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Okay let’s start out with an easy multiple choice. You got this. Select the one that cannot be true:
a. A successful introvert educator
b. A financially independent educator
c. A financially independent introverted educator
d. Any of the above
e. None of the above
Got your answer? Read the interview below with an introverted educator who is on the path to financial independence to see if your answer is correct.
Welcome! Let’s start with your background. You went from being financially insecure to a seven figure net worth after switching from an economics career to being a teacher. How in the world did you accomplish this?
Wow, we aren’t easing in are we? This is a big question!
I’m somehow both surprised that we’ve ended up in such a good financial position AND embarrassed that we didn’t do it earlier.
The truth is, until recently, we weren’t at all intentional about our finances. We made just about every mistake along the way, including failing to invest early and inflating our lifestyle.
The one thing we did right was increase our income. As educators, there are several predictable ways to make more money. For example, my wife and I both maxed out education levels (a key lever in teacher pay) as early as possible. We always worked extra duty jobs. In my 8th year, I went into administration and got a substantial raise.
While starting out as new teachers with significant student loan debt was tight, after several years of intentional work we were earning decent money. We were spending most of it, but having the higher income kept us out of debt and made it easier once we got ourselves on track.
Public educators have great pre-tax investing options. Many have access to both a 403(b) and a 457(b). Sometimes these are awful fee-loaded options, but we both have reasonable index products available. As a result, we can each put $19,000 a year into both for a total pre-tax investment of $76,000 a year.
We also had a bit of luck with real estate and were able to cash out decent equity when we recently downsized our house.
In the last three years we’ve dramatically increased our investments, cut our spending almost in half, and got out of our expensive house. This year, we’ll invest almost $130,000, and passed the seven figure net worth mark in June.
I’m proud, and also can’t help but imagine where we’d be had we started earlier…
Teaching requires long days of interacting with students, peers, and principals. How did you manage your day so that you were not totally drained when you walked through your front door?
Truthfully, I mostly didn’t. Teaching is flat out draining. I’ve done a lot of different jobs in the course of my life and teaching is the hardest. It’s also the most rewarding. That energy you get back can help sustain you.
I’ve never been good at balance when I’m committed to something. The truth is I was mostly drained when walking through the front door. I’m fortunate my wife is as committed to the profession as I am.
Rather than building a system for each day, I balanced it out based on the work week and school year. Work hard throughout the week, and then regain energy on the weekends. During the healthy times, this looked like long solo bike rides and lots of reading. On the unhealthy times, it could be scotch and late nights.
We also traveled frequently to really disconnect from work. Long recharge trips on the breaks, and weekends away when we could manage it. We were following the “work hard play hard” approach to life. This system was part of our lifestyle inflation as our trips got progressively more expensive.
I’m trying to be more intentional about it now, but I’m still not a good model for work life balance.
At a party, I enjoy interacting with the kids more than the adults. I cringe when the adults think the kids are being bothersome to me and bring me back into their world. I don’t get drained with them but become tired and bored easily with adults. Do you have a similar experience with teaching? If yes, why do you think this is?
I absolutely have a similar experience with teaching! People who know me and my introversion well often questioned how I could teach all day and I’d explain to them that kids don’t drain me in the same way.
Being in a classroom of 20+ (often 30+) students was very tiring, but not in the same way being in the company of adults usually is. It was just the sheer energy expended in teaching and supporting the kids’ needs. It wasn’t the usual “introvert drain” as I think of and experience it.
In many ways, the time with the students was energizing and fulfilling so that balanced out the sheer physical exhaustion of the job. Teaching was a fulfilling job, not a social obligation.
That may be part of the reason for both your experience, and mine. When interacting with kids there isn’t the same social expectation and kids often provide most of the input into the interaction. Teaching is about managing their energy, not having to uphold a social interaction.
The one thing that could get to me from time to time was the noise levels in a classroom. I don’t believe that a silent classroom is an effective classroom so periods of high engagement and the resulting high noise level could start draining my social batteries. But, similarly, effective learning hits at lots of different needs and styles. So, I intentionally balanced out high engagement with deep work time. Those moments allowed me to recharge and I could see them doing the same for some students.
What impact did moving from the classroom to administration have on your day-to-day fulfillment? How did it impact your mission to financial security and independence?
As I mentioned above, I’m driven by mission. I went into administration because I saw the need, and had colleagues who pushed me into it. I knew it would cost me personally, but the potential impact outweighed the personal cost. That’s how I’ve experienced it ever since.
There are aspects of the leadership work I find fulfilling: systems change and deep conversations with individuals (kids and educators both.) On the flip side, a huge portion of the work is social appearances or solving problems between individuals who may or may not be interested in a solution. One also becomes the face of, or proxy for, a bunch of decisions and policies that one may or may not support. As you may imagine, being the “face” of anything is not ideal for an intense introvert.
Therefore, while I believe deeply in the work I do in public education, that drive is balanced by a fairly high personal cost. It’s that ongoing cost that led me to seek out financial independence. Even knowing I have the option, at any point, to stop paying that cost enables me to keep paying it – for now.
I didn’t make the initial move to administration for money. In actuality, the move and resulting energy cost led me to initially implement the “work hard / play hard” approach to life which caused my spending to increase with my income.
However, once I did choose to get my finances straight and seek financial independence, the higher income made a significant difference. It allowed us to recover quickly from a decade of not paying attention to our finances.
We would still be able to build to financial independence as two public school teachers, but there is no doubt that we can do it faster due to the extra income from my admin role.
What advice would you give an educator who thinks financial security and independence isn’t possible on a teaching salary?
This is the whole point of Educator FI! I started the site because I believe public educators deserve to have financial security while doing the work they’re passionate about. There are constant societal signals that say educators (particularly teachers) are poor. It’s a self-perpetuating myth.
I believe teachers should be paid more due to the education required, societal importance, and level of job responsibility. AND it is possible to reach financial independence as an educator.
There are ways to increase income. There are investment options available to teachers that allow them to put extra money into tax advantaged accounts. (Unfortunately, for some teachers these options are destroyed by fees….grrr) Most teachers have health benefits and pensions.
There are definitely income challenges, but there are also supports that many others don’t have.
You don’t have to be poor as a public educator. We can do the work we love and take care of ourselves financially.
Is your wife an introvert or extrovert? How has your introversion impacted your relationship?
My wife is a full-on extrovert! We are almost complete social opposites. We’ve recently celebrated our 20th anniversary and are better than ever, so I guess we’ve achieved a good balance.
It was a challenge early on in our relationship though. I’d get home from a day of work and want to sit alone in a room reading. She took that personally. It took awhile for her to understand that it wasn’t about her, but a general need for isolation and alone time.
When she wanted to go out with friends on a weekend, I’d be in a bad mood and grumble about it all the way up to the event.
We’ve worked through it and understand each other more. She understands and doesn’t take it personally if I just need to step away for quiet time. I make an effort to engage and spend some of my limited social energy for her. She is also more comfortable going out with friends and getting her extrovert fix without feeling like I need to be there.
A specific thing that works well for us is roadtrips – she can talk for hours while I focus on driving. At some point, she usually naps while I drive in the quiet. It works brilliantly for us!
What annoys you about other people? What do you think you do to annoy others?
I don’t understand the need to complain in groups. While the need for social interaction doesn’t make sense to me, I can accept that others have it. Yet, I can’t fathom why some groups orient themselves around the negative.
I’ve seen this in multiple workplaces. The staff room is full of complaints about the boss, the system, the job. At no point does anyone suggest or even talk about a solution. Instead, they move on to the next complaint in a never ending cycle.
Relentless positivity is dangerous too, so I’m not advocating for that. But, I get annoyed very quickly when everything is negative and there is no attempt to seek a solution. Even being around those interactions drains me really quickly and makes me irritable.
Acknowledge the problem, and then look for a solution!
I think this is probably part of what annoys other people about me. Particularly in a work context I can be very focused and single minded on solutions. I don’t often celebrate or relax. Instead, completing a challenge is just a signal to move on to solving the next challenge.
If people are being kind, they call it intensity or focus. There are other, less kind, descriptions. I know people can find it over the top or draining.
There is a Rust Cohle (an intense introvert played by Mathew McConaughey) quote in True Detective Season 1:
“Sometimes I think I’m just not good for people, that it’s not good for them to be around me. I wear ’em down. They… they get unhappy.”
That resonates with me, and in my darker introvert moments I think it’s true. I try to be watchful for it, particularly in my important relationships.
What is your most embarrassing moment as an educator or introvert?
This one is easy. An interesting aspect of my introversion is that while small talk and social situations are incredibly draining, I have no fear of public speaking. It’s because I usually understand the purpose and outcome. I’ve also been told I’m generally good at it since I approach it with authenticity and real interest.
For some time, I had a district level job in which I’d frequently have to make appearances and speak to groups. I’d be given a topic or talking points beforehand, or sometimes right when I showed up at the event. Not my favorite, but I could do it to help move the mission forward.
On one occasion, I had multiple events back to back. Travel between two of them was tight and I walked into the second right as I was supposed to speak. I’d been told the topic earlier and launched into what I thought was a brilliant speech perfectly on topic. It was short, and not interactive. I also wasn’t familiar with the audience so couldn’t read the room very well.
As I finished and exited, it became clear that what I’d just talked about had nothing at all to do with the point of the gathering. They’d changed the outcome and hadn’t communicated it to me. The rushed transition kept us from catching it. Mortifying.
While I don’t have a fear of public speaking, I do have a deep soul-destroying fear of appearing clueless or incompetent. I’d just done that.
That one kept me up for days.
What books, blogs, podcasts or movies do you recommend to an introvert looking to succeed in career and personal finance?
While I know it’s almost obligatory, I can’t avoid mentioning Susan Cain’s Quiet. Astonishingly, I’d seen her TED talk, but hadn’t read the book until very recently. It really is transformative and empowering. Even my extrovert wife enjoyed reading it and said it helped her understand me more.
There are a number of introvert specific leadership books, but I prefer seeing how introvert traits show up in general leadership writing. There are two that impacted me heavily as a leader and made me see the possible strengths of introverts in leadership. The first was Good to Great by Jim Collins. Reading that the first time, the characteristics of a “level 5” leader spoke to me and enabled me to let go of the lifelong limiting belief that a leader needed to be a “rah rah” extrovert.
That was further reinforced by Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. This is now my go to leadership text and reminds me that the introvert strengths of listening, considering the whole, and thoughtful systems improvements are desperately needed in organizations today.
The world needs more good leaders. Unfortunately, too many leaders rise for the wrong reasons and our concept of leadership is shaped heavily by the extroverts in society. Introverts absolutely can be incredible leaders!
Oh, it’s not explicitly about leadership or career, but I think the ultimate introvert movie is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The beautiful use of sound, limited dialogue, and contrast between the reckless and thoughtful is an incredible lesson in itself. The great fight scenes don’t hurt either.
If you could send a text to my subscriber list, what would it say?
Listen more than you talk.
It isn’t a unique thought, especially for your subscribers who are likely introverts. Yet, it’s part of my mission to improve the world and education so I say it whenever I can.
Talk less is the most frequent piece of feedback I give to teachers after observations. Education is more effective if a teacher talks less and lets students explore more. Lecture focused teaching only works for a very small subset of students.
I’m also fortunate now to teach and mentor new leaders. This is the first piece of advice I give and reiterate constantly. It’s easy for a new leader to think they have to prove themselves by having all the answers or opining on every subject instantly. It’s such a mistake.
Even experienced leaders frequently need to be reminded. Leadership is most effective when it’s shared and empowers individuals. It requires learning and listening.
Simple, but important. I’ll continue to push this message everywhere.
Thank you Educator FI!
I hope your enjoyed this interview. I focused less on the finance aspect and more on the psychological because you can read about the numbers on the his site Educator FI. What is important to me is that people understand they can achieve financial stability and independence as an introvert in many career paths.
If you liked this interview, you can read many more here.
I struggled for years to decode why going to work, socializing in loud places, and taking trips with large groups were so draining. Finally, after gaining an understanding of introversion, I started to progress professionally and socially. Coupled with my newfound knowledge of introversion, the concept of financial independence was the motivation I needed to improve my life.
This blog documents my journey and the journeys of other introverts, lessons learned, and strategies for a meaningful and fulfilling life as an introvert in an extroverted world.