So You Wanna Do Something Cool?

Seeing a lot of people graduating various education institutions makes me want to share some insight into how I fell into this “luxurious” lifestyle. Warning, what follows is not a race report, nor even really about me or cycling.

It bothers me when people say that I am “lucky” to be a professional athlete. Are lawyers lucky when they make partner? Are authors lucky when their books hit the NYT best seller list? I would be lucky if I were randomly selected to play on a professional (male) sportsball team (such as baseball, football, or basketball), regardless of talent or skill, and was given a full salary. On average, NBA players make $5.15 million, MLB players make $3.2 million, NHL players make $2.4 million, and NFL players make $1.9 million per year,according to Forbes. That, my friends, would be luck. And if I happened to like the sport, bigger luck would be given play time. AKA actually working. Because if you think it is luck that brings you to the arena of professional sports, then you think game-time is work time. There is no excruciating effort that goes on behind the scenes. No hours of blood sweat and tears, no anxious weeks of injury, no grueling dietary choices, no holidays spent in the basement, alone.

Without being “lucky” I am still thankful for the support from sponsors and my home network for helping me. And I know people claiming I am lucky likely mean that they are jealous I get to spend my days “working out” or pursuing something that I love. I am sure that no one means to greatly detract from my accomplishments. I knew going in to this that it was not exactly a job that one takes for the money, but instead, is a lifestyle that if followed correctly, may yield a ton of personal satisfaction without a large financial burden. I am living off of performing what most a percentage of active people choose to do as a hobby. So I planned ahead and acted responsibly (by dropping out of school only after I had a masters and having only one year of unemployment)!

I am not looking to explain myself or to make my own personal case here. What I do want to do, is to suggest that people who want to follow a career that is not exactly financially stable do so responsibly. Because I will tell you one thing, you won’t come across it by luck (unless you are born into a bottomless trust fund and are also gifted with extreme physical talent, creativity, drive, etc for what is needed for your desired career).

So you say you have a dream?

 Our society seems to romanticize struggling. An obvious example is the (not new) popular term “starving artist”, meaning someone who gives up a more material life the focus on their art. Many accomplished artists, however, have argued that you cannot create your best work when it is your sole source of income or if you need income from it to make immediate ends meet. It is a huge burden and distraction. Apparently creativity needs to fester sometimes. Unlike cycling, which can’t really go unreleased. Wanna know a super famous starving artist? Vincent van Gogh. He even made a famous painting about his humble lifestyle. Oh yea, but then he died. By suicide. Because he was broke AF. 

America also loves “Broke College Kids”, who can never seem to afford food but they have the best technology. And beer.

There are also tons of shows that highlight young people thrust out into the world, trying to make rent but also follow their dreams: HBO’s Girls, the entire RENT musical, 2 Broke Girls, and a million others I can’t think of because I am trying to. Along these lines, how does Carrie Bradshaw make so much money? Did we ever address this?

For cyclists, Phil Gaimon wrote a book about being a cyclist and living on $10 a day. I am not sure if the book is actually about that, but it highlights financial struggle.

Moderately related, even Olympic athletes have bleak financial futures regardless of their financial status going into the sport. I saw a similar article to this in 2016 leading up to the Games in Rio and I found the financial hardships of Olympians across the world fairly sad.

Indeed many stars, actors, musicians and athletes came from very humble beginnings and you will read that they slept on the field because they couldn’t afford and apartment, or that their only source of income was from tips on the street-corner. But you only hear the stories of the people who eventually make it big, and I bet those numbers are minuscule. Do you think those “lucky” few that succeeded, born from nothing, would suggest that after high school or college you move out, get a shitty apartment and spend your $300/month of race winnings/wares selling paying your $800 rent, $300 food bill, $150 internet bill, $75 phone bill, $60 avocado toast addiction, …. You see where I am going here?

There are many of romanticized stories. But there are also a lot of people that suggest working a steady job to build up a savings before you throw caution to the wind. 

You may not make it because you suck.

Work that full-time job, maybe even in the field you studied or would like to go into in the event you prove to be a huge failure. Work on your craft after work, whether that is writing, riding, or riting (clearly for those who are going into the seminary). Here is where your sacrifice and suffering comes in. Live modestly. Skip the expensive coffees (actually, ditch drinks that aren’t water or homemade coffees and teas entirely. So much $$$ and usually sugar, too). Say no to weekends out with your friends that require paying for housing. Don’t fly to that wedding. Ditch the cable, convince someone to put you on a family phone plan, don’t get the newest phone, don’t have a car payment, get a roommate, mow your own lawn, get library books, cut out your subscription services, for the love of god give up beer – savings are everywhere. If you are desperate, send me your monthly budget including a line-item transaction report (even itemized grocery receipts) and I will tell you where you are spending like an asshole.

The worse you are at saving, the more pointless your venture of working towards chasing a dream becomes. Depending on where you live, and on your healthcare situation, if you work full time and live on the cheap, you should be able to save a third of what you make. This could be closer to 50% if you own your own car, don’t pay fuel for commuting, have cheap rent and split your internet). If you live with your parents (or other non rent-requiring people like a grandparent, sugar spouse, or maybe you are “just visiting” and that friend you are crashing with is too polite to kick you off the couch even after 4 months) you should be able to save over 75%. If you choose the right place to work, you will get PTO (paid time off) and hopefully a vested 401k. Contributing to retirement, even just a little, is worth it if the employer will match (if the employer won’t match, don’t pay in to the 401k, but instead contribute to a Roth IRA because hopefully you are never again as broke as you are now, and that is like free tax-free [(9-15%)] money, baby). These perks are pretty awesome considering you are simply working to chase a dream, and your alternative was wondering the streets trying to find a sturdy box to take shelter in for the night.

When you have a bit of a financial cushion, go part-time with the money-maker and part-time with the dream that hopefully at this point starts to make a little something, or at least offset costs of pursuing it. At some point, yes, you may need to jump in 110% in order to make it work, but just make sure you aren’t sacrificing your current potential with stress, poor quality of life, or otherwise by jumping in too soon. Make sure you aren’t risking a future by accruing huge debts.

Whatever you do, for the love of god, DON’T CROWDFUND YOUR DREAMS! Yes, everyone wants you to be happy, but no one wants to finance them. Do the work. Do it right. Then you can feel proud of it. At least get far enough in that you can run a big campaign fund-raiser.

The worst part about the responsible way of trying to pursue your dreams, is there is a probability that you never end up doing it. You fall into the grind, you fall in love, you have a baby, you never save money, you find another passion. Keep a reminder front and center in your life. Never stop practicing. Or, maybe you find you do have another passion. Or maybe it just takes longer, but you are better for it because you now have more drive to succeed, more life experience, or maybe a better support system than your fresh-faced broke-ass self.

As a success story; I finished my Master’s degree, left my program instead of pursing a PhD, then got a job to help to pay the bills while I balanced a fully racing and training schedule. Granted, I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods, but this coming season is where I hit it big. Really. I am going to have a TV show and get sportsball money. Maybe even a record deal.

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