Early Retirement Will Not Make You Happy!

There is absolutely no argument about the universal appeal of a lifestyle that offers endless summer. Just imagine a life free of burdens so you can enjoy your time, in whatever manner you please – that’s what I mean by endless summer. For all of us who are pursuing Financial Independence and especially those set on an Early Retirement, the goal is to get to endless summer quickly so we can “get on with our lives.” But, if you are like me, you are chasing that dream with a fair amount of reckless abandon and probably giving that future self too much power over your lifestyle of today.

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Locking into My Purpose

Last weekend my wife and I started an exercise where you begin with three categories labeled Be, Have, and Do. The process starts with a 30-minute session where you individually write down as many life goals you can think of for each category. This may sound like an enormous task, and in the first few minutes the ideas were slow to rise, but eventually, it became a flurry of pen and paper.

After the time is up you review every single note – together. You discuss each idea, expand when necessary, before finally taking related ideas and grouping them. As of this writing, our coffee table is littered with about three dozen sticky notes waiting for us to complete the final step. That ultimate step is taking each group and outlining an action plan for your lives. The key here is to prioritize each group, logically assigning each to a specific period of your life (say your 20s, 30, 40s, etc.), and earmarking the resources required: Time, Money, and/or Commitment.

First of all, this is a simple, yet insightful exercise and I highly recommend it. (Check for the link at end of post.) For a while, we were looking to craft a five-year plan and this exercise certainly moved us along. Second, I think the two of us are a little… boring. Our ideas are generic and likely a bit conservative. What I’m trying to say is we didn’t really shoot for the stars with any of them. I’ve already marked my calendar to revisit in a couple years and up the ante if possible. However, it really taught us what ideas hold the most importance in our lives.

After writing my Financial Independence Mission Statement last week I imagined I was ready to go forth and race towards my dreams of an endless summer. Thinking and writing that statement was amazingly helpful: this is what I am doing, this is how I am will do it, and this is why I want to do it. I know it will be helpful going forward whenever a new hurdle appears. After finishing my statement I happily went back to Our Next Life and posted a comment proclaiming my victory! In short order, Ms. ONL followed up on my comment, and after some nice words, she left me with one simple question: Why?

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The What & How of FIRE is Simple

I remember when I first learned about Financial Independence/Early Retirement (FIRE). “You mean I can quit working and do whatever I want – every day?!” Sounds familiar, right? Without a doubt, it’s an admirable goal and absolutely worth pursuing. But for nearly all chasers of FIRE it simplifies down to one equation:

IF(EXPENSES<INCOME) THEN FREEDOM = YOURS.

Clearly there are far more details, but in general, this equation leads to success. I am not trying to belittle the dedication and hard work it takes to achieve financial independence. I am in a fortunate position with my current lifestyle and realize not everyone is given the same advantages I have received during my life. I am absolutely grateful to be where I am.

I understand that for many the path to FIRE will be much, much more difficult. They will have endless hours hustling and busting ass to get some extra income. They will struggle every day to not just make ends meet, but to make any discernible progress towards their goals, FIRE or otherwise. Sacrifices will have to be made. Most people are not even in the position to consider financial independence, let alone early retirement. I am truly humbled knowing I am able to pursue this goal.

FIRE is a Tool, Not a Solution

For me, I am naturally expense adverse because I am content living simply. With a bit of extra effort, I can keep my expenses even lower and make incredible progress towards my financial freedom. Going into the office for my 9-5 job, when really considered, is not a terrible situation. The projects keep my mind engaged and the people are friendly (enough), but it’s still a job. There is just something blah about it.

It’s the blah, not just at work but every day, I can’t put my finger on.

I think too many people pursuing FIRE, are using the idea to escape something and not escape to something. When they achieve that point of escape I imagine some are going to have a rough time. There are numerous examples of people reaching retirement and becoming overcome with depression or anxiety. There are many reasons for this, but in my experience many people pursuing FIRE prop up the freedom as a remedy for their griefs in life.

Retirement, early or not, is not going to fix your life.

I am 100% guilty of this thinking. I can sit here and dream all day about how I’d spend my retired life reading books, sharing time with family, and chasing hobbies I never quite had the time for. Every time I am at work and get frustrated hoping I was at home doing some other project, the power of early retirement seems like the purest cure.

Early retirement may alleviate the symptoms, but it’s not going to fix the cause. 

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Purpose? Purpose.

So let’s get back to the Be-Have-Do exercise and all my 30-minute train-of-thought notes. There are a lot of truths hidden in those little notes. And the benefit of performing this exercise now is that I can begin working towards defining and achieving purpose in life today. Why shouldn’t I work to bring some of that early retirement “cure all” into my life now?

I realize a 100% accurate statement regarding my purpose in life is impossible. And frankly retiring early does not require me to have a known purpose. So I will gladly pursue the goal without having my finger on the answer. But like I said – why not bring about positive change in my life now, instead of giving too much power to the mystical beast of early retirement and hoping it all sorts itself out?

So what did I write down in those 30-minutes?

I WANT TO

BE

HAVE

DO

Inspiring

A Travel Mobile

Live in a Small City

Strong

A Getaway

Work by Choice

Engaging

A Small Business

Live Abroad

Interesting

A Tidy House

Travel Slowly

Smarter

Beautiful Art

Be Outside Often

Beautiful Landscaping

Community

Grouping those up I begin to see a few trends in my answers. If I further boil those down into single-word ideas I come up with following cue words for defining the purpose in my life.

Community

There is a lingering notion of wanting to belong and give back. I clearly want to be recognized for the value I provide. I want to share what I know, and receive feedback from those who I share with. I want to make a difference on a personal level.

This is actually one of the greatest benefits of joining the Personal Finance blogging world. The kindness of everyone is almost overwhelming. It likely also triggered me to look at my 2016 expenses and begin focusing more on giving this year. All good things – driven by this hidden value.

Exploration

There is a BIG emphasis here. I want to get out in the world to experience something new. I desire to have a kid’s imagination and wonderment again. I want to absorb culture and broaden my thinking. I want to be uncomfortable and forced to test my capabilities.

I realize you may not see all this in my note-words, but you must remember I wrote this quickly without much explanation. I think there is a strong desire to explore and simply enjoy nature. Part of my drive for FIRE is to offer the chance to fulfill this purpose while my body is able. I truly foresee some sort of expat life, even if temporary.

Tranquility

In almost the opposite direction, I desire a place to escape from the bustle of modern life. Somewhere I can call my own, be secluded, and feel at peace. In a way, it is almost a feeling of wanting to disconnect and just be.

I certainly enjoy moments of this now, no matter if it is for a few moments. It’s that feeling of decompression after a long day or week, when you finally time for you. You know what I mean. 🙂

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My Revised Financial Independence Mission Statement

I think Financial Independence and especially Early Retirement offers me the clearest path to fulfilling my life’s goals. I now more clearly realize once early retirement comes it is up to me to make my goals a reality. While an endless summer daydreams nicely, the drive to succeed still must come from within.

This pair of exercises has provided the perspective I was missing. It’s so easy to get bogged down by the numbers, drudge along and pray that FIRE brings with it meaningful happiness. Pursuing FIRE includes lots of waiting – that waiting is your life! So make sure you are working on leading a fulfilling life now, so once you achieve early retirement you can accelerate towards your life’s goals!

My revised financial mission statement:

EARN 100% until 2025. SAVE abundantly without sacrifice and INVEST lazily. Continually work on building COMMUNITY, budgeting for EXPLORATION, and developing TRANQUILITY.

 

Every one of us has reasons for pursuing financial independence and an early retirement. I sincerely hope you sit down and think hard about those reasons. Just remember that your why for FIRE should not be about escaping from a nightmare situation, but instead about freeing up resources to achieve purpose-driven goals and dreams.

*As promised: Be-Have-Do by Jillian at Montana Money Adventures!


😀

Inline Image by Jeremy Bishop Inline Image by Tamarcus Brown Inline Image by Marcus Dall Col Feature Image by Jad Limcaco

6 Replies to “Early Retirement Will Not Make You Happy!”

    1. I just wish I could print this bad boy out and hang it in my office at work. Not sure that it’s a good idea… 😀

  1. I love the added goals and I suspect if I sat down and did this exercise I’d see some similar trends, especially with exploration and community. Thanks for the good thought experiment!

    1. Yeah, I think many people in the PF community share a love for Exploration and Community. The PF community being virtual, yet still awesome! The hard part is taking these words and making them actions.

      Good luck with your journey!

  2. Love the BE, HAVE, DO idea. As you know I wrote recently on the ‘wide vs deep’ aspects of simple living. I think that’s exactly what this exercise brings out, the why, the time and space and how you will occupy them when you’re FIRE’d up.

    “the drive to succeed still must come from within.” This is where it’s at for me, in very clear focus. Wonderful reminder. I also tried the expat thing, and built a simple house abroad, at the expense of some upfront investment and savings time. I love all the strategies for FIRE, the challenge, and the downright infectious enthusiasm for it. Keep on rolling!

  3. Get FIRE’d up! 😀

    Yeah, I think the journey is pretty damn fun, bumpy, but enjoyable bumpy. It’s certainly not the popular path. And that could mean two things: 1, it’s the best path but offers more resistance 2, it’s actually a terrible path so only fools take it. I’m fairly confident FIRE is part of the first group.

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