FI Without RE

Back in November of 2017, a tired, burned out version of myself was pushed past his breaking point. After months of mandatory unpaid overtime, morning self pep-talks, stress-eating, and yelling at coworkers, the old Joel finally had enough. He walked up to his boss, and with a surprising, zen-like calm, gave his two weeks notice.

A huge weight was immediately lifted from his shoulders. Life felt, for the first time in a long time, wonderful. Hopeful, even. He wasn't fully FI yet, but that guy knew right then and there he would never work again. He was done. Forever.

…Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I accepted an offer for a new job.

Wait. Seriously?!

Why on earth would the guy who talked so much smack about work, and gave so much praise for being his own boss, slide back into the golden handcuffs? Is it for the money? Did sequence of return risk finally catch up to me? Were my FI estimates way off? Was it greed? Boredom? A desperate attempt to win a bet??

This is for real.

Nope. The simple truth is, I had enough time (sixteen months, to be precise) to really think about life, and learn more about myself. I had time to de-stress and recover from burnout. I had time to focus on things I actually enjoy, instead of simply avoiding the things I don't. And in that time, I learned something important.

It wasn't ‘work‘ I hated with a passion. It was lack of a work-life balance. It was mandatory unpaid overtime. It was the lack of control I had over my time and stress levels. I didn't hate work in general; I hated my specific job. It's easy to confuse the two when you're down in the trenches. I should have quit that old job months earlier. Or taken a sabbatical or leave of absence. There was no good reason for me to stay in that position as long as I did – it was unhealthy and unnecessary. I should have quit sooner. 

This is all interesting, sure, but it doesn't explain why I decided to go back to work. It seems to contradict what I said in the past about having enough. Didn't we already reach financial independence? Haven't we reached the proverbial ‘enough' point described in Your Money or Your Life?

FI Isn't Just About Me

The truth is, while I indeed have enough, I'm just a small piece of the whole picture. The Wife wants to reach more than enough – and that's one of the reasons she kept working even though she could afford to quit, financially speaking. She wants a surplus, so she can enjoy the benefits that come with having ‘more than enough'.

Like the ability to give generously to charity, and the community. The ability to treat friends and family when they come to town, without having to worry about the budget. And the ability to help when tragedy strikes, as we did recently when an (uninsured) friend suffered a stroke during surgery, waking up with no motor control of her extremities, and six figures of unexpected debt.

Our aging parents haven't reached their enough level yet, either. Most recently, my (uninsured) dad found out he needs five figures of dental work, and I want to be able to help him financially without being paranoid about its effect on my portfolio. In my hierarchy of life priorities, family is always higher up than money.

I'll make the hay. My cat will supervise.

And finally, though I may be FI, I still happen to be young and able-bodied. Unlike my friend I mentioned above, all four of my limbs still function. I'm lucky. And I realize now there's no better time to “make hay” then while the sun is shining, as the saying goes. The good luck streak my wife and I have enjoyed this past decade won't last forever. Our situation (and our parents' situations) can, and likely will change over the next couple of years, so I'm going to get while the getting's good.

Now, I should clarify, I didn't just have this eureka moment one afternoon and apply for a job the very next day. These are realizations that came gradually, over time, as my burnout faded. In fact, I had some sense of this even before I quit my job, when I said that my worst case scenario was everyone else's everyday scenario. But since I'm deciding to go back to work under my own free will, I get to learn from my past mistakes and do things differently this time around!

Instead of focusing solely on maximizing salary, as I would have done in the past, I found a job that respects work-life balance. A job where part-time and remote work is possible. Where “low stress” and “no overtime” are actual conditions of my employment. It's so important for me to have time for things besides work: like physical fitness, visiting family, and my numerous creative projects (like this blog, my podcast, and my music). This new job promises to give me this balance, as well as a few other perks…

Work Can Actually Be Fun!

Since so many of my past posts focus on the negative aspects of work, it's time I admit there are actually a few nice things about it as well (besides the paycheck, of course). For starters – I actually like this job! (I know, these words seem strange for me to say out loud.) But it's true – the technology, the people, the program goals, it all seems perfect for me.

In particular, I'm enjoying the social aspect of the office: running into friendly faces each day, conversations around the water cooler, and of course, afternoon coffee time. As an adult, making friends is harder for me than it was back in school, but work helps. I admit I always took this aspect of the office completely for granted. And I know there are plenty of ways to be more social without having a job, but since starting up this new gig, it's is a feature I'm truly enjoying.

Another thing I realized about myself during my sixteen months of early retirement? I'm not quite as self-motivated as I originally thought. Sure, I still accomplished a lot in my time off of work, but my day-to-day motivation was lacking. Why get up and get dressed early in the morning when you can lounge around in your pajamas until noon? I appreciate this on the weekend. But seven days a week? I don't know if that's for me.

What I do know is that it feels good to be dressed and out of the house early each morning. It feels good to plan my day over coffee and feel like I'm firing on all cylinders. And it feels good to learn new things during my day. Could I have done all this myself every morning without a formal job? In theory, yes, of course. Did I? No. No I did not. Go figure.

Yep. This looks about right.

Another benefit of working? I like to call it the “momentum of work”. Productivity in one area tends to rub off into other areas of your life. I've noticed that on my busiest days, when I have many things on my plate, I build up a momentum that makes it easier to tackle otherwise overwhelming tasks on my to-do list. For example, I updated this blog almost twice as frequently, on average, back when I was working full-time. So perhaps I'll have the momentum to finish off the dozens of posts that have been accumulating in the FI180 draft folder! 🙂

Here's the thing: everyone is different. Everyone has different motivations and behaves differently when left to their own devices. If you've never taken more than a few weeks off from work, and don't know how you'd act in similar circumstances, I strongly suggest you try it out! I learned more about myself during my year away from work than any other year of my life. Everyone should have a chance to try this.

Summary

Why'd I go back to work? Because a pretty awesome opportunity presented itself and I liked everything about it. The extra income to help me better support family and friends in need. The flexible schedule, remote work capability, and focus on work-life balance to help keep me productive in my many creative endeavors. And the position itself – this is one that genuinely interests me!

With perfect hindsight, I would have quit my old toxic jobs sooner. And more often! I needed a break from the grind every few years. Maybe you do too. Not only would my stress levels have stayed at bay, but there's financial incentive to switch companies every few years as well. Each time I've taken a new job, I've seen a salary increase in the 10% to 20% range. If you aren't close to FI yet, and feel like you need a break, I strongly suggest you save up your FU money and take a few months off while you look for that next opportunity.

How long will I stay with this new job? A few months? A few years? Who knows.  Whenever The Wife is ready to quit, or our parents have a nice safety margin, or I stop enjoying this job, I can easily transition back into early retirement. But this question sure seems a lot less important now that I know I'm in control! I chose this job specifically with work-life balance in mind. And I can (and will) leave if that balance ever fails again.

Now let's be clear. I'm not endorsing that you work any longer, or go back to work if you've already started early retirement. Nor do I think I need to go back to work with any financial urgency. Taking this job is simply something I wanted to do. It's an amazing opportunity, and it checked all the right boxes for work-life balance. It's what's right for me, and my family, right now.

This is the first job I've taken since reaching financial independence. The first job I picked willingly, without feeling obligated to work. I chose this job, as work is optional for me. This small fact makes working feel… surprisingly different than it's ever felt before. One friend described it as “putting the handcuffs back on while holding the key.” That's a fun analogy, but to be honest, it doesn't even feel like handcuffs anymore.

Because FI isn't about retirement. It never was. It's about freedom. The freedom to work, or not work. The freedom to spend your time doing whatever you damn well please. And the freedom to change your mind.

As many times as you like.

Early Retirement Fun!

It's been 250 days since I quit my stressful job in software engineering to dip my toes in the early retirement waters, so I wanted to give you an update on post-retirement life.

First, some big news: I was one of the winners of the FinCon scholarship program this year! If you're going to be at FinCon in September, I'd love to meet you in person. This is my first year going to the conference, and I'm looking for cool people to hang out with, so let me know if you'll be there. If you want to go but haven't signed up yet, use this link to buy your ticket before prices increase at the end of the month.

Oh and speaking of FinCon, did you know you can nominate this blog for a Plutus award? I'm in the running for best new personal finance blog, and the winners will be announced at the conference! If you'd like to nominate me, simply click here, enter your name and email, then scroll all the way down and click the submit button. The link automatically fills in my blog in the right spot, so you don't have to type anything else.

Other big news: A few weeks ago, Brad and Jonathan of ChooseFI interviewed their wives on an episode of the podcast, and during the hot seat, Laura chose my article “A Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self” as her favorite article of ALL TIME! I was beyond excited, as this is one of the articles I am most proud of. I wrote it as a guest post on the Fiery Millennials blog a while back; if you haven't already, you can read it here.

A (Semi) Productive Routine

OK enough shameless promotion, let's talk about some new lessons I've learned since my last lessons learned post. As it turns out, it took me quite some time to get into a groove after quitting my W2 job, but I think it's safe to say I am finally happy with my daily routine. Take a look at my average weekday:

  • 6:30am: Wake, coffee, breakfast
  • 7:30am: Daily goal setting
  • 8:30am:  4 hours of structured time
  • 12:30pm: Lunch
  • 1:00pm: Afternoon walk, phone calls
  • 1:30pm: 4 hours of unstructured time
  • 6:00pm: Weight training and cardio
  • 7:30pm: Dinner
  • 8:00pm: Relax and turndown
  • 10:00pm: Sleep

The first thing to notice is I get a lot of sleep – around eight hours every night. This is a luxury, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I still try to start the day as soon as the sun comes out, so I've gone back to using the alarm clock (gasp).  As it turns out, my hatred of the alarm clock was unwarranted; getting up early isn't so bad when you get to spend the day doing the things YOU want to do!

After breakfast, I set my daily goals, and start a four-hour block of ‘structured' time, which is basically my terminology for focused work. Writing for the blog, producing music, doing important household maintenance, etc. Since I am pretty easily distracted, I use the ‘Forest' Pomodoro timer app to stay focused during this block. This is in contrast to my four-hour block of ‘unstructured' time that I have in the afternoons, which is basically flexible time to do whatever I want: run errands, play piano, read a book, or even play video games. This routine really helps keep me feeling accomplished while providing plenty of flexibility to work around life.

In the afternoon I start my fitness routine, which has been going great. My brother is my personal trainer, and with his help, I've gained over 10 lb of muscle and lowered my body fat by 5% so far. I still have a ways to go, but I'm extremely pleased with the results I'm seeing. Sticking to a routine is KEY – an hour-long workout can feel like torture if you don't have a solid plan. Consistency is what matters most here.

Staying Social

My routine isn't the only thing that's improved: so has my accountability. A few months ago, I joined an Early/Semi-Retirement Mastermind group with the bloggers from (name dropping time!) Fiery Millennials, Shift Upwards, Kiwi and Keweenaw, Dragons on FIRE, and I Dream of FIRE… It's a monthly conference call where we all share our transitional challenges and triumphs. This has been a great experience – having a group of people who understand your situation and can keep you motivated and accountable for your goals is a wonderful thing! I can't speak highly enough about this group – at times I feel like a slacker, because, well, I am. These people are really productive!

The Mastermind also helps with another realization I've made since quitting cubicle life: I miss chatting with coworkers. I totally underestimated the importance of socialization at work, even the small stuff. Stopping by a coworkers desk to see if they saw the latest movie, sitting down for a ten-minute coffee break, etc. I didn't realize how important these daily interactions were to my psyche until I left the workplace. Having the Mastermind is helping out quite a bit, and I've also been working hard to get over my introverted nature and reach out to more people. Justin from Root of Good recently wrote about the importance of staying social in early retirement, and it got me thinking about ways to make friends.

One way I've reached out is by joining a local hiking* group with some people in my area. Once a week, a group of us meet up at a new hiking spot and spend a few hours out in nature. It's peaceful, helps me get my steps in, and keeps me social.

One of the friends I made on a recent hike!
One of the friends I made on a recent hike!

All this time in nature has helped me realize that I didn't really hate my job, or work in general, but instead, I hated my lack of work-life balance. Now that my burnout has subsided, I'm realizing that – similar to my hatred of the alarm clock – my frustration was misplaced. Looking forward, I can see myself potentially taking on some future part-time work (especially if I can't convince The Wife to quit), not because I need the money, but because I enjoy feeling productive, useful, and social. The key is having a balance of work and life, and the LIFE portion is what was missing from my previous job. These past few months, though, I've been more than making up for it!

Time for Friends…

Remember the ‘important things' I mentioned in our about page? “We chose FI to have more time for the important things in life.” Well, here's a sampling of some recent adventures I've had time for since quitting:

This past April, I presented at CampFI in Virginia and had a blast hanging out with dozens of cool people on the path to FIRE. One night, I even got to sing Karaoke with Miss Mazuma, and started a backstreet boys revival band with Big ERN of Early Retirement Now! Sorry, no photos here- too incriminating for the internet.**

Last month, I spent a week in Sarasota visiting my old college roommate who I haven't seen in quite some time. It was great – we biked down to Venice beach, bar and appetizer hopping along the way. Next week I'm heading out to Connecticut to visit an old high school friend, and after that, I'm stopping in Atlanta to round out the friend tour! It's so nice to have time for this stuff again… last week some friends and I visited a new brewery in town that has classic arcade games, and I crossed a childhood dream off my bucket list: I actually beat the original Simpsons arcade game!

I waited almost thirty years to see this credits screen…

…and Family

Family is another big reason I wanted more free time. In the spring, I visited my parents for a few days and caught up with them. I slept in my childhood bedroom and reminisced about old times. My dad and I took the bikes out and rolled down a new bike and pedestrian greenway they built nearby: miles of ultra wide lanes, beach and park connection access, and best of all: no cars!

Biking trails are the best!
Biking trails are the best!

A few weeks later, for the first time in a long time, I took a trip down to the Miami area with my brother to spend a day cooking with my Grandma. She taught us her recipes for eggplant & chicken parmesan and stuffed Italian peppers, and we had the best time! This is the type of trip that I just didn't make time for when I was living in burnout land, but is so important. My Grandma won't be around forever, but now I'll remember this day every time I cook stuffed peppers. After dinner, Grandma showed us boxes of old family photos and told some pretty hilarious stories.

This is some legit Italian food right here.
This is some legit Italian food right here.

My goal is to start having Sunday dinners with family and friends every week. Spend the majority of the day cooking, then spend the night around the table telling stories and laughing – this is essentially when I'm happiest, and my goal is to make it a weekly occurrence instead of a monthly or yearly one.

Music

In addition to spending leisure time with friends and family, I've also been keeping busy in my home recording studio writing and producing new music. Songwriting is a passion of mine, and for the first time in a while, I have the bandwidth to really dig in.

My home recording studio
My home recording studio

Back in high school, I used to sell aspiring singers original songs for a thousand bucks a pop – it was the ultimate side hustle! I built up a pretty great network, and made enough money to build a sweet home studio. But, my parents were convinced I needed to “go to college and get a REAL job“, so I had to put my music on hold for a decade or two. Unfortunately, I lost most of the network I built up, but the good news is I have time again. And I'm slowly getting back into the game.

I've built up a new music website and uploaded a handful of demo songs across a few different genres: rock, pop, ballad, etc. If you are so inclined, check it out and let me know what you think! I sing vocals on the majority of tracks right now, but my goal is to collaborate with other talented musicians and singers, so if you know anyone with a great voice, point them over to me. 🙂

Writing

It's true that I've slowed down on the blog posts a bit lately, but I’m still writing! And not just music… I'm working on a FI book, though it's still in the early stages. I've been taking my sweet time on it, because, well, I have time. It's hard to stick to strict personal deadlines in early retirement for some reason.

But you know what? That's OK. As I've mentioned before, my goal is simply to write whenever I feel inspired. When I feel passionate is when my best writing flows! It's true for all my creative endeavors: blogs, books, music… and lately, I've been spending lots of time living life and getting inspired. One thing that has me motivated to continue working on my book is the recent ChooseFI episode on publishing with author M.K. Williams. I met M.K. at Camp Mustache SE in 2017 and was inspired by her writing. If you haven't read Enemies of Peace yet, get on it – it's a real treat.

Besides the book and blog, I've also been contributing content to FIology, an awesome online resource for everything you ever wanted to know about FI, organized into convenient lessons with lots of links to articles in the FIRE community. I actually just spent the weekend with David, who runs the site, and had fun hanging out at the beach and sitting around my backyard grill. It's a small world in the FIRE community: David is actually the twin brother of Stephen, who organizes all of the CampFI events. These brothers are so dang passionate about FIRE and spreading the word that sometimes I feel like a slacker. Hey wait – I already mentioned feeling like a slacker earlier in this post – is this the common theme of my early retirement lifestyle?? 🙂

You got a real attitude problem, McFly. You're a slacker!
You got a real attitude problem, McFly. You're a slacker!

HEY – WHAT ABOUT MONEY?!

OK, this is supposed to be a financial blog, and I haven’t written anything about money in this post! The funny thing is – I haven't really been thinking much about it lately. Since quitting work, I've found that money just isn't on my mind as much as it used to be, and actually, I find this quite refreshing. I'm really only checking up on my portfolio once a month, on the first, to update my net worth and track my spending for the month.

One cool money thing I made recently is a LEGO*** portfolio to help visualize things and show change from month to month. It's pretty cool: red blocks represent cash, blue are international stock, green are domestic stock, and yellow are bonds. Each individual LEGO block has four raised dots, and each dot represents one thousand dollars in our portfolio. Spreadsheets are great, but there's something really tangible about being able to hold your portfolio in your hands and add or remove a few blocks each month.

Our portfolio is colorful but blocky
Our portfolio is colorful but blocky

While I haven't been thinking about money as much lately, it doesn't mean I haven't been writing about it. There are still PLENTY of finance-related posts in my backlog: rolling over HSAs, avoiding deprivation in FI, some new reader requests, new interviews, and more! But no promises on a publishing frequency: to quote one of my favorite blogs Wait But Why, I publish “new posts every sometimes”. 🙂

Summary

So that's what I've been up to this summer! Between traveling to visit friends and family, writing a book, producing music, working on my physical fitness, and singing karaoke, I've been quite busy – busier than I ever imagined I'd be in early retirement. But it's not all non-stop action: I've learned to move at my own comfortable pace, and leave plenty of downtime for relaxation and reflection.

Don't confuse being busy with being productive – they are two different things. I struggled for a few months feeling guilty for not accomplishing more with all of my free time. I had to make peace with that and find a balance – that's where my four hours of structured work per day comes from. The equivalent of a 20-hour work week, this is the right number for me to feel accomplished while still leaving the vast majority of my time available for reading, cooking, and relaxing – as it should be! I actually discussed this on twitter recently with Justin from Root of Good:

Having free time available to spend on things that are meaningful to me is really what this Financial 180 was all about. As I've said before, 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!


*Well, it's probably not considered ‘hiking' here in Florida because we have no elevation, but it's a nice outdoor nature walk that lasts a few hours.

**If you see me at FinCon I'll show you in person…

**I'm not the first finance blogger to do this: I remember seeing a picture of a LEGO portfolio on another blog, but I can't remember which one! If you know, let me know in the comments so I can give them credit.

Oops. I QUIT!!!

Well, it finally happened! Today was my very last day of cubicle life! To be honest, I'm a little surprised myself, seeing as how determined I was to make it until January to help us hit our FI number.

That's right. I'm RE before FI. I don't know if this qualifies as retired early, since we haven't quite hit our FI number yet. All I can say with confidence is that I am now unemployed, and loving it! These past few weeks have been a blur… so what the hell happened?!

Breaking the Golden Handcuffs

I've griped about work a few times on this blog, so it's no secret that I dislike my career. I don't want to come off as a complainy-pants, but my job had been getting worse and worse these past few months, filling me with unnecessary anxiety and exhaustion.

A few months back, I found myself in the following thought spiral: “This job is making me miserable and I really want to quit! But if I stay five more weeks, my 401(K) vests! If I stay an extra month past that, I'll earn my year-end bonus! If I stay through January, I can front-load my IRA for the year. An extra six weeks after that, and…” You see where this is going, don't you? There's no end to all the mini-milestones I can achieve by working longer. “A few more months and I'll be FI! Another year after that- we hit FAT FI!” Ah, the sweet, seductive cushion of FAT FI. These rewards are so nice, I can't afford to stop working!

This mind game troubled me because I could feel myself losing control, becoming a slave to the golden handcuffs. The mental pressure to keep the fire-hose of cash flowing and keep passing more and more arbitrary milestones was literally making me sick. The demands at work kept increasing as the program schedule slipped further and further to the right. I no longer had the time or energy to spend on physical fitness, my blog, my music, my friends and family. Everything was second to work. I was chained to my cubicle. A cog in a machine. A mindless zombie. Eventually, I hit my breaking point. After a long walk with the wife, I realized I needed to set a firm exit date, and stick with it.

My Two Weeks

There's a phrase I've heard repeated these past few months: “leaning into” your fear. If something makes you uncomfortable, it's likely signaling a growth opportunity, and you should get out of your comfort zone and lean into it. Embrace it. Learn from it. For me, I noticed I became extremely uncomfortable with the thought of actually putting in my two weeks notice.

You'd think our quite substantial pile of FU Money would have lowered this anxiety, but this wasn't the case. The night before my meeting with management, I didn't sleep a wink.* I kept playing every scenario through in my mind. What was I going to say? What was my narrative? “Hey Boss – I saved up a bunch of money so I'm going home now and never coming back!” wasn't a graceful way to end my decade in the cubicle world. I didn't want to burn any bridges, either. I just needed a break.

A break! Bingo. I found my story. I was extremely burned out and needed a break. It was honest, simple, and to the point. They didn't need to know that the break would likely be perpetual. They didn't need an explanation of financial independence. They just needed to know that I was burned out.

The Meeting

The day of the actual meeting seemed never-ending. My 10 am discussion got pushed all the way back to 4 pm, so I spent the entire day wondering how things would play out. Why was I so nervous? It was like my brain was preparing for a really nasty breakup or something! When it was finally go-time, the entire conversation was over in the blink of an eye:

JOEL: “I'm really burned out and need a break. I think leaving the company is my best bet. This is my two weeks notice.”

BOSS: “Oh… well, what if we give you a few weeks off? If you can just hold out until we reach our next milestone we can…”

JOEL: “No, I've given it a lot of thought and I need longer than a few weeks off. Leaving is best for me.

BOSS:

A bunch of other things were said that I don't remember, then we shook hands and I walked out. The whole thing was a surreal blur, but I instantly felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I went home early, wrote a thank you letter to my wonderful wife for being so supportive of my decision, and then enjoyed the best nights sleep I've had in months. The anxiety was gone. I was free.

Rear View Mirror

On my last day in cubicle land, I gave out some handwritten thank you cards, cleaned out my desk, and left. No fancy retirement party, no long and uncomfortable farewell email. Just a quick and uneventful exit. I took the long way home, driving by the ocean, reflecting on my stressful decade of full-time cubicle life.

I realize now, looking back, that I should have left sooner. Health and sanity are worth more than a few thousand dollars incentive. The irony is that many of the requests I made to management in the past (switching to another position, working from home, part-time employment, etc.) were all eventually offered after I put in my two weeks notice. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, but good to know for the future: walking away from work can give you incredible negotiating power. Just be sure you are actually willing to leave.

I like to think of quitting my job as taking my foot off the accelerator and coasting down the cash-flow highway. These past few years, the wife and I have been driving towards FIRE so fast that we can't even roll down the windows to enjoy what's outside. The exit signs fly by so quickly that we have to try to catch them in the rear view mirror. Quitting full-time employment isn't slamming the brakes on our FI timeline; rather, it's simply easing my foot off the gas.

Throwing the Dart

One of the reasons it took me so long to quit is that I was aiming for perfection. I wanted to perfectly hit my FI number, with a nice cushion baked in, all within a specific timeline. When things started sucking at work earlier this spring, I didn't want to quit and find another job. I only had to stick it out a few more months, or so I told myself. Besides, I didn't want to move to a new company, only to leave a few months later and possibly burn a bridge. If I just put my nose to the grindstone, I thought I could power through the toxic work environment. But I was wrong.

The truth is, perfection… doesn't really exist. Those who seek it waste the majority of their time and energy. This amazing video from Hank Green of the Vlog Brothers says it best:

“Everything creative I do, I do my best to get it 80% of the way to as good as I can make it, and go no further. I just don't try to get it to 100%… I'm not saying you can't increase your odds of getting into the bulls-eye… I'm saying you never really know where you're going to hit until you actually. Throw. The. Dart. And if you spend a ton of time thinking about how you're going to throw the dart and you never throw it, you might be doing a whole lot of work that isn't actually helping. So when I get to 80%, I throw the dart. Because I know that ‘perfect' doesn't exist.”

It took me a decade to learn what that video summarizes in under four minutes: ‘Perfection' is subjective, and always changing. It reminds me of the Pareto principle we covered in the post Investing Can Be Simple: trying to reach the moving target that is perfection will take 80% of the effort for a measly 20% improvement. To reach perfection in FI, I still need to figure out my detailed draw-down strategy. I need to read up on dozens of tax optimization techniques and start my Roth conversion ladder. I should probably build a large five-year cash buffer, just for safety.

Perfection be damned- my time has come to throw the dart! In Go Curry Cracker's recent post, Jeremy discusses the idea of working a few more years after FI to build a bigger cushion than you need, and how that's allowed his family to stay well under the 4% rule. While I appreciate this concept, I think it depends heavily on your current work-life balance.

If you're enjoying your journey and have time to do the things you really want to do, then, by all means, work that extra year or two. It really is a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things. But if you still have years left on your FI journey and are in a similar work situation to me, why not take a break instead of powering through? Use that FU money to take a gap year, like Noah and his wife at Money Metagame are doing. Don't push yourself to the point of burnout like I did!

As we discussed in the Milestones of FI, The benefits of financial independence are gained gradually over a smooth continuum, not all at one specific dollar amount. If you take a break from work for a year or two, or take a lower paying job for a few years, you don't go backward. You don’t lose the benefits you’ve gained along the way! This is essential to remember during your working years to keep a healthy work-life balance.

Spreading the News

Other than my wife and a few select people close to me, I haven't really shared the news of my early retirement with friends or family. I guess it's not technically retirement: I still plan to work on the things I love, but now it's on my schedule, as much or as little as I want, with no pressure to profit. Most of my friends and family won't understand this concept. And with the wife choosing to work for another year, there's an old-fashioned stigma associated with a guy who stays home and doesn't help provide for his family.

There's also a good bit of tension that comes with wealth when the majority of your friends and family don't understand money. The way I see it: “I have carefully constructed my perpetual money making machine, and can now start enjoying up to 4% annual withdrawals whenever I'm ready. I'll never take out more than that: you don't chop down the tree when you've picked off all the apples- you plant more trees!”

The way most people see it: “Wow you've saved so much money that you never have to work again?! That's like infinite money! Why don't you use it to help everyone do everything? What do you mean you won't fly out to visit on a moments notice and bring lavish gifts!?”

OK, I'm obviously exaggerating here, but you get the picture. If someone knows you have a pile of money, their expectations of you change! It's just the way it is. Even if you explain exactly how the machine works, and how you have to withdraw less than 4% per year to keep it from breaking down… most people simply won't understand.

That's why I've been working on a different narrative: I'm starting my own business. I'll get to test it out at the Thanksgiving table in a few weeks.

FRIENDS & FAM: “Oh, starting your own business? That sounds risky. What does the business do?”

JOEL: “It's a financial business! I'll be doing financial advising and account management.”

FRIENDS & FAM: “Aren't you worried about losing your steady income?”

JOEL: “Well, you know how it goes with new businesses. The first few years will be a lot of work, so I'll have to keep my spending low so it can grow.”

FRIENDS & FAM: “You're braver than I am! Good luck!”

The self-employed narrative helps frame things in a way most people can relate to. Now, their expectations are set realistically: I'm not the rich guy with money to spare, I'm the guy who's living lean to try and get his business off the ground. And this isn't a lie… I will be living lean, I am a sole proprietor, and I will, in fact, be working on account management: they just happen to be my own accounts!

What's Next???

I'm extremely excited to be in control of my own schedule. For the very first time, I'm my own boss! I get to work on what I want, when I want to, as often as I'd like. I'm pretty much jumping out of my skin with excitement at the creative possibilities opening up for me right now! Not to mention – this is the first break** I've had since my junior year of high school over 15 years ago.***

I like to think of my upcoming year of freedom as my FIRE beta test. The wife will continue working another year to smooth the ride, while I test out the early retirement waters. If things go great, she'll join me next year. If the market comes crashing down or our plans change significantly, I can always go back to work! Remember: my worst case scenario is everyone else's every day scenario! And when you're close to FI and your expenses are low, every job in the universe becomes a ‘high paying' job!

THERE'S TIME NOW!!! One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes!
THERE'S TIME NOW!!! One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes!

I'm so excited for this next phase of my life to begin. There's time now for so many things I want to do! Just a sampling of my plans:

  • Sleep in for like a week straight and relax
  • Get back into excellent physical shape
  • Write more often on this blog
  • Collaborate more with other awesome people in the FIRE community
  • Work on my ‘Ted Talk' style presentation for CampFI
  • Get back into my songwriting side hustle
  • Complete my backlog of 100+ todo list items I've been putting off for months
  • Convince The Wife to join me next year!
  • Learn a new language. Pick up a new instrument. Literally anything I want to do!

I'm so incredibly thankful to this amazing financial independence community for showing me that this path was even a possibility****. It's my turn to give something back, so stay tuned… for the next Financial 180!

 

*This was actually like a week, not a night. The wife was concerned.

**Longer than two weeks at least!

***I had to do the math on this and wow – time sneaks up on you when you stop paying attention to it!

****I should take a minute to acknowledge how privileged I am to be standing on the shoulders of giants. While the wife and I have worked extremely hard to get where we are now, we had a head start. Parents who paid for our education, high demand careers, the list goes on. I have an entire post in the works on this very subject for Thanksgiving, but it's important to mention it here too.