Are You Taking the Meandering Path to a Fulfilling Life

Taking the meandering path to a fulfilling lifeRecently, I finished reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The concept is good, but the book got a little tedious about half way through. The author’s main point was that college kids are not very resilient these days because parents do everything for them. Stanford kids (where the author was a dean) are fantastic at getting good grades, but can’t manage their lives and have no resiliency. Parents need step back and give their kids a chance to fail and learn from their mistakes.

One of her points is that life doesn’t have to be a straight path. How many of us really know what we want to do for the rest of our lives when we’re 18? That’s just too young to know yourself (for most people). Yet, that’s when we’re forced to choose a career path. Two hundred years ago, this would have been pretty simple. Kids usually took up their parent’s profession or apprenticeship to learn a craft. Once you’ve started, it’s pretty much set. Nowadays, we have a lot more choices.

My Straight Forward Path

My path was relatively straight forward. I studied computer engineering because it seemed like a stable career with good pay. When I was young, I enjoyed tinkering around with the PC and learning more about the software and hardware. I graduated and went to work for Intel right away. Incidentally, Intel just announced they are going to lay off 12,000 employees so this might be a chance for some of them to take a more meandering path. Whew, I’m glad I’m not around for another round of layoffs. This big layoff comes on the heel of 1,200 layoffs in 2015 and 5,500 in 2014. Yikes! They are “restructuring”… Yeah, right. They are just getting rid of highly paid employees and hiring cheaper, younger, smarter, and better looking engineers who don’t mind working 60+hours per week. /rant

Okay, back to my story. I changed jobs within Intel a few times, but the corporate environment turned out to be a bad fit for me. Luckily, I saved and invested since I started working so I had the option to retire early and go it alone. I’ve been a stay at home dad/blogger for 4 years now and I love it. I still have a lot of life left to live and I’m open to pretty much anything at this point. My journey from here on out will be circuitous.

Mrs. RB40’s Meandering Path

Mrs. RB40 on the other hand took a more meandering path to her current position. She studied Political Science in college. After she graduated, she joined the Peace Corps and worked in central Asia for about 3 years. She thought she would land a job with an international nonprofit or perhaps work in Washington, DC. Instead, after Peace Corps, she took some time off to tour SE Asia and eventually made her way to Portland. She substitute taught and worked at a temp agency for a few years before landing an admin job at Tektronix, a local tech company. Mrs. RB40 enjoyed that position for about 5 years and then got restless because there wasn’t much room for growth. Tektronix was in severe contraction by that point so it was time to move on.

She went back to get her Master’s degree and took on a few intern positions during that time. Once she graduated, she got a job as an HR specialist. She has been in HR for about 10 years now and it’s starting to get old.  Recently, she moved into a challenging position of workforce development, but the job itself is overreaching into other areas where she feels she cannot focus because she is being asked to cover so much. She is planning to retire by 2020. She’s not really sure what she would do after, but she would like to do something more creative, such as designing or developing workplace environments.

Early Retirement

So did you take a meandering path to where you are? I don’t think a straightforward path is the right way to go for most people. We’re just way too young to plan our life when we were 18. People change and interest wax and wane. I liked engineering when I was in my 20s, but I couldn’t care less about it now. The straight forward path does have some advantages. It’s easier to become an expert if you’re committed to it. I also think the pay is better if you go the straight forward route. Mrs. RB40 took a circuitous route to get where she is. Her income swung wildly for many years and it took a long time for her to make good income. Generally, I’m glad I did it my way. Earning a good income early enabled me to save and invest while I was still young. Compound interest is amazing when you start investing in your 20s.

How did you get where you are?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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53 thoughts on “Are You Taking the Meandering Path to a Fulfilling Life”

  1. I took the meandering path. Corporate actuary, consulting actuary, independent actuarial consultant, financial consultant to cemetery perpetual care funds, real estate investor, personal finance coach and author.

    The key to all of my career change decisions has been balancing my need to earn money with my interest in doing something interesting. As I have gotten older and become more financially secure, my interest in doing something interesting has taken more and more weight. However I have never ignored the income part either. For the most part, my income in $ per hour has steadily risen while my total income and leisure time has been more volatile. As long as I have significant savings, I enjoy leisure time when it comes and income when it comes.

    My current focus is being a fee only financial coach. Our mission is to help our clients never make an uninformed financial decision again. We help you avoid high commission, high cost financial products. Best wishes to you.

  2. I meandered. I was a poli sci major and worked abroad as well! I went back to school and made a partial career change at 34. If I’d stayed the same course and never changes jobs/cities, I would have a fabulous pension one day but not so much travel and life experience. I don’t regret it.

  3. Our situation is similar to yours too. I’ve taken a straight path while my SO has taken (and still is taking) the meandering path. I guess the most important thing is to be happy with your life, whichever route it is. So far I’m glad I still enjoy working at my job, although I’ve been thinking and planning a lot about investing for early retirement lately. It’s more about freedom rather than leaving something I hate. Just wish I had known about investing earlier so I’d be more prepared now.

  4. It’s weird, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher because it was the only career path I knew that would allow me to earn money and travel the world. Not that I don’t love teaching, but right now I’m really excited about focusing on online media and pursuing that. I remember hearing something like “there are easier ways to make money” and it really resonated with me. Yes, having money is great, but I want to earn more so I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from, so I can pursue what I’m most passionate about, which is helping people remove the stigma of money.

  5. I wanted to be an architect but didn’t have the artisitic skills nor was I able to pass calculus. I had a scholership but it was state funded and Reagan cut it when he became governor. So I went to Jr college, failed calculas, got a great paying job and traveled the western US for a few years. Got laid off, spaced out for a couple of years, went back to Jr College, failed calculus again, spaced out again. Went back to school and learned drafting, got married, and finally settled down. Now I’m ready to retire in a year. So I guess I meandered around until I got on a straight path.

  6. Interesting post! I took the straight path. My 8th grade teacher was great and he prepped his students for high school and for the real world. He met with each of his students and asked what are your interest? What do you want to become?

    In the late 70’s, my uncle was a computer programmer and I looked up to him. He explained what he did and I was interested. I had another uncle that was a doctor but I did not have the passion nor the grades for it. My parents, aunts/uncles were entrepreneurs and they started their own separate businesses but that was NOT for me. My parents worked 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week to provide for us and I appreciate that! I vowed to never work that hard if I am able to do so.

    At age 13 in 1977, I told my 8th grade teacher that I wanted to be a computer programmer. He was surprised. He researched and gave me a list of high schools and I picked one. At age 14, I purchased a Radio Shack and then an Apple computer to play around. I loved it right away. I enjoy upgrading them and I like programming. In the senior year of HS, I was finally able to take the computer class that teaches “basic” programming but I already learned that on my own years ago. My HS computer teacher asked what I want to become? He was surprised when I said a computer programmer. My 8th grade and now my HS teacher was surprised! Is this a good or bad surprised?

    As a teenager, I love cars and I thought about being a mechanic. I also love photography. I had a dark room in the basement with equipment passed down from my uncle. I developed mainly black and whites photos and some color photos. I was still focused on being a computer programmer. Why? My parents were too busy to ask me about what to be, or what HS or college to go to, or what to major in. As I reflect back, a lot of people shaped and molded me. It seems that at that young age I was already logical and practical. I knew that I can make money being a computer programmer and pay someone to fix my car so that I don’t have to be a mechanic. I knew that making a living as a photographer was differcult.

    While in HS, my uncle the programmer told me about a city college with a good Computer Science program. I went to that college, concentrated in math and science. Graduated and worked for a temp agency as I submitted resumes. My same uncle told me about a company that has a training program. I applied and I was hired. It was a 6 months training program to learn assembler, cobol and JCL. I have been in the same company now for 29 years. I started programming on the mainframe, then became a systems analyts, systems engineer and I now I support web sites. I hate being on call 24×7 for the last 27 years.

    6 years ago, we heard rumours of layoffs and we started our journey to save and cut expenses. For the last 5 years, we saved 85% of our income. My wife and I are 51 now and we became FI two years ago. We have tax free passive income that covers 133% of our expenses. Many of our co-workers have been eliminated are in panic mode now. We told them about the possibilities of layoffs 6 years and none of them took any action to prepare. Some of my co-workers that were eliminated are now following my plan to generate passive income. I reviewed their income and expenses and gave them a plan to became FI.

    Now, we will stay in the company until we reach 55 or to get a severance package. Although, we can walk out now and be financially OK, we want to stay in hopes to get medical coverage by retiring at 55 or from a package. Medical insurance is 20K per couple per year and That is a lot of money to pay out of pocket until age 65 for Medicare.

    We were part of a case study on this site. Thanks to the many RB40 readers that suggested we stay to 55 to double our pensions. Life always throws a curve ball and we rather play it safe to be more financially secure.

    Through the years, I learned that it is very important to listen to people that have your best interest. Keep your eyes open for changes and you need to adapt to survive. Generate passive income so that you don’t need a job any more.


    • Thank you for sharing. It’s great that you prepared for a layoff and helped some of your co-workers. The ones that didn’t prepare will be very stressed out soon. That’s unfortunate, but they should have planned ahead like you did. Good luck!

  7. I took the straight route. Hired directly out of college (bs in construction). 20 yrs later, I’m Vice President. Started making 25k, now making over 200k. Living in So Cal. I’ve been blessed. Once you get use to the salary, it’s hard to take the leap into something different.

    Got 1M saved for retirement. Certainly could / should save more given where we live. My goal is still to retire in 15 years when I hit 60 and my daughter is out of college. Perhaps sooner if we want to relocate to a more affordable area!

    • Nice!! There are a lot of places you could relocate and retire. Just about anywhere between you and the East coast would be less expensive 😉

  8. Hmm, a lot of engineering grads here. lol

    I graduated with an engineering degree (not in computer science/electrical) and then meandered for a few years until I grabbed an IT job in “big corporation”. After a year and a bit, my career in the company took off and am pretty much a lifer as I’ve been with them for about 2 decades now. What I’ve seen in my company is that you don’t necessarily have to have a degree in a prototypical field to become initially successful; I know of a really successful music major in my company. Good people skills and analytical skills can take a long way.

    I’m looking to retire in another 5 years or so. After a really crazy and fun first decade and a half, things are not as interesting to me any more. I think it’s rare to maintain a high level of passion for something for 10, 20 years because people change, the work environment changes, everything changes.

    I think it’s ok for kids to meander and find their way as long as they are building technical or soft skills particularly with there being some many more ways to earn money and become successful nowadays. But I’m sure personality plays into it too.

    • You’re right about maintaining your interest over the long term. Some people can do it, but I think most people get bored after 15 years. I think it’s okay for kids to meander a bit too, but don’t wait too long to start saving. 🙂

  9. I think I am in the middle of my meandering path, I can’t say for sure though. I will find out in a few years. I am 30 years old and I find myself rethinking my career choice and what I went to school for. I want to make sure I give myself a fair chance and explore all of my options in this industry first before I make any big changes. So far things are so so but I feel like there must be more to life. Blogging has really helped to stur up the creativity and joy in things again so I am greatful for that.

  10. The Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” is particularly apt here. Last verse:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
    I took the one less traveled by
    And that has made all the difference

    We left the UK about 20 years ago and have lived a great life and raised a family here in the US. We continue on our road and hope to take our less traveled one in a few years time to open up new and exciting things for our family.

  11. Hi Joe. Thanks for sharing yours and your wife’s journey. I’m not sure I would say you took a straightforward path, you took a path where most people wouldn’t go (save aggressively, work hard and invest young) so you can retire early.

    On the surface it looks like I took a boring path of becoming an engineer and moving up then moving into full time project management consulting over 14 year period and growing a family.

    In reality, During those same years, I’ve worked as a tutor, model, day trader, property manager, real estate investor, handy women, landlord, house cleaner, labourer, renovator, blogger, and real estate mentor – not all at the same time:)

    I’d say I took an interesting path and I love all of the experiences, good and bad.

    Life is an adventure and worth experimenting 🙂

  12. I’m not sure what you’d call my path, mostly straight with a little meandering, maybe? Depends on if you’re looking at my life or my career. I’ve been working or volunteering since I was nine. After high school, I went straight to college and worked all the way through to pay the bills (and the debt), then worked four jobs of different shapes and sizes but all in the same industry, up through now, fighting for every raise or promotion I earned in every job, so that I’m earning a real income now. I refused to let my liberal arts type degree hold me back from earning a respectable income 😉

    The road was full of obstacles and challenges, and I couldn’t take any of the cool risks like going to work for the gov’t with a friend’s recommendation, or working overseas, because I had to support my parents but I blogged the whole time so I have that to show for is 🙂

    Now the road is a little bit wider because we make better incomes and diligently saved enough that maybe my next choices can be less straightforward and more creative. For sure I don’t see myself spending the next fifteen years in the same job, even if I wasn’t really bored, my industry doesn’t work that way.

    • You worked hard and faced a lot of challenges so you have more choices now. That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I can’t really answer the poll, because it’s a bit of both for me!

    I grew up knowing that I was meant to work in healthcare. I got a bit sidetracked, and ended up studying music, with the intention of becoming a music teacher. I loved playing the piano, and thought it would be heaven to study it so intensely. It turned out to be very different than I expected, however (very competitive and nasty), and I HATED it. So after my first year, I switched majors, and ended up getting a degree in psychology. I loved it, but didn’t like the career options I would have had if I had continued on to a master’s and PhD, so I abandoned that course after obtaining my bachelor’s degree, and went on to study to be a Respiratory Therapist- back to healthcare, like I imagined when I was young!

    So I meandered for a while, but after I started working as an RT, things went pretty straight-forward- I have only had two employers in 18 years, and have been with my current employer for the last 16 years. I am restless, and looking around for change, but my field is saturated, and there aren’t many opportunities out there. I recently interviewed for a position in primary care, but the interview didn’t go very well, thanks to the fact that I came down with a nasty bug the night before. I did my best, though, and am hoping for a good outcome!

    • I hope you feel better soon and find a new position. RT seems like an in demand field. I didn’t know it was saturated. Good luck!

  14. Good write-up Joe. I think more people are taking the meandering path these days. Nothing is stable anymore, and corporate expectations are extremely high.

    For me, with $4k per month in dividend income, I can take whatever path I like. 😉

  15. College students aren’t supposed to have their lives all the way together. I wouldn’t want my (hypothetical/future) kid worrying about having the best healthcare coverage or shopping around for car insurance when the accounting exam is next week. I agree that parents do need to take a step back, but cutting the cord is a process which ideally should take years.

    A good meandering life path makes things more interesting. I feel sorry for people who have had a straight path, because for the most part that means that they only had one passion. That said, I don’t believe that you’ve had a straight path: at some point, your mentality changed pretty drastically, you reshuffled your priorities and passions equally drastically, and now you are on a completely different path than you were 5 years ago. 25-year old RB40 had a very different future than 40-year old RB 40.

    • Life is complicated, but college kids should know how to do laundry and schedule their days. It sounds like a lot of kids are completely helpless without their parents. I’m sure they’ll learn quickly.
      Life is more interesting now, that’s for sure. I was stuck in a rut for a long time and getting out felt fantastic. We need to change it up once in a while or else life gets too boring. Thanks for your comment.

  16. I randomly got a job at a law firm in college and I’m still working in the legal field 13 years later as a paralegal. Maybe some day I’m get tired of it but the good thing about law is it’s constantly evolving and there are so many different niches that I’ve worked in.

  17. Straight forward path here.. sort of.
    Chinese parents, so high school, to undergrad, then Masters.
    Luckily our parents allowed us to choose our own Subjects.
    Luckily I chose Engineering.
    Unluckily graduated end of 2008. Found a job refurbishing Xboxes (read: cleaning), minimum wage, at night.
    Luckily found a real job 2 years later.

    I think that going straight from high school to undergrad to Masters is not inherently bad. But just school can lead to resiliency problems. Especially if the kid is smart, gets good grades, no behaviour problems, never fails, never falls down, so never needs to get back up. That’s where I feel the extracurricular events need to come in. Sports, martial arts, they will lose, do not let them quit.

    The line that stayed with me most from that book. [paraphrased, I don’t know it verbatim]
    “What your kids can do .. don’t do for them.
    What your kids can almost do .. don’t do for them.”

    • Oh man, that’s tough. Timing is always tricky. Extracurricular activities are a great way to foster resiliency. Our kid hate to lose and he doesn’t handle it well. We definitely need to work on that. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I guess it depends when you start the clock. I started college as a pre-med but ended up with a graduate degree in mechanical engineering after three changes in major induced by scholarship offers (my policy was to always take the largest stipend). But once I finished school and started work, it was a straight shot since, I only moved departments once over the past three decades. And I don’t follow the money any more.

    My job title hasn’t changed but my work content shifted around because I’d rather spend my time doing stuff that’s important to the business even if I don’t know much about it going in. Fortunately we don’t play a rigorous zone defense like your former employer, instead we encourage people to stretch. And we measure output by-team, not by-individual, so it’s more important to join a well-run high-performing group that needs your particular talent rather than trying to be a person who does it all. I think this informal meandering has made my work life more interesting. Especially the part about not being forced into management!

    I agree completely that it’s unfair to expect an 18 year old to accurately map out his or her future decades ahead– but this is exactly what we do when we collect their signatures on huge student loans. Any mis-step vs plan and the cost to their future self could be immense. That’s why I think the burden of secondary education should be pooled across Team USA, along with a share of the rewards.

  19. My wife had more of a straightforward path than I did, but mine wasn’t exactly meandering. She went to engineering school and then worked for 3 years in project management. I had a 180 career change a couple years after college when I began my 5 years of working in the Oil & Gas industry. We’re testing out early retirement now by traveling abroad, but aren’t sure what we’ll be doing a year from now. There could be a lot of meandering in our future 🙂

  20. My story is pretty similar to yours. I took a straight path (mostly). I declared my major at the beginning of college and stuck with it through grad school. I struggled a bit to find a job, but once I did, I strove to achieve promotions and more responsibilities. Now, I could care less about my profession. I am eager to start a meandering path because I believe that is where real growth happens. And real life. I don’t know what I’ll be in retirement, but I like the comfort knowing I won’t lose much if I fail.

    • Good luck on your journey. I think I hit my ceiling too early in my career. I got promotions early on and topped out my pay grade pretty quickly. Thanks for sharing.

  21. I didn’t meander very much. I didn’t have any student loans so when I graduated all I wanted was to work for someone nice in a stable company that provided good benefits. In college I studied communication because I didn’t like math and I thought that would be the most opposite choice. I’ve been working as a secretary for the same company and for the same person for the past 20 years. I’ve never been the type of person who wanted to climb the corporate ladder. Before that I worked 6 years on capital hill for CSPAN but hated the long hours covering congress.

  22. Intel seems leaderless right now. I searched Intel layoffs and every year came up in the completion string except two out of the last ten?!? 1200 layoffs in 2014, 5500 in 2015, 12000 in 2016 and yet they are campaigning for more H1B’s since they can’t find qualified candidates?

    • It’s probably similar in other high tech corporations. Engineers are replaceable now and it’s cheaper to hire new grads who will work a ton of hours. I think Intel’s problem is with their execution. They can’t get much done because there are so many meeting and inertia.

  23. It would be hard to see your kids fail or take too difficult of a path in life, but it is helpful to remember that it builds character and fortitude. I might check that book out, thanks.

    Both my wife and I had relatively straightforward paths in life. Did decent in school, got good jobs after, advanced our careers successfully. Not that our paths were easy or handed to us though.

    The Green Swan

    • The book is good in parts. I speed read through a lot of it.
      As a parent, it’s natural to help your kids. However, we do too much for them these days. I’m trying to step back and let our kid have more independence and responsibilities.

  24. When I finished school I had no idea about what I wanted to do. I was offered a job at a bank, and thinking that it might be a good opportunity to learn about money, joined and stayed there for the next 36 years. Over the years things changed at the bank, stress levels increased and they just got a little too greedy for me. It`s hard to leave a well paying job but my health was suffering and one day I just decided it was time to try something else because I did not want any more regrets in my life. To be honest I should have left sooner and that is what my new book is all about, the mistakes that I made and things I learned about myself near the end of my corporate career. I`m hoping the book will help other boomers find the courage to exit a job that they no longer enjoy and also to help my kids create a good game-plan for their working career so they do not waste as much time as me trying to figure things out.

      • Yes I do because now it`s my path and most times I`m pleasantly surprised where it takes me and the interesting people that I meet along the way. Life is pretty interesting when you are able to slow done the pace and appreciate things for what they are.

  25. I think that I’ve taken some sharp turns. I had no idea that my job after college even existed until I interviewed for it. Then I thought that I’d stick around. The tech and healthcare industries are growing leaps and bounds at the moment, and I was right at the intersection of both. I ended up leaving, and now I’m in an industry that didn’t really exist before 2009 as an entrepreneur. There’ve been sharp curves, but I’m young and I can handle anything that happens.

    When you talked about grit, I wondered how much having immigrant parents (as I do) impacts/impacted the amount of grit a kid has. Your dad is especially entrepreneurial, and so is mine, so I grew up watching my parents work pretty hard. I remember being 11 years old and watching other kids get paid $50 for every A that they got on their six-week report card. Meanwhile, my mom would just give me a “good job” for a report card of straight A grades.

    • Thanks for sharing. Seeing your parents going through tough time is good for your grit. You can always fall back to – my parents had it tougher than this, and push on. Good luck with your business!

  26. I have been at the same company for about 5 years now and held 4 different positions (I started out as entry level and definitely didn’t want to stay in customer support). I may be too curious to stay on the “straightforward” path but admire people that know what they want to do and do it well.

  27. I think as long as we found our way onto the right path, then that’s the main thing. Everyone will start on some path, hopefully we wander onto the right path. Some people are lucky enough to be on the right path at the start.

    I didn’t know what I wanted to do at 18, yet everyone is expected to take the qualifications for their future career path. If you think you want to be a doctor at 15 years old, then by the time you’ve done everything at age 25, what if you don’t like it? I imagine a lot of people press on, even if they are going to be unhappy doing that.

    I know what I want to do. I want to help Australia see that you don’t have to work until 65 to achieve financial independence. You don’t have to work in a job that makes you happy, when you can work towards one doing exactly what you want. I want to prove to Australia (and the world) that it’s possible to become wealthy on a moderate income.


    • You’re right. It’s tough to ignore the time investment that you put into a career. Your goal is very ambitious. It’s good to shoot for the moon when you’re young. Good luck!


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