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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.