5 steps to a 1%er’s salary

Please, note that I did not say 5 EASY steps to a 1%er’s salary. 

If you want easy steps, you came to the wrong f#cking place.

I don’t do easy.

Rant on

Have you ever had conversations with millennials that make you really shake your head?

Maybe singling out millennials is not fair. Perhaps I should just say students, young colleagues, peers.

The one I often have that comes close to giving me apoplectic seizures is when a millennial tells me they want these five things and expect me to deliver them:

  1. increased title
  2. Increased wages
  3. improved work-life balance
  4. more variety in their daily work
  5. More challenging projects and daily work

Seriously, unless these people live in an alternate universe that I have not yet been to, that doesn’t work.

Rant off

I apologize if I have dashed your dreams of getting everything you want without sufficient effort.

Hopefully you are still with me and you are young enough to take advantage of what I am about to tell you, with some examples of the Finance Stoic’s path.

The five steps I talk about today are the five steps that I alluded to in my post on the three paths to financial independence.

Step One – Figure out what you want to do

To achieve a 1%er’s annual income, the first thing you need to do is know what a 1%er’s annual income is.

According to a 2013 economic policy institute report you needed to earn $389,000 as a family to achieve a 1%er salary. Assuming there are two of you in the family, then that is $145,000 each.

Now that you know how much you want to make, it’s as easy as googling highest paying jobs in America, which would give you this list for 2017, and the top 10 roles, with median salary, are:

  1. Corporate controller – $111k
  2. Research and development manager – $112k
  3. Applications development manager – $112k
  4. Physician assistant – $113k
  5. Enterprise architect – $113k
  6. Pharmacist – $126k
  7. Medical science liason – $133k
  8. Patent attorney – $140k
  9. Pharmacy manager – $149k
  10. Physician – $188k

Please note, you can find hundreds of lists that detail the top paying jobs, my list of ten above is merely meant to be illustrative. That is, with very little effort, you can find a list of roles that pay well.

Key to the amounts above is that they are the median income for the role. Given what I am going to teach you below, you are going to earn well above the median income in any role you are in.

The image I want you to consider when deciding on what role you want to take is:

The first step we have done above is solve the pink circle – what people will pay you for.

The next question is to determine if you are good at any of the items on the list, and whether you love to do them.

If not, I would suggest you do the following:

  1. Figure out what various roles fall within your what I love to do bucket that pay to the level you are trying to achieve.
  2. Determine which of the items you love to do that pay sufficiently are also items that you are good at.

Step Two – Learn what you need, to the level you need, to get the job you want

Does your job require a university degree?

Does it require a graduate degree?

Does it require an apprenticeship?

Does it require trade school?

For step two, you will need to do your research to understand what it takes to get the job you want and to climb the ladder sufficiently.

For example, I knew that I wanted to be the following when I matured in my career: CFO, COO, President.

To take this route, in Canada, I knew that my first step would be to article at a big four firm.

To be a CA in Vancouver at KPMG required me to be a top student in my university’s accounting program.

If you knew me in high school, I was not that; however, knowing what my goal was and knowing what it would take to get there, caused me to focus on getting the grades needed to get hired and I did get hired at KPMG, my first choice.

Step Three – Work harder than anyone else is willing to do

This is where my rant comes in above.

Too many people are NOT willing to reconcile what they want with what they are willing to do.

For example, research indicates that someone in the C-suite may be required to work up to 72 hours per week.

If you want to be a C-suite executive, are you willing to work up to 72 hours per week?

Do you think someone should promote you to CFO and then you will work those hours?

No, zero f#cking chance.

You have to prove that you are willing to do what it takes to do the role you are attempting to get.

Let me tell you a quick back story, which may illustrate this point.

When I was training under our retiring CFO to take over his role, we had an upcoming shareholders meeting and I was in charge of preparing the package the shareholders would get in June.

On Mother’s Day, I had a beautiful day with my wife and our two sons and that evening I said to my wife I Love You and I need your help. For the next six weeks, I won’t be able to be home. You need to take care of the boys yourself. Do you have support to get you through that? 

My wife, a woman I love to pieces who is such a foundation for our family, said she would support me and I started to work an average of 12+ hours per day for seven days per week.

After four weeks in a row of doing this, I woke up quite burned out on a Saturday morning and my wife rolled over in bed and put her head on my shoulder and she was crying. As I held her and gave her a kiss she said to me I miss you baby.

I cannot begin to describe how much it hurt to hear that and how my thoughts echoed hers, but my response was I miss you too beautiful, and we only have two more weeks to go. With that, I extricated myself, got ready for work and left the house.

Between Monday and Friday for six weeks, I did not see my sons and sometimes not on weekends either.

Was it over the top? Yes.

Would I do it again ?Yes.

Have you read ESI Money’s millionaire interview series?

I felt kindred spirit with many of them, most of them worked their asses off to get to where they got to.

Step four – Put yourself in as many sink or swim opportunities as possible and swim, baby, swim

This is an important step and I cannot underestimate it.

An example of what I am going to talk about is consistent with Mr. Shirts at stop ironing shirts explanation of two inflection points in his career. As he says My hours were long but I worked hard and learned.

How do you get yourself into a sink or swim situation and how do you get yourself out of it?

To answer that, I am going to give you an example that I discussed with my nine year old son when he asked the same question.

Me: Son, I said, what would you say if I asked you to shovel all the driveways on our block, let’s say ten driveways, for $1,000 and you had to be done by 5:00. 

Son: I couldn’t do that Dad, I wouldn’t have enough time. 

Me: Wait a second, you are saying no that quickly?

Son: Well, I couldn’t do it.

Me: Couldn’t you call five friends and do two driveways each? You could pay them $125 each? After purchasing the shovels, you’d also have $125 and next time it snows, you’d have six shovels. 

Son: Oh, yeah, that would work.

Me: I never put boundaries on you, don’t put them on yourself. You have to think outside the box.

I then finished up by providing him this quote by Richard Branson:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!

Step five – Never stop learning

It’s evolve or die, really, you have to evolve, you have to move on otherwise it just becomes stagnant.

Craig Charles

To reach the top, to be a top earner, you can never rest on your laurels and must always be improving.

What got you here, won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith

You managed to get promoted to a junior manager position through great technical skills? Awesome – well done. Wait, you want to be a senior leader and you have never developed strong EQ and it was raised in a performance review?

What can you do? Are you doomed to fail? Not if you have a sufficient growth mindset. If you do have a growth mindset, then you would consider how you could learn the skills you need to excel and you would do it.

For example, in the four years I have been at this company, some of the learning I did on my own includes:

  1. CPA certificate in corporate finance
  2. Three courses from the Shambhala Buddhist meditation centre
  3. Two courses from Farnam Street – the Art of Reading and the Art of Focus

Once you get the role you want, do you stop moving forward? Do you stop learning? HELL NO.

I’ve asked my boss, our President, if I can do a Masters’ degree. He’s surprised at my age [what? I am only 39] that I would want to do that.

Maybe if he read this post, he would understand why I want to do it.

8 thoughts on “5 steps to a 1%er’s salary

    1. Too true!

      I have that discussion with my managers when doing the compensation for the people on my team.

      We cannot expect them to take too much of a ‘hometown discount’ to stay with us when we know what we pay outside people to do the same role if they leave.

      Sadly, not everyone things the way you and I do.


      1. I stayed at the same company until I slightly early retired, and finally hit that 1% compensation the last year I worked. I agree loyalty isn’t usually appreciated but I was lucky to be somewhere it was.


  1. I have enjoyed your site for the past day or so after hopping over here from the Our Next Life blog. I enjoy your thought process, I have had great mindfulness and leadership training from a PhD leadership and life coach from USC. Our paths are probably very similar in terms of our career management (Finance guy with his CMA though I eventually branched out into product and strategy after learning our business and industry through its Activity Based Costing and tax structure issues). I am millionaire interview 18 on ESI’s website.

    I FAT FIRED a few weeks ago at 52. When I did the ESI interview almost a year ago I think my net worth was a little over 12 million (I would have to go back and look). Even with dropping 900,000 in the last 3 business days it now stands at 15.3.

    Almost everything you have written about BEING I learned from my leadership coach, though the foundation was in place from years of great teachers, coaches, my wife and my parents. He changed my life in every dimension by simply making me aware. When I first started working with him 12 years ago my net worth was probably a little under 2 million. The result of being his student and applying it to work is why today I am retired and now in high demand as a consultant which allows me to choose what I do.

    I will follow your blog, I am not a minimalist, my millennial children are not spoiled brats – hard workers with assets and a vision of success in their heads (both are in college and both in medical fields) and I eschew the FI communities overwhelming belief that FIRE can only be achieved through frugality and “sheltering in place”

    Best of luck and if I can help YOU in any way, you now have my email, please simply ask


    1. Phil, I really appreciate reading that. Thank you. I’ve had executive coaching, and it was good, but maybe not enough. If I choose to stay in my current role, I will seek to pursue a Master’s in Servant Based Leadership and would consider pursuing a PhD in the topic area on graduating.

      One thing I don’t talk about much is that before becoming an accountant, at my wife’s urging, I was majoring in psychology and English with a goal of being a psych PhD. Perhaps attaining it later in life in a manner that lets me combine the coaching and leadership with financial independence would merge those paths.


  2. I used to have a goal to get my PhD after early retirement so that I could teach but came to a conclusion (for me) that doing so wouldn’t alter my message much and that while I would have a credential for scholarly work, I felt I could be as effective teaching high school aged kids financial literacy given how few obtain college degrees today (where college MIGHT be the first place they get exposed to more than simple budgeting).

    I look forward to reading you regularly


    1. That’s a great idea. My accounting teacher in high school was a retired professional. He seemed so much more relaxed than other teachers.

      Perhaps teaching was his FI and pivot.

      If I went that route, I would also love to be involved in school sports.


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