I need to clarify something. I need to clarify the truth behind a myth about financial independence I keep running up against.
At its worst, it’s expressed this way:
You don’t want to die at your desk? You must be lazy.
Here’s the backstory: I have a really good relationship with my boss, which means I speak openly with him about financial matters. A mutual friend of ours recently sold his company, which led us to some good-natured speculation of what he’d do with his proceeds. At this point, he’d been on vacation for several weeks, so I asked the obvious question:
“Couldn’t he just stop working and retire? Travel full-time, if that’s what he wants to do?”
My boss rolled his eyes, “I mean, if he were one of your ‘retire by 40’ people, maybe.” He followed up with something along the lines of, “But he likes work too much.”
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying what you do for a living. In fact, I love what I do for a living. I also really love working in general. As my best friend recently told me, “I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who just loved working as much as you.”
The thought of not working doesn’t really do much for me.
The thought of freedom does.
Freedom is when I’m only doing the work I want to do, when I want to do it, from where I happen to be at the time. That could be volunteering, consulting, or freelancing. It may even be a part-time gig.
I’m Not the Only One
I’m not the only person intrigued by financial independence and retiring early who isn’t planning on giving up all paid and unpaid “work”. In fact, most of the folks whose blogs I read don’t just lay about in early retirement.
Check out Joe at Retire by 40, for example. He writes an excellent blog, manages his own rental property, and stays involved in managing his dividend and P2P investments. He also has a 5-year-old with whom he spends a ton of time. He’s even talked (joked?) about opening his own food cart.
Check out Michael at Financially Alert. Another family man with a killer blog, Michael offers coaching to high achieving professionals, explores new investment ventures and income streams, and turns everything he learns into educational articles for his audience.
Check out Justin at Root of Good. Despite retiring at 33, and having a net worth over $1.5 million, he recently took advantage of an opportunity to attend a local focus group for 75 bucks. He learned how to rebuild part of a Honda Accord’s air conditioning system to get it working for his nephew. His blog brings in anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars per month – not including his early retirement consulting business. He also spent several weeks road tripping with his family this summer, and participates in the school activities of his three children.
There are those who confuse the desire to leave the traditional rat race with a lack of ambition. Let me assure you that’s not the case – at least not for everyone. It’s just that my ambitions are so much larger than a corporate job. They’re so large that I don’t think I could fulfill them if I spend the next 40 years at a desk for 40+ hours a week.
The Truth About Early Retirement and Ambition
There’s a reason that the bloggers I mentioned above were able to retire early. They worked their asses off. They were ambitious. They hustled hard to build their investments to the point that they could retire.
When a person is that ambitious, I don’t think the ambition drains from them when they retire. It’s not like they’ve become entirely different people – just (less stressed) people who channel their ambition in new ways.
As Maggie put it: “Retired you is still you.”
So, if you’re one of these ambitious, motivated people who’s worried that early retirement would cause you to lose your mojo, ask yourself: if you were financially independent, would you direct your efforts and ambition differently?
The Meaning of Life
There’s another concept I keep coming back to – one that I’m about to badly paraphrase. In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss says something like, “If you can’t think of anything you’d rather do than work, you’re either not very creative, or you haven’t really lived yet.”
It’s one that bounces around my head a lot, because I do love working so much. Am I really that so uncreative that I can’t think of anything better?
I choose to believe in my creativity. I think I will probably always have some projects (maybe paid, maybe not) going on after I hit financial independence, but I also believe I’ll find other valuable ways to make my life meaningful. Meaningful for me, and also meaningful in the larger societal picture.
What It Means to Want Less
The road to financial independence is different for everyone. For most people, it involves being a little weird, hustling hard, and monitoring their expenditures.
Right now, I’m in a lot of debt, so for me, the pursuit of financial independence means not doing some of the things I’d like to do or buying some of the things I want to buy.
Right now, I’m still actively wanting “more” out of my career, but there will come a point ten or fifteen years in the future, where I will likely walk away from a VP- or even C-level position. At that point “wanting less” will apply to the title and prestige associated with achieving that kind of position.
Financial independence means wanting less, so that eventually, I can live a life of more.