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Success and Failure: My Journey through Education, Career and Homeownership

My story is technically more about failure than about actual success. When you look back you only see my achievements, but the important parts are weaved in between the times I was told “no” or when I decided to quit.

When I look back, I can see how my life has grown to what is it today, and all of the lessons and habits I’ve picked up along the way. I live in a world where I am pulled upward by failure, and consider it an important part of my story. However, I know there are those who are pulled down by their failures, and it weighs heavy on them, so this is written for them. For you.

This is written for anyone who is starting out or trying to figure out what’s next. This is written for me to reflect, and I hope it encourages you to reflect as well.

I got my degree in three years.

I graduated a year early. But what people don’t know was that I had applied for a dual BA/MS 5 year program that same year, and didn’t get in. To be fair, my grades were not the best, and I wasn’t an impressive candidate on paper.

However, I adjusted my plans and decided the best thing for me to do was to graduate as soon as possible and find a full time job. Whatever I lacked in school (on paper), I more than made up on the job, and I was looking forward to the start of my career. If I wasn’t going to be exceptional in school then I needed job experience, and a good professional network.

To make my plan work I crammed a full year’s worth of courses into one summer – two summer sessions. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I worked part-time at a bank for a total of 25-30 hours per week. Tuesdays and Thursdays I would take my final 6 classes, 3 per day, 3 hours each, back to back for a total of 9 hours per day with no break. 

Although I accomplished my goal of finishing school a year early, it was 2009 and we were still in a recession. There were some jobs, but I couldn’t find a job that I thought fit my salary goals. Some would say I was being unrealistic and expecting too much, but as an economics major, I placed a lot of value on making the most of the cost of my degree. I didn’t give up.

At 21, I got accepted into a Master’s program.

When I couldn’t find a job, I adjusted again. My plan was to get into a Master’s program with financial aid, and transfer to a bank near my school to continue working part-time. I would then use my school’s network to get an internship or an entry-level program at an established company.

I got accepted into an Economics Finance program, but the manager at the bank location I tried transferring to never replied to my request even though there was an open position. Oh well. It worked out in the end because almost immediately, I landed a paid internship at Morgan Stanley in Wealth Management. To top it off, I was getting straight As in the first two trimesters of my program.

My first full-time job had a $50K starting salary.

Throughout grad school and my internship, I was constantly searching and interviewing for a full-time job. If the goal was a career, I wanted to start now, and figure out how to make school work around it. And boy, if I had time I could tell you about some crazy job scams out there targeting college students.

One day I saw a job posting for the bank I used to work for. It was a rotational analyst program for their Commercial Lending division. I remembered a VP from HQ had mentioned a program like this when he visited the bank where I had worked part-time. At the time we met, he told me if I ever needed anything to reach out and gave me his card. I kept the card, and connected with him on LinkedIn. I was so glad I did that.

This was when I learned to take people up on their offers to help, to connect, to have lunch…which is how I came to have a business lunch with a multi-millionaire once. But that’s a story for another time.

Do you remember the Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man”? It’s like that. Do that, but please don’t join a cult.

I contacted him and set up a call to ask him about the program. From there, he connected me with a banker that recently graduated from the two-year program. He gave me details about the role and his experience, and afterwards, I quickly decided to apply. I interviewed and got the job. This was the first time I realized the power of connecting with people.

At 22, I bought my first home.

With a full-time job, I switched all of my classes to evenings and began focusing on my next goal: buying a home. I read Kiplinger for tips on personal finance, and read everything and anything I could find on mortgages and first-time home-buying. Debt-to-income, down payment, FHA programs…I took notes on everything. This experience would later make a significant impact on my career path.

Next, I calculated my hypothetical mortgage payment, including HOA dues, taxes and insurance. I started to save that exact amount (less the rent I was currently paying). The savings would be my funds for downpayment and closing costs, and also it would prove to myself that I could afford my future housing costs.

It didn’t take long before I had enough. I even got a small gift from my parents (it wasn’t easy, but I made a good case about it being an investment) so that I had a little cushion and didn’t completely empty out my account.

I got declined with a couple of lenders, but kept trying until I found a mortgage broker that was able to make an exception on my short employment history. The fact that I had a consistent part-time work history in the same industry (banking and finance), and was in school (in the same field) with no gaps actually helped.

Finally, in 2011, I closed escrow on a condo.

Side note: short-sales are painful, and people are jerks. The previous owner trashed the place.

Fast forward…

  • Around 2011/2012, I dropped out of the Master’s program because the commute of my full-time job, my school and my new home had me arriving home at midnight every night, and left very little time for self-care, homework and studying. I made a decision at the time to cut my losses and focus on my well-being and my career. It all worked out in the end because fast forward to 29, I had obtained my MBA with an emphasis in Marketing. It’s funny how your interests change over time. It was good that I waited. I got so much more out of my MBA classes because of my work experience.
  • The value of my first home increased significantly in three years, so I was able to sell it to place a down payment on a bigger home with my husband at the age of 25. And from there we quickly filled the home with family – our kids were born and raised there.

What is Success?

The point of this is that everything looks successful when you look back and pick out the highlights. You forget all about the failures. Remember that when you read profiles on CEOs and founders of start-up companies. Life has both ups and downs, and we tend to draw a linear line across only the points of success (the ups).

What’s important to building your life’s story is to constantly adapt and adjust your plan to get to your next goal. Attack your goals with confidence and be relentless. It’s okay to quit, if you quit with a plan.

You should know that I didn’t include any criticisms I received from friends and family in my story. Mainly because I never took what they said seriously, and also because I believe that people truly try to help. Unfortunately, people can only help with the things they know or think they know.

In contrast, I’ve lived my life believing I can do anything if I had a plan. My actions are solely focused on achieving things that I want — things other people don’t believe are possible for them. I know obstacles exist, I just don’t care. And with that, on to the next thing 🙂

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