July 6, 2021
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.