August 3, 2020

From Living In A Tent By A River To Engineer In The City

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“Wake up man! Brian, wake up!”

“Huh, what’s going on?”

“Get your ass out of your tent, check this out”

Holy Shit.

2 years ago I was finishing up my junior year of College, the hardest year course wise, and one of the most important in terms of making connections. It’s the year you’re supposed to get an internship and start meeting with potential employers. It’s the year you get your shit together and think about what’s next. So that’s what I tried to do. I was majoring in engineering and minoring in math, which are two areas I was strong in but I’ve never been overly passionate about. My mind would occasionally wander off in class, thinking about the next trail I wanted to hike or the next country I wanted to visit. My passions revolved more around traveling and the outdoors than numbers and electrical circuits.

As Junior year was winding down, I had a couple random summer job options but no internship opportunities had worked out. One afternoon, a professor forwarded an email to our class. A local consumer goods distribution factory was looking for a quality engineering intern over the summer, which could turn into full time work upon graduation. It was critical I had some experience before I graduated and the ultimate goal was a full time engineering job so I applied – and my parents packed on the pressure. About a week before the semester was going to end, I was told to come in for an interview. What I had not mentioned to my parents was that I received a job offer in Wisconsin to work as a Whitewater Rafting guide and that’s what I was leaning towards doing regardless of how the interview went. It ended up going fairly well – and I learned that there were only two other people interviewed for the position, fellow classmates I knew I stacked up well against.

As I waited to hear back about the internship I couldn’t focus on anything. All I could think was that if I get offered the engineering position I have to take it or my parents will kill me. But you could get paid to raft the whole summer!!

Perhaps I didn’t do as well at the interview as I thought or maybe the universe was just sending me a message, but I found out during finals week someone else got the internship position. I was in the library when I found out and I nearly gave the kid next to me a heart attack when I hung up and started yelling and fist pumping. I felt like I had won the super bowl because I was off the hook for this job. Granted my parents weren’t thrilled, but they had no other choice really but to let me go to Wisconsin.

A week later I pulled in to a muddy grass parking lot with the sign “Employees Only”. As I pulled the bags out of my car a friendly face popped out of an airstream sitting nearby to welcome me. Within 72 hours of arriving I had gone rafting, zip lining, canoeing, fishing, golfing, and met some amazing people. I was happy as hell I didn’t land that internship.

One of the things that concerned my parents the most about this particular job (but enticed me to it) was that there was no housing provided, no food provided, and only one shower that worked for roughly 20 employees. River baths became a real thing. And since the position didn’t come with an doctor’s salary options were limited. There was some space in the basement of the office, if you had a trailer you could bring that, but the owners actually recommended all employees bring a tent and come prepared to sleep in that for the summer. So that’s what I did.

We made a ‘tent city’ with all the employees along the bank of the river where we led trips. So I wouldn’t exactly say I was homeless – but I was about as close to it as a person can get.

2 months or so pass.

I go to sleep one night after a long day on the river. I’m exhausted and fall asleep the minute I shut my eyes. In the middle of the night I hear chaos outside (and it takes a lot to wake me up).

“Wake up man! Brian, wake up!”

“Huh, what’s going on?”

“Get your ass out of your tent, check this out”

Holy Shit.

When I finally came to my senses and saw everyone getting up I knew something crazy was happening.

“Look up, dude.”

No way.

It was the Northern Lights.

In Wisconsin? What the hell is going on?

This green light was dancing across the sky, like lightning illuminating a storm cloud – but there was complete silence. No thunder, no rain, and not a single cloud in the sky. We sat for hours watching it, convinced we were all going to be abducted by aliens at any moment. It was a night that I’ll remember forever. Seeing that was literally a bucket list item for me and it just appeared without warning in a location much farther south than they typically appear. In my mind it was just confirmation that I had made the right decision.

Fast forward 2 years later and on 3 sides of me are the walls of an office cube. Funny enough, the building is located directly next to a river, but now I’m stuck looking at it instead of being on it.

I don’t mean to make the transition sound depressing in any way – I’m incredibly grateful to be where I’m at and have a good paying job. I just think about the incredible contrast between these two experiences.

Even though I had a blast that summer I was convinced when I got back to school I would never find a full time job without any relevant experience. Four years of hard work down the drain. And yet after a couple of messages to an old neighbor I barely talked to – I got a job.

All this to say that, I have a feeling that life tends to work itself out.

Of course there are probably going to be some hiccups along the way and reasons for some things may not be crystal clear at the time but if things didn’t happen exactly as they did you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

And what does any of this have to do with personal finance or financial independence or early retirement?

I think people feel a lot of pressure to accumulate a ton of money as quickly as possible – or be insanely frugal at every possible chance (myself included) and are nervous that the day will never come when they can be free. I’m convinced that freedom is simply a mindset where we choose to act and behave the way we want within any restrictions that might be imposed upon us rather than freedom being an actual environment. We can choose to be free in our daily lives or tell ourselves otherwise. But in the end, things have a way of taking care of themselves. If financial independence or retiring early is your goal, make it a top priority. This will force you to make decisions in its best interest and although it may not seem like it will never actually become reality, a few crazy moments may just land you right where you want to be.

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