Can you remember where you were in life 20 years ago? What you were doing, and what life was like? Moreover, could you have imagined your life today? Has your life been predictable?
As these ideas permeate through your mind – how do you feel? Do you wish for your youth? Or are you grateful for your maturity now? How do you feel remembering your own past? That youthful version of your own self.
20 years ago I was starting university. And that kind of scares me. It seems so long ago that I was undertaking this momentous leap and today’s students seem to get younger and younger in comparison. I am old.
Then I was young, enthusiastic and eager to escape home and the confines of school. I wanted to learn and be stretched academically and thought university would be the key to my academic success.
More than that, I was desperate to get out of the small town world and meet new people. To hear different ideas and approaches to life. I didn’t want to follow the life plan that was presented of study – get married – work – have babies – retire all in the same location. And I was prepared to do anything to avoid this life plan.
First / Second in Family to Do Uni
I was first on my Dad’s side of the family to go to uni (and second on my Mum’s after her). This was celebrated and I felt excited but scared to have this crown.
Moreover, I needed to make the most of this opportunity and make my family proud. Personally, I really did not know what to expect. But I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I was steadfastly confident in this belief.
At the time this was articulated as a desire to escape, although what I probably meant was to expand my horizons and develop as a person. All I knew was, even at that age, I did not want to follow that life plan and remain in the same area with the same people doing the same thing as my parents. I needed to meet people with alternate life plans and see different approaches.
Truth be told, my uni was not very diverse. It matched the social economic mix of the comprehensive school I attended – a mix of working and middle-class students from around the country. But what I did find, however, were more people like me. That didn’t want to follow their parent’s lives and wanted more. Even if we still failed to really understand or articulate what this more was. Yet we wanted this more.
Taking you back to 1998, this was the first year tuition fees were introduced in the UK. I was not happy that I was in the first year that had tuition fees, but I accepted it as a given and did not give it too much though. After all, I was pursuing my plan to escape and the idea of having to pay for it was not a complete roadblock. Even at this young age, I knew some things were worth paying for. Education fell into this category.
Debt and Student Loans
The only loans you can take at 16 and 17 in the UK are student loans. And I was no exception to the norm, I dutifully signed up for those loans without really thinking what I was signing. I took me about 12 years after graduation to pay them off, but I don’t regret these in the slightest.
Being more financially minded than most 17 years olds, I did read the T&C and roughly understood these loans. I knew I’d only have to pay them when I was earning, and that they would have no interest in real terms. And you know what? That was not a bad deal, students today have it much worse! I am grateful for my luck here.
Academics and Fun
Please don’t hate me, but I found academics easy at school. I have a lovely collection of A’s. But truth be told, there was not really any other option but to study in my early life. We lived in a boring place and I didn’t have money to visit friends that often. But when I got to university and was allowed a job my world widened.
University was so much fun and freedom. I had money and was able to go out. I made a wide range of friends and really enjoyed sampling the best of student life. Which was the nightlife and going out. The social opportunities and meeting more people like me, who were not just interested in coupling up was life-saving. And affirming that my life plans were not strange.
Testing the boundaries
Although university education differed slightly from school and was a little less formal, there still was a lot of fluff and unnecessary copying. Honestly, my biggest memory of lectures was copying from the board. We quickly learned what classes we could skip and which ones we could not. And learned who to sweet talk in the office to get free photocopies of said notes.
My whole year was good at testing the boundaries. It didn’t take us long to work out which lecturers just wrote on the board all lecture and which were actually worth going to. Some had the audacity to take registers, and then even complained when we all signed our friends in.
My chemistry lab partner and I quickly came up with a way of working: we’d only do one experiment between us even if it wasn’t a joint experiment. We framed our labour savings as saving equipment and preserving resources – and quickly learned two minds and perspectives are better than one. The teaching assistant wasn’t too amused, but couldn’t come up with a valid reason to stop us.
Influence of lived experience
So why on this financial independence blog am I going on about the past? Because I firmly believe our lived experiences shape our future. Past me has no doubt influenced future me.
At university, I started learning about the wider world and starting testing boundaries. And with today’s hindsight, I can see how I have thus evolved and developed as a person. I knew I rejected the traditional life path 20 years ago but did not really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t envision pursuing financial independence 20 years ago, but I did reject the traditional path.
Your Life Path is not set
Even if you want to change your life, you cannot change your past. This has happened and cannot be altered. However, from now onwards you have every opportunity to craft the life you want. There are many little steps you can take to alter your life path. And you have the agency to select the life you want.
I believe that pursuing financial independence can give you many options, and personally, I have chosen to go down this path. I never imagined this possibility 20 years ago, but I am so glad I have found the path today so I will be able to retire by 40.
Over to you
- What are your thoughts?
- Where were you 20 years ago?
- Did you go to university?
- If so, what was your reasoning?