“Pinch Me” Moments: Appreciating how far we’ve come

I wrote once about things I would tell myself 10 years ago. Recently several opportunities have come my way that make me want to revisit that article. In the past year, I’ve had a number of “pinch me” moments in my career. First, I made the move to a large firm. When I started grad school, I expected to join a large firm. That didn’t work out directly from school, which turned out to be the best thing for me. There were a lot of tears, so many tears, before I concluded that where I ultimately landed was right where I belonged. After a handful of years at that firm, I seized the chance to make a big leap, to a firm with a more prominent national reputation than any I’d considered while in school. That alone has been surreal at times. The chance was largely of my own making and was the fruit borne by seeds I’d planted months and years earlier in the form of my personal network. 

The new firm hasn’t been easy and I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome. But being there has opened many other doors. I received a significant pay raise to make the move. I’ve also mentioned that despite the firm’s reputation and prestige, I’m still underpaid by 20% or more. That doesn’t sit well with me. So I’ve been looking for positions that would increase my pay. Because we’re well into the accumulation stage, every significant pay increase makes a difference–both to how comfortable we will be in retirement and in how much social security I would be eligible to collect. 

One of the opportunities invited me to interview at their main office and offered to pick me up in the company jet. Maybe this is mundane for some. But as the first person in my family to become an attorney and coming from a very humble background, this was a first for me. This moment felt huge, even though I’ve had many occasions in the last decade to notice that I’ve surpassed what might have been expected of me at birth, or even at high school graduation. My life has changed in unimaginable ways. From the beginning, I believed I would be successful and I was fortunate to be surrounded by parents and others who cultivated that belief. 

I’m impatient. It’s both a flaw and a strength. I never wanted to wait for success (and now I don’t want to wait for retirement). I’m always on the lookout for ways to get better, quicker. I want to contribute now. As a teenager, I once lamented to my mom that I was halfway to my 30s and was disappointed in the little I felt I’d accomplished in my first sixteen years. This impatience can mean that I don’t take any time to appreciate progress. By the time I’ve achieved something, I’m already on to the next goal. 

With this article, I am pausing to reflect and express gratitude for where we are in our journey right now. Education transformed both Mr. Vine and me. Through our education, we were able to earn high salaries. What one of us makes alone is more than what my parents made combined while I grew up. But we were also very lucky. Our parents worked hard and provided more than what we needed. They always put food on the table or clothes on our backs. Both of us had strong foundations from which to pursue our dreams. 

In my childhood, I learned that hard work and creativity could often make up for a lack of money. Money bought comfort, not happiness. I learned the satisfaction of earning my success. Both Mr. Vine and I have a level of grit that our peers don’t always share. 

Our middle class beginnings make it easier for us to save big portions of our incomes and avoid lifestyle inflation. In some ways, we don’t know how to spend more money. Of course, we know that we could buy a bigger house, a fancier car, fly first class instead of economy, have more designer clothing and other “stuff”. We experimented with that on a small scale when we went from struggling college students to DINKs. We know it doesn’t make us happy. Lifestyle inflation leads to a lot of clutter that needs to be cleared. To us, that just feels wasteful. 

When we discovered that we could instead buy our freedom much earlier than the typical Amercican, we decided that’s how we wanted to use our high incomes. In that sense, we’ve been working toward early retirement since 2005, but didn’t get seriously about it until 2017. 

For those of us who set lofty goals, it’s easy to lose sight of how much progress we’ve made when we’re in the middle of a journey. No matter what your goal is–whether you want to achieve a major career milestone, a certain income level, financial independence, debt freedom, or even a lifestyle success indicator like a car or house–take a moment to appreciate where you are. 

In the spirit of recognizing accomplishments and milestones, I’ll share a few that Mr. Vine and I have crossed in just the last decade. We paid off the last of our student loan debt. We cash flowed a notoriously expensive grad school program for me. I earned an advanced degree (Mr. Vine also has a master’s degree, but he earned it more than a decade ago). We sold a house. We celebrated a decade of marriage. We each crossed six figures for our respective incomes. And what I’m proudest of: we’ve made it halfway to financial independence. 

What are your goals and how have you progressed towards them? How do you break large, long term goals into smaller ones? 

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