Thoughts on Avoiding Ivory Tower Syndrome

Erik Personal Development and Lifestyle 6 Comments

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Ever since selling my house a few weeks ago, I’ve been a little bit down. Naturally, I’m a happy and upbeat person, but it seems a few things are weighing on me.

After selling my house, the sale proceeds I received equated to multiple years of expenses.

Multiple years of expenses is an incredible runaway if I wanted to leave work (and trust me, I do want to leave work – I’ve been wanting to quit my job since 2017, but haven’t taken the leap yet.)

Now that I’ve sold my house and moved to a different area of town, I also have a new perspective on how others are living.

Specifically, living in a nice part of Minneapolis, close to Downtown, there is a huge spectrum of wealth on display – from multi-million dollar houses to homeless camps under bridges.

I want to discuss this new perspective, but haven’t had the opportunity with friends. I also want to discuss some bigger picture ideas about financial and educational institutions, and friends don’t always share those same interests.

Luckily, with this blog and platform, I can write and ask for guidance from you and other followers.

In this post, I’m going to change it up with talking about some thoughts I’m experiencing in life right now, and ask for feedback and suggestions.

7 Years of Action and Planning to Now What?

In 2012, I was sitting at my desk while working as a bookkeeper. I started researching “how to make money”, “how to invest” and “how to get rich”, and started to learn about all of the ways to become wealthy.

Seeing what my dad has been able to do in his career, and I was inspired to do the same.

I told myself, “I want to create an incredible financial foundation for my future family, and give myself options down the road to take risks and live my best life.”

At the time, I was making $12 an hour and still in school.

While I didn’t have the means to invest, my foundation of knowledge was built.

In the spring of 2013, I graduated college at the end of my 3rd year, and jumped straight into a Master’s program.

With my goal of building wealth, I decided it would make sense to pursue a career in finance, and with a Master’s I’d set myself up for success.

Fast forward two years to the spring of 2015, and I had landed my first real job before graduation.

Now, it was time to apply my knowledge, increase my income, and get on the path to financial freedom.

You Have Money, Congrats! Now What?

Since getting my first real job, I’ll be honest, I’ve knocked it out of the park.

In 4 years, I’ve done the following with my career and money:

  • increased my salary from $63,000 to $104,000
  • bought a house, house hacked, and sold the house
  • saved my money at a savings rate at 50%+ and invested in a diversified set of assets
  • started this blog
  • met with hundreds of students from the college I went to provide mentoring and advice
  • created, ran and then quit a subscription box company
  • started working with a statistical consulting company for $85 an hour
  • learned web design and have helped multiple small businesses and blogs with their web sites
  • launched Personal Finance Blogs to provide a central hub for everything personal finance blogs

Sitting here today, I look back and I’m incredibly proud of all of this. With the sale of my house, my connections and networks, and my investments and savings, I’m in a great financial position at the age of 27.

In the last 7 years, I’ve done more than I ever imagined I could achieve and am grateful for this.

With all of this, what does it matter if I’m not living authentically and fulfilling my calling and purpose?

Am I successful in my own mind if I’m not happy or satisfied with my work?

Here I’m going to revisit my purpose and discuss some other thoughts I’m dealing with.

Revisiting My Purpose

Back in 2015, when I started learning about intentional living, I came across the concept of having a purpose.

With a purpose, or a why, I have a foundation for my actions.

One of my favorite quotes which relates to this is from Friedrich Nietzsche:

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

My purpose is the following:

Through helping others and building things, I find fulfillment in my life.

I still feel incredibly strongly about this statement since writing it a few years ago, but how my purpose manifests itself in my life has evolved over time.

Helping others is incredibly important to me. My love language is acts of service, and I find joy and excitement from giving.

Building things, problem solving, and creating something where nothing was before give me life.

In my life currently, I’m able to help others through this blog and web design business. For building things, I’m creating content for this blog, building websites for clients, writing code and creating programs at work, and working on my health and body.

However, I’m feeling like there is a gap, and not enough overlap between these two missions.

The Point of Having Money

Taking a slight detour here, I want to discuss the true point of having money.

The point of having money is to create options for yourself to do what you want, when you want, where you want.

There is no point of having money if you aren’t using it to improve your general well-being (however you define this).

What I mean here is there is no point to having money if you are miserable and/or unfulfilled in your work, relationships, health, etc.

If I made $250,000 a year, but was overweight, alone and depressed, this wouldn’t be a good life.

Instead, I would look to use that money to:

  • Invest in nutrition and exercise to improve my body
  • Join clubs to socialize with others who share the same interests as I do
  • Address the depression with whatever makes sense – therapy, prescriptions, etc.

For me, now that I have a solid financial situation, I’m staring out into the abyss of future Erik and saying, now what?

This year, I’ve been focusing on my health and have gotten back into shape with biking, walking, rock climbing, and bodyweight exercises.

I’ve been going out more and meeting people, but still am working on finding a potential wife.

Finally, I’m at a place where maybe it makes sense to consider a career change.

With all of these thoughts though, I want to talk about something which I’m also struggling with and need to consider: the Ivory Tower Syndrome.

Avoiding the Ivory Tower Syndrome

Being in the personal finance space, and also working at a bank, I have to work on avoiding the Ivory Tower Syndrome.

What’s the Ivory Tower Syndrome?

The Ivory Tower Syndrome is “living an impractical life removed from the pressures and troubles of everyday life”.

Politicians and career academics are often accused of living this sort of life, but I think anyone can fall susceptible to this syndrome (including me).

Writing about personal finance, and being friends with many successful people, I have to remind myself many people struggle with money, debt and finding their way in their career.

Many of my co-workers send their kids to private school, live in massive houses, and drive nice cars.

I have to remind myself, this is not normal.

With this said, as I alluded to in the introduction, on my bus ride to work, I see many people who are struggling or just getting by.

There’s a transit station on the bus line I take and whenever the bus passes, I’ll see some homeless people, or other people who look worn down and need help.

It hurts me, but I’m not sure how to help.

Downtown, I’m asked for money at least once a week.

Sometimes I’ll give some money, other times, I won’t.

While I don’t know what their existence is like, I’m trying to understand it and work to better my perspective.

Being Authentic and Transparent

What’s an opinion or viewpoint you hold as a truth, but don’t openly share?

Over the past 18 months, I’ve been down some very interesting rabbit holes with regards to understanding the economy, understanding money, and thinking about the future.

Last July, I did a series of posts addressing these thoughts. This series concluded with an article called “Better to Be a  Year Early than an Hour Late” (you can get to all of the other posts through that post – there’s a list in the middle of the article).

A viewpoint I hold and believe is true is the economy is headed for trouble, and many people are not prepared for what is to come.

I have no idea the timing of this and will not provide a prediction.

With this said though, I have to share some thoughts to be transparent and authentic with you.

Off the Deep End We Go! (or maybe not)

The following are my personal opinions. You may think I’m off the deep end, or you might think these are rational – either way, to be authentic, it’s important I share.

The three things I want to share here are my thoughts on political risk, financial markets, and personal preparation.

Thoughts on Political Instability

First, I would not say political risk right now is stable.

Look at the United States – you have a huge group of people who hate the current president, and another group who worships the current president. Both sides seem incapable of compromise and understanding.

In addition to this, you have tensions with China and Iran, as well as domestic tensions with different terror groups (Anitfa, white nationalists, etc.).

Next, look at Europe, there are many countries with a lot of change and dissent occurring towards politicians and institutions.

Finally, look at the Hong Kong riots.

Yes, tensions have existed before, but the past ten years have been relatively peaceful – these events in 2019 are more than we are used to.

Thoughts on Financial Markets

Next, I believe the global financial markets are incredibly fragile. The narrative for the last ten years has been “central banks are in control and everything is progressing fine.”

This narrative is unraveling – long term interest rates are heading towards 0% or negative, and this is far from healthy.

In addition, growth is decreasing, and to keep the bubbles inflated (yes, there are many bubbles out there), central banks will have to take on more radical monetary policies (which will not work – see Japan)

Another point here is social security, state and city pensions are underfunded and one market crash will bring huge trouble. This will lead to political dissent and suffering for many people who depend on these.

Finally, there’s also the shale oil bubble which could be potentially disastrous (both financially and environmentally) given we need oil to make the commerce happen.

All of these do not paint a rosy financial picture, whereas many mainstream financial advisers ignore all of these to continue collecting fees on their recommendations.

Thoughts on Personal Preparation

Finally, many people are completely oblivious and unprepared for a turn of events. I’m talking about prepared mentally (in terms of mental health), physically (in terms of physical health) and financially (in terms of emergency fund, potentially food, and other supplies.)

The recession during 2008 was incredibly tough, and some people are still feeling the after effects.

These are my thoughts, and I’m struggling with how to help others.

While this was quite negative, if I don’t share these thoughts, I’m not being true to myself or true to you.

Even though I have these thoughts, I believe you and I both have the potential to do anything you set your mind to. I believe that in adversity, we can emerge victors with the proper preparation and knowledge.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you – let’s move on to something positive and talk about the next steps for me fulfilling my purpose.

How Should I Think about Helping Others?

I rambled a little bit in the last section (or maybe a lot).

Considering my purpose, I’m at a crossroads with my thoughts.

Seeing many people in need, and also considering many people who I believe will be in need, there’s a lot of work to do.

Am I the right person to do it? Should I focus on helping others in a specific demographic or niche? How should I go about this?

There’s a lot of questions I have to think about and try to answer.

I started this blog as an outlet to share, teach, and inspire.

I’ve accomplished this and have helped a number of people who have sent me great emails.

I absolutely love getting emails and seeing how others are going through life.

Maybe I could start offering coaching? What about volunteering at career centers or schools? Maybe it involves being more open in my interactions and looking to discuss more in my every day conversations. Possibly it involves continuing to push on this blog and grow my online presence.

There’s a lot to think about and consider.

Next Steps and Fulfilling My Purpose

I’m not sure what the next steps in my journey are.

Maybe it’s an unpaid leave from work, maybe it’s me quitting, maybe it’s me gutting it out for another few years – I’m not sure.

I have a lot of thoughts, and am feeling better after writing this post, but need to reflect and think more about what I truly want.

I would appreciate any feedback and thoughts you have, but at the end of the day, I realize any decisions are 100% on me to figure out.

Readers: what is your purpose? How do you avoid the Ivory Tower Syndrome? Where are you at in your journey and what do the next steps look like for you? 

Erik

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Comments 6

  1. Have you considered getting involved in the local community? Since my wife and I moved to a new house I have been active in the neighborhood association board. There is a lot of work going on at even local neighborhood level that you might be able to participate in. This can be a great way to connect with the community. As an added bonus I have noticed that the more I have gotten involved with the local work, the less attention I pay to larger economy and politics. Additionally, I have realized I am frequently so consumed with my bubble of co-workers and friends, who all tend to be like me, that its great to actually stop, listen and connect in person with people who have different viewpoints and backgrounds and goals. (but united in caring about the neighborhood) Even better that its about something extremely local that can impact my daily life or those around. For me having the in person interaction is also a good change of pace from the computer/internet based work/reading that I typically do!

    1. Post
      Author

      I appreciate the comment and suggestion! I have considered it but haven’t taken the next steps towards doing so 🙂

      Going local definitely interests me, and I totally agree with you that it will be beneficial to get involved in the community. At this point, and maybe this wasn’t spelled out as clearly in the article, I’m trying to figure out what makes sense in terms of organization and group to get involved with.

      One of the books I read last summer talked about the importance of community with regards to the thoughts I mentioned above. At the same time, I want to be active and help at maybe even a smaller (or bigger) level. So finding tutoring or mentoring in the community could make sense, rather than a board.

      Lots to think about!!

  2. Im right there with you. My job has become stale and I have found myself just sitting there waiting for someone to notice the lack of work I do. However, periodically when I am pulled into a project I offer my two cents (what I would view as common sense) and I am heaped with praise. Both my pay and benefits are phenomenal so walking away to do something more satisfying is a tough ask.

    I fired up a blog (which I admit is sparse at the moment) but have struggled to start any other side hustles because they don’t add enough to the bottom line (relative to our current household income). If we do go into a market downturn and I get laid off, I will likely regret not using this time to start something new or seek out additional work at the office.

    Ironically, one of the most satisfying things I have done lately is to log into personal finance message boards (reddit) and spend an hour or so answering some basic personal finance questions. It’s small, but it helps someone.

    Let me know when you figure it out so I can as well.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks Dave for the comment! I appreciate you stopping by to share your situation.

      It’s really interesting. I do think it makes sense to balance the day job and great income in the short term with a solid financial foundation in the medium and long term – but I’m not sure when that balance should end and you pursue something more meaningful 🙂

      I’ll let you know what I think when it comes to that time!

      Erik

  3. I’ve always felt as though a big part of early retirement is giving back.

    Whatever it is doesn’t matter but if you retire early without provisioning something for charity, you did it wrong. Either your time or some extra passive income to pay for something.

    Exactly what you do to help is an interesting topic for another day though 😛

    1. Post
      Author

      You hit the nail on the head – definitely important to make sure you have some money allocated for giving after you’ve “made” it.

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