You’ve just graduated high school. Maybe you’re preparing for college. Or gearing up for the Marines. Or packing for a trek through the Austrian Alps (take me with you).
Wherever you’re headed, whatever you’re planning, one thing is certain – you’re not certain about anything. Because for the first time in your life, you’re officially on your own.
And you’re freaking out.
Adding to the confusion of your personal coming-of-age saga are the copious amounts of turbulent global events. Whether it’s hyperinflation, political extremism, or Billy Eilish’s hair, things are not exactly stable right now.
But this is not a post rife with more bad news; rather, I’m excited to share with you some good news. Some great news.
You’re about to discover three things so simple, so alarmingly easy, you might think you’re being conned. Ready?
1. You Don’t Have to Be Famous or Successful to Become Financially Independent and Retire Early
Breathe easy, young friend. Your wealth is not determined by luck, your future job title, or whether you share the same DNA as Elon Musk.
You don’t need a Ph.D. in astrodynamics from Caltech. You need not have a window office high above Wall Street or work at Google. And you certainly don’t have to invest in crypto.
The science of financial independence is ultimately the art of thinking differently. It’s about simplifying your life to gain greater clarity and confidence. It’s about following universal principles that lead to effective investment strategies that anyone can follow – and in doing so – achieve success.
Perhaps this point can be best summarized via a concept you’re most familiar with: lunch money.
According to the School Nutrition Association, the average American high schooler spends $2.74 on lunch each day. Notwithstanding the quality of the food you get for $2.74 (and, yeah, it isn’t much), I promise you that you’ll likely never have a cheaper lunch in your life.
“But what does lunch money have to do with being able to retire?” you ask. It’s realizing that you only need to invest little to gain much over the long haul. It’s the power of compounding interest, that is, how your money earns money over time.
Let’s assess the value of investing $2.74 over the course of your lifetime using the free, handy dandy compound interest calculator at investor.gov:
Cost of the average school lunch: $2.74
The average amount of school days in a calendar year: 180
$2.74 x 180 = $493.20
Let’s assume that you decide you’re going to invest this $493.20 from now until age 70. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s break that $493.20 into 12 equal chunks that you’ll invest monthly. This works out to a mere $41.10 a month.
Now, let’s assume you get a return of 8 percent on your money. (This would be considered both a healthy and likely return by most financial planners.)
52 years of investing $41.10 a month with an estimated 8 percent annual interest rate compounded annually works out to … insert world’s biggest drum roll here …
Did you get that? It bears repeating. $330,292.15
Think about the magnitude of this number for a moment. For the cost of some greasy, chicken nuggets you can have a house. A Lamborghini. Or a heck of a lot of other things.
And how did you get to this number? Not by going to college. Not by busting into your local ATM machine. Rather, you achieved this colossal result by taking small, easy steps over the long haul.
Anyone, anywhere can invest in this simple way and get the same return … or possibly even more.
Yes, my compadre, this is how becoming a millionaire works. This explains why so many people making minimal salaries are able to achieve financial freedom.
This is why Albert Einstein called compound interest “the eighth wonder of the world” and further added, “He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.”
So, relax. It’s not the degree or the job that matters when it comes to making and investing money, but rather your commitment to taking small steps every day.
This brings us to the second thing everything 18-year-old should know … one that will surely annoy you …
2. Embrace Slow for Greater Happiness
All you have to do is take a trip anywhere overseas – anywhere – to appreciate how much slower the rest of the world operates compared to the United States.
Three-hour lunches in Greece. Five-hour sauna sessions in Germany. Day-long meditations in Thailand. Speed is less rewarded in other parts of the world and for good reason. It’s because the best things in life involve being fully present and enjoying the process, not just the end result.
Here in the U.S., the old adage “time is money” remains the maxim touted by far too many people in the business and financial industries. Turn on the news and you’ll see reporters and media networks highlighting those who became millionaires overnight or how the latest Silicon Valley start-up was valuated at billions seemingly before lunch.
To the novice investor or anyone for that matter, it would seem as though becoming a millionaire should not only happen quickly, but that speed is somehow a lever one controls to guarantee any sort of ludicrous return.
In reality, the path to becoming financially free takes years of slow, regular, and even boring investments to see results.
Focusing mainly on speed not only induces severe anxiety, but creates completely unrealistic expectations that only cause greater uncertainty.
For these reasons, the wise, savvy investor should focus on being the tortoise, not the hare. Just as the great allegory taught us, it was the slow and steady turtle who won the race over the rabbit who thought speed and hubris were the answer.
Zen circles have embraced this aphorism in their own way for thousands of years. A potent quote I recommend you tattoo on your arm goes, “Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. After I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.”
The best things in life require doing the same things over and over and over and over again. While these things often feel pointless, it’s not long before the intelligent individual stops long enough to see the benefits of monotony.
Need a tree analogy to further illustrate my point? Here goes. The strongest trees grow the slowest. Just visit Sequoia National Park in California for epic inspiration. The sequoias have been around for thousands of years and remain the largest and most enduring trees on the planet.
Did they grow to their gargantuan proportions overnight? No. Again, they needed lots of time.
Does this mean you will only see financial gains after a really long time? Nope. In fact, sometimes, you can see big gains in just a few short years.
Need a second tree analogy to summarize this point? I give you the Chinese Bamboo Tree.
Like any plant, the Chinese Bamboo Tree requires water, soil, and sunshine to grow. But in its first year, there are no visible signs of activity or development. In the second year, again, there is no growth above the soil. And the third and fourth years? Still, no growth, and many gardeners wonder if their efforts will ever be rewarded.
Finally, in the fifth year – boom! The Chinese Bamboo Tree grows 80 feet in just six weeks.
The point is clear – the tree didn’t suddenly grow overnight. It was carefully being nurtured underground until it was ready for fast and observable growth.
The bottom line? Slow down in your quest – in any quest. Making money takes time. Life is best served by enjoying the journey and not waiting to be happy until you reach whatever destination you have in mind.
Speaking of destination, this brings us to our third point. The one we all think about and need the most help with …
3. Failure Is a Judgment
Not long ago, there lived a man who spent the majority of his life as what many people (including himself) would describe as a failure.
The man was born into poverty. In fact, his home was not much bigger than the average bedroom.
He lost his mother before he was even 10 years old.
The man didn’t get along with his father and lost the love of his life when he was only 26.
He was a failed business owner.
He was clinically depressed throughout his life and at one point had a nervous breakdown.
He failed many times in his attempts to advance his career as a politician including being defeated in his state’s legislature, a run for Congress, and more.
But the man never gave up his ambitions.
Eventually, he was elected President of the United States before going on to oversee a victory in our nation’s Civil War and, of course, ending slavery. By now, you know I’m talking about Abraham Lincoln.
Arguably our greatest president, but in his own mind, a failure.
Feelings of self-worth have always been top of mind for teenagers. But for the average teen these days, these feelings have been dramatically amplified by social media. From FOMO to comparing ourselves to others, we’ve become nearly psychotic in our quest to not only keep up with the Jones’, but outdo them – and at a major cost to our well-being.
Along the way, we label our actions and our achievements (or so-called lack of achievements) as failures and, thus, limit our greatness or what should be a celebration of micro accomplishments.
If your friend gets a job at Apple making $50,000 a year but you get a job at a non-descript tech company making the same amount of money, is your friend a success and you’re not? Many people would answer yes and rob themselves of a critical stepping stone in both their career and emotional development.
The same holds true for investing. Let’s say one of your friends invests in crypto and sees their investment increase by 10 percent while your not-so-trendy mutual fund only goes up by five percent at the same time. Does this make you a failure? Of course not.
Again, all failure is a judgement. This is why it’s essential to realize that there really is no such thing as failure. Yes, there are plenty of things that don’t go as planned. But what did you learn along the way? And how many times were you grateful that things did not go as planned because you discovered a better way to achieve the desired outcome?
Maybe you didn’t get into the college you preferred. Or maybe you’re not going to college and your parents or friends are making you feel bad about it.
Does this make you a failure or just someone who’s taking a path that aligns more with your personal values and resources?
Beyond understanding the meaning of failure at a deeper level, hopefully by now you realize that achieving success and financial independence is much easier and closer than you think.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of making small, simple investments over the long haul is knowing that you’re building a nest egg not just for your future, but as a way to ensure your success is being attained on a daily basis. You’re not waiting for a diploma or a job title to prove your self-worth. You’re taking control today. And every today.
In the meantime, it’s okay to not know what you want to be. It’s okay to not know exactly who you are. Everything is changing. That’s why you see so many people changing careers many times over throughout their lifetimes.
Yup, it’s scary out there what with war, the pandemic, and ever-rising gas prices. But it’s good to know you have control over what matters most – the way you perceive the world.
How’s that for certainty? Good luck out there.
About the Author
PJ Lewis is an Emmy award-winning writer living in Los Angeles. When not channeling a faster path to FI, he can be found meditating and doing yoga on the beach while reading “The Daily Stoic” for the third time.