Path to Freedom – Part 1: Foundation

Before diving into some of the financial discussions. I feel it is critical to discuss the key habits required for financial freedom. Part of financial freedom requires years of building good habits, establishing value/purpose, and staying diligent with your life/financial/career goals. This first post is a four part series of the foundation that inspired me to pursue financial freedom.

Spring 2007. I sat there in my dorm room at the age of 19. The economy was coming to a major correction (or depression). The job market outlook was bulimic. In other words, the outlook was not promising for an undergraduate college student graduating in the next 3-5 years. For some reason, I had this instant light bulb in me. That inner voice told me to work hard, not at school, but create balanced inner skillset that can stand out in a job competitive environment.

For some reason, I sat there and said to myself, “I need to pad my resume with experience, with or without pay”.  Of course, as a freshman college student, internships were nonexistence since employers prefer juniors over sophomores and freshmen. It was silly to me. What if the freshman student can out work his/her upper classmates? What if that freshman student had the desire and purpose at an early age? What if that intern was going to be your future unicorn employee? These were the questions I asked myself when I was applying for internships.

The effort. I sat there in my dorm room and drafted my resume over a weekend. Next, I scheduled a meeting with my career center and had the career counselor review my resume. To be quite frank, it was pointless, as many career advisors took the cookie cutter approach to draft a resume. The person only provided feedback to format, nothing else. At least, it helped the presentation aspect of my resume. Now, I was ready to apply for internships. The first part of my internship application process was to “apply”. That was tough because as a first-generation college student in my family, I had no direction, but pulled the trigger (Heck, I did not know any better). I applied to over 50 internships on my college’s career website and other company websites (i.e. I located companies with internships within 50-60 miles).

The result. Rejection after rejection. I recalled after 50 applications sent, I received two interviews. The first interview was for an accounting internship at a large utilities company. The two interviewer’s peppered questions and I felt it went well. Next, the rejection letter came, but I was curious and asked, “Why”. I mean, why would someone reject me after I sensed good vibes from the interview process? Well, one of interviewers told me something along the lines of, “We liked you, but we are looking for a junior. Maybe reapply when you are junior.” It shattered me.

I drove 50 miles back to my dorm room. Shattered, hopeless, and “quitting” was on my mind. I mean, why push so hard when my peers were out having fun during the summer. But the “inner-me” said I needed to push forward. Luckily, I received another interview at Fortune 500 financial services firm. It appears that the two partners/advisors were looking for interns to grow their regional office. The downside, it was unpaid (not truly unpaid, it was a $250 stipend, but you get the point). The in-person interview went well and I ended up getting the internship!

It felt great, but it was unpaid. I had to pick up a second job on-campus to pay my bills for that summer. But the internship taught me the foundation of insurance and investments. Further, it was a sales internship, which forced me out of my comfort zone (I am naturally an introvert). Surprisingly, I exceled at the internship and scheduled the most appointments. I recalled my peers would work the minimum 10-15 hours a week; however, I worked 20-30 hours a week in order to schedule more appointments and prove to my boss that they should hire me on as a full intern who can earn commissions, etc. By sheer hard work, it paid off! My boss recommended me for the commission paid intern position while managing their book of business for a chance to earn additional commissions. My boss ended up taking me under his wing and I learned about sales, life, financial services, and relationship management. I ended up staying at the internship for two years (more than any of my peers in terms of employment tenure). This critical moment of my life taught me three key elements that I still carry today. See below:

  1. Work like no other so your chances of success is higher than your peers
    • Personal Note: The more you put into work or anything you are passionate about, it will pay off. Not immediately, but it will pay dividends down the line. My unpaid internship did not pay off immediately, but it taught me the craft to open doors for interviews and new business opportunities. It paid dividends because I would not be at my current situation in terms of career success without this foundation.
  2. Incorporate the positive assets from your mentor, boss, or manager in order to build your craft
    • Personal Note: Work hard for your mentor, boss, and manager. He/she will like an employee with grit who gets things done. In return, ask to learn from them. Ask them to mentor you or teach the business. In most cases, my managers and mentors taught me the business and life. I copied every element of their life, habits, and rituals that played a key component to my success today. Observe the positive assets that these people carry and incorporate it into your craft. Think of your craft as a treasure chest with abundance of storage space. The more you put in there, the more the chest is valued by others. No wonder people search for treasures?
  3. Get better every day and repeat the first two elements above.
    • Personal Note: My internship was painful. I was awful in sales, but changed as a person within six months. That first summer I closed more than $6,000 in net commissions/stipend. Not bad for me when compared to my college peers who had to work traditional 40 hours a week in order to clear $4,000 for the summer. This moment taught me that in order to be good at something, you need to get better every day. For instance, I did not have a warm leads or book of clients; instead, I borrowed a list from my boss and cold called my way through to success. It was a failure by all means since cold call conversions were slim to none, but it taught me the value of persistence and adaptation. In other words, I had to get better to increase my percentage of close.

There you have it. A brief story about my initial taste of success. Not by financial terms, but from a life and habitual standpoint. Everyone needs to hit rock bottom at some point in their life. It is the journey to crawl out of that hole that will determine your success in life. In my case, my rock bottom was finding an internship during one of history’s great depression. The two-year experience provided me with a foundation that still fuels my drive today.

Have you had a similar experience? What drives you and what is your foundation for success/drive? Feel free to comment below.

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