Originally I was going to base this around three different financial lessons, but as I thought back to these times, there is really one lesson that stands out above all: the lesson of believing in yourself, and using the power of that belief to stride forward and achieve your goals.
I met my first love around the end of college. I was pretty dispirited after spending four years at college, yet not feeling like I gained very much from it. The first year was spent in the pre-university program, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Since university never really seemed to be an option available to me, I went for the technical course at that time and spent the next three years studying computer science. The program, however, was really not that challenging nor interesting. Part of the problem was my own lack of motivation but part of it was also the program itself.
In some classes, I would sometimes just sleep through class or be absent for up to weeks at a time, only showing up to do exams. One thing that was good about our program was that we were more or less a consistent group of people from the beginning through to the end, though I did not take much advantage of this opportunity to socialize with my companions until near the end. My future first love was part of this group and she would often sit near the front, and for some reason I would show up a bit late and without a pencil. I would end up sitting next to her and asking her for one. She remembers these times as being a little annoyed with this “random guy that would just show up, ask me for a pencil, and then finish the exam before me!” I’m kind of embarrassed to think back on these times now; I was exactly like the students that I say should re-evaluate before going to higher education if they’re not going to take it seriously and just coast through. That was me at that time.
I think the problem really was that I didn’t think very highly of myself and didn’t think that I “deserved” success. I was working hard, working until 11pm to midnight every weekday to make some money on the side to pay my bills, but I wasn’t working very smart. I wasn’t taking the right steps that would be critical for my future success.
Turning the corner
I started shaping up a bit during my first work-internship, which we were required to pass in order to complete the program. It was unpaid, so I continued my side job where I worked until midnight. However, the internship was only 3 days a week so the other two days were mostly open other than a couple of classes. Two classmates were at the same company as me, so we got to know each other and started spending some time together outside of work and school, and this girl was also friends with them so we started to hang out as well.
I really wasn’t looking forward to more school at the time, but when I saw how limited the opportunities for a technical degree were, and when I learned that many of my classmates were going to be moving on to university, I thought more and more about it. She helped me realize that working hard at side jobs for low pay was actually the easy way out. The hard way was doing that while pushing myself hard for a brighter future. I took the remaining pre-requisites I needed to enter university, applied, and got accepted.
We started dating a couple months before we entered university, and I also learned about the paid internship program available at the university mainly through her. As I applied myself more and took school more seriously, the results started to show. Through the paid internship program, I was able to quit the dead-end side jobs and start learning the skills that I would need to succeed. I learned the importance of working hard and working smart. She taught me mainly by example, by practicing what she preached, and also by pushing me to make the most of myself and to believe in myself. I shouldn’t let a bad past be an excuse to be trapped in a bad future.
I ended up graduating with honors, and throughout the journey had a great cultural experience during an overseas exchange in South Korea that we also shared. Since then we recently purchased a place and now we have a home together. I don’t think I ever could have imagined coming this far in 5 years given where I was only 5 years ago. It’s not to say that there weren’t trials and tribulations along the way; after all, I had no support at all from my family even through my college days, except for the very generous support of my grandmother. However, the key is that I learned to stop using these bad experiences as an excuse. Sure, I didn’t get to choose the situation I was born into, but on the other hand, I’m very fortunate to still have been born on a continent where opportunities are widely available and open to all. If I let myself fail solely because I didn’t try hard enough because of prior circumstances, then that is nobody’s fault but my own.
This is where the motto “maximizing your life EV” comes from — I believe that while genetics and starting circumstances play their role, we still have the ability to control where we end up in the range of options available to us, and that many of the roadblocks we perceive exist in our heads only; if we mentally remove them then we can go further then we ever imagined was possible.
This post is part of a coffee roundup hosted by Sandy over at First Gen American. I completely missed the roundup, but the idea was so interesting that I decided to join in anyways, albeit much later!
Here are the other great posts in this roundup:
Coffee Talk – Financial Lessons from your First Sweetheart (First Gen American)
It’s my money Dammit (Molly on Money)
Who pays for the first date: A Financial Lesson Learned (Squirrelers)
Always Bring Enough Money (101 Centavos)
So, reader, which lessons did you learn from your first love?