For most people who become impressively wealthy, they start their own business. They spend years and years building something from the ground up and retain majority ownership of a profitable business. This is the most common route to making millions. But there’s a reason not everyone can do it. It takes a significant amount of time, energy and sacrifice.
For me, I’m not looking to become a multi-millionaire. I’m not looking to be part of the 1%.
My financial goal is very specific: I want enough passive income to live life on my terms. I probably don’t even need $1 million to make this happen. Since I’m only 23, technically I could start a business, but there’s no guarantee I would make money from it and the time horizon on when I would make money is unknown. The most surefire way for me to start earning a significant amount of money now is to get a high-paying job.
So that’s what I’ve done.
Yesterday I started my new job as a data analyst. My base salary is $80,000 not including benefits. It’s not an astronomically high salary, but it’s above average for most 23 year-olds.
Here are some important steps that helped me land this high-paying job:
I majored in a high-paying field
As an undergraduate student, I chose to major in statistics. I chose this field because I enjoy working with numbers (can you tell by all the grids I make?) and thinking about solutions to problems in terms of formulas. But along with that, the highest paid professionals tend to have engineering, math/stats, or computer science degrees. So I was setting myself up for a well-paid position out of college.
Next, I completed a program that offered a 1-year master’s degree in applied statistics. Having a master’s degree was incredibly helpful in terms of the potential job opportunities it opened up.
Statistics is also an incredibly niche field. Very few people hold statistics degrees. In my graduate classes there were typically only 4-6 students. Because of this, a stats degree stands out on a resume. It also helps create a demand for statistics tutors, which I have found to be a lucrative side hustle.
Also, I figured if I have to work for someone else, I might as well get paid decently for it. I’m borrowing (stealing) this idea from Ty at Get Rich Quickish, whose dad told him:
“One way or another you’re going to work hard for a living. You might as well get paid well for it.”
I love that quote because it holds so much truth. A huge majority of us will have to work a 9-5 at least for a while in our lives to build up our finances. We might as well get paid well for it.
I learned useful skills outside of my classes
Picking a high-paying major doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job offer. Unfortunately, the curriculum taught in college classes isn’t always transferable to real jobs. For example, at my college we were taught entirely with a programming language called SAS, which used to be wildly popular in the field of statistics/data science but has quickly become outdated in recent years due to open-source software languages such as “R”.
As I began looking around for employers near my college, I noticed that almost all of them were looking for students who knew how to program using R. So I went to my local library and rented the three books they had on R. I learned the ins and outs of the programming language so I could comfortably place it on my resume.
I worked on my own projects outside of class
Last month when I interviewed with the company I work for now, I was able to show them the website I had built and explain how I made it completely on my own time. I’m sure this was another point on my resume that helped differentiate me from the competition.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to college students looking to set themselves apart from the competition is this: work on your own projects outside of classes to showcase your skills.
It doesn’t even matter what your major is, you can make a simple site with WordPress to highlight your photography skills, or showcase projects you’ve worked on, or show examples of code you’ve written. This is guaranteed to impress a potential employer and give you a leg up on your peers.
I improved my interviewing skills
In addition to all of this, I worked to improve my interviewing skills. Using advice from my older brother, looking up random “How to get better at interviewing” questions on Quora, and watching videos from Ramit Sethi, I was able to pick up some useful interviewing tips and tricks.
The best tip I learned was this: don’t talk about how much you love statistics or how you’re passionate about it, but instead tell your potential employer how you can add value to them. Employers don’t care if you’re passionate. They care if you can help them achieve their goals. In my interview last month I made sure to emphasize all the value I could bring them and how I could improve their processes.
I also joined Toastmasters for several months, which is a group that meets once a month to practice public speaking and improve communication skills. This was a huge help to me because it allowed me to get comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. There are Toastmasters groups all over the world in nearly every city; I recommend most college students join a group.
Nobody Cares If You Fail
Lastly, I finally realized that nobody cares if I fail. Nobody is tracking my failures. This has given me courage to apply to multiple jobs, some of which I was under-qualified for, but I didn’t care because if I failed it literally didn’t matter. Worst case scenario when you fail as a young person: you gain experience.
I used to think the whole world was quietly watching me, waiting for me to fail, to try something new and fall flat on my face. But over the past couple years I have had the beautiful realization that everyone is too concerned with their own pitfalls to care about mine.
Also, only successes count. When people look at my LinkedIn profile and see “Data Analyst for Corporation X”, they don’t see “This kid also got turned down by 10 other companies” right below it. Nobody knows about all my failures. So I might as well go out there and try, try, and try because eventually I’ll stumble upon success.
It’s Not About the Money…But I Need it to Get Where I’m Going
By itself, my salary means nothing. I couldn’t care less about the actual dollar amount I get paid. I only care about what the money will allow me to do. I’m trying to stack up as much cash as possible while I’m young so I can use it to craft my ideal life. I only care about having a high-paying job because I want to gain freedom as soon as possible.
I don’t have a desire to be the worlds greatest data analyst or the highest-paid young person. I don’t want wealth to buy a huge house or flex on instagram in a new car. I just want to save up enough money to travel, spend more time with people I love, and work on projects that make an impact on people. To do these things, I need savings. I need passive income.
I’m glad I have a high-paying job, not for the money itself, but for the freedom it will buy me in the future.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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