Up until I was 24 years old, I was my net worth sort of hovering around zero, mostly on the positive side, but the truth is that I was broke.
During those initial years I had money from birthday gifts, summer jobs and a small inheritance. I was blessed with a family who had learned to live simply, on modest incomes and without ever taking on consumer debt. I was also lucky to be in Belgium where university is cheap (mostly funded by the state) and education is of high quality. All of that helped me pay for my construction engineering studies in Belgium and a year of exchange program in the US.
I then started working in Belgium only to realize that my degree did not allow me to work in the field that really interested me: sustainable energy. So I used the saving from my first job to fund a second Masters in engineering, but this time in the UK and in a field that would allow me to have the impact I wanted.
Following this Masters, I found an internship in the UAE and while I did not make much money, it really helped me set myself up for my career in sustainable energy in the UAE. At the end my internship in 2011, I was broke, with a net worth of zero, but I had a very promising job with a government backed consulting firm focused on climate change and carbon emission reductions. I even had to borrow money from my brother to be able to pay for my accommodation the first month of my job. But from then on, things were going to change. In the 7 years that followed, I earned good money, spent very little (compared to my peers), learned my lessons in investing, (met my wife and married her!) and reached FI at the end of 2017, before finally quitting my job in summer 2018, exactly 7 seven years after the start of my first job in Dubai.
I resigned from my 6-figure salary job on my 33rd birthday. Best self-birthday-gift ever!
Looking back, I now see how this was possible thanks to a combination of
- A lot of luck (so many external factors influencing me on the way!),
- A bit of learning (there was no examples to learn from when I started investing DIY as an expat),
- A lot of hard work (consulting is a very rewarding but also very demanding job – and when you work hard and smart, the pay follows), and
- A bit of intentional setup (by stepping back from daily grind, thinking about the bigger picture, making a few smart decisions and automating what I could).