A shiny new bicycle looked like just the thing. At 7 years of age I knew exactly what I wanted…all I needed to do was persuade my parents that they should part with their money and I would have said bicycle. The rusty old tricycle not only didn’t have sufficient style, but surely……..
……..I could ride the two-wheeler with the rest of the kids.
“No problem, all you have to do is earn the money”. Where in the world would a 6 (soon becoming 7) year old earn money?
A chart was produced with boxes noting value of various chores…a nickel for dishes, a dime for yard raking….and believe it or not, in a short amount of time the needed $27 was earned, and Montgomery Ward had another customer.
That bicycle served me well…for several years, and was handed down to siblings and then donated parts for other bicycles. It might have been one of the most profound lessons I ever learned, though not described the way it would be today.
Setting goals…often discussed, but it was years before I recognized this was a lesson learned. Decide what you want, and how to get there.
Earn….yes, it was an artificial construct. My parents didn’t need to ‘hire’ a dishwasher, but it created a lesson never forgotten.
Save…for that desired objective.
The lesson never left. By age 12 I was driving a combine (not for family, but was hired out), driving a grain truck, a tractor…and these jobs not only gave valuable experience, but also provided the income that I was able to purchase things I needed. (The only lesson I wish I had learned at that age was to invest….something that my parents, who had never invested, simply didn’t know to teach).
By age 17, I had earned enough money to learn to fly, to buy my own car, and my first airplane. I was working as a school bus driver (I got paid to drive the school bus to ball games, would play in the band, then drive home), worked in the cotton gins in season, worked at an appliance store, and was able to graduate from high school. (The appliance store experience has helped over the years…I recently repaired my washing machine…$50 worth of parts, a couple hours, and it washes like new).
Observation had taught me that even though “a little work won’t kill you”, it was far better to be well-paid, and doing something interesting…beat the heck out of boring work that was ill-paid. Science had always interested me, from the time I built Heath-kit radios, to the observation of vivisection on game animals…so the interest in medicine was natural.
Coming from an economically difficult youth, my dad had worked hard to improve our family’s life. However, he was convinced that certain things were only available to those of high station in life. “Son, we have neither money nor connections….medical school won’t be something you can do!”.
Convinced that I should follow in his footsteps, I went to college, got a degree in Biblical Languages, and prepared to be a country preacher. Sadly, or thankfully…still don’t know which…I realized I had neither the gift, nor the calling. (If I had a “call to preach”, it was a wrong number…..)
Finishing college, I obtained a job as an orderly in a hospital….and was fascinated by the OR. I hadn’t worked there long until they taught me to scrub, and become a “scrub tech”, (person who prepares instruments, and “passes” them to the surgeon). I had also obtained my commercial pilot’s license, and instructor’s license, and was working part time flying charter and teaching flying lessons. (College was paid for by loans, grants, and full-time work. During those 4 years I only had one semester in which I took less than 14 hours, or worked less than 40 hours a week.)
An unforgettable cross-country “dual” instructional flight, where I was with a surgeon teaching him how to navigate by “instruments only” was a watershed moment. I came home to my then-wife, and announced that “if that guy could be a doctor, so could I!”
This pronouncement was met with a scornful “you’ll never get into med school!”. Back to college, part-time, and organic chemistry. Applications to med school were met with four acceptances, and I finished med school uneventfully. I did my first residency in OB/Gyn, and practiced for 17 years.
As the medical climate changed, and male OBGs were less desirable, I took to heart Jack Welch’s (former chair of GE) statement of “See things as they are, and not as you wish them to be”. I chose to retrain into anesthesia. To me, the choice was either a sex-change, or a career-change, and the answer was obvious. (Clearly, an entire article could be written about this decision…)
I finished anesthesia residency, and practiced anesthesia full time until about 5 years ago. I had always maintained my flying licenses, and added to them along the way. An opportunity arose to “fly fires”(flying the tankers that drop retardant on fires), and I took it.
Now, I don’t view myself as “retired”, but rather, “selectively employed”. During the winter, I do some “locum tenens” anesthesia, and during the summer I am an “aerial firefighter”.
Things I did right:
-with one exception, each year I maxed out my tax-deferred accounts. The amounts were small initially, and now they are enough to be “comfortable”.
-I never withdrew any of that money, no matter how bad the financial situation seemed to be.
-I kept working.
-pursued aviation along the way (despite Jim Dahle’s advice to stay away from flying!)
-I lived beneath my means. There were moments….but thankfully I would get control before it got out of hand.
Things I did wrong:
-married without understanding the long term consequences. Getting married at 19 will do that for you….
-didn’t understand the need to invest at an early age. (I did put money into the market, but it was with a broker for far too long). Had I put money into index funds early on, and put more money away, I would be far better off now!
-Horses. My second wife loved horses. My motto is “never own something that eats while you sleep!” at this point in my life. The only money to be made on horses is by those who sell to the idiots who fall in love with them. Stay away from horses.
Aviation….it has been something that has been a passion. I’ve made money flying, and made money occasionally buying and selling. I’ve gotten to fly rare airplanes (World War II fighters), meet people I would have otherwise never met…and in fire fighting have seen some of the most beautiful country you can imagine.
At this point…I owe no money, have some in the bank, house is paid off…and I’m content.
-live beneath your means
-save from each and every bit of income
-find something to do that you can tolerate. I don’t believe the “do what you love” will always work…but “do what you can tolerate” does work.
Like Dad said…”a little work won’t kill you”.