Time flies when you're having fun! This week marks the one year anniversary of Financial 180 – and what a year it's been! Since launching we've been featured on Fiery Millenials, Radical Personal Finance, Rockstar Finance (not once, but twice!), and the Choose FI podcast (here and here), amassing 100 thousand visitors to this infant blog and surpassing my wildest expectations. Jonathan over at ChooseFI even went on to call Financial 180 “The breakout blog of 2017”, which is unbelievably high praise! 🙂
While it's been a bit quiet around here since quitting my job last November, I've been working hard behind the scenes to make 2018 the best year yet. I've got tons of great posts on the horizon: an interview with ‘The Wife', a breakdown of our portfolio and drawdown strategy, our detailed FI budget, and more.
I've also spent the past two weeks at Camp FI in Gainesville, Florida, hanging out with some of the nicest, smartest, and most inspiring members of the financial independence community I've ever met. These camps are truly amazing experiences – check out my detailed write-up of last year's camp if you haven't already. I always leave these events feeling recharged and ready to take on the world! This year we recorded a live roundtable episode of ChooseFI, where I make a cameo on the mic.
There were plenty of other FI bloggers in attendance, including Miss Mazuma, Andy from Aardvark Advisor, Seonwoo from Fiby40, Jason of Winning Williams, Kristine of Frugally Reckless, Ruby and Peter from A Journey We Love, Juan from Finance Clever, and probably a bunch more that I missed. There was even a brand new blog born at camp, taking our torch and carrying on the annual tradition!
This year, I was one of the featured presenters, along with (get ready for more name dropping!) J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly, Jonathan and Brad from ChooseFI, Scott Trench from Bigger Pockets, Doug from The Military Guide, Carl and Mindy from 1500 Days, Gwen from Fiery Millenials, Noah from Money Metagame, The Physician on Fire, and Kevin from Clack Consulting.
The presentation I gave detailed the lessons I've learned in my first few months of early retirement, and I wanted to share some of those here on the blog as well, so let's dive in.
Burnout Is Real
As I've said time and again here on the blog, my software engineering job was stressful. But only now that I've been away for a few months am I realizing just how burned out I really was, and how long work stress stays with you even after you quit.
Last month, as I was changing the sheets on my bed, I found myself rushing to complete the task. I was frustrated that making the bed was taking so long. My heart rate was elevated and I was stressed out. It took me a few minutes to consciously realize what was happening- that I was rushing to complete the task at hand as if I was running late for something. After a year of rushing constantly at work trying to save a behind schedule program, that stress bled over into my personal life and stuck around months after quitting.
As I paid more and more attention to the world around me, I started noticing this tendency to rush through tasks everywhere: buying groceries, mowing the lawn, even filling up my cup at the refrigerator. The irony isn't lost on me: the retired guy with all the time in the world doesn't have the patience to wait the ten seconds required to fill a glass of water?! I may have retired from work, but I was far from being at peace. I was creating my own stress out of thin air.
The wife has been wonderful in helping me become consciously aware of my stress levels and has helped me slow down and find contentment in the current moment, instead of always rushing to the next item on my never-ending to-do list. I'm still not finished dealing with burnout, but I'm a lot healthier mentally than I was back in November. To all of you dealing with burnout at work: utilize your FU money and take a break! Don't let it get to the point that I did if you can help it.
We're All Stressed
Once you start paying attention to stress, you start to notice it not just in yourself, but in others as well. A few weeks ago I was at the post office, waiting in line to mail a package for Christmas. After about ten minutes of waiting, the guy in front of me had a meltdown. He shouted that he was done waiting for the slow postal staff, used a few colorful words to describe his emotions, slammed his package on the counter, and stormed out. All in front of children who were also in the line.
Years ago I would have written this guy off as yet another crazy person, what can you do, right? But now I realize he was probably just as burned out as I was and desperately needs a break. The problem is, average Joe consumer living paycheck to paycheck doesn't have enough financial runway to even think about taking time off of work for mental health.
When I quit my job, dozens of my friends and coworkers asked me what company I was moving to next. “I'm just going to take a break” I'd answer, not wanting to get into a whole unsolicited discussion on financial independence. Nearly every single person gave me the same response: “I wish I could take a break…”
I'm hopeful that as this financial independence movement continues to grow, more and more people will recover from chronic job-related stress. Until then, the best I can do is continue to spread the word. And now, when I notice someone stressing out in line, I'll let them go in front of me. I have the time to spare.
Getting Outside Is Important!
Who knew getting outside every day could be such a big deal? As it turns out, staying inside and letting the days blur together is NOT a recipe for happiness! It took a few weeks for me to realize that being a cooped up recluse is a problem.
The key for me was putting together a solid morning routine to help build the momentum for my day. A brisk half hour morning walk outside does wonders, as does a jog or other cardio out in the sunshine. I can't emphasize the importance of this enough: without momentum, the days just melt away, leaving you with a feeling of ‘blah' that causes lethargy and frustration.
I don't know if it is the sunshine, the fresh air, the sounds of nature, or something else, but getting outside early in the day makes all the difference for me. A very wise friend at Camp FI said it better than I ever could: “Humans are basically houseplants with more complex emotions. Ensure you get lots of water and sunshine every day and you'll be fine!” Wise words indeed.
Don't Turn Fun Into Work
For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to set aggressive goals in early retirement from day one: “I'm going to write three blog posts a week! I'm going to produce two new songs every month! I'm going to finish my book before Summer!”
Along with the chronic stress of always feeling behind schedule, this aggressive goal setting technique is another gift from my software engineering career. After a few weeks of self-imposed stress, the wife subtly pointed out the error in my logic:
The Wife: Why are you so stressed out?
Me: I thought I'd have more posts written by now. And have more progress done on my book.
The Wife: You quit your job to get away from the stress of arbitrary deadlines. And now you made more of them? You're dumb.
She's right! I have all the time in the world now, and I need to slow down and find a balance that works for me. I realize now that if I keep making aggressive goals and deadlines, eventually all the fun stuff I enjoy, like writing, producing music, etc, will all start to feel like work. Why rush?
My new goal is simply to write whenever I feel inspired. When I feel passionate, when something gets me fired up, excited, or angry, this is when my best writing flows. It's true for all my creative projects: blogs, books, music, you name it. There's an honesty behind an inspired creator that makes their creations really shine.
Along these same lines, I've also learned that early retirement opens your eyes to many new opportunities that weren't visible during the daily grind of the 9 to 5 (or in my case, the 7 to 7). Doug from the Military Guide referred to this as “The Fog of Work” this weekend at camp, and the phrase really stuck with me.
In my case, all these new opportunities became overwhelming in number. But I remembered something JD Roth presented at last years camp: Say “Hell Yeah!”, or say no. JD credits the idea from Derek Sivers, and it has had a really positive effect on me lately in terms of life balance. The idea is simple: when presented with opportunities, if the answer isn't “HELL YEAH!”, then just say no.
There Are No More Excuses
So yeah, most of the lessons learned so far have been bummers. Stress can follow you into retirement, it's easy to turn into a pants-less recluse, and all the fun things you were looking forward to can turn into work. Where's all the good stuff??
Well, it turns out that being my own boss is pretty freakin' sweet, now that I finally got the hang of it! My schedule is flexible. My due dates are elastic. My plans are spontaneous, and my vacation days are unlimited. These are some of my favorite things about early retirement so far!
I come from a long line of self-employed family members. My dad owns his own small home repair business, and his father and grandfather were both general contractors with their own businesses as well. While not financially independent, my dad is still able to leverage the power of being his own boss, setting his own schedule and choosing how much or how little he works. There's a Bob Dylan quote that sums it up nicely: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
While incredibly empowering, this is also a double-edged sword because there are literally no more excuses. For the first time, all your life goals and passion projects are suddenly staring you in the face. Not in the physical shape you want to be? You can't blame your lack of fitness on a busy work schedule anymore.
This can be quite intimidating because reaching all your goals and following all of your passions requires hard work. But as Mr. Money Mustache says, hard work leads to happiness! Specifically, having time to work hard on the things you are passionate about makes you happier than almost anything else in life.
This is probably why I went overboard setting goals and turning fun stuff into work. The key is in finding the balance of hard work and leisure that works well for you. After lots of tweaking, here's what seems to be working for me, on an ideal day:
- Physical fitness: 2 hours/day
- Creative work (writing, music, etc.): 2 hours/day
- Errands / housework: 2 hours/day
- Reading / learning new things: 2 hours/day
The two-hour blocks seem to work well for me. It's enough time to make real progress on goals, but not so much to throw the rest of the day out of balance or stress me out. And because all the above only adds up to eight hours, I still have plenty of slack in my day to go on walks, cook, spend quality time with the wife, and just goof off.
The Important Stuff
So there you have it! The majority of my lessons learned in early retirement revolve around stress management, building effective routines, and finding the right balance between hard work and leisure. It's interesting that I'm finally tackling these issues in early retirement, because I probably should have dealt with them years ago- they seem to be useful lessons regardless where you are on your journey to FI.
Perhaps more than anything else, the biggest lesson I've learned since quitting is that I need to make time for the important stuff in my life. Because I have a surplus of hours for the very first time, I have to figure out the best way to spend them. Unlike dollars, I can't save up these excess hours! They get spent whether I like it or not, so I have to be very intentional in what I spend them on.
So far I've been spending them on quality time with family, weekly dinners with friends, hard work on things I love, and, when I remember – stopping to smell the roses. Slowing down to actually enjoy the present moment. Because time is more important than money. You can always earn more money, but you can't buy more time. So, you need to spend it on the people and experiences that matter most.
This is what FI is all about.
Thank you, dear reader, for an amazing first year! The support from this community has been unbelievable, and I could not have accomplished so much in such a short time without you! Your comments, emails, and social media shares keep me inspired and make this a project I truly enjoy working hard on. Here's to another great year!