How to be Independent: Write your story, then burn it

Chapter 1: Write your current Story, then burn it

When I was growing up, my generation was taught the following “sure fire steps to
success”:

1. Stay in school and study hard

2. Go to college and study hard some more

3. Get good grades and participate in lots of extracurricular activities

4. Either:

a. Go to law/business/grad school or…

b. Interview with the best corporations, land an entry-level job

5. Work hard

6. Climb the corporate ladder

7. Contribute to your 401k, save for your kids’ college
8. Fit in, play the game, take the training, show up early and leave late, work
weekends – all to make sure you were not the one laid off when the inevitable
downturns come

9. Retire

10. Travel, fish, learn to play banjo, try stand-up comedy, take a cooking class –
finally have the time to do what you want in life

11. Write memoirs

12. Pass along what’s left of your money (or your debt) to your kids (after the medical
system has taken its share)

My father grew up a poor sharecropper from the southern U.S. He was determined to
make a better life for him and his family. When he was 18, a truck came through town
hauling laborers north to the fertile fruit orchards of Michigan. He hopped on for a
better life picking fruit. Fortunately, the truck broke down in northwest Indiana. He
heard the local foundry was hiring so he headed over and started work the same day. He
worked hard, sought progressively higher pay grades, contributed to his 401k, saved for
his kids’ college, played the game. He is now retired and doing all the things he never
had time to do before. A great life. Except for the factory part. He worked hard for
longer hours in dirty and hot conditions. He wanted a better life for us kids. So, he gave
us what he did not have – encouragement to stay in school and get a good education. He
also gave us the part he did have – encouragement to get a job, work hard, climb the
ladder, save for retirement.

Thus, my story is predictable. Until step 8. That’s where I disrupted the process and
found a better way.

I grew up in a small northwest Indiana town and went to public
schools. I was happy and got good grades. Learning was always fun to me and pleasing
the teachers and my parents was my number one goal. I graduated valedictorian of my
high school class and went to the prestigious Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in
Terre Haute, Indiana (look it up; “prestigious” is not an overstatement). I studied hard
and earned my B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering. Grad school was not an option for
me – I wanted to start earning bank as soon as possible. I landed an entry level process
engineering job at a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. Good pay. Good 401k match.
Good advancement opportunities.

But it was missing something. I was missing something.

Next time: a move to Chicago not on my own terms…

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