This guest post from Nicholas is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
I was on on track, chugging along full steam ahead, barreling down on the American Dream with nothing in my path: get a college degree, a well-paying job, buy a house in the suburbs, have a family, and live happily ever after. Simple.
I'd graduated from high school near the top of my class, lettered in three sports, and went off to Oregon State University where I graduated in electrical engineering and a minor in business. I even had a job lined up before I had graduated. Work was great. Amazing people, made great money (upgrade significantly from Top Ramen and Macaroni n' Cheese), and lived the city life in downtown Portland. All I needed was a house and family and I'd be all set.
Finances weren't a problem. I was making great money, putting nearly 30% into savings. Aside from a few minor purchases and that upgrade in meals, I was living well below my means. Sound the whistle because I'm flying down the tracks!
De-railed by a Dream
About a year in though, things started to go wrong. I started questioning the American Dream. Was this what the rest of my life would look like? Sitting in a cubicle and staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day? Going out with friends on the weekend with a Timbers and Blazers game thrown in the mix? Little league and pee-wee soccer later in life?
Being a vagabond started to have a strange appeal. I wanted to wander the globe, meet people from all over the world, experience different cultures. I wouldn't be able to do that with a house and family. I'd been saving for the house, but decided my new dream was more important. It was time to hop of the tracks and start exploring a bit. Vagabond here I come!
I worked for another year to save a little more and then took off. People thought I was crazy giving up such a great job, especially given the recession, but I had to do it. No looking back. Throw away a high paying job to live like a bum? Sure, why not.
I spent seven months hiking and exploring New Zealand, then another month basking on the beautiful beaches of the Philippines. Great people, amazing culture, something new every day. What could be better? Turns out a lot.
I started to miss my friends and family. I'd see the great things they were doing back home, and I wanted to be there with them. Plus, I know it sounds crazy, but sitting on a beach all day can get mighty boring after a while.
Don't get me wrong. Traveling was spectacular. Those things I'd dreamed about were great. But I just wasn't cut out to be a life-time vagabond. I headed back home and chalked up my wasted year to capricious youth. I'd itched the travel bug thoroughly, and now it was time to get back on track. Just a slight detour.
My old boss found out I was back in the country and offered me an indefinite contract to come back to my old job. Because of cutbacks, they couldn't offer me a permanent position, but this would be just fine until something permanent came along. “Great,” I thought. I'd be picking up right where I left off. Stoke the fires and lets get rolling.
Doomed to Dissatisfaction?
A few months in though, those fears and uncertainty all came flooding back. I couldn't figure it out. I wasn't happy working, but I wasn't happy traveling either. What was wrong with me?
That's when my brother approached me with a proposition: partner with him on a clothing company he'd just started. This thing was still in it's infancy, only a couple months old, not even turning enough profit for him to live off, let alone two of us, but it appealed to me.
This wasn't an ordinary clothing line though. The whole purpose was to benefit others. With each shirt sold, one person is provided with 25 years of clean water. 25 years! In a world where one billion people lack access to clean water and a child dies every 19 seconds for the same reason, this was a huge issue.
Was I prepared to get off that track again? I'd done it once before and things didn't work out quite how I'd planned. After some serious consideration, I decided to take my brother up on the offer. I'd rather go down swinging than not fight at all.
So here I am, back living like a college student. Scraping by on the little savings I have left, living on hot dogs and hamburgers (couldn't sink all the way back down to Top Ramen), making every penny count, and loving every minute of it.
Was it the most sound financial choice? Definitely not. Being an entrepreneur and working for a start-up is no “get rich quick” scheme. It's long hours with little to now pay. The epitome of Get Rich Slowly. However, I think I'm already rich. Each day I know that what I put in, I'm going to get out. Not only that, but with each sale, I know that I'm changing the life of one person in ways that I'm not even fully able to understand. With each sale, I may be saving the life of a child, allowing a kid to go to school and get an education, stopping a women or girl from getting raped during the long walk to collect water.
I may not be able to afford all the cool gadgets and fancy car I'd dreamed about. My bank account may not say it, but I'm rich beyond measure.
Being rich isn't necessarily about a white picket fence or a specific dollar amount in the savings account; being rich is living a life of purpose. So, for a second time, I've derailed. I'm off the life track that I'd laid for myself oh so long ago.
Or maybe, just maybe, I've flipped a switch and am flying down different track.
J.D.'s note: The company that Nicholas's brother started is called ThirstTees. You can read more about their mission here.