You Owe It to Yourself to Pursue Financial Independence

The longer I’ve been retired, the more I’m convinced that everyone should pursue financial independence. I felt trapped while working, and that feeling kept growing as everyday started to look the same. Now, I don’t necessarily know what I’ll be doing the next day, week, or month. But every day I wake up and find myself full of purpose. The fulfillment that comes from living my life the way I want has left me happier than I’ve ever been. I want all of my friends to experience the same thing.

Trekking through the Pyrenees on our free trip to Spain.

Financial independence is a long term goal, and a lot of people feel like they’d be giving up on something now for the sake of later. Some even enjoy their jobs and see themselves working well into their old age. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it’s short sighted.

Because you can’t know who you’ll become

At the beginning of my career, being an engineer learning about helicopters and flying simulators was awesome. I even had a chance to fly a test aircraft into work and land on the pad out back. I loved the excitement of learning new things and seeing my work take to the skies. At that time, I thought this was a job I could do for the rest of my life.

Incoming!

Ten years later, I found myself sitting in the back of an aircraft during a test flight. I was the lead engineer, and the auto-pilot software I developed was behind schedule. It was a Sunday, and this was supposed to be our last test before the aircraft were shipped out.

Just as we were finishing up, the test pilot noticed some peculiar behavior. As a quick check, I asked him to nudge the controls to try and excite the problem. Next thing I knew, we were wildly pitching up and down, and the test pilots were having a hoot hollering out “Yeee-haaaww!” as we bucked our way through the sky pulling g’s. Meanwhile, I was furiously scanning data with my heart in my stomach. I was doing the coolest thing my job had to offer, but instead of having fun, I was stressed to the max.

As responsibilities piled up, things that once got me pumped up were starting to punch me in the gut. I started to envy the new engineers and longed for my days as an intern. Here I was, 10 years down the line, in the same place but a completely different person working a completely different job.

We can’t know who we’ll become, or how our jobs will evolve. We don’t even know if our jobs will still be around in ten years. Don’t make a bet now on what your future self will want to do.

Because you should see the Sistine Chapel

A benefit of being on the path to financial independence is that you become less and less dependent on a salary. Although it might have cost me a promotion, I switched to a research and development position. I didn’t need the extra money or stress. Then I negotiated to work from home one day a week, and started wearing jeans and crazy kicks to the office. I started having fun again.

It wasn’t just the research that excited me, but also the enthusiasm of the team I was working with. The engineer running our program was a different caliber. Smart and charismatic, he was someone everyone was happy to work with. We quickly became friends.

With a sharp and cohesive team, we got busy inventing patents and exceeding expectations. We were having a blast while kicking ass. Then disaster struck. We learned our good friend and mentor was battling cancer.

One night, we were celebrating the success of some milestone I don’t even remember with some beers around a fire. We got to talking about travel, and my friend mentioned how he’d always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel with his own eyes. Knowing things weren’t going well with his treatments, I struggled to hold myself back from shouting out “Just go!”

I held back because I knew he couldn’t go. His days off were reserved for treatments. And as a dedicated father and husband, he wasn’t going to leave work and give up the paychecks, or health and life insurance. He sacrificed for his family, but I wish he didn’t have to. I wish he could have just left his job and spent his last days doing those things he wanted.

Don’t let paychecks keep you from your dreams.

I don’t want to see any of my friends let money hold them from their dreams.

Because you might not know what you really want

Toward the end of my career, I’d maneuvered myself to have good co-workers, exciting projects, and a flexible work from home arrangement. Life was good. Then after years of saving, that magical day happened. Based on our spending, we had enough investments to retire early and never work again. Suddenly, the question of whether I wanted to keep working was no longer hypothetical.

I thought I was enjoying work. I though it was silly to give up an easy job with a six figure salary. But when I really had the option, everything I’d been telling myself went out the window. I quit my job that summer.

The new office.

We can all hypothesize about what we would do in a situation, but it doesn’t mean shit until the question is a real one. I recommend giving yourself that option one day.

Because you might not be able to one day

Around the same time I left my job, my neighbor also retired. He’d worked a printing press for decades, and was much older than me. Things didn’t seem to change much for him, and he kept a similar routine at home. He just wasn’t going to work anymore.

A year later, I noticed he wasn’t cutting his lawn. Shortly after that, we saw an ambulance in front of his house. His health declined quickly.

After working in a career for decades, retirement can be a traumatic event. While you gain your freedom, you might also lose your sense of worth and community. This can lead to depression, and even affect your physical health. I’ve seen many retirees return to work just because they don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve become institutionalized, and have trouble finding purpose elsewhere.

Everyone should strive for a chance to take some time off while they’re young enough to adapt – while you can still learn new hobbies, make new friends, or even start a whole new career if you really want to.

Do it while you still can.

There is so much to see, learn, and do. Don’t let a paycheck become your life.

You owe it to yourself to pursue financial independence

I don’t think anyone should make financial decisions that can pin down their future. Even if you like your job now, one day you might hate it, or it might even disappear. Maybe you’ll find your true calling for a whole new career, or realize there are things in life you want to do and see. While you might be okay settling for the ordinary now, the future you might have plans for the extraordinary. We have a limited time on this tiny rock hurtling through space, don’t sell your future self short.

14 thoughts on “You Owe It to Yourself to Pursue Financial Independence

  1. That is so sad about your neighbor. Isn’t it messed up that we slave away our whole lives, only to enjoy traditional retirement for a few years before your health declines. Why not retire earlier so you can actually enjoy the freedom when your body is still lively?

    • Unfortunately, I’ve seen several people plan out grand retirements, only to have the plans curtailed when a health issue arises. We only get so much time. It’s best to have the option to go and do the things you want earlier in life 🙂

  2. Financial independence should be automatic for any engineer by the time they hit late forties early fifties. At least that was the case for me but I chose to work another ten years because it was fun. I agree work can stop being fun but it doesn’t always happen. If it keeps on being fun there really isn’t a big problem with putting another million or two into the portfolio. Its not like you work first and live later. Every day you work should be just as fun as the days after you don’t have to. Enjoying every day is a choice.

    • Not only engineers, most other professions also pay plenty enough for people to reach financial independence by middle age. The problem is people don’t make it a priority until they are that old.

      I enjoyed work, and we had a blast on our journey to financial independence. It didn’t require any suffering, just better decisions. That’s great that you still loved your job, even though you knew you didn’t need it 🙂

  3. Wow, some difficult things you’ve seen others have to go through. It makes you appreciate what you have and are able to do, I’m sure.

    I am anxiously awaiting the day when I hit FI, and while I think it’ll come with me giving up work, I also know that years down the line I might change my opinion. But I’d rather be faced with the option to do whatever I want, and decide to willingly work, as opposed to be forced to for the money. That’s not how I want to go through my later years.

    • I wish these were the only cases that I’ve witnessed. It really hits home when it’s friends and family that you care for. That’s a big part of why I write this blog, to bring friends and family on board with FI.

      I loved life before, but it’s even more enjoyable when you know you’re doing things because you love them 🙂

  4. Epic post, thank you for sharing. The journey to FI is a pretty big mind shift. Although I’m not there yet, I am definitely happier on the journey than I was before when I was going down a “traditional” life and career path.

    Whether you love your work or not, FI will give the the freedom and the choice to retire completely or to keep on working if you choose. Unfortunately, most people don’t have that option. Create it for yourself.

    • Thanks, Jeff!

      I’d have to agree, even just being on the journey to financial independence made life much more enjoyable for me. And if you do decide to keep working once you get there, then you really know you love what your doing 🙂

  5. I have seen many coworkers only retire when health issues start for them or their spouse somewhere in their sixties. It is depressing to watch and devastating for their families. I love the quote you have – Do it while you still can.

    • I’ve seen too much of that myself, and the older I get, the more I realize that youth is fleeting. I’m sure I’ll still be enjoying life at 65, but might not be up for getting thrashed by tasty waves or thrown from mountain bikes at that point. I really appreciate that I can do those things now 🙂

  6. Well said Mr. CK. We owe it to ourselves to try something different in life. To explore, to stretch out and try some new things.

    I think the word you chose, “Institutionalized” really sums up some important ideas about the modern workplace that need to be said. Just like a convict who grows to like the prison environment, we also can begin to enjoy life in the confines of an office.

    It’s still a prison…not one of steel and concrete, but one of the mind.

  7. “After working in a career for decades, retirement can be a traumatic event.” – retirement kicked my Dad’s depression into overdrive. He lasted less than six months. This is definitely something more people need to be aware of.

  8. In 2003, my (future) husband and I returned to work from a two month vacation to find two of our colleagues gone. Both were months from retirement and one had even booked his long sought after golf trip. He never made it.

    My husband and I decided that we weren’t going to be the ones that “talked” about retirement (whatever you want to call it). Over the next 18 months, we sold e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. we owned, quit our jobs, loaded the cat in our van and drove south to Mexico.

    Three years later we came back, had a litter of kids (triplets!) and for the past seven years have wintered in Mexico.

    But it wasn’t enough.

    I am pleased to announce that we sold our house this week (!!!) and in two months will be starting another chapter in our lives. We will head south once again (with our kids and pets) and spend 6 months in Mexico and rent a house (in Canada) for the other 6 months.

    Life is short, live.

    Besos Sarah.

  9. “I don’t want to see any of my friends let money hold them from their dreams.”

    This! Yes!! It’s frustrating when you see it and know that they have the time and ability to fix it now, but they choose to make excuses rather than do anything. I feel this way even more about my family. They “want” to do better and save, etc. But they never show it by actually doing anything that could allow that to happen.

    My husband keeps saying he may not retire right away when we hit our money goal, but I think he will be like you. He will quit pretty quick. I am okay either way, as long as he truly is enjoying his job. But, I’m betting that his real feelings will surface more often and will make him realize what and how to really enjoy life. And it’s not sitting at a desk all day, 5 days a week.

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