August 28, 2023
Imagine you left your full-time job.
After working for ten solid years, saving and investing aggressively, you get to a point where you no longer have to work.
It dawns on you that what you’ve achieved is exceedingly uncommon, so you decide to start sharing what you’ve learned with others, the principles you followed, the traps you avoided, and how you went about it.
Your goal is to inspire people to realise there’s another option besides working for 40+ years, just so they can pay bills and continue existing. That it’s actually possible to start managing money in a smarter, more thoughtful way. And with enough effort and time, the average person can become financially independent enough to gain complete control over their time and how they spend their one life.
Some people embrace your message with open arms, while others decide it’s not really for them. All good, it’s a free country after all.
Either way, it’s a positive message, done for the greater good and in the spirit of helping others. Then one day you get an email…
“I saw a recent interview of yours and went to your website. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with what you are doing and not doing and promoting. It is this…
You and I have a stratospheric level of prosperity due to the luck of being born in Australia at the time we were. You did not fight in any wars, sweat in dangerous construction jobs, or go broke trying to make a farm productive.
Essentially it all has fallen in your lap. Like so many other Australians. And with this comes a responsibility to contribute, beyond looking after a few turtles. I hope you will give this some thought because what you are espousing is neither ultimately good for yourself, the community or the country.”
OK, we’re not in hypothetical land – this actually happened recently. The rest of this article is the email chain that followed, along with my initial thoughts, reaction, and some important points this brings up.
Just so you know, the correspondence has been lightly edited for readability. Also, some of the comments seem annoying (like a child poking you in the ribs with their finger), but stick it out so you can see my reply and address the broader points raised. Well, that sounds more mature than what really happens – I destroy the crippled logic used against me.
Anyway, my initial reaction upon reading the email was something like this:
Umm… what? Is this dude for real? Initially, I thought it was just a troll. It’s a strongly worded email that is quite ‘high horsey’.
But for some reason I was also curious. Possibly because they at least had the awareness that we’re all lucky to live in this country. Usually, trolls are ingrateful complainers who can’t see positive in anything, so they’re easily dismissed as miserable people.
But this was a slightly different vibe. “Okay, I’ll bite.”
I totally agree with your initial comments about being incredibly lucky to live in Australia. For the record, I wasn’t born here – my parents moved here from Scotland when I was young – but the point is valid.
I’m not sure of your conclusion though, that what I’m espousing isn’t good for anybody. You hope I’ll think about it? You haven’t given me anything to think about because you haven’t really said anything, other than being critical and point out good fortune we all share.
You’ve offered zero suggestions for improvements. You’ve simply said: what I’m not doing is bad, what I am doing is bad, and what I’m teaching is bad. Explain why none of this is good for me, the community, or the country. And what your magical solution is.
Unless you’re stating that the only meaningful activities are fighting in wars, farming and construction?
“I understand like all of us who think more than the average Joe Blow, you are trying to make some sense of life and existence. And that is a good thing.
This is a very personal thing, but I do look at our ancestors who were bayoneted and shot, who went broke trying to make a go of things in marginal businesses, worked in tough and dangerous occupations, suffered early deaths, and think “well haven’t I had it good?”
I turn on the tap and there is fresh water, I break a bone and there is a free hospital to heal me, I walk the streets that are free of violence and crime, I have a full belly. What got us here? Well, it was the diligence and efforts of many.
The flip side is, I cannot sit back and take a cruisey path through life and just take all these benefits. I have an obligation to work diligently at my occupation and in doing so make a decent (or as decent as I can), contribution to society. I mean just because freedoms offered by Australian society allow us to do most anything, does not mean we should. If a store has no security camera does that mean we should thieve from it because we can? There is a moral dimension to all this.
The other part of the story from an individual perspective is to try and be everything you can be in life. That takes dedication and effort. I think that is the way to fulfilment.”
Well, that high horse just got a little higher. Seems like we’ve got ourselves an armchair expert (I think he was sufficiently disrespectful and closed minded enough to earn that label).
At this point I’m a little annoyed and disappointed. I clearly gave him a free swing to back up his initial claims and offer some solutions… but all I got was more of the same.
Like most armchair experts, the message is heavy on criticism and guilt tripping, light on perspective and useful suggestions. But let’s continue.
I share in your gratitude for our situation, something I think is largely forgotten today. If you read my writing for any length of time, you’d know I’m big on pointing out how good we have it, and how amazingly cushy life has become.
Where we separate is that you think doing your full-time job is a noble and greater contribution to society than something else. Maybe, maybe not. There’s nothing inherently more meaningful about working a full-time job than doing something else. You’d acknowledge that probably 80% of jobs are not contributing to a better world in any meaningful way. They’re simply part of society functioning, not becoming better.
As for me, it’s worth remembering that I’ve only just started this ‘retirement’ thing in a sense, so I have many decades of time ahead of me to hopefully contribute a lot to society. One of those ways right now is helping improve the financial wellbeing of other Aussies. With greater money and time, people are able to contribute more of both to important causes of their own choosing.
The whole point is empowering people to be able to contribute in their own way, not just work a full-time job their whole lives because they think they have to (and assuming that’s the optimal way to fulfilment).
For example, if I stayed working in a factory and spent my money on nonsense like everyone else, is that a greater contribution to society than what I’m doing now?
I took a different path, and now have more time, money and have already impacted thousands of people’s lives, while being able to directly fund charities and things I care about (yes, including ‘helping a few turtles’ and revegetating the local wetland). The idea that the worker-drone path is a far greater contribution to society than what I’m doing now, or what I could do over the next 50 years, or what I promote in my writing, is laughable.
Also, you’ve greatly misunderstood what myself and my readers are about. We are largely a group of people who are very interested in bigger causes, and solving the financial side of our lives enables us to improve our personal wellbeing first, our family lives, and then outward to improving the community through volunteering, starting a business, solving some type of problem, or whatever it might be.
These are not your everyday people. They’re people who are genuinely looking to have meaningful lives, not just make it to the next payday and watch Netflix. My writing and message is not about piling up money so you can do nothing – it’s about living a more deliberate life, using money to create freedom, and using that freedom to create meaning. Which undoubtedly involves contributing and helping others.
As for “being everything you can be” and creating fulfilment, why can this only mean working a full time job? Again, such a sad and narrow way to perceive the purpose of a human, assuming we can only achieve that through some arbitrary 40-50 hour workweek.
Somehow you’re happy to state that your approach is fundamentally correct, and mine fundamentally wrong. Even though we may not agree on how one should spend their time, you’ve been far too quick to assume what I’m about and what is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ way to live.
Alright, so the conversation didn’t go much further than that. But there’s plenty more to say on the topic that I want to flesh out here.
Our emailer made the important comment about what our ancestors and people of this country sacrificed for us. But how we go about honouring that is where we disagree.
I think our ancestors would be incredibly pleased to see people making the most of modern day incomes to create wealth and freedom to have more time for their family. After all, THEY DIED FOR THEIR FAMILES, and the freedoms of this country. The values couldn’t be more perfectly aligned!
I mean, come on – they’d be thrilled to see that a few generations later, average people can become wealthy enough to spend more time with loved ones, enjoy their hobbies, volunteer, give to charities, focus on their health, and appreciate living in general. All in greater quantities than they otherwise could before. And certainly in greater amounts than those who stay in a full-time job as a way to ‘contribute’.
The idea that a job is the best possible contribution one could make to society is simply a story that resides in your mind. How doing X job is such a great and noble way to spend our years on earth. “Doot de doo, I’m such a good person helping out society like this, wow what a great guy I am – my ancestors sure would be proud of me, doot de doo…”
Realise, this is just a made up story to make you feel good about what we’re doing.
You’ll notice I don’t speak in black-and-white most of the time. X is good, Y is bad. Because most things in life are just a bunch of arbitrary shit we’ve decided gives our lives meaning and alleviates some of the uncertainty of what the hell life is about.
All this happens subconsciously of course.
The essence of the argument seems to be this: contribute to something greater than yourself. To which I agree, this is a fantastic and meaningful way to spend our lives.
But how each of us go about that can be very different. So then we’re simply arguing over what causes are worthwhile and what’s not. I think each person has a right to choose their own ’cause’ and what’s worthwhile spending their one life on.
We can each use our own skills, passions, and what we’re good at to find a way to make the world better in our own way. But who’s to say that’s in employment, or anything with the economy at all?
Why couldn’t it also mean volunteering, mentoring others, or raising fantastic children, teaching them about ethics and morals, history, life principles, how to solve problems and how to think like a sensible and broad-minded individual?
Now let’s address some of the clumsier and intellectually lazy assertions…
What I’m doing and promoting is fundamentally wrong? And it’s not good for me, the community, or the country in general?
Well, where do we even start 😅
First, committing myself to achieving FI was the best decision of my life. It’s now been 6 years of ‘retirement’, and while I’m not being hyper-productive in the traditional sense, the experience has been incredible. So good that I have great trouble imagining myself at 80 years old regretting this decision.
I’m leading a happier and healthier lifestyle. My life has greater satisfaction. I’m working on things that are meaningful to me. I’ve been able to help others and causes I care about. Sure as hell beats driving pallets of milk around a warehouse.
But that’s all pretty ‘selfish’ – how is it good for the community or the country?
Well, I encourage everyone in this space to find ways to help their community as they see fit. FI simply gives people more time and flexibility to live in a more natural way.
The community benefits by having more people with time to dedicate to local matters, helping friends and neighbours and mentoring the next generation. Everyone else is generally too busy working and running their lives for that.
Looking further out, how could we possibly argue that having thousands more Aussies with stronger finances, less stress, and more freedom isn’t good.? Because having them all remain mindless worker slaves is so much better!
Yeah… lets have them trapped in debt, not thinking for themselves, so they can remain stuck in a meaningless job, unable to spend their time on more important things because their finances are so fucked they have no other option. And their minds are so broken they just buy whatever product and believe whatever message they see on social media and tv, because all they want to do is zone out and numb themselves after work.
Or, we could in fact accept that one way to improve a country is to have its citizens wake up from this ridiculous zombie slumber, get them empowered and believing in a better future. Let’s arm them with information where they can see light at the end of the tunnel, as they make one improvement after another, wiping away the fog from their eyes, and realise that life can be so much more than work/spend/sleep/repeat/die.
This website is my attempt at trying to help people wake up and become wealthy and free. But what about after that?
Once work becomes more optional, everyone is free to use their time for anything they like.
Clearly, I can’t force people to do anything. I can mention contribution, helping others, and so on, but ultimately, it’s on each of us to build the life we want.
Luckily, most people in this community are interested in doing useful things after reaching FI. That could be paid or unpaid work. This community seems to attract a large percentage of thoughtful people. And with that thoughtfulness often comes a desire to consider things bigger than themselves, which undoubtedly leads to action, contribution, and energy used for good, creating a positive flow-on effect.
Now, let me be clear, unlike our emailer, I don’t think you’re obliged to do anything. It’s not immoral to live a life you want that doesn’t make any grand achievements toward some external cause. You get to choose what a meaningful life looks like to you. Among the other points here, that’s what our friend is not quite grasping. Otherwise this is just someone projecting how everyone else should live. But that’s essentially slavery and dictatorship.
“No, that’s not a meaningful way to spend your time, this is.” Then we’re just arguing about nonsense – playing a silly game of moral superiority. There’s enough of that garbage going on in society today.
But anyway, is all this good or bad?
Well, how much does the average person contribute towards a better society now? Or are they generally too tired, busy, stressed and preoccupied to think about bigger causes? Finally, is their ability to contribute helped or hindered by having more freedom and more money?
Exactly. This shit is not complicated.
Is freedom good or bad? Well, the opposite is slavery.
Is wealth good or bad? Well, the opposite is poverty.
See, the contrast helps highlight the absurdity of it all.
And what about our moral obligations? Some people suggest that if you become financially independent you are morally obligated to keep working even if you don’t need to. Okay. But then are those people still free, or are we measuring their lives by someone else’s ideals?
And if they should keep working regardless of other desires, should they continue working the same job which might ‘maximise’ the usage of their skills, or should they get to choose? The same hours, or as many as they like? What if their free time lets them develop new skills that are more valuable to society? We’d never get that value without them leaving work to enjoy their freedom and pursue their own innate interests and curiosity.
In any case, to say we’re obligated to keep working just the same is to suggest we’re only valuable for what we produce. Like it’s our duty to work every hour possible, and pay as much tax as possible into the system. But should this be our goal? Are we human beings, or human doings?
You either think society and the economy exists to serve humans, or humans exist to serve the system. We’re either the slaves of the system or the masters – we can’t be both.
Well, there you go. An interesting discussion I think, even though it came from a strange place.
It’s worth mentioning that the emailer did later walk back how they handled the initial interactions. None of the responses suggested they had changed their views despite having the right information. Which is kind of strange, but not unexpected. It’s the internet after all and people are notorious for being wedded to their beliefs (in a till-death-do-us-part kind of way).
Anyway, maybe I’m off base. Maybe what I am doing is questionable. Maybe I should go back and get a full-time job, pay more taxes, consume more, have less free time, and help some company achieve its objectives instead. Maybe that would be a greater contribution to society… a morally superior way to spend my time.
Is financial independence a selfish and lazy way to approach life? Are we living with questionable morals? Should we go back to being good little worker bees and consumer slaves?
Or maybe, just maybe, we’re actually onto something here. A far more empowered, free, and satisfying foundation from which to build a meaningful and healthy life.
Let me know what you think in the comments.