What did you want to be when you grew up? At various points for me it was a doctor, a librarian, an author, a bookseller. I never wanted to be an accountant that’s for sure.
Nevertheless, having fallen onto that path many years ago, ambition kicked in and I put my best foot forward, ever upwards on the career ladder. I always assumed I would keep going until I got to the very top. It didn’t occur to me that I would ever get vertigo and feel an almost irresistible urge to jump off.
The question is, when I look back in twenty years time, the misery of my current day to day will have faded to a long distant memory. Will I be disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top? I will never call myself CFO. Will I look back and wish I had achieved more in my career?
Swimming with Sharks
I was a competitive swimmer in my youth. For a while I was the big fish in a very small pond and enjoyed an early taste of the euphoria of success. But inevitably, at a certain age we were tipped into a much larger pond, the genetics lottery kicked in and I realised I was a minnow competing with sharks.
I struggled on for a year or two before admitting defeat and disappearing into obscurity. I’d been told “going out at the top” was the right way to do things, but for me it was more like plopping into the drain at the bottom. I would have loved to have ended that particular phase of life at the top of my game, forever able to look back with pride. As it is, despite my early success I’m ashamed. In fact, this is the first time I’ve mentioned it in years.
Reflecting on that now, I realise I feel sad for my childhood self. She was great! She has an attic full of trophies and medals and nothing to be ashamed of. She should celebrate her successes and remember how it feels to stand on the top of the podium, because she did – many times.
She was swimming with sharks after all – maybe she should be congratulated for getting out before she was eaten.
A Different Mindset
That change of mindset is a powerful thing.
Returning to what I wanted to be when I grew up, it turned out my aptitude for science was mediocre at best and so I was never going to be a doctor. (I came to terms with this a long time ago and live vicariously through Meredith Grey).
But author….? Librarian….? Bookseller…..? All of those things are still possible.
Let’s think about it this way – when I look back in twenty years time, would I be more disappointed at never becoming CFO or at never becoming an author? There’s no contest.
We all live with regrets and “what if’s” and “if only’s.” Over the years, I’ve been wistful about the unfulfilled dreams and buried ambition in one field while simultaneously pushing myself hard in another direction. But the lifestyle of the impoverished artist was never for me and neither was taking big risks with my financial security. It was necessary to get to here, so that I can now try to get to “there.”
Thanks to a solid financial foundation I’m in a position to revive my other ambitions without the pressure of having to make a living. What incredible luxury! I feel like I am finally a grown-up!
I’m about to make the leap and walk away from a full time career. I have reached (lean) financial independence through years of working, tracking expenses and investing. In my heart of hearts, there is one thing I know to be true – reaching my full potential was never about getting to the top of the accountancy tree. It was my first career, but it doesn’t have to be my greatest achievement.
I’m not going out at the top in a fanfare of celebration. But I’m not dropping through the drain at the bottom of the pool either.
What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?
This question comes up time and again – what piece of advice would I give my younger self? Or what should I teach my children?
For me, the answer is easy. Well – easy to say, not necessarily easy to achieve.
Never underestimate the power of financial independence.
Financial independence is true freedom. Do anything you can, educate yourself, read, read, read. Become the person you need to be to achieve that financial goal. If you get only half way there, you’re in a helluva better position than if you didn’t start at all.
But if you make it – a whole world of possibilities opens up.