The Path to A Million: Finding the Elevator

Path to a Million

The Path to A Million: Finding the Elevator

Hello $wanigans! Thanks for stopping by The Green Swan. Today I will be sharing my path to a million. This post comes as a result of reader feedback asking me to share my story. As always, I love the feedback from readers and am delighted to respond to requests such as this. If other readers have a topic they wish to have discussed or more general feedback they’d like to share, don’t hesitate to leave comments or reach out directly via the Contact Page. I love the engagement from readers, so keep it up, and thanks again for motivating me to write this article.

Our Path

Alright, so without further ado, let’s get on with how my wife and I were able to reach the double comma club. To begin, I would like to reference a previous article titled Net Worth Explosion. If you haven’t already, you may want to give this a read for a starting point.

In looking back on our path to a million, I view the path as having two distinct phases. In today’s post, we’ll discuss the first phase which I’ve titled Finding the Elevator.


By way of background, my wife Lucy and I both grew up in a small city in the Midwest. While having known each other throughout high school, we didn’t start dating until after we went off to college. And we both went to different colleges, so it was a bit of a long distance relationship in the beginning. We graduated, got engaged, and married 8 months later.

Having both earned solid degrees from reputable public universities, we were ready to enter the workforce. Our combined starting salaries in 2008 were around $75K. Fortunately, we graduated and were able to get our entry level jobs prior to the Great Recession. We were also fortunate to have our respective parents pay for a good portion of our schooling. We both worked throughout high school and college, saved everything we could, and began investing early in our retirement accounts.

Entry Level

We entered the workforce on the ground floor, myself with an entry level analyst position at a bank and Lucy began in the sales department of a large hotel company. I had the opportunity to begin my job full time at the end of 2006, about six months before graduating (it was a busy last semester!). And Lucy began her career at the end of 2007. Our first couple years were all about working hard, gaining experience, and receiving our nominal, low single-digit pay increases.

So let’s begin the timeline there.

Finding the Elevator

The First Move

After almost two years in my first job (in the Fall of 2008), I took a modest promotion with my same bank, but in a city two hours away. The timing couldn’t be more precarious, and looking back I am a little surprised we took such a risk. The Great Recession had just begun. As part of the move, Lucy had to quit her job and try to find a new one in a new city.

We took a leap of faith and fortunately it paid off. Just a month or two after the move, Lucy found a job with the same hotel company in a similar role she had previously. We missed her income for that short time period, but focused on managing expenses to get by.

It was never a sure thing she was going to find a job immediately which made the situation a little precarious. As a matter of fact, it took applying and interviewing for a number of positions before she secured employment.

Like I said, it was a leap of faith that paid off. We knew my new job would offer continued career advancement, so we took the risk.

The Great Recession was in pretty full on disaster-mode at that time. Even after we had both found new jobs, we were still very uncertain about our job security. Our companies both implemented hiring freezes shortly after our move, folks were getting laid off around us, our businesses were definitely no longer as stable as they once were, and on top of that we saw many friends go through trouble finding and retaining jobs.

Finding the Elevator

Finding the Elevator

This taught us both very valuable lessons and we never took our jobs for granted thereafter. As such, we both began thinking hard about what we could do to secure our jobs, provide value for our companies, and advance our careers. That’s when I began my nights and weekend MBA program at a top public university.

As I look back, I realize that earning my MBA was my elevator to career advancement. It was by no means a guarantee to career advancement at the beginning. It could have just as easily taken me to the garage instead of going up, especially given all the cash we were sinking into it. But I aspired for greener pastures so I rolled up my sleeves and embraced the grind. Long and busy weeks and not much of a life outside work and school for a couple years, but it was going to serve as my elevator.

Finding the Elevator

Meanwhile, Lucy continued to take on more and more responsibility at her job. And given the reluctance of her employer to necessarily hire on new folks at the time, there was plenty of opportunity for her to showcase herself, go above and beyond and be recognized for that.

Finding the Elevator

The Ground Work is Set

With the US economy improving, having completed my MBA program and Lucy ready for her next step; we began searching for our next opportunities. And to find those opportunities, we were more than willing to move across the country. While it was not an easy decision at the time, we ended taking another leap of faith. Chasing the next opportunity for advancement, we were willing to make a big change in scenery!

We’ll save that for Part 2… The Path to A Million: Moving to Move Up. Be sure to check it out next Monday.


When looking back on this phase which eclipsed approximately 4 to 5 years, our net worth didn’t necessarily expand by leaps and bounds. But this first phase wasn’t solely about growing net worth, it was about setting the table for bigger things to come. After all, you can’t launch a rocket without a launch pad.

Some of the things that helped us set the ground work and find the elevator were accepting challenges, getting outside of our comfort zone, a willingness to embrace change, making ourselves more valuable, and taking calculated leaps of faith for the potential to advance our careers.

It wasn’t easy or risk free, not by any means of the imagination. Neither is riding a bike for the first time either, but once you’ve learned how to ride you’ll be riding for the rest of your life.

For part two of my path to a million, check out how I moved to move up.

Ready to find your path to a million? Check out the millennial’s guide to a million.

Let me know your story in the comments below. How did your career get off the ground? Did you have a similar path or totally different? What did it take to find your elevator and what was it?

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach


Products that may help you on your financial journey:

Personal Capital – A complete tool to monitor your personal finances
Betterment – Automated investment services and tax loss harvesting
Discover Bank – For a high-yield savings account
Motif Investing – Low cost investment accounts












share on:


  1. Nice work GS (and Lucy). There’s been a few bloggers telling their story lately and each one has been different (obviously) and each story has been told in a different way. Thanks for sharing with us. I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about the people whose blogs I read each week.

    1. I was thinking the same thing! I got a late start reading this week and I’m loving these stories. As a qualitative researcher, I am really interested in how everyone’s paths are different – yet we can end up in the same place. You made some incredibly smart moves so young GS and Lucy! Making the move across country was something many people wouldn’t do. I am thinking your relationship had a lot to do with that!

      1. I tend to believe things always work out for the best and happen for a reason. We were fortunate those decisions so young worked out. Thanks Vicki!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, it’s always interesting to hear people’s back stories. Similar to you, a turning point for me was getting my MBA from a top public university. It’s a great foundational thing to do and it was an inflection point for us as well in our financial journey.

    Looking forward to part 2!

    1. That’s great an M.B.A. made such a difference for you. It’s made a tremendous impact on our path for sure.

      Thanks for sharing, Jon.

  3. Well done to both of you. You maximised on every opportunity that you were presented with, you had a great base to build off (from parents), survived through the crazy recession and made it work for you – well done.

    I hope that in 8 years time we can look back and have a similarly impressive rise (even if it doesn’t end with $1M 🙂 ).


  4. Thanks for sharing your journey! It’s always interesting to read other’s stories. It sounds like you guys got off to a great start right away – that’s definitely crucial for building a solid nest egg!

  5. Education may not be everything but it goes a one way. It’s funny that we can push our minds to earn more yet at times saving more is hard for many. The combo of both is powerful. Between Mrs. PIE and I, we have three degrees. – two B.Sc and one Ph.D. That has gone a long long way to solidifying our base and ultimately growing our respective careers. In scientific professions, technical expertise combined with strong collaboration and good communication skills will propel you a long way.

  6. Setting that base is so important. You must be very glad that you sacrificed a lot working and doing your MBA when you were younger to amass a large amount of savings today. I think many people are afraid of sacrificing any part of their life to better themselves later on as it is seen as risky and boring but sometimes it is necessary.

    1. Totally agree, I struggled with the decision myself quite a bit. I talked myself into getting my M.B.A. And out of it a few times and am glad I ultimately pulled the trigger.

  7. Thanks for sharing that story! The naysayers always object that folks here in the FIRE crowd have some rich uncle and that’s how we became millionaires. But that’s not true. Even regular folks investing in regular stocks, even going through a not-so-regular bear market like 2008/9 can accumulate tons of savings. One just has to get started and keep up the good habits for ~10 years or so.
    Good luck!

    1. I agree. Good spending habits and automatic investing over 10 or 20 years will really build up your accounts a lot more than most people would expect. It definitely did for me.

  8. Similar to what you mention above, I think its important to plant the seed and have patience. Have a long term view and build things up through education, networking etc. Then keep hammering away and there is no doubt you will be successful.

  9. It’s amazing how just “background saving” can turn the tide. I was in a lot of debt with school, credit cards, etc… and didn’t start in this industry until I was 30. Even then, only 9 years of automatic investing and background saving without a real specific FIRE focus did a lot to get us closer to that goal than we would have thought.

    Granted a few years of laser focus towards FI has helped also, but we wouldn’t be nearly as close if it wasn’t for the boring old, background saving. No lottery winning, rich uncles, or crazy side hustles got us to where we are now – although it would be nice if one of those happened along soon. 🙂

  10. Hi JW,

    Very curious to reading Part Two as it appears there was some serious acceleration that may have happened there. Could you explain a bit more how you were able to go from 48k to 185k in 2 years on a combined salary less than 90k with an MBA in progress? You mention you sunk money into it so I assume it was not paid by the employer. That is great progress.

    My path was much more stable but perhaps the same amount of risk (a specific degree). I would call my degree the elevator and I was fortunate to start at a high level. However, it appears I have not been able to fully capitalize on it like you have!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Hi John,

      I appreciate the question, John. I should have elaborated on that a bit. The growth you pointed out was about equal parts in terms of new contributions made to our investments as well as strong returns from our investment portfolio. I detailed in a previous post about my investment portfolio and pointed out that I made a calculated choice to move a decent chunk of my 401k into my Company Stock. Its stock had been hammered after the financial crisis and my “bet” paid off. On top of the that, the overall stock market had some pretty good years in 2009 and 2010. Overall, our portfolio experienced returns of ~35% in 2009 and ~20% in 2010.

      Thanks for the comment, John!

      1. I was wondering about the specifics of the rapid increase, as well; your explanation makes perfect sense.

        I’m really looking forward to Part 2 – not looking forward to waiting until next Monday to read it though! 🙂

  11. Sweet, and thanks for the answer. No risk, no reward! You must have felt pretty good afterwards investing when the world was falling apart around you :-). We all say we can do it but we can’t know until it happens!

  12. Great job with the MBA. I know it’s a tough slog, but you got it out of the way. It will pay off for years to come. I’m looking forward to part two as well.

  13. As someone who is just about half way done with my MBA I’m really hoping it provides a good ROI. Always a little reassuring hearing that it has paid off well for others. Looking forward to part 2!

    1. I think it will, glad to hear you’re in process! It’s all about using what you’ve learned. I’m sure you’ll be much more valuable to your employer. Best of luck!

  14. I love the idea of a financial time line JW. It’s a great way to see how far you have come.

    I had two careers that were totally different. However my first career taught my to get out of my shell and not be afraid to speak up and that has had a flow on effect to my current career in a positive way.

    1. Oh nice, that’s a great and valuable lesson! Glad that’s corresponded so well with the second career. Learn and grow! Thanks for sharing Ray Ray.

  15. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always great to get hard numbers to show people how it’s possible to get to where you are. Love reading these type of posts. I’m a bit of a late starter (had some student loans I had to pay back to get myself back to even) but hoping I can be in your position soon!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It sounds like you’ve gotten a great start relative to most. Your debt is paid off and I’m sure your net worth will continue to grow quickly. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Awesome story! Really inspiring!

    I’m still on the search for my elevator, so I can’t wait for part two to see the conclusion of the whole matter. I’m taking notes as I embarked on my own journey. 🙂

    You’re story is inspirational and daring. I love it!

  17. Was it me who requested that you share your path to a million?? I love that you shared your personal story, I love reading these. Thanks so much GS! Find an elevator that propels your career, that’s really hard to do these days. I can’t believe you were able to increase your net worth by 140k even while being in an MBA program. That’s fantastic and the fact that you had a full-time job in your last semester of college is inspirational as well. Can’t wait to read part 2!

  18. My first jobs out of college paid very poorly and had no room for advancement. So I took the leap of moving cities and going to grad school during the recession. I finished and tried to get a good career job in my area, but they no longer existed. I then began temping in my career for a lucrative enough rate of pay. I started saving, but did not know to what purpose. Then my friends and girlfriend encouraged me to start a business in my profession; this took my savings, but it is making my life. I am not up to a million yet. In fact, I am heavily in debt that is mainly due to schooling and starting a business, but I’m on my way.

    1. That’s a couple big leaps of faith and it’s great it has worked out so well for you! Glad you are on your path now. Thanks for sharing, ZJ.

  19. I love reading about the paths people have taken to get to where they are today, so I’m looking forward to reading more on Monday 🙂

    The biggest impact on my career and earning potential was when I got a job at a large corporation, with the help of a friend who worked there, when I was 29. It provided a substantial pay increase and they covered most of the cost of my MBA. They are also well-known and reputable in this area, so I have no doubt that working there opened the door to working for my current employer. In the last 10 years, my income has essentially doubled.

    I often wonder what my life had been like if I’d stayed with the small family owned company I was working for instead of moving to the large corporation. That was a truly life changing event for me.

    1. Glad you enjoyed, Kate!

      Wow, I’d say that job change made a huge difference as well. So awesome how well that worked out! I often times think how my life would be different if I hadn’t made some of the moves I did, pretty crazy and I definitely feel fortunate.

      Nothing against family owned businesses at all, but I feel it’s partly attributable to the benefits of working for a large corporation. Sounds like that was the difference maker for you as well.

      Thanks for sharing!

  20. Nice read.
    I’ve always wanted to explain how I dramatically increased my income over the past 10 years, but I’m still not confident enough to share absolute numbers publicly. Nice to read from other fellows who are not as shy as I am though 🙂

    1. No need to feel the urge to share unnecessarily, but good to hear you’ve seen some great increases. Thanks for stopping by Stockbeard!

  21. An amazing journey you and Lucy have had these past few years. I graduated just before the Great Recession myself, so I can attest to the challenges that we all felt. I’ve been with my company 9 years and I saw the company lay off people around me, fire people, rehire people, and begin to prosper again. I’m lucky for sure.

  22. Nice story, similar to mine.

    After my engineering dgree and first working year, i took an MBA. It is not until almost 5 years after that my real booster came: I got in touch with a cool manager at a bank to help him build the eCommerce part. We understood each other very well at work and he brought me to the next floor…

    Years later, I got another position in the same bank. same story with my boss.. This time, I got off the elevator before we hit the next floor to chase some of the interests that I have, to learn other skills….

    1. Nice, good for you ATL! Sounds like you did it right and were very successful.

      I feel similarly with regards to some of the mentors I’ve had along the way, including my current boss.

      Thanks for sharing!

  23. Great rocket/rocket pad analogy! I was reading this and thinking the same thing – you’re laying the groundwork and building excellent habits early on.

    Your story has been inspiring for us because we’re only in our 4th (me) and 3rd year (her) of our career and we’re still in a negative net worth territory. We were in a similar boat where we didn’t see much movement on our net worth for about a year. Now we’re both on the same page and our NW is reflecting that change. We’ve eliminated the stress money was causing, built excellent habits and the framework is set for more exciting things to come.

    Looking forward to part 2!

    1. That’s great, Matt, you guys have definitely built a nice foundation! I’m sure the ball will being rolling quicker for you soon, especially as your investments grow and begin working for you more. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ha true, that definitely helps, but it hasn’t been a super contributor to growth the last couple years. Hopefully the bull begins charging ahead once again (as it has the last couple months). Thanks for the comment, Sam.

Leave a Reply