have literally never worked so hard in my life – everything else is easy in comparison.
It was my husband who convinced me not to quit. He told me I was almost done, and should keep going. This was, I recall, with an oxygen mask on, in the ICU, after waking from the coma but before massive hallucinations made him incoherent for a while.
So I kept going.
Life is hard. We all have struggles to overcome. You just can’t give up, though. You need to keep trying, try something else, or try a few different things.
It can be exhausting. And sometimes you do need a break. But you need to keep going, in order to meet your goals and dreams.
Is It Worth It?
I would say yes. But then, I know my opinion is skewed.
People who have accomplished what others only dream of will tell you it is.
There’s obviously survivorship bias here. The people who worked hard, only to not succeed, might tell you no.
How would I feel if all that work had led to nothing? If I were still in the same job I used to be, broke and struggling?
I hope I would still say it was worth it. Even if my job never changed, I learned things I could only have dreamed about. I have skills I could never have imagined. I would hope I could have found some way over the years to leverage those skills.
But even if I had never achieved financial success, and a solid career, I believe I would say it’s worth it. Because of my boys.
You see, the things I learned don’t just apply to my career. They apply to being a mom. I’ve taught my boys the values of hard work, sacrifice, and discipline. Not just through my words and stories, but also through my actions.
Even if they had seen me work hard only to be in the same position, they would have seen that I never gave up. Even after many years, I would keep going. And even if those skills didn’t bring me success, they could bring them success.
It would have been worth it even if I never succeeded, because I would have set them up to be a success.
I sincerely hope they’re more successful than I am.
Have You Been Down The Long, Lonely, Hard Road?
Have you ever found that people don’t understand why you work so hard, or save so much? Ever had a time in your life that you needed to work tremendously hard, and sacrificed to reach your goals? Let me know in the comments!
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19 thoughts on “Taking The Long, Lonely, Hard Road (CMO Rants)”
Liz, I imagine people think you’re older than you actually are because you have a depth of life experience/maturity that is not always seen in people of your age. You’ve been “adulting,” so to speak, for a long time.
Enjoyed the Chris Guillebeau shout out. I’ve followed him for many years.
I think he does a great job, and has a unique way of approaching things.
My family has also taken an unconventional path to success and sacrificed A LOT to get where we are today. No one understood-why don’t you put your kids in daycare like everyone else so your husband can get a ‘real’ job?-but we lived our lives according to what was important to us–family. Today, we are comfortably well off and have a healthy retirement account and other investments. BUT that is insignificant compared to the amazingly close relationship we both have with our kids. They have been raised with lots of love, attention, and caring discipline. They are responsible citizens and stick up for others when needed. They are our legacy, and they are our most important ‘accomplishment’. Keep doing you, Liz, and define success your way. No one else lives your life, so never let anyone determine your degree of success!
Thanks so much Lyn! And I’m with you, lots of people don’t understand the choices we make, but oh well. It’s not their lives.
This is an excellent article, Liz, and I needed to read it today. I really appreciated the parts about the loneliness and people pulling you down. I’ve felt both of those recently, so it’s nice to hear others experiences too and that it can pay off in the end.
Sorry to hear that you can relate – but yes, it can pay off. You just have to believe in yourself and your choices.
I had to skim parts of this stuff because it rang so true, though I’ve felt this loneliness for different parts of me. I graduated high school AND college early. I didn’t work much of a job during them, but I worked like crazy at my schoolwork, far more than anyone I knew. And then in my twenties, I saved so much of my income. Being unique is lonely and exhausting sometimes, until you find kindred spirits who are unique in similar ways to you. I’m thankful to the internet for discovering the word “childfree” which I’d never heard before and to my social circle for normalizing not changing your last name when you get married.
Nice post and could not agree more. Hard work young will pay dividends when you are in your 40s and 50s. I would study in college when friends were partying but I still had fun and got into med school. A little sacrifice can go a long way.
Yes it can! Most people I know decide to start working hard later, like in their 40’s or 50’s. Which is still great, but they lose out on decades of letting that hard work compound for them.
I think it is incredible that you have managed to have such a great career and also be a mom to your boys. I’m struggling just raising one boy, and I don’t have a career because I couldn’t cut it.
I really like the point you make in the very beginning of your post about being willing to do what people aren’t. If you could rewind time, what are some things you would’ve done differently
Hard question to answer Sam. Life is like a tapestry in that if you pull the wrong thread, the whole thing could unravel. For example, I could say I wish I was older before having kids-but then I wouldn’t have the kids I have, and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on them. Plus I think having kids at a young age helped me mature more quickly than I would have otherwise. Then again, I wouldn’t know any differently. I do wish I had been more confident in my abilities, and went for more opportunities when my kids were little. They frankly don’t remember the early years, and it could have accelerated things for us.
Touching post Liz. People only see the end result and think why can’t I have that? You struggled to get your MBA and have rightly become successful in blogging and in work (not to say blogging isn’t work as I have essentially discovered these past 3 months).
Much like becoming a physician. It is easy to see a physician and say why they are making so much but if you actually had to go through the process you know what kind of sacrifice it required to get there. Same with professional athletes. There is a lot of training that goes behind the scenes even though it is easy to say wow that athlete gets paid $100k/game.
The key to life contentment is you have tune out the negative noise and just do you. No need to begrudge anyone who is more successful.
Yes, that’s why I think it’s so important to encourage everyone on their journeys. People tend to look at someone successful and think they could do that easily, not realizing just how much work or investment went into it.
I was too busy and focused to feel the loneliness at the time I was making similar choices, but it strikes me occasionally in a funny way that my brain doesn’t store the memories of my overlapping work and school experiences in the same vault so I always wonder “what on Earth was I doing between years xxxx-xxyy???” Oh. School. OH. Work. Lots of it.
There’s been a lot of work compressed into a relatively small chunk of years so at the moment, not doing 80-100 hours of money earning work feels weirdly lazy. My baseline for normal has changed profoundly! Of course it means I missed out on a lot of experiences and relationships that may have been beneficial, but because I’m happy with where I brute-force aimed my path, it doesn’t bring up a whole lot of regrets. Missing a few parties and being unable to reminisce about that fades: our financial stability is much more permanent.
That’s quite true. Most times I have zero regrets and wouldn’t change anything. But sometimes I think it would have been nice to have more friends from that time.
Cool rant Liz – it’s all very true that a good correlation of success is both the amount of effort you put in and your perseverance in dealing with adversity – acing both of these will set you up for success,
Then it gets more complex, as people experience life differently. Some people can do more complex work quicker and easier than others, giving them a head start. And the amount of adversity people face differs with your level of privilege determining this.
And then I go to the stoic -you are never going to change these, so you need to work with what you’ve personally got. And people who really succeed I find have often gone through this self actualisation.
For what it’s worth – I don’t think you come across as any particular age 🙂
I identify with a lot of this! I didn’t have to work a full time job (or much of a job in school, except summers). But I turned down so many opportunities for fun to focus on getting ahead, starting in high school when I was taking night classes and summer school so that I could graduate early (I have a post on this). That followed me through college too.. I didn’t party (much), didn’t go on trips, didn’t spend loan money doing fun things. People definitely laughed at me!
I’ve heard “just live a little!” more times than I can count! Even from family! My ever loving grandfather thought I was working myself to the bone working 50-60 hours a week, nights, weekends and holidays my first few years out of school so I could get debt free and have money to make a good down payment on a house. He still doesn’t understand why I work the days or hours I do, I suppose he thinks someone at my salary shouldn’t have to work weekends.
And boy oh boy there are times I look at others who are spending without care, or taking 3 months off to travel and I feel like I’m missing out. I keep telling myself it’s worth it! At this point, I have no real money stresses and that is priceless. All my money stress is largely self manufactured (barring losing and non and not being able to find another in a year).
It’s worth it! And though I do look back and feel sometimes like my younger years are lacking a lot of the experiences they should have, I know my later years will look a lot different (and better) than many of my peers.
I think you are an inspiration Liz. There is joy to be had in working hard and reaping the rewards. The pay-off is so much sweeter when the hard work comes to fruition.
Great post!! I started at 20k a year as well and faced much of what you faced, but as a guy. My friends picked on me about my cars etc etc. I’m now FI and part time in my 40’s – persistence pays off!!