Jump Start a 21-Year-Old?


Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
Feb 8, 2003
Nomadic in the Rockies
I'm sitting at work today calling MBNA every 2 hours to see if my EFT payment has hit. This is the card that was at $20,000 three years ago, and after that EFT payment hits (anytime within the next 72 hours if past payments are any indication) the balance will be zero.

Nope, not there yet. So I'll check email...my brother got fired. :( What a buzz kill!

My brother is 21, has no career started, has stalled early in college and doesn't really have an impressive work history. (A few fast food stints being the shining star of his resume.)

The job he just got fired from was a big company which was part of a larger conglomerate. The job was very entry level, but it was this type of position in a large that started my career off, and I thought he had finally found a place to start a career. But as the 90-day probationary period came to an end they fired him.

I realize there are many individual issues beyond the scope of any thread here, and I'm starting to wonder about past A.D.D. diagnoses and such.

But aside from all that I'm really at a loss to offer him advice or even encouragement right now. I look back at my career history and sometimes I feel like I lucked into everything while most of the time I believe I'm a good observer and take advantage of opportunities that happen my way.

My sister's path was a little different. She seems to have focused on portable skills (well, mine are portable, too) and job hunting/interviewing rather than climbing the corporate ladder, but it's working very well for her. At 21 she was just about done with her Bachelor's and had an internship and a lock on a good job after graduation. Since then she's traded salaries up by switching jobs and companies to great success so far.

I guess I'm babbling now. I realize you can't fix other people's lives but I don't know what advice to offer him.

Any tips on how a 21-year old with a high school diploma, a little college and a spotty work history can get the career going would be greatly apperciated. Or if not a "career" then at least (a) reliable stream(s) of income.

Oh, and health insurance. He falls off our mother's health insurance coverage when he turns 22 or 23 (I forget which).

:( :confused:

EDIT: I suppose it would be helpful to add that his interests are in PC support and acting/drama. I don't think he believes he can make money acting, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure if his PC skills are marketable, but I was confident that he would pick up the marketable skills quickly in an entry level job. (After his firing, though, I wonder if there are issues with his attention or attitude...I'll check into that.) I got into tech work through climbing the corporate ladder and applied college; my sister got into tech work through college and internship. At this point he doesn't seem to have the motivation to follow in our shoes, and I don't really know how to get into tech work other than that.
It's nice you are concerned about your brother.
I don't even speak to mine (or maybe he doesn't
speak to me??).

Some people are not meant to have a "career".
My 38 year old son is a very sharp guy and just finishing
up his bachelor's after a long hiatus. He has had some
very good jobs and almost always got bored and just
walked away, without any obvious means of support.
Yet, there is is, healthy and happy. He's kind of like me
in that he makes a lot of it work out with just brainpower
and willpower. Anyway, some people manage to sail
through their whole lives without ever having a real "career".
Seems okay to me.

John Galt

Well on one hand, congrats on the near zero balance. Cause for celebration.

On the other. Wow. Very few people in my companies failed to pass probation. Since thats almost an admission of a failure during the interview process, many managers and peers will "go the extra mile" to make someone successful.

When it did fail, skills development was rarely it. Attitude or "fit" with management/peers was usually it. Big square peg in a small round hole.

What to do?

Well when I got started, which was a number of years before 21, I took a job with a small local computer store, telling them they didnt have to pay me, that I'd work for them for a year for free. Although I was an adept programmer and could perform simple hardware fixes, no task was too menial. I ran the cash register, I went for coffee and lunch, I swept the floor.

Guy who owned the store had a phd in computer science, his brother the bookkeeper was his class valedictorian at princeton, and the engineering guy from germany had about 900 degrees.

About halfway through the year they put me on salary anyway. A year later I got a job at the now defunct Digital Equipment Corp based on experience and a year and a half experience with good referrals.

I sponged up a lot during that time, it was a worthwhile investment.

Completely worthless without the right attitude.
HI BigMoneyJim. I've worked with folks with ADHD/ADD. It's a real job killer and quite difficult to address, but there are strategies that can help if the person is motivated. If this were my brother, and if I had a good relationship with him (which you appear to have) I'd get him in for an assessment with a good psychologist to verify. Finding a good psychologist can be tough. I know about 10 in my area and there are only two I'd even consider using.

If it's just his attitude, there's probably nothing you can do except to ensure nobody bails him out. I've seen many parents rescue adult children from there screw-ups and it almost never has a happy ending. Good luck!

And congrats on the MBNA pay-off!
After watchnig my brothers (one five years older and one five years younger than me) find their own career paths, I'm convinced that advice is not something I can or should offer them.

My older brother spent 10 years pursuing a degree in Philosopy that never happened. He worked only part time well into his 30s. I was certain he was going to end up in deep financial trouble in his old age. Then, he met a woman MD, they were married and adopted a child and he began to focus on his career -- as a fund raiser. They are happy, successful pillars of the community.

My younger brother saw the path I had taken with engineering in corporate America and decided that looked better than part time work and a life as a Philosophy student. I think he would have been much happier finding his own way. He eventually did, but he struggled for a long time.

But whatever twists and turns we chose to pursue, my parents were always supportive and encouraging. They would ask us tough questions about our choices, but once we made the decision, they wished us well and would do what they could to suggest ideas to help us on our way. I think my brothers and I treated each other the same way. And eventually, it worked out well for all of us.
From a distance, it doesn't look like he really wants a job. Like TH said, you usually have to work pretty hard to not get past the 90 day probationary period.

Whether is is lacking motivation or just can't figure out what he wants to do...he will continue to fail until he decides he wants to keep a job. Nothing you say will make any difference. I've been there done that with a brother who now in his 30's is just now getting his act together.

Back in the olden days, I believe 4 years in the Army was a typical reccomendation for young men who lacked direction. If he has absolutely no idea of where to go or what to do, 4 years of having somebody tell him exactly where to go and what to do might not be a bad thing :D
He'll find his way.

Congratulations, BMJ. It'll be interesting to see which feels sweeter-- getting out of debt or getting into ER.

As for your brother, well, college was the best nine years of my younger brother's life. I'm sure he had many interesting references from his numerous internships & probationary jobs.

He sells wholesale craft supplies while he waits for his R&B bar band to be "discovered". I think he's been doing that since 1985, sorta like Robert Pastorelli in the old TV show "Double Rush".

Never married & no kids (that we're aware of!), but just moved in with a nice woman and bought a fixer-upper. They seem happy. He's doing fine and he plays a mean guitar.

So maybe your brother's troubles can be waited out by watching from the sidelines. He may not "need" the help and he can always ask for help if he wants it. What may mean the most at this point is knowing that his family supports him.

Better watch out, though-- the Naval Reserve & active-duty recruiters hire a lot of people like your brother at just such a vulnerable time as this!
I'm an Academic Advisor and I work with kids like your brother every day and my own brother is a 26 year old version of the same. There is really nothing you can do to jump start him. Trying to even do something will probably have the opposite effect that you're looking for. Be supportive, but don't let him mooch off you. If your parents ask for your advice, tell them not to fully support him. If he's living with them, fine, but he should be paying some sort of rent or something (even if they are secretly stashing it away to give back to him later).
Thanks for all the replies.

I guess there's no getting around that he has to find his own way, and that's how it should be. I appreciate the ideas, and if he's interested I'll pass 'em on.

I'll talk to him about the ADD angle (if he wants to).


My EFT still hasn't registered. Oh well, Maybe Wednesday.... I'm gonna need a new avatar. Maybe "Brother will work for food." (just kidding)
Congrats on paying off the credit card.
Was it a crisis that ran up the balance? If not did you identify the emotional trigger for running it up? That is one way to make sure it doesn't happen again.

You are in a great position to accumulate a great deal of wealth. God know that if I knew now what I knew then I would be much better off finacially.

As to your brother - I found that you can't help anyone who doesn't want help. In other words take other's advise - don't be an enabler, don't bug him about it, but be there when you brother becomes serious about a career.
Good luck
Congrats on paying off the credit card.
Was it a crisis that ran up the balance? If not did you identify the emotional trigger for running it up? That is one way to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Thanks! The first $10,000 or $12,000 was lazy procrastination and "oh, I'll pay it off later; I want to buy this now." The rest got ran up after I changed jobs, had the new company fold and took a couple of months off to try to figure out where I was going with life and what I wanted. Well, a couple of months turned into 6, and then when I started looking for work it was very hard to find (tech work in late 2000...my company had folded in early 2000 before the dot boom crash and tech job market crash) and wound up taking cash advances to pay other bills. Not to mention I didn't reduce my discretionary spending while I had no income.

The changing jobs and subsequent drama was just before and after I turned 30...I had a bit of an identity crisis about turning 30 because I wasn't where I thought I'd be (no wife and kids) and didn't seem to have any particular direction or goals. I had actually already begun curbing my spending and reducing debt somewhat before that episode because I had noticed that every time I got a raise I had less money (was spending more than my raises and running up credit bills).

I'm not aware that there was any emotional trigger for running up the debt. It was just I had no financial plan except "I want to buy this shiny thing today" and "I'll put this vacation on credit and pay for it later." Well, that's not entirely true...I had been contributing to a 401(k) since age 21, but more out of a sense of that was what I was supposed to do since retirement wasn't a tangible concept to me until I found REHP.

I could've used the 401(k)/IRA to pay off the debt at any time, but the taxes and penalties were unbearable (not to mention pretty much wiping out my nest egg) and I was afraid I'd simply run the debt up again. But now I've paid it off (well, when that EFT hits....not as of this minute) I know I have the discipline to maintain a budget. And I still have my 401(k)/IRA. It's a fantastic feeling and I keep saying "I've got it made".

You are in a great position to accumulate a great deal of wealth.
Yes, as long as the good jobs hold out, but I plan on making sure my "necessary" expenses stay low enough to support with low-pay job just in case, and to have more fun and retire earlier.

By the way, the FI/RE community has given me my direction: financial independence and early retirement. Thanks to intercst especially (his TMF board and REHP site was the first I discovered) and the rest of the community for helping me realize I don't have to work until age 67.
Great post! I currently carry CC balances in the six
figures. The "emotional trigger" for me was when they
starting giving me the money at a lower rate than I could get from the bank. A real no-brainer!

John Galt
On the 21 year old:
I discovered a couple years back that I could not motivate other people to find careers, success or anything else. Motivation has to come from inside and is not something others can hand to you.

I've always been seen as one of the "motivated" ones in my friend group (one of two) and got an early start in an entry level job in corporate America and have done quite well over the last nine years. Most of my friends are in entry level, clerk or basic techie jobs and have no motivation to move up or better themselves. They are happy going home and playing video games, hanging out, or doing whatever they do.

I used to try to help out, I spent many hours teaching people tech skills, assisting by getting them equipment they needed to study, encouraging them, sharing stories I had heard, trying to get them involved and eventually I learned my lesson: They are the only ones who will keep themselves motivated to do something over the long term. They may show short term interest at your prodding but it will fade.

Each person judges happiness differently and as long as they are happy I'm not in any position to tell them they are wrong even if I do find it disappointing that people who are otherwise smart and have pretty good common sense lack the drive or want to do something good for themselves, get a career or go down a path that requires anything more than taking money from people and handing back their change.

Anyway, that is what I have learned. Be a good role model, don't harass them because they don't really want or need to hear it and if they ever get motivated to do something with themselves then be there to encourage them.

Have a good one.
I'm not sure the best way to live your life is to start out by working your life away. My 21 year old experience was dropping out of college, working in a sawmill for a couple of months, then flying over to Europa for a couple of months of wine and women. This was repeated every 2 or three years until I was 30. I'm sure everyone was quite worried about me. Eventually I finished college and then got an advanced degree in Europe. I finally got a real job at 35.

I didn't start working on ER savings till about 5 years ago at age 37, and I will be able to ER at 60 or so, as long as the stock market does OK.

There is more to life than saving money. One does need goals and motivation but the results don't always show themselves right away. I would say that the age range from 20 to 30 is a good time to play and learn about the world. At the same time preparing yourself for a way to make some good money between 30 and ER.
Hi Skylark,

. . .   I  would say that the age range from 20 to 30 is a good time to play and learn about the world.  .  .

I don't know of any age that is not a good time to play and learn about the world.   :)
I don't know, Skylark... I'm 52 and recently retired. Looking back, I'm very glad I did most of the heavy lifting when I was young. I've always preferred to pay my dues up-front, just so it isn't hanging over my head. Plus I think it's easier to tolerate some of the negatives when one is young. Maybe that's just me - we're all wired differently, I guess.
I'm currently in rotc and about to embark on military career in the Air Force. I personally think moving every 2-3 years is exciting. If your not tied down with family, you adapt quickly to moving often.
Never mind the above message. It got posted on the wrong thread. :eek:
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