I am a new employee at a financial firm where everyone seems to be close with one another, often going out for drinks after work. How can I get more involved? Is it just a matter of time? First of all, I would suggest: Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to people and spend a few minutes with the receptionist when you’re coming in and leaving. Most people in that job know who in the office is real and who’s not. At some point, ask if he or she has favorite bands or books or a hobby. Very few people bother to find out anything personal about the people who take care of us.
I’d also suggest offering to take the longest-serving male and female employees individually to lunch. You’ll pay for the meals, but it will be one of the best investments you’ll make in your new job. You’ll learn about the history of the office, the culture and, better yet, you’ll get a chance to impress the old-timers. And they’ll be flattered to be asked.
The bonus: If they’re the longest-serving employees, they must be very good at their jobs.
And you’ve got a lot to learn.
I am 22 years old, and I’ve been dating my girlfriend for more than five years. Recently, our friends and family have been talking about marriage around us, and it feels like they assume we will get married. I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but it makes me feel a little pressured. Should I feel more comfortable with the concept of marrying her since everyone else seems to feel that way? Everything you’re worried about is completely normal. Years ago, older family members—aunts, uncles, grandparents—urged the younger generation to marry as soon as possible. The cynic in me thinks that they wanted everyone to share their own blissful—or not—condition. It sounds like your friends and family share this retro concept. Follow my number one rule on the subject: Never marry until you’ve truly launched your career or have a good, satisfying job. I proposed to my wife looking out on a lake in Maine. It was in a pizza pub joint called The Cabana—and perhaps I had finished several beers and the moon was full. But I also said to her, “We cannot get married until my first book is bought by a publisher. If I can’t make me happy, I doubt if I can make a wife happy.” I was being honest. My wife-to-be wasn’t buying it. She and her parents kept the heat on until one day she said, “I’ve been offered a dream job in London. And if we’re not getting married, I’m going to take it.” Well, she raised the stakes. I didn’t want to lose her. Amazingly, the very next week I had an offer on my first novel. We set the wedding date right after that. On our honeymoon she told me, “I made up the story about the London job.”
Take this story to heart. I would absolutely not cave into anything your friends are doing. You must be self-sufficient, and I believe that we need something beyond wedded bliss to make us complete.
I’m a self-proclaimed miser. I truly think that I enjoy saving money more than I do spending it. But now I find myself lusting after a matte orange Maserati. I save about $2,500 per month after 401(k) contributions, and at the end of the day the car would probably cost me about $1,000 per month. I know I’ll be more secure in the future if I save instead. That being said, is it worth it? Many in your generation want instant gratification: See the world, job hop, have destination weddings that piss off every friend of your family. You’re on the cusp of so many exciting things in your young life. But you’re like the classic college boy in Animal House with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. You’re frugal, a saver. But there’s this orange Maserati. Don’t you know that every new person you meet will say, or think, “His daddy bought him the car. Who does he think he’s kidding?”
I remember a really smart friend of mine who went to business school and was destined for success. But early after college he married a woman whose family owned a successful funeral home. He took the easy way out and lorded it over us saying, “I’m making $10,000 a year and you schmucks are nowhere.” (Young lawyers in those days started at $6,000 or so). All of his friends thought that he had totally sold out for money. “What a waste,” we said.
I find that in life, everyone is longing for the F word: Freedom, in a financial sense. There’s no contest here. Be a saver. Invest your money for long-term growth and freedom. The Maserati will be out there, like Gatsby’s green light at the end of the dock. ◆
John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.