Slowly Sipping Coffee

Why You Should Never Settle.

Recently I have had some interesting discussions with Mrs. SSC, friends, and even people around the office. I asked them a fairly straightforward question, “If you could go back to your high school self and let them know where you are today, how would they respond to the news? Would they be surprised in a good or bad way, or nod knowingly and say, “Yep, that’s pretty much what I expected to happen?” Would your highschool self even think that you might have not tried hard enough and just settled for the easy route?” The answers have been pretty varied.

Mrs. SSC is of the opinion that her high school self wouldn’t be too surprised about her situation and would fit into the “yep, that’s about what I expected would happen” category. Meaning that she was pretty driven during high school and college and that drive to excel is what got her to where she is today. She might be more surprised at leaving a megacorp oil and gas job for teaching, but not once she explained to her younger self that at some point in life, happiness trumps making more money. Overall, the trajectory of her life seems to follow the path she set it on at a young age. Mine however, couldn’t be more different.

If I was able to tell my high school self where I was right now at 40, with family, education, career, and what shape our finances are in, first I don’t think he’d believe me. After I convinced him that this is legit and we really did “make it”, he’d be ecstatic. High school me would jump up, give me a big hug, a high five and hop around screaming, “F*** yeah, we did it! We DID it!” Quite honestly, even now I have to take a moment to reflect on where I’ve come from and really appreciate being in the spot I am today. I know that if I had been able to write a successful life story for myself back when I was in high school, I would have set the bar so low that I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near where I am today. I would have settled for a way less comfortable and successful lifestyle in SO many ways.

What Sparked this Look Back?

I recently caught up with my high school guidance counselor and we had an interesting conversation. She asked, “What are you doing for a career?” I told her the abridged version of my career story and how I ended up in oil and gas. She asked, “Oh, did you know about that career when you went to study in college?” I replied, “Nope, not a clue. I didn’t even know a geologist was a job you could have and make a decent living at until after I was in college.” True statement by the way. She was shocked by that and asked what made me go into this field and I explained that I just stumbled across it. However, I find it fascinating and like the challenges and critical thinking that it makes me do every day.

This sums it up quite nicely.                                                   image from: i.imgur.com/EZxaM.jpg

Why Go To College?

Except for getting told by my parents that, “you’re going to college”, I didn’t have any reason to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, except knowing that if I got a job making $80k or more a year, I’d be set. I wanted to become an insurance adjuster because I’d worked with my Granddad helping him out so much doing that and I liked the schedule. You would be in the office some, out in the field some, meeting and talking to people, helping people out with their claims; yes, it was a naïve view of that lifestyle but one that I could see myself doing. Plus, he made close to 6 figures a year, so that would be great. When I told him about that, he kind of recoiled and grilled me about the “why” and then after listening and giving it consideration, he said, “Well, that’s great. As soon as you get your degree, I can help you find a job.” Now, technically, you don’t need a college degree to become an insurance adjuster, but Granddad didn’t want me to not go to college.

Grandad and a much, much younger Mr. SSC. He got me started hiking, and kept me on the path to go to college.

Then I told him about the other job that I was interested in, being an over the road long haul truck driver. I think he literally rolled his eyes at that one. He then went on to explain that, no I really didn’t want that job because it’s a hard job and can come with a lot of profession related health issues. Really, how is sitting in a truck driving 10-14 hrs a day not healthy? I was back to square one without knowing what I wanted to do or how to get there, so of course, off to college I went.

College Days

I did just enough to get into the local university and squandered my first couple of years there. I didn’t squander them as much as I took a lot of interesting soft courses and I avoided any science and math classes. I stayed undeclared for 2.5 years and racked up the credits somwhow avoiding school loans that first 2.5 years.

I eventually realized I was wasting time there and went in search of myself to figure out why I should be in college, what I would do there, and if not college, what else could I do without a degree. I chose the Appalachian Trail as a good venue to figure all of this out. It got me away from the drama that was home, it let me “just be” and have space to think about all these things. After 2.5 months of hiking I covered ~1700 miles and made it from Maine to the NC/TN border.

A much younger Mr. SSC and Dad hiking on Father’s Day.

More importantly I figured out what I wanted to do and decided it was time to get back in school. Years later, I finally graduated college with almost 220 credit hours, about 100 more than a typical degree requires.

Career Time

I worked as a geotechnical engineer for about 6 years before going back to grad school for a Masters in geology. In grad school I was introduced to the petroleum geology side of the industry and loved it. An internship led to a full time job and I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now and still love it.

Never Settle

This leads me back to my take on being so surprised I am where I am today. High school me, would have no clue that I could achieve so much, go so far in life, and be as successful with family, career, and finances as I am. A lot of that is due to great support from Mrs. SSC but I played a role in that as well. I didn’t settle for the lifestyle in which I was raised and I wanted more. I wasn’t sure how exactly to achieve that, but I knew I wanted more. I never stopped just because something was hard and that kept leading me to better opportunities. I’m grateful that I took advantage of the opportunities I had, and the opportunities I made, to end up where I am today.

What about you? Have you ever thought about how your high school self would respond to finding out how your life has gone so far? Would they be as excited and shocked as mine would be? Let me know, because I’d love to hear about it!

36 thoughts on “Why You Should Never Settle.

  1. MrWow

    I’m probably in the “that sounds about right” camp. I don’t know that I would know exactly what I would be doing. But this is pretty close. Now, give me another 5 years, and I think it might change drastically.

    1. Mr. SSC

      Yeah, I thought Iw as in the “sounds about right camp” until I got into grad school. That was where I knew I wouldn’t have predicted that step back in highschool. Since then, it has changed a LOT, and will most likely keep changing, which is awesome!

  2. Jillian

    I don’t think I could even believe it. It took years of slowly growing into an idea of what is possible and it still catches me off gaurd. Over the years I’ve become more intentional about “upgrading my beliefs” on what is possible. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Mr. SSC

      “Upgrading your beliefs on what is possible” – nails it. Even now I think I set the bar too low for expectations. I think, “Nah, that probably won’t happen” when I need to be reminding myself that I never thought any of what is currently happening “could happen.”

      Thanks for the reminder to be more positive. 🙂

  3. Brian

    As far as a career, I think my HS self would be a bit shocked. I was hoping to work in TV/Film when I was a teenager. I laned a job with a TV station out of college, but migrated to the IT side and have never looked back. As far as family, “that sounds about right” camp. I always wanted to be married and have a family. It’s certainly interesting to look back and see how winding the path is.

    1. Mr. SSC

      We had a tv studio in my highschool and I spent a couple hrs a day in that place. I could’ve also seen going into that industry as well. It is interesting to see how our paths wander around through life, when you stop and look back on them.

    1. Mr. SSC

      Hahaha, exactly! I think past me could anticipate my level of “career success” but as far as picking what industry or getting close to the “how” of pulling off that success, yeah, would’ve missed it by a mile. 🙂 Even the definition of “success” was so low, I think I felt I would’ve been successful regardless, lol.

  4. Oldster

    I went in a totally different direction than I would have thought in high school. Went to the Naval Academy out of high school, but the military was not what I wanted. I wandered Europe for a couple of years, came home still mostly aimless. Took some college classes finally got a degree (205 credit hours – so I get that part), went on for a M.A. in German Literature. Taught for a bit, then law school, where I’ve worked (also in oil and gas) for the last 25 years. I never would have seen that coming when I was growing up, but I also have done a lot of really cool stuff and had a great career I’ve really enjoyed.

    All in all, I’ve got no complaints.

    1. Mr. SSC

      I was really close to signing with the Air Force. Actually, I did sign with them and was scheduled to go to Nashville for a physical and to finalize all of that, and the morning of, I remember begging my mom, “Please don’t make me go! I don’t really want to do the military, I don’t know what I was thinking, please don’t sign the papers!” I was only 17 at the time, so I couldn’t legally sign myself up, whew!!!

      Your route sounds pretty exciting as well and I agree with you, all in all, no complaints here either.

  5. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    This is so fun! I just did this exercise, and I’m pretty sure HS me would be surprised at where I ended up. I had big dreams of going into acting and all that jazz. I was a young idiot who had never paid a bill in her life. 😉

    However, I think past-me would be thrilled at the path I’m on for financial independence. Life’s gotten so much easier and our journey isn’t even over yet!

    1. Mr. SSC

      It is interesting to think about isn’t it? Just reflect on where you thought you might be or “want to be” at that stage in your life versus now.

      That’s awesome that past you would be excited and like you said, your journey is just beginning. So many more paths to find, wander down, get off of, get on, etc… 🙂

  6. Mr Crazy Kicks

    My family wasn’t great with money and I knew I didn’t want to struggle for it, so I don’t think I would have been surprised about the money situation. My career on the other hand ended up a lot different than I expected due to the dot-com bubble bursting.

    That’s awesome you took the opportunity to hike the Appalachian trail! Must have been an incredible experience. I was too caught up in getting a degree and getting a job to enjoy college as much as I should have. But I’m working on making up for that now 🙂

    1. Mr. SSC

      I took a LOT longer to get out of school and start “life” than I should have, but it did lead me to a LOT of great life experiences like hiking the AT and more. It’s the whole catch 22 of having lots of time but no money then, and now lots of money, but very little time. Hopefully that will switch in another couple of years and I can have money AND time again. Until then, I’ll just read about your adventures living that life.

  7. Nick

    My younger self would most probably not believe I would have made it that far, so that’s the positive note.
    Now, i’d like to say the same thing about my current self 20 years from now 🙂

  8. kdrevik@39months.com

    I think my HS self would be pleasantly surprised. I didn’t “peak” in HS, or even in college. I think I peaked about 5-10 years ago, and I’m still doing pretty well.

    If I told my HS self I would be well employed, be close to FI (only 31 months left!) and have been married to Mrs. 39 Months for 31+ wonderful years, my HS self would be shocked, stunned and motivated for the future.

    Still more to do, especially once I am financially independent. Good luck to all of you on your path.

    Mr. 39 Months

    1. Mr. SSC

      I don’t know when or if I’ve peaked, but I know it wasn’t in highschool or college, lol. I agree, my younger self would probably be more shocked and motivated by where I ended up. Mainly knowing that all that hard work does actually pay off at some point.

      Good luck on your path too, 31 months left sounds pretty awesome! I think I’m somewhere around that same time frame, although it seems to be an ever moving target, so we’ll see…

  9. WealthyDoc

    Looking back it is amazing how much discouragement I overcame. Several teachers and guidance counselors and relatives told me to settle. They said I would never be able to go to college. If I got in I would never finish and graduate. I certainly couldn’t become a professional or doctor or anything like that….. Thankfully I ignored all the bad advice. People should never judge a kid and assume they know the full capability of another human being!

    1. Mr. SSC

      Haha, I’d blocked out a lot of the discouragement, or just gotten over it in therapy at some point, lol. Yeah, so much discouragement, it’s just crazy. How can people be that dismissive with kids when the world is literally their oyster and they can go down SO many different paths.

      I also soldiered on although I wore it as a chip on my shoulder for way longer than I should have… I agree that people shouldn’t pretend to know the capabilities of any other human, much less kids. Well put!

  10. Jason

    Great story. That is also an excellent question. If I were to show the journey I have taken to my younger self I think they would be surprised. Not necessarily at my career, but at my personal life. That has been a bit more tumultuous than I would have thought. I have take an roundabout way to get where I am and it is a bit maddening, but I am better for the journey.

    1. Mr. SSC

      It is pretty interesting to take the time and look back on that question, huh? 🙂 I think short of death, we’re all better for the journey’s we’ve taken to get to where we are. Even the painful parts, I wouldn’t necessarily want to change because they made me who I am today. Of course, I wouldn’t want to relive them either though… Eeesh…

  11. Mr. PIE

    I left high school in rural south west Scotland to study chemistry based on the passion of a great high-school teacher. After a career of 25 years after my Ph.D, I am still using large parts of chemistry training in my current job.

    Did I ever imagine at high school that I would move to the US to pursue that career and be about to retire early, move to the mountains with a relatively young family and continue to live the awesome American dream? Never. Never.

    I don’t think I ever settled and moving to the US, leaving close family, speaks to that. I think retiring early will bring yet another level of unsettlement, in a really good way.

    Ain’t life and all our respective journeys just fascinating?

    1. Mr. SSC

      Yes, all of our journeys are fascinating. Which is why I got so hooked on reading PF blogs and other non-PF but more personal less finance type blogs. It’s amazing the backstories that you find out about and get a glimpse into of people’s lives.

      I’ll be interested tos ee what the next 40 years brings and if i am also equally surprised (hopefully in a good way) by how things end up. 🙂

  12. Mrs. COD

    Pretty intriguing questions! I think I’m finally starting to return to the type of career I always hoped/thought I’d have. Writing has always been my big passion, and I didn’t know there were ways to make money writing that didn’t involve a lucky break with publishing fiction. Thankfully, the publishing world has changed a lot and now there are all of these ways to earn a living online through writing and editing and the like!

    Love your hiking throwback photos, by the way!

    1. Mr. SSC

      Thanks about the pictures! They’re a couple of my fav’s with those 2 guys. My knees still hurt looking at those packs i was wearing back then and all the weight in them…

      I want to delve into the “making money writing” without getting the break of writing the next great American novel. It’s nice that there are those options out there.

      Isn’t it crazy just to look back and think, “how did I get here and would I have thought it would be like this?” Fun thought problems, lol. 🙂

  13. Mr. Groovy

    Great post, Mr. SSC. I had a friend at Buffalo University who dropped out of chemical engineering and took up geology. His parents were pissed. But after he graduated, he got a job with Exxon. I lost touch with him a few years after college, but the last I heard of him he was doing very well. As he always used to say once he switched majors, “Igneous is bliss.”

    1. Mr. SSC

      Oh, yeah that’s a big change from a repsected engineer to a gravel monkey, lol. Starting off with Exxon is nothing to sneeze at though and a great way to begin a geology career.

      “Igneous is bliss” — “gneiss…” 😀

  14. Mrs.Wow

    I think I would fall in the “F*** yeah, we did it!” group. I have always been a hard-worker and wanted to be successful, but HS me would have considered the traditional, safer route and would never have considered starting my own business. I mean honestly, even in grad school, I would have laughed at this thought. Crazy to think how much I have changed even in the last year or two, can’t wait to see what the next few year bring!

    1. Mr. SSC

      Haha, excellent! Crazy to think about isn’t it? I’m excited to see what comes next too. so many opportunities and changes, I sometimes feel like planning is almost worthless. You never know what could pop up and we move somewhere we hadn’t planned on, or life takes some other unexpected turn. Here’s to hoping it’s all good, or at least more good than bad! 🙂

    1. Mr. SSC

      Hey, moving out of my home state was one of my first big catalysts that life can be different. I still know a lot of people that never left and it’s like they’re stuck in a time warp. Crazy…

  15. Accidental FIRE

    Great post and I LOVE those external-frame backpacks!! As a good personal finance blogger and a person who keeps things when they still work, I still have my external-frame pack from 1994. Still gets the job done, and the best part is it turns heads with the young ones on the trail who likely have never seen one!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Yeah those internal packs and pictures were probably 1988/1990 sort of time frame. I switched to an internal frame for the AT and never looked back. I was like, OMG, I can just ahve different stuff sacks for things and toss them all in one big compartment and don’t need separate pockets for things! Brilliant!! Plus the fit and where the weight sat was so much different, I just loved it.I think my old frame pack got passed along to someone else, and I’m not sure what happened to Granddad’s pack some part of me thinks dad might have ended up with it. They are more rare to see nowadays, but still pretty functional. I think it’s really more of a personality issue with how ocd you get on packing and compartmentalization. Maybe that’s just my experience with it. 🙂

      1. Accidental FIRE

        You’re correct, those old packs seemed to focus on compartmentalization. They do have one advantage in that they keep the pack off your back and allow air to move. I’m on the east coast, and our summers here are brutally hot and humid, and you lose a lot less sweat in summer from your back with the external pack.

        1. Mr SSC Post author

          Yeah, keeping the little bit of airflow between the back and the pack was nice. I grew up in KY, and hiking in eastern KY in the summer was sticky, muggy, and hot. They did have that advantage over the internal frame packs.

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