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Thoughts After Four Years of Freedom

July 6, 2021

Thoughts After Four Years of Freedom

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For the last few years, I’ve offered a few thoughts and realisations around the anniversary of reaching financial independence and quitting my job in 2017.

Well, it’s time for another one!  These are separate to my ‘year in review’ which I do at the end of the year.

This is more about sharing what I’m thinking and seeing from this highly unusual position.  And as quite an introspective person, I spend a fair bit of time pondering things.  So I hope you find these thoughts interesting.

Some things will probably apply broadly to most people, while others will be unique to my personality.

These articles feel strange to do, because I’m more interested in figuring out how to write helpful stuff than speaking about myself.  But readers mention they enjoy these particular updates, so let’s do it!

By the way, you can read my previous thoughts from previous years here, here and here.

 

You learn more about yourself every year.

As time goes on, I get a little more in tune with what I like and don’t like.  When you control your time, you can tweak your lifestyle to suit the level of busyness you enjoy best.

As an introvert, I crave a bunch of quiet activities (often solo) that I can work on at my own pace, free to work through ideas and problems and not be disturbed.

That’s what’s so great about freedom.  We get to build our lifestyle from scratch.  What we do, how long for, when we do it and so on.   We’re not dictated by some ridiculous cog-in-a-machine schedule that the whole population is supposed to follow.

I’m also starting to think that many people actually have no idea who they are, what they really think, and what’s truly important to them.  Because of so many influences from peers, marketing, the rest of society, and spending so little time with themselves.

At work, we often lose our personal identity and become a job title.  That’s something I’ve been thinking about because I hear people struggling with identity when contemplating life after being Mr/Mrs Office Worker.

But when you know who you are, what you’re doing, and why, then life is different.  You become less reactive and care a lot less about outside factors and opinions.  A friend and I discuss this quite a bit.  He’s not FI but lives a pretty independent life and his level of self-awareness is fun and unusual.

 

I love structure… and freedom.

That sounds like a contradiction.  Structure and freedom seem like opposites.  But I can’t imagine life without either of these things.  Here’s why…

The beauty of structure is it helps you avoid wasting your freedom.  Structure helps you do what you told yourself you would.  It helps you get important things done.

But planning every minute of the day sounds like a nightmare.  That’s where freedom comes in.

The beauty of freedom is you can structure your life the way you want it.  Freedom makes sure you have choice and control over your time.  It’s the ultimate form of flexibility.

But for me, without any structure, I end up wasting tons of time doing stuff which adds little to no value to my life – half the time I don’t even know where the time goes!

So having both freedom and structure in my days is the perfect combo.  Planning a few things I need/want to do, but also leaving plenty of space for free time and any random things that might pop up.

Doing nothing used to sound heavenly when I was at work.  Now it sounds pretty awful.   Days where I do nothing are not very fun.  But being super-busy isn’t enjoyable either.  It’s that sweet spot in the middle I aim for.

 

I’m not very employable.

Another thing I’ve learned is, I probably wouldn’t fit back into a normal workplace very well.  Since leaving work, my tolerance for bullshit and people-politics (which was already low) is now basically zero.

There’s too may box-ticking exercises, lack of personal accountability, and doing things for the sake of being seen doing something.

I find it excruciatingly difficult to go along with something for the sake of it.  Because ‘it’s just what everyone does’.  Unless it makes sense to me, I just can’t do it.  It feels meaningless, or like sacrificing my soul to keep the peace.  Sometimes it’s worth it, most times it’s not.

Looking back, this has been the case all throughout my life since school.  And this personality quirk is what prompted me to question the whole concept of working 40 hours a week for 40 years ‘because it’s just what everyone does’.  So it has been useful!

Now, four years into early retirement, there’s even less chance I end up in a traditional work setting.  Never say never, I guess.  But right now, it’s hard to imagine.

Adding to that, unless I had to, the idea of working full-time again is inconceivable.  You come to appreciate freedom so much that you can’t imagine life without it.

 

Life is too short for arguments and complaining.

As I get older, I just can’t be bothered getting into arguments or listening to people complain.  These days, I quickly switch off.

Complaining is completely unnecessary in modern-day Australia.  What the hell do we really have to complain about?  I mean, really, let’s have some perspective.

Let’s put our little problems (which seem big) into the context of how people in other countries live, and how past generations lived.  It’s no comparison.  I understand it doesn’t feel like that.  But we need to remind ourselves of this on a regular basis.

Most of us don’t know what actual hardship is.  And how does complaining help anyway?  If you can do something about your problem, then do it.  If you can’t, then don’t worry about it since you can’t improve the situation.

And arguing.  That just seems like the biggest waste of time and energy.  99% of the time, people arguing NEVER change their mind.  In fact, their views are the same or stronger than before.  So why bother?

People are usually coming from different angles, with different perspectives, different priorities.  Each is expecting the other side to come across to their way of thinking.  It’s amazing how much energy we spend on it really, for something with such a tiny success rate.

Sure, I just made that 99% statistic up.  You can try arguing with me about it, but I won’t participate 😉

Life is too short and we all have better things to focus on.

 

Balance is key.

I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with balance.  Balance sounds good, but we also tend to get totally wrapped up in certain things and forget what month it is.

It’s hard to focus our attention between places because we value each thing differently.  So, practicing balance is surprisingly tricky.

Instead of all work and barely any free time, becoming FI means you essentially move to all free time.  Sometimes people fill that space with new work.  And this feels normal.  Like what we’re ‘supposed’ to do.  But then we’re really in a similar spot to before (albeit with more control and flexibility).

I find that life is better when we spread our time and energy around a bit.  A bit of exercise.  A bit of productive work stuff.  Some socialising.  Some volunteering or helping other people.  Top it off with a little entertainment and some ‘nothing’ time – just space to relax and think.

When I’m in a crappy mood, it’s usually because one of these things has been MIA for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still spend the most time on what gives you the most satisfaction.  But you learn to enjoy the different benefits that each thing gives you.

More than that, you actually have the time to live a balanced life – which is an incredible luxury in itself!

 

You care about money less.

Another observation is that once you’ve built an enjoyable post-rat-race life, you don’t care as much about money as you used to.

Probably due to a few things.  You realise how little you need to live well, and how easily those needs are met with investments and part-time income if need be.

You choose to do certain activities or work for its own sake.  Not based on a paycheck, keeping the boss happy, or building relationships with people you don’t even like in the hopes that it gets you further.

FI gives you a much stronger and stricter filter which you can apply.  To say no to things which would earn you more money, and say yes to things which come with no financial rewards at all.

Because you’ve arrived at this sparsely populated place called ‘enough’, where life is peaceful and you get more value from actions than transactions.

Besides, once you reach FI, you’ve developed such good money habits that it’s almost certain you become very wealthy over time.  And while that’s cool to think about, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

You care about other things more.  Like what you’re contributing to, and how you can spend your time in a meaningful way.

For example, I have no interest in spending $100,000 per year.  I would rather spend $50,000 and allocate the rest to investments or charities and causes I care about.

That’s not due to lack of ambition or imagination, or because I think it’s wrong.  It’s due to being clear about  my values.

Don’t get me wrong, you still appreciate money because it’s a useful tool.  So you’ll still earn cash later if it fits with how you live and what you enjoy doing.  But you don’t chase it for the sake of a higher number.

 

You focus more on each day.

I used to be a goals person.  Not anymore.  It’s not that goals are bad.  They’re excellent in the right setting – especially when that goal is life-changing.

Take financial independence for example.  I can’t think of many goals with more life-enhancing benefits than this one thing.  But in general, goals are probably overemphasized in society.

These days I focus on finding things that matter to me, and try to do them well.  Results are likely to follow, regardless of whether a specific ‘goal’ is set or not.

Writing this article is one tiny example.  Whether ten people or ten thousand people read it, the act of writing is the enjoyable part.  Or local volunteering, which is pleasing and valuable for its own sake.  Whether I plant 200 trees in a year, or 20 – it doesn’t matter.

Goals often detract from the experience.  It makes things more stressful and less enjoyable.  You’ve added in expectations, requirements and unnecessary pressure.

And critically, we now see the benefit as some time in the future, when we reach this arbitrary goal.  And if we don’t reach the goal, to the level or the time-frame we wanted, sometimes due to no fault of our own, we feel bad.

Instead, if we focus on the thing itself, the enjoyment comes now, and with continued effort, the results will naturally follow.

 

Final thoughts.

I can’t tell if this article is actually interesting, or just rambling nonsense.  That’s the scary reality when you simply write down your thoughts!

Your life and thoughts after full-time work will probably look and sound totally different to this.  We each observe different things and absorb the world around us in unique ways.

Part of the fun of financial independence is seeing where it takes you.  I hope this post provides some insight into my mindset a few years into this early retirement adventure!

While I had no expectations or plans after leaving work, it’s been an incredible experience so far.  I can’t wait to see what the next four years brings!

Thank you all for reading.


Note: For those unaware, I also post some pictures and thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.  Feel free to come say Hi!  Facebook.  Twitter.

44 Comments

44 Replies to “Thoughts After Four Years of Freedom”

  1. Cool to get some perspective from the other side! It wasn’t rambling nonsense anyway (for the most part), and I really enjoyed reading it.

    Looking forward to in about 6 years time and I can read your 10 year introspective into post-FIRE life and I can talk about my first day of post-FIRE!

    Keep up the good work

  2. I love your outlook on life. It very much resonates with me and how I try to live my own life. Balance and don’t waste energy on arguments or things that don’t matter. Be kind and don’t be a jerk. Lol. Thanks for sharing your musings.

  3. A fascinating insight Dave. Thank you for sharing! I definitely agree with the benefits of having what you referred to as ‘nothing time’ in your life. This is the perfect zone to be in from time-to-time so that you can see the wood for the trees and focus on what is important to you, rather than be constantly distracted by the pressures of work. Nothing Time is amplified Me Time where the brain is more open and receptive to new thoughts and ideas that would have no room during the 9-to-5 slog. Nothing Time is vital to general well-being as well.

    1. Cheers Jeff! Mate that nothing-time is the best… pretty underappreciated I reckon. And you’re right, while being critical for mental health it’s also really helpful for creativity with random ideas popping up. The brain is constantly firing, even when you’re deliberately doing nothing. Strange, but pretty cool 🙂

  4. G’day Dave ,

    Mate , if your article doesn’t make sense , to those reading this masterpiece, well they are on a different mindset planet 🌎!!!

    This morning, I woke up early , did some excercise , nourished my body, went for a long walk , had a cuppa and chat with Mum , potted around the garden , had lunch and read a fab piece on strongmoneyaustralia!!! ( this one ) .

    This might be a little bore for some , but yeh who gives a damn !! … I’m living the life !!! …my life , with no chaos, no gossip ( maybe 🤔 some unintentional harmless chit chat 💬) …on my terms !!! ….the beauty of time , balance and a healthy mindset.

    I’ve never understood the lazy glass half empty mentality. No thanks. We all have challenges, situations that are out of our control and though life can be unfair for most ….keep resilient, keep going and keep learning. Take action and be accountable!!!

    Congrats Dave ….👏🎉….enjoy every minute!!!

    Take care🙏

  5. Often climbing the company ladder means putting others down, then you have psychopaths, most workplaces are toxic, its just a matter of degree. Most white collar jobs are boring as hell, chained to the desk all day staring at the computer screen !!!

    1. LOL I can’t disagree with you there Paul. I’ve never had a white collar job, but something about the office culture and 8-10 hours on a computer seems pretty unsettling 😉

  6. Wow I love this. I specially enjoy how you wrote that you love both structure and freedom. I have come to find in my early retirement the same thing. If I don’t have any structure and don’t feel like I’m productive in some daily task I find I’m generally less happy.

    But then I also want the freedom to do what I want when I want to do it and have times where I can noodle around and see what comes to my attention.

    I also agree that the key to being happy is finding a balance between productivity, social life, family and giving back.

    Anyways the way you describe everything it’s almost very on point with what I have come to discover in my first year of FIRE.

    Cheers!

    1. 100%. Feeling productive is key. Doesn’t have to be 16 hours a day like Elon Musk but just doing/working on something meaningful is really important 🙂

  7. Thanks Dave, a nice gentle reminder – life can be simple AND fulfilling. Inspirational as usual. My take away – be present in your life!

    thanks
    Jo

  8. Hi Dave,

    Do you have any articles on how to setup a structure to keep yourself accountable?

    Being recently self employed, and now having more control over my time, I find I’m still not making time for the meaningful activities I thought I’d be doing.

    Cheers.

    1. Hey Jack. Having a routine and a to-do list for each day really helps me, as well as choosing times for doing certain activities. This tends to keep me a bit more on track than just a plain list, since you can always ‘do it later’ haha.

      There’s usually some time-sucking activities in our day that we know are there, but need to be honest with ourselves about – entertainment or general phone use is the main rabbit hole we all get lost in.

      If you’re still not making time, maybe you can schedule something in, and have reminders/alarms etc. to keep reminding you of it.

  9. Great article, Dave and very timely for me. I finished up my full time job last Friday, and so am just a few days into my FIRE life (at age 49).

    Already I’m enjoying the freedom to just potter around and doing the things I want. My wife’s happy as I’m no longer the grump I was when working!

    My years of diligent saving and investing are now paying off, and thanks in part to you for some of the ideas you gave me in your articles and posts.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Wow fantastic, huge congratulations Nick! Haha, yes FI is quite the mood booster, especially in the beginning 😀

  10. I got a little taste of what you’re talking about for two months this year while job hunting. Because of some forward planning I was able to not worry about money and actually enjoy the time not working. I found even in that short time the need for some structure to keep the day interesting. By the end of the two months I really felt like FI was for me and that I’m doing the right thing. Your article reminded me again what I’m trying to achieve. Thanks.

    1. Great to hear that little taster of FI helped confirm that you’re on the right path. That’s the bright side of time away from work, especially when you’re able to still pay the bills. Lets us see what life could be like. Glad to have helped at all!

  11. “FI gives you a much stronger and stricter filter which you can apply.”/ “Because you’ve arrived at this sparsely populated place called ‘enough’…”

    I’ve only dipped into FI concepts over the last few weeks and wish I’d discovered it 10+ years ago. I’m mid-50’s and for the last 6 months I’ve been struggling with my identity – am I retired or just unemployed ?

    As a high-earner, I likely reached FI in my early 40s – but without an FI filter, just kept plugging along – accumulation, accumulation, accumulation – because that’s how I started in my early 20s and it got results. My ego was satisfied and my wealth grew. (and was probably why I had no time to discover or read about FIRE – doh !)

    Quite stupid in hindsight – running my own (or societies ?) race without even thinking about where the finish line should be drawn.

    Thanks for generously sharing your insights. You’ve given me some concepts to ponder as I unravel some old habits. 🙂

    1. Thanks Lolly! Your scenario is more common than you think. I’ve heard from multiple people who did the same, where it’s easier to stay at work than leave. I’ll be doing an article about this – identity and life after FI – at some point because it’s a pretty important issue to tackle.

  12. Hi Dave,
    How abouut a post on “A week in the life of Strioong Money” and how you spennd your week in FI?
    It would be an interesting read

    1. Haha, that’s an idea Baz, I’ll consider that. Though I’m not sure it would be as interesting as you think 😉

  13. Thanks Dave for a wonderful article! I was really keen to read your perspective when it appeared in my in-box, because I am nearly at the four year mark after my departure from full time salaried employment in 2017.

    I particularly resonated with your remark that now you would be unemployable in most places! Like you, I have no tolerance for the BS, politics and dysfunction that spoil some workplaces.

    In my experience, the last four years of freedom have been about – firstly, healing from the Soul damage that occurred from working in the wrong place, and secondly about rediscovering creative aspects of myself that were ignored, buried, or underdeveloped.

    While not FI yet, I have enough, and have greatly improved my personal finance and investment skills and am carefully crafting a successful lifestyle that is balanced, varied, sustainable and supports what matters most to me personally.

    I am still on this path, I am not all the way “there” yet, but making progress every day. Your thoughts help, Thank You!

  14. Another very interesting read.

    Your comments on goals really resonated with me.

    “Goals often detract from the experience. It makes things more stressful and less enjoyable. You’ve added in expectations, requirements and unnecessary pressure.”

    That’s EXACTLY how I feel about goals, but I’ve never had the time to think about it on such a deep level. Thanks for articulating that for me.

    Now I need to think about how I’ll approach my goals in future, so as to not add extra pressure, thereby making the process of achieving them less fun!

    1. Cheers Miranda 🙂 I think choosing something important then just heading in that direction with consistently applying effort will go a long way. Focusing on the process rather than the outcome. All the best with it!

  15. Well written Dave, a great insight into the “promised land”, where many of us hope to be one day.
    Great point around gratitude. Sure we could complain about stuff but compare that to past generations and other countries today and I think we are doing pretty well.
    The victim mentality is alive and well. Thank you for the refocus.
    Cheers
    Ben

  16. Great article!! Yep I am just working on getting the freedom/structure mix right. But feeling great while doing so.

    1. Good stuff Jen, it’s a bit of testing and trail/error till we get the balance right for us individually. All the best!

  17. Good on you Dave. I reckon you have got the best of both worlds: Freedom and productivity (the website, podcast, guest appearances etc). One day the rest of us will hopefully get to that stage too.

  18. As someone in an almost identical position, who has also been retired early for 4 years, this account almost perfectly matches my experience. I also find I need to keep a comprehensive list of mini-goals and I organise my days much more pedantically then I did when I was in a 9-5 job. I’ve also found I’m able to notice how work culture and society has taken over my personal agency, once I dropped out of that I needed to rediscover who I really am and what really matters to me. This contemplative time that I suddenly find myself with has made for some pretty profound changes in the way I approach life and particularly my attitude towards money. One thing I do think you missed is the difficulty of meeting new people. For an extrovert this can be tough and I don’t think joining sports clubs and volunteering can replace the social interaction that comes from a full time job. My wife went back to her old job pretty quickly because she really missed that interaction.

    Thanks for writing this and I think it’ll help people know what’s coming for them when they do retire young.

    1. Great stuff Adrian! Yeah the organisation of time/days is a big one for me too, and it really works wonders for getting stuff done and enjoying life at the same time.

      You’re right, an extrovert will want a completely different life to myself. As mentioned we can each tailor our lifestyle exactly to what suits us, which includes socialisation. My partner has also gone back to work 2 days per week as she enjoys that interaction too but doesn’t want to work full time. Really depends on the individual and even the job role to some extent.

  19. I really enjoyed your article. You describe so well many of my own characteristics and beliefs, it is very interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks so much for publishing this.

  20. In a counterpoint to your comment about arguing on the internet, you and Pat have changed my mind about the effectiveness of ethical investing, so well done! Now my only problem is what to do with all this VESG…

    Congrats on 4 years mate, can’t wait to join you.

    1. Haha you make a good point. I guess we aren’t arguing directly with people as such, more just sharing our views on a platform, so people can choose whether we make more/less sense than those giving the other side of the argument elsewhere.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping it if you like, and just direct new cash elsewhere. But if there’s not much tax to pay, you may decide to just offload it. Not really a big deal either way.

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