When I was a kid I told people I wanted to be an architect. I think it was mainly because I played with lots of Legos and people told me I should build or design stuff for a living. As I approached the end of high school, I leaned more toward engineering and medicine mostly just following in the footsteps of my family. At some point after my first year in college, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I stepped back to get a generalized degree in business. After graduation, I spent a little time overseas working and traveling eventually settling into grad school learning about economics.
In high school I remember thinking economics was the most boring subject on Earth. I equated it with graphs, charts, and equilibriums that had little bearing on my day to day life. When it came to graduate school I couldn’t decide between an MBA program or Law school. Looking back, I think I was really just buying time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Ironically, I chose to go with economics based primarily on the fact that they offered the best assistantship and stipend. It wasn’t until I really studied microeconomics and behavioral economics that I realized that learning how incentives work and how decisions are made is extremely valuable.
Getting a job right out of school at our local state research university was a providential break that gave me a lot of great experience and mental flexibility to figure out life. My job was interesting and I was surrounded by really supportive and wise bosses and coworkers. Getting married and making “my own” money rekindled my curiosity into how money (and the psychology of it) actually works.
Although I had taken several classes on investments, taxation, and estate planning, I actually went to the small local library and checked out the entire section on personal finance. I started my financial-pop tour with Dave Ramsey, Orman, Kiyosaki, and Clarke Howard. I then graduated to Buffet, Bogle and Malkiel. I finished my non-academic journey with MMM, ERE, Leo & The Fientist. I would literally spend hours reading each day and averaged at least one non-fiction book a week for almost two years. There was a lot to know about how money worked and I was just getting started. I even started to write a little.
The combination of economics, efficiency, and directed spending is my milieu. I love extracting every once of joy from the money that flows through our lives. It’s that satisfaction that still drives me today when helping other people become more aware and efficient with their resources. I’m pretty sure I’ll always enjoy seeing less waste.
It was also a bit providential that the small college town I worked in happens to have the #1 ranked financial planning program in the country. I was also insanely lucky to have a boss who supported education and access to free tuition for any degree program I desired (benefit of working at a university). I love to learn and teach so I started my PhD in financial planning with my primary research on how and why people make risky investments.
I didn’t set out to be a financial planner. In fact, I still see myself as more of a teacher, and I honestly thought I would end up in some sort of entrepreneurial role operating a blog, writing a book, or starting a firm. However, a few influential friends of mine were working at a small planning firm that was growing like crazy and need research capacity, individual planners, and someone who could understand complex systems and create efficiency.
I started working part time about a year ago and moved into full time this summer. Although I should theoretically be an “expert”, the learning curve in small business is immense. I’ve learned more working in my new role over the last few months than I did in years of school. I’m learning quite a bit about how money works, how the financial world is built and, most importantly, how important psychology is to making spending and investing decisions.
Selling the Dream, Facing Reality
The hardest part about moving into the “dream job” is how mentally challenging it is. Dream jobs are often difficult. I really like what I do but it requires more thought than any other jobs I’ve had. I can’t cruise through a day without engaging my brain because each day the activities change. And when I learn how to do something well I’m (and will continue to be) charged with teaching someone else to do the work then moving on to a more complex problem. It’s quite rewarding, but mentally exhausting. I’m at my office desk most of the day and I’m tired mentally when I get home. I force myself to write academically (and occasionally for the blog) at night when my brain is tired; however, I think I will stop the academic writing soon because I’m not really enjoying it.
The Typical Day
I spend most of my days building financial plans and solving problems. Two tasks that are really cool. I like helping people make wise decisions and teaching them about money. Our firm also designs a lot of 401k type programs for businesses, so I’m learning a whole new industry. I still spend a bit of time each week answering financial questions from blog readers, but I’ve realized the audience here is pretty sophisticated so most conversation is philosophical vs mechanical when it comes to money.
So, I’ve taken the dream job and it’s a really cool place to be. My brain and body are working harder than I want them to be and its probably unsustainable for the simplified life I desire. Turning my hobby into my job certainly hasn’t simplified my life in the short run, but I’ll be interested to see how it evolves over the next few years. I still love to learn, love to read, and I’ll be teaching and writing in some capacity for the rest of my life.