I started at McDonald's when I was 17 years old in the hopes of saving up and buying a car. Sadly, this was just about my only significant financial goal for the next 10 years of my life outside of trying to save up for an ounce to save on weed money. I did what a lot people seem to do today, live life by the minute. I watched tons of shows and put thousands of hours into video games. I worked as little as possible. I'd snicker at everyone and have my stupid little lines when people would point out my lack of career progress. "I work to live, not live to work, man!" In my entire 10 years at McDonald's, I had a surprising amount of opportunity for advancement. I met my best friend here, we started the same week and forged our friendship on the heat of the grease traps, side by side. The difference was, he actually had a little bit of ambition.
The Golden Arches of Opportunity? Or just a place to forget about your potential?
Within a year, he was technically my boss as a crew chief. Not much responsibility, not much of a pay raise either, but he proved himself. Within another year he was a shift manager. I was making $7.35 because minimum wage had just gone up. So, after 2 years, I was still only making minimum wage. He had a $2 an hour raise and was up to $9.50 or so. No big deal I told myself, it's not worth the hassle and who wants to work 40 hours a week at a bullshit job anyway?
This would continue to be a pattern. Every year or other year he would get some sort of promotion, and I would stay exactly where I was. He was an assistant manager making $36k annually, then a store manager making $50k after bonuses. He had finally made it I thought. He'd come in and everyone would try to look busy, and I'd just watch him walk back to the office while scraping the grease off the grill for the millionth time. I still continued to delude myself into thinking I was happy as I raced home as soon as possible after a 3-hour shift so I could get back to doing pretend work in my virtual escape.
Some lived their lives in the real world, I avoided it as much as possible.
We still got along great, even hung out after work sometimes still. But his next promotion brought him out of the store and we lost touch around this time. As an area supervisor his pay went up considerably, I never asked what exactly, but he had a company car, and all the benefits you can shake a stick at. Meanwhile, it'd been 8 years or so and I was barely making $8.50 an hour and working 20 hours a week still.
The Bitcoin Bubble
Then I got my first break seemingly on a whim in mid-2017. I had been following Bitcoin off and on for years and noticed somewhat early on it was taking off. I started working a few more hours just so I could buy more bitcoin. I bought a total of about $1,000 and made over 10x that. Then I invested in some smaller alt-coins at the right time and made another 10x. For the first time in my life, I experienced financial success. Video games no longer mattered; I had found a new game and it was a lot more rewarding. I spent all my free time researching investment strategies for cryptocurrency. Then it all came crashing down.
It may not have ended well, but it lit a spark of hope in me.
So I had made capital gains of over $100,000. Awesome right? Well, it would have been if I hadn't lost half of it thinking the market would pick back up. And you owe taxes on the full gains even if you lose half of it. You might think still have about $50k, and I would have if I hadn't spent all but about $5,000 on renting a nice house, weed, prostitutes (I'm not even proud of this, if you'd seen the quality in my area you wouldn't be either), clothes, and the beefiest home computer money could buy. I had made $100,000 in the matter of a couple of months, I went a little nuts okay? So $5,000, that's plenty to pay your taxes right? At my current financial status, I'd be homeless in 3 months because my rent was way more than I could afford.
At least come April the IRS would have a difficult time finding me in my cardboard box.
I had some work to do. Making money on cryptocurrency investments was seemingly over, so I looked to traditional investments. I opened a Robinhood account and was doing okay. It's very different from the wild days of Bitcoin though, no 1,000% gains in a matter of weeks. I was lucky to get 5%, and my McDonald's wages were laughable as always. This just wasn't going to cut it, at this rate I'd be in jail in a couple of years for not paying taxes…
So I had a new set of skills, maybe I could take advantage of it. I was actively making money on investments and I had learned so much in the last year about investing. I was much more familiar with the jargon and I could actually hold a conversation about the subject. I knew more about investing than anyone else I knew personally, at least. Then I took these skills and did some research for jobs in my area on this job search site. I was amazed to see the kind of salary I could get with some of the skills I had been working on.
- Senior investment support specialist $120k salary
- Wealth management client service leader $95k
- Associate Wealth Management Advisor $80k-$100k.
Digging My Way Out of this Hole
It took me a few weeks to put this together in my head. At first, I thought "Okay, I'll go to Community College and then transfer to the university and in a few years I can get one of these trainee positions at Wells Fargo." Then I remembered Uncle Sam was lingering overhead with the $20k that I owed him. I didn't have time to do things the right way. So I did things a different… way.
I planned it all out. I got my Master of Finance degree in about 2 weeks for $180 from this company that prints diplomas. I was actually really impressed by the quality and customization options. They pretty much put whatever you tell them you want on it, so I made sure to do some research and put something that will hold up to a little scrutiny. I really considered just making a website for a private university, so I put together a limited budget and a list of things I'd need and went to have a few web designers bid on it. I was informed by a really nice team that this wasn't really a possibility since getting a .edu site isn't going to work. I was pleasantly surprised because if the tables were turned, I can't say I wouldn't have tried to milk me for every dime I had.
I spent all my free time taking courses on Skillshare and read some highly recommended books from Charlie Munger that I found on /r/investing. I was absolutely determined to pass myself off as someone who had years of education and experience in the field. I even watched the movie "Catch Me If You Can".
I just had to act as if I belonged, nobody would know. Right?
Then I shifted my focus, I was sure I had the basic know how to pass myself off as an "expert". Now I needed to just wow them into not digging too deep. I needed to have a stellar resume, knock their socks off in the interview, and the part I hadn't figured out yet believable references. I used this site to make a really nice looking resume. I didn't hold back on my qualifications either. I was going all out and presenting myself as the perfect candidate, well deserving of the position and the salary it commands.
The professional references problem was actually the biggest wall I hit. At first, I thought I could have my friends do it, but they're all a bunch of McDonald's lifers like me and it would be immediately obvious they weren't the executives they were supposed to be. I thought about having my area supervisor friend help, but he'd only be 1 guy and we weren't as close anymore. It's actually asking a lot of people. Then I found a site that does exactly this as a service. I was skeptical at first, thinking they probably weren't native English speakers, or wouldn't sound any more professional than my friends would. So I reached out and asked if we could do a call to get a feel for them. They gave me the number, a US number I might add, and I called. A young woman picked up and answered "Office of Mr. Suchandsuch, how can I help you?" I smiled ear to ear, I knew then and there I might just be able to pull this thing off!
I finally felt confident about it all and I really needed this confidence boost, because I was about to be sitting in a room with lifelong professional investors and convince them to give me a hundred grand a year when I spent the night before cleaning puke in the bathroom at the McDonald's across town.
So to give myself the best chance, I knew I was going to have to apply to a lot of places. I submitted my resume for over 50 different positions and I got interviewed at well over half of them. I halfway expected to not get any calls at all, I thought "Surely it can't be this easy to become an executive investment consultant." So I rented a nice suit for all the days I was interviewing, I actually had a hard time keeping track of which places I had to be at and when. One day I went to 4 different interviews. I rented a nice suit and hoped no one would see me get out of my 20-year-old beater car. I interviewed at banks, investment firms in tall buildings, and even remotely for smaller angel investment groups.
I like to think I looked like Saul Goodman with my nice suit and awful car.
Then it happened. I got my first conditional job offer. I was already thinking about how I could negotiate the salary while I was reading the offer then it hit me like a sack of bricks. "This conditional job offer is extended to Gary Newman, it's contingent upon the candidate successfully passing the background check. Background information such as criminal and driving history, plus credit reports for some jobs will help to determine if the candidate is qualified to do the work." My stomach sank, I'm going to jail, "There's no way I'm going to get a job or pay all these taxes." I told myself. My first thought was to run, the guy from Catch Me If You Can managed to stay on the run for years and years, no that's stupid. Don't fold your hand just yet. Only one so far has said anything about a background check.
So I called them and withdrew my application explaining I had taken another offer that I couldn't pass up. They understood, and I hoped they wouldn't take it any further. So for every place that said anything about a background check, I just withdrew my application and thanked them for their time. It was far from a perfect solution, but my back had been against the wall for so long now I was starting to get used to it. I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, I was so stupid for not thinking about background checks. Surely all of them would do them, right? They're cheap and it weeds out little scumballs like me.
Laziness Creeps Up Even the Tallest Towers
Lucky for me I was wrong. Not even half of the companies I applied for did background checks or if they did, they didn't do it very thoroughly. I was flabbergasted. So I negotiated with the 6 job offers I ended up with, out of over 50 that I applied to. I was very happy with the numbers, especially with the salary I was being offered. I negotiated up to $105,000. Not bad considering the year before I had pulled in a whopping $7,000.
I saved as much as I could and worked as hard as I could. This whole experience had taught me so much. With enough effort, it's pretty incredible the kinds of things you can pull off. I still sweat every day thinking someone is going to find out and I'm going to lose it all even though it's been over a year. I just tell myself all I can do is work hard and try to be so valuable that they won't care if they ever do find out. And who knows? Maybe this writing thing will help me write a book while I'm in prison. For now though, when the couple of closest friends who know the story of how I went from a burger flipper to an investment executive overnight ask me how Vandelay Industries is? I tell them in my best Costanza impression: "I can't complain!"