Back in 1982 Wisconsin a young man could legally belly up to the bar on his 18th birthday. That didn’t stop me from getting a jump start on adulthood.
In my later years of high school there were several rural bars where the owners could care less how old I was. The police rarely showed up (they never showed up when I was there, but I heard stories) and the penalties were light if caught selling to minors.
So I unwound after a long week of farm labor and sloughing off at school with a cold one in Brothertown. I drove the distance to tip a brew with my buddy, Ken.
Ken turned 18 our senior year and he promptly dropped out of school. My grades improved immediately. Ken and I were as thick as ticks on a hound, but I was starting to grow up while Ken was dropping out.
Our friendship faded with distance. Alcohol still played a large role in my life.
I met a young lady in a place called Quinney. It’s not really a town. More like a curve in the highway with a turnoff to the shore of Lake Winnebago.
The part about Quinney was it was on the way to Brothertown. Now with Ken fading into the distance I sometimes took a right turn toward Lake Winnebago and a bar called Chuck and Sue’s.
The name (Chuck and Sue’s) has meaning since my engagement to my high school sweetheart ended when she settled into another man’s arms and I eventually met Mrs. Accountant who happens to be named Sue.
(HEY, EVERYBODY! The accountant guy let slip his wife’s name. Y’all gotta see this.)
Sorry about that. Nobody remember Mrs. Accountant’s name so she can keep some privacy. I promise to never say it again (here).
My consumption of alcohol was getting out of control as I clawed toward the age of majority. There were nights I don’t remember driving home. And then there was the night I decorated the side of my dad’s van. And the night I came walking through the house in my BVDs when my parents had company. And then . . .
I think you get the picture.
I was drinking. I was drinking a lot. I was doing things I’m luck someone didn’t get killed from.
My high school sweetheart was gone so I headed back to Brothertown and my old friends. I was still part of the crowd, but everyone knew I wasn’t “like them”.
It became abundantly clear one Friday when a group of guys planned on running to Fond du Lac to catch a movie. They left without me.
I was numb. My fiancé left me and I was walking in a drunken stupor more than I was sober.
The final straw came when I headed to Brothertown in the middle of the week when the bar we frequented was mostly empty. I shot some stick and drank.
I ran out of cash so I wrote a $20 check. It bounced.
The bar owner called me and Ipromised to run over and satisfy the debt.
True to my word I made the run to Brothertown, paid the bar owner the $20 (plus bank fee) and ordered my last drink. Halfway finished, I pushed the beer back and left Brothertown, a way of life and alcohol forever.
Or so I thought.
Then I turned 18.
The reflection in the mirror was hard to look at. I failed in so many ways. I had no idea what I wanted.
Farm life was something unappealing to me at the time. It was all I knew so I wanted something more. Working day and night for peanuts and popcorn had no hold on me. Deep down I wanted to be more than a poor farmer. I wanted to know what life was like for people with money.
1982 was a bad year for the economy. Living in the Rust Belt, the recession hit hard, harder than the 2008 debacle. Unemployment was 20%+ in the area. Businesses wouldn’t even give you an application. The answer was no so there was no need to waste a piece of paper.
I went from drunk to teetotaler in a heartbeat. Before my 19th birthday I put the bottle into my past and embarked on a journey of entrepreneurship and wealth.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Sounds like I had a blast, right?
It wasn’t! I had no clue what I was doing. I tried everything. I sold stuff door-to-door, to retail stores and got serious for the first time about my writing.
Money came in bits and spurts. I saved it all and invested in mutual funds and some individual stocks.
But this story isn’t about my journey to wealth. I’ve told that before. No, this story is about facing myself in the mirror.
Who Is that Man?
I no longer recognized the person I’d become. The drunk was a stranger and now even the drunk was gone. It would be over twenty years before I took another drink.
The ride wasn’t smooth, but I eventually found my confidence and calling in life. As a side gig I prepared taxes without a clue the role accounting and taxes would play in my life.
Successes started to accumulate like an index fund in a bull market. I was happy and started to map a course to the life I wanted.
No longer inebriated on a regular basis I started to like the guy in the mirror. He had promise, if not a little crusty around the edges.
I met Mrs. Accountant while taking a few college courses here and there. That was the greatest stroke of luck I ever had. I won the trillion dollar lottery!
She didn’t know she was Mrs. Accountant at the time; I did.
You would think life would be a pretty smooth ride of luxury for a guy in his young 50s with an eight figure net worth. It wasn’t.
Life seemed to throw one challenge after another. The genius thing I did was never give up. Each obstacle was a challenge to conquer. And conquer we did.
Building wealth and even running a business can become rote formality. Saving at an insane rate was an ingrained habit sending my net worth into the heavens.
Mrs. Accountant and I traveled a bit. I hated every minute. The destination and learning was fun, but I soon discovered I preferred the world of my backyard. Eventually travel turned into something we did because business demanded it. In a way, business is the only thing that kept me from being a dweeb or hermit.
In the 90s I had a securities license for a few years. That required two trips every year. Before long I was frantically searching for a way out and I took the first opportunity.
Routine set in again.
Then I met the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community and felt like I found long lost friends!
The gloss would wear off.
The Best People in the World
Somewhere in the early 2000s I allowed myself a shot of whisky now and again. I drank a few times in the winter if I had a sore throat and rarely any other time.
When I choose to stop drinking and when I drank nil for many years I never had an arrogant attitude toward those who consumed alcohol. If somebody wanted to drink I didn’t care. I was happy as a clam with a frosty Coca-Cola Classic.
As the years went by my drinking increased for short periods and then went back to nothing.
I was happy and enjoying life. Travel was in my past (Thank God!) and I finally was back living on a farm.
The farming life I hated so much as a kid was actually in my blood. My 10 acres of the world are small in the scope of things, but it’s my 10 acres with hiking trails, animals and all.
The rote formality of business was growing old. I had one more dream to conquer before I cashed in my chips.
Several times I started a countdown clock to retirement only to find my anxiety became uncontrollable as the due date arrived. You would think I was facing an IRS audit or something.
The clock was sent to the landfill.
One day I happened across a blog by some strange character who called himself Mr. Money Mustache. This funky dude from Colorado had it figured out better than me. He even found a way to walk away from work and do whatever he wanted!
So we loaded by the truck and we moved to Beverly. Hills that is . . .
I could never give up work, but I was lucky enough to be doing what I wanted to so there was no hurry.
Regardless, I felt inadequate. MMM cashed his check at age 30 and here I was putzing along closing in on 50. How had I failed so badly?
Back to the Suds
I started attending conferences within the community because I felt obligated. My meeting with MMM (and becoming his accountant) forced me to finally start writing this blog.
This in turn led to more offers. I was traveling again. Drinking, too. The mirror started to bother me for the first time in decades.
The FIRE community knows how to drink. Beer mostly, but liquor, too. A shot of whisky (a shot) is something I don’t mind every once in a while. Beer is something I never acquired a taste for.
Well, my new-found buds drank suds and I was part of them now so I drank, to hell with the mirror. If you focus hard enough you can swallow anything and down the hatch went the beer.
Before we get too far, let it be known a local brew called Spotted Cow is palatable to me.
The social media feeds listed my new buds enjoying a cold one on a more than a regular basis. Not everybody imbibed, but by and large the group knew how to throw a party.
Breaking the Mirror
I’m not a traditional FIRE community member. I’m even surprised they let me in the door. (Some have started to close doors.)
The drinking thing returned home with me and the travel I whined about so incessantly caused people to comment on my new-found itinerary abroad. (Anywhere outside the county is abroad in my book.)
Many nights I would have a few shots of whisky and even drank beer. Before long the memory of Brothertown and the bounced check in the bar came flooding back. This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be.
I recently made it clear my attendance at conferences would be limited. Even one trip a year is a chore to me. I did promise Mrs. Accountant and the girls a trip to Iowa this year to see the Hoover Presidential Library. It’s a 4-hour drive; I’ll live.
Expect to see me at FinCon in Orlando later this year as well.
And if God loves me I’ll not travel another lick the remainder of the year.
Nor drink more than a few shots of Jack either.
I’m a big boy now; I can make adult decisions when required. There is no doubt I succumbed to peer pressure when not a single soul within the FIRE community forced me to drink anything. If I drank a soda there wasn’t a single sound of admonishment.
Peer pressure is like that! Most peer pressure comes from inside your head and not from out there. It’s all perceived.
More, I wanted to be like those people instead of living my life my way. I thought living their life would make me happy. It didn’t and it was starting to show.
So what if people think I’m a weaselly guy from Treefarm, Wisconsin. I’m happy. This blog has proven there are more like me out there (people who loathe travel and enjoy home life).
No longer do I feel obligated to attend more and more conferences. I can live the way I want to live.
Here is where you come in, kind readers.
A common refrain in my email involves people wanting to be like me. NO YOU DON’T! The planet has a hard time dealing with one of me.
You can learn from my experiences to build wealth and a happier lifestyle. But you don’t have to do the same things I do.
I like my small farm in the middle of nowhere. A serious percentage of readers here would become insane in the same environment. (First one to comment its already driven me insane gets one in the puss.)
All I’m saying is don’t drive to Brothertown. The only thing you’ll find there is a bounced check in a bar long out of business.
Saturday 20th of January 2018
Thank you for sharing your story.
It is important to remind everyone that being true to yourself is the most important thing you can do. You have to like, dare I say love, yourself because you have to be with yourself 24/7, for the rest of your life. Make yourself who you want to be and foster your own happiness. Your life will be better for it.
Friday 19th of January 2018
Keith, you are a true success and an American hero. Thanks for sharing your story.
Friday 19th of January 2018
I don't drink due to health reasons, and I'm rarely given a hard time. However, at a work event, one guy asked in a very public setting why I wasn't drinking and I explained it was for health reasons. His response- "Well, you're doing it wrong." Um, whut?
Not drinking has highlighted to me how much American life can revolve around alcohol. People expect it at gatherings, you almost have to tell them ahead of time if it's not going to be available. Any work social event has alcohol present. What for? I guess being without alcohol for several years has taught me how some people have to use alcohol as a social crutch or a little security blankie. It's also dang expensive. To each their own, but for me, I'm doing it just fine and that's ok.
Friday 19th of January 2018
My father used to joke "The whole world's crazy, and I'm the only sane one". The older I get, the more I feel like that.
I've never put that much effort into blending in, because I've always felt very different than most. I always wanted way more than I grew up with, and I couldn't relate to people OK with the status-quo. Also being a struggling entrepreneur for many years (20+ years), people/friends simply didn't understand why I was working SO HARD (and seemingly not getting anywhere). Now that I've "made it", it's even more lonely. And of course practicing stealth wealth, people/friends don't really know just how much I've made it so I still can't talk about it. I find blogging and discussing money on these types of blogs therapeutic.
PS. I've never acquired a taste for beer either. Most people drink it like water. I can semi-enjoy the first swallow, but everything after that tastes bitter. No matter the brew. I do enjoy an occasional Jack and Coke, though.
Friday 19th of January 2018
We share common ground, JD.
Talking about stealth wealth: There was a decided change in the tenor of some people's behavior toward me once I published my net worth on Rockstar Finance. If I weren't a PF blogger I'd have kept my yap shut because it's not worth the annoyance. Besides, wealth isn't the issue; lifestyle is. And since I'm as happy as can be people shouldn't have issues with my checkbook balance.
Friday 19th of January 2018
I enjoyed this.
When with friends, I always want to fit in. But I don't. Friends though, my age, understand we're not all cut from..., so they don't really give a shit.
My principles/values mean more to me than cozying up to peer pressure. When I was younger, I easily wanted to be part of the group. Now my personal happiness means more than keeping others happy because I'm "one of them".
Talk about not fitting in, try being vegan. I would think especially the part of the world where you're from.
Friday 19th of January 2018
Mike, that got to the meat of the story.
Sorry, couldn't resist the joke.
You are right, however. A vegan would be frowned upon seriously in these parts. I'm not a vegan, but respect those who are. It is a healthier (and more humane) way of eating. I've only managed short bouts of vegan lifestyle before crumbling under the pressure, none of it peer.