Everyone in the world has memories in their life that stand out. They are foundational, formational times (or years) that create the bedrock of who you are.
Just like you, I have a few of these. Seemingly small moments that now I look back and see how massive they were to my identity and growth as an individual. I hope you can relate to some of what I’ve been through and walk away with one repetitive thought: “hey, me too.”
I am the oldest of 4 siblings and my parents were amazing. Tough but fair, just but merciful, loving but didn’t let us get satisfied with where we were at in life. They thought through how they wanted to raise kids and did a great job of it. They were imperfect, but even in those moments, they owned it to us in humility.
As for my siblings, we were siblings. We fought a lot and hard, but we have each other’s backs. I could brag about each one of my siblings and how they uniquely added to our family, but I won’t for the sake of space.
We loved to play together and grew up with six channels on the TV until I maybe hit my junior or senior year of high school. That just meant that we were outside a lot and made up our own games consistently. Honestly, I had a privileged childhood with two parents that loved me and provided, even though we weren’t “rich.”
But, there was a fairly dark cloud that hung over my elementary years. I was bullied and teased a lot. There was a group of guys that made fun of me regularly for about 3 years and that was brutal. I came home crying probably once a week and didn’t get why they didn’t like me. I remember getting the finger in class, having guys curse me out, and the regular feeling that I didn’t belong.
From what I remember it was a weird dynamic because I also played sports with many of them (teams were geographic). So sometimes it seemed like we got along great, but at school, I was the outsider.
I’ve since forgiven and made peace with each one of those guys and moved on. I no longer hold it against them. Though that is true now, those years of teasing shaped me in some huge ways.
One, it made be an includer. I wanted people to feel like they belonged, so I went out of my way to do that, often to people others rejected. I didn’t want someone else to feel that way.
Two, it made me significantly more extraverted. I wanted to meet everyone and know their name. In fact, one of my peers has compared me to a golden retriever: always excited to see a friend. As much as it depends on me, I want to be everyone’s friend. I know that isn’t always possible; some people you don’t click with, others don’t want your friendship, others manipulate. I’m no relational idiot. But it’s an ideal I strive for because I want to love other people.
Three, it taught me what real friends look like. I started to develop friendships with guys that have lasted to today from other schools. Guys who were willing to stand up for me. Guys willing to challenge me to grow. True friends stick closer than a brother and I’m blessed to have built many of those friendships.
Four, I started to cope from the rejection with sports, competition, and achievement. Somewhere in my 9-year-old brain, the connection was made that they didn’t like me because I was unathletic and/or dumb. Not sure how that happened but it did.
What it means is that I spent loads of time playing sports, often by myself just to practice. I regularly shot basketball and did dribbling drills for hours until “mastery” and that isn’t an exaggeration. Multiply that by practicing most of the major sports and you get a highly athletic person…who’s still rejected. But, healthy or not, that is how I dealt with pain for a long time.
The last thing that it did was develop the bigger parts of my insecurities. Feeling like I never measure up. Feeling that I’m not good enough. Wondering “if people really knew me, would they like me?”
Even if I clearly am the “top dog” in a sport or position, there’s always the next mountain to climb. Always someone who’s better than me, more deserving, or that I don’t measure up against. There was always the next achievement. If I’m honest, I’m not the “top dog” in a lot of things. In fact, there are very few categories anymore where I see myself as the “alpha.” The world is a big place and there are so many qualified and gifted people!
Rejection sucks. It’s painful and it hurts almost everyone. And that insecurity was the FUEL for those first four things.
The insecurity fueled a desire to include, being friendly, develop authentic friendships, and an insecurity complex of competition and achievement.
This set me up for middle school where I found that I wasn’t like most people; I enjoyed it. I finally got some separation from these boys, I got respected because I was athletic, and honestly, I didn’t care, in healthy ways, what people thought.
Where else could I go? I was already mentally the lowest on the totem pole, though reality changed in middle school. I developed a ton of friendships in middle school.
I went about my day and while most people were insecure about physical and social changes, I wasn’t. The bullying gave me my insecurity that was my fuel, but also a great sense of peace in who I was. The rejection made me better able to live with freedom with my imperfect self. The irony of identity development; our strengths and weaknesses are linked.
And guys, I was weird. I wore high socks every day, tucked my shirt into my pants, and my pants were at belly button level. Honestly, it stemmed from trying to get control of something that the guys teasing me couldn’t take from me, so I chose my wardrobe. I’m not a victim here. I more or less called the teasing upon myself for the wardrobe, but I felt like no one could force me to change that, so I owned it.
Thankfully, I made a lot of friendships and though things happened here and there, I started coming into my own. I received praise from my parents and teachers which helped a TON along the way. I made plenty of mistakes and I own that too. I can think of embarrassing things I did, people I offended or hurt, it was a real learning experience.
The biggest change though was one I didn’t notice until after college. My English teacher, the first week of 6th grade, did a routine reading exam. Afterwards, she immediately moved me from her “regular” English class into the advanced/accelerated class.
That made worlds of difference for me.
As you’ll see I harp on three things in relationships:
- You are the sum of your 5 closest friends
- Your friends will influence the quality and direction of your life (Andy Stanley)
- Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.
This instantly changed my peer group, made me work harder in school, and set me up for the future without ever knowing it. It even helped get another degree of separation from some of the guys that used to bully me.
I threw my insecurity fuel into academic achievement and saw results. I wasn’t the perfect “all A’s” kid, but it was close. I know at one point I could tell you the classes I didn’t get an A in because of their rarity (I cannot any longer. It’s been too long).
Middle school also began the time when I got pegged for leadership. Partly because I had a knack for it, partly because I paid attention, and partly because I was a goody-two-shoes kiss up blend. I wanted to do the right thing, but I wanted some praise for it! I desperately wanted to be noticed and sports and academics were those vehicles.
Basketball and football captains. Leadership roles within my church. It fed my ego (healthily because someone saw me as “worthy” and unhealthily because of pride), but I grew in leadership in small ways.
Each year of high school was unique in the challenges that it brought. But the biggest difference from middle school was I hit a wall we all get to at some point: FAILURE.
I had concussions and couldn’t play for the football team. This was a blessing in disguise because I was TINY. I entered about 5’2” and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet. So, I was the team manager instead.
I didn’t make the basketball team because “you can shoot, dribble great, pass well, and are a great teammate, but you’re too short.”
That was devastating to me because it was the one thing I COULDN’T control. I can outwork people to get better, but you can’t teach tall. So, I was the team manager instead.
I didn’t fail classes, but I had to work much harder to maintain the high bar from middle school. I was the consistent “A” student but by no means perfect.
Though I have tons of forming moments, one or two were bigger.
One was as a freshman.
I was in a group at my church with about 12 other freshman guys led by three adults. Looking back, we were awful. Consistently off topic, laughing our butts off, and immature in heaping amounts. In short, normal freshmen.
One night a leader had had it. But instead of scolding us, he took myself and two friends into the hallway. He looked us in the eye and said, “I don’t think you realize this, but everyone in that room follows your lead. If you are on task, the whole group will be. If you’re not, nothing ever gets done.”
That 20 seconds rocked me because I never saw myself that way. I knew I could lead, but didn’t realize people looked to me as a leader. I began to watch and noticed that it happened in lots of areas, not just that church group. School, sports, friend groups. People saw me as a leader, but I didn’t know it.
I had to learn how to lead and lead as a servant leader because people followed me. It was exhilarating because people found me “worthy” but terrifying because I wondered “what if they know I don’t think I’m worth it?”
I had to say “HELLO” to a new insecurity and tension I’ve dealt with since then. Knowing I was a leader and feeling unworthy of it. Like a kid given a million dollars but has no idea how to use it well. Feeling unable to handle the responsibility thrust upon me.
The second major moment was on a mission trip. I spent high school going to various countries to serve and one evening in Brazil I was teaching a peer on the trip about a passage of the Bible. I was maybe 16 years old. He commented that I knew it well and loved to talk about it.
Then and there I thought “I could go be a pastor.” Up to that point I was looking at aerospace engineering to work ultimately at NASA. Talk about a career switch.
Again, insecurity and competition drove my success. I “competed” at being better than other people at religion. I sincerely loved Jesus, but I wanted to do it better than others and pride and religion usually don’t mix well. Especially when following Jesus who was a master of humility.
Let me be clear, I did and do love my friends, and a ton of great conversations happened about Jesus, the Bible, religion, and ethics. I don’t regret following Jesus in the slightest. But there are 100% moments I wish I could go back and say; “I’m sorry I treated you like a project or was rude trying to change your mind. Forgive me?” The perfect representative of Jesus I was not!
College presented another challenge because I did choose to go to a school to learn how to be a youth pastor. I thought going to a Christian college meant I would blend in and wouldn’t have to be the leader.
I was wrong.
Shortly after arriving I was mad, because I didn’t want to be a leader. I wanted to be somewhat out of the spotlight, but not too far because, pride. I wanted to learn to love Jesus as a collective group, not as a leader of a group.
I was wrong.
College started this weird thing I started calling “there must be something about my face.” This was because often I’d find myself in conversations with people where they share far deeper about their life than was our friendship level. It was weird to be a confidant for someone.
People I’d met two or three times would say things like “I’ve never told anyone this” or “you and one other person knows ____.” I was consistently freaking out internally; “we’re not this close and I don’t know what to do with this information!”
Over time I learned how to lead people in this way and help them process. I helped them counsel themselves, but it was a big learning curve.
College also was a giant dose of humble pie for me in all the areas of insecurity. I wasn’t the greatest friend always. I wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. I remember the night I was confronted with that and it was so painful and so healing.
Later, I did enter leadership. Willingly and purposefully to be the Student Body President of my school. Two years of that was amazing as it challenged me, taught me, drove me to my knees, humbled me, and taught me how to lead…even while being insecure and not having all the answers.
My friend and I even led an informal class on campus on how to lead for about 15 people. He gets 90% of the credit for that because it was his idea and created the “curriculum.” I came alongside him to teach that. In addition, I met weekly with two other student to give away what I’d learned about leadership.
I learned to stop competing against others in their faith and to love Jesus for who he is.
I learned to love athletic competition for the joy of the game and not the outcome of winning.
I learned to listen to people without thinking of a response as they spoke.
I learned to hear people’s stories and life experiences. I discovered everyone is insecure in their own ways. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
I learned somewhat how to be a leader worth following but I still can’t say I’ve “attained it.”
I learned what the deepest of friendships looks like where you know the other at a soul level. All their crap and love them still. Truly I’m blessed with an abundance of great friends.
I dated a girl for the first time, and we broke up because it was so unhealthy. After some months of growing independently, which was so good for both of us, we got back together, and got married a few years later.
Now, 5 years into marriage, my wife and I have two kids. We’re still learning to be a team, still learning to grow together, still learning how we compliment the other as a duo, and still learning what unconditional love looks like.
Since college I’ve continued a love for learning and personal formation. Through that I’ve read dozens of books for joy and built upon my growth in college. As I’ve read, wrestled with information, and grown, I’ve developed three long-term goals that I intend to pursue until the day I die. They are as follows:
- I want to have a marriage that is in the top 1% of all marriages in the world. The kind of marriage that makes people say: “I didn’t know marriage could be that good” and inspires others with a desire to marry.
- If wealth was measured in deep friendships instead of finances, then I want to be the richest man in the world when I die.
- I want to provide for my wife and kids like my grandparents. So that no matter what happens or if I die sooner than them, they’re provided for forever.
I hope this gives a decent snapshot of my life and an idea of who you’re reading from.
Hopefully this doesn’t scare you off but helps you to know me. I’m just like you. Successes, failures, insecurities, and all. I don’t have it all figured out. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize there’s a lot more to know. I’m writing this blog to pass along what I’ve learned, equip you as much as I can to increase your disposable income, and inspire you to live a life worth living, not merely existing!
Post college I came to realize something accidentally:
If I’m bad with money, I’ll be poor forever.
I watched as people who made large amounts of money could still go bankrupt. I saw that a high income didn’t equal a high net worth. I listened as individuals, some who were in trades making $100/hour couldn’t pay their bills if they weren’t paid on time. So, I decided to educate myself more than my peers.
Money is a tool that I’ve found few talk about, and even fewer master. Looking around I saw that few people have their financial lives together. I wanted to be one that had finances under my control and not finances having control of me.
Growing up we did chores around the house. My parents decided that when we became teenagers, we deserved an allowance. Each month my mom gave me $20 in cash. No matter what, $2 went to savings $2 went toward giving (wherever I chose), and the other $16 I got to use.
On top of that, at 13, the rules changed. My parents would no longer pay for everything that was a “luxury.” If I wanted something significant; sports team, trip, or went to a birthday party, I had to pay half. If it was a toy, I paid all of it. That was just the deal.
I ended up paying half to play on my baseball team, half to go on trips with my church, and worked for that money if I didn’t have it saved.
I was still a teenager. I was impulsive with money and made trips on my bike to the gas station, but I learned real fast money leaves the pocket fast. I would do math to see what the best deal was on soda or figure out that a 2-liter, per ounce, is cheaper than a 1-liter. That’s when I realized, mom and dad had soda at home, which was free.
Personally, I became a saver. I often saved one or two hundred dollars for big purchases I wanted. Those were giant lego sets or a video game system. Those larger goals saved me from spending money on cheap things at the store. So I saved and saved for bigger items.
My family also had a lawn mowing business that we worked. It was only 10 lawns at the biggest but gave me more disposable income. At most I’d earn about $350 a month, but that was tons for a 13-16 year old! Every check I was expected to do the same thing: give 10% away and save 10% for large purchases (at this point, college).
A lot of this money for me went toward sports teams, ski trips, trips abroad with my church, and food. At one point I went through my check book and could tell you why I spent every dollar. Most of my weekly expenses went toward gas followed by food with someone. I made a personal rule to eat out only when it was with someone because I couldn’t justify the impulse buy by myself.
Fast forward to college and I got my first college bill. Yowza. I had about 5k saved. That was from my parents who had tucked away $20/month since I was two, and my mowing income. That was gone after the first semester even though I had a decent scholarship.
I worked summer jobs and applied for more scholarship dollars. Thankfully, through merit and luck, I was able to make college more affordable the next year. I got a higher scholarship and worked a job for disposable income. In addition, my junior and senior years I was the student body president, voted by my peers, which made college even more affordable (free room and board). Those years I paid in cash for school and didn’t take out another loan after my sophomore year.
I made decisions that other friends didn’t.
I didn’t go out to eat nightly for food runs or buy additional food from Walmart. It may sound stupid, but we didn’t have Sunday night meals at school. Therefore I often fasted meals on Sunday evening because I ate plenty in the cafeteria and didn’t want to buy a meal.
When I did purchase things, I did it at a discount. For me, “treats” were buying fudge bars, ice cream, and sweet chili Doritos. I could get $.25 day old bread from a local bakery so that was a Sunday night meal. I saved nearly 100% of my income during that period and paid for the basics.
Again, my parents were the ones who helped on some things. I got $50 for gas each month from them. I offered to pay my car insurance, but they declined. I had money saved to buy my first car for $800 but they paid it as a gift. They had my medical insurance through college (again, I offered to pay and paid all my bills personally).
I get that not everyone gets these advantages. I can’t help that I got them, but I used them to the fullest. If that’s not your story, I will gladly learn from you because you know more than I do!
I entered the workforce full time out of college, as did my wife. The accident was that I got a subscription to Fortune Magazine as well as Time. They came free with some airline mileage I’d racked up over 10 years, so I jumped at it.
As I read, I taught myself. If I didn’t understand something, I found somewhere that would explain it for me. Then I added books to the reading list as well as blogs from other people. When I heard an interesting podcast or a person who was adept at finance, I’d look them up to see what they had. That’s how I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache, Financial Samurai, Dave Ramsey, and other, non-blogger figures like John Oliver and “Adam ruins everything.”
That doesn’t include others I asked about money. Friends, mentors, and others as I wrestle with how to master my money. I’d find experts in their trade and ask questions. Even wealthier adults and see what they’re doing that I’m not.
As I learned, I put that learning into action.
To put real numbers into it, I was fortunate to have parents who gave me a total of $10,000 for college.
I came up with the other $80,000 through work, scholarships, and I served as the student body president. I graduated with $6,000 in debt from my private school and paid that off in a year.
Here’s where the timeline speeds up.
My wife and I got married in 2014 at the ripe old age of 22 and began to get our finances in order. We had $8,000 to our name from working during college and started married life in a 700 square foot apartment.
My wife graduated with about $21,000 dollars in debt and we paid that off in 24 months after marriage.
We lived debt free in the same 700-foot apartment while saving for a house.
About 18 months later, we’d saved a touch over for a 20% down payment on a house. We knew we didn’t want to spend all that, so we bought a house that we could afford on a single income. The main reason for this was because we wanted the freedom to choose if we both wanted to keep working, especially as we built a family.
We made our down payment, moved into our house, and two weeks later, had our first daughter. Eight months later, my wife decided to be a stay at home mother, and we’re living from my income. Another 19 months after that, we welcomed our second daughter!
From our savings, we paid cash for the hospital bill and bought a new car.
In the meantime, we’d managed to save another $20,000 for retirement in through various means.
The craziest part?
We did all that with neither of us making more than 35k a year and our highest year we earned just under $70,000 total.
You see, I work as a non-profit youth pastor and she’s an elementary teacher.
Things that helped us
In this journey, lot of things helped us along the way.
It helps that both of us enjoy saving and goal setting. It helps that we both have simple tastes. It helps that we weren’t sidelined by family drama or set up to fail. It helps that we both hate debt. And, I believe, it helps that we want to be faithful financial stewards of the money we’ve been entrusted with (we love our Lord Jesus Christ). We often praise him for his wisdom.
In fact, we attribute a LOT of what’s happened to Jesus. He provided for our hospital bill through a minor car accident. That refund paid for our first daughter.
He provided for my wife’s schooling with a teach grant ($20k) that my wife fulfilled. We prayed together about that situation for months, trusting in his faithfulness and provision.
He provided for our second daughter’s birth through a misspelling. We got insurance cards and they didn’t get our last name correct. We called to correct it and through that process, my wife got put on Medicaid for the pregnancy of our second daughter. Having a low income has its advantages!
He’s provided that our city is affordable.
He’s provided that we have excellent friendships.
He’s provided a creative outlet for us to work. Doing work we love with people we adore.
Even though our net worth might not say a lot right now, or our savings account being massive, we feel RICH indeed. Our God is good, and we love serving him.
Not everyone will have the same path as my wife and I, but that’s our story, and it’s the best we’ve got.
Let it be known, again, I’m a pastor, I love Jesus. I think that the foundation of financial wisdom lies inside the Bible. Yet, there lots of great financial wisdom that exists outside as well.
Occasionally, I will talk about how those beliefs shaped me because I can’t escape that reality in the past or present, but by no means will the majority of all our posts be “religious.”
I believe that with someone to encourage, equip, and empower you, that you can make similar decisions that lead you toward financial freedom. Money should NEVER be your ruler and I want to apart of your financial journey.
I’m looking forward to going on an adventure with you!