I think I’m dying. I’m having chest pains, shortness of breath, and body chills. I drive myself to urgent care. When I get there I describe my symptoms to the check-in lady. She tells me to go to the front of the triage line.
After triage I see the doctor and tell him what’s going on. Then a nurse comes in and does an EKG. She leaves, and now I’m sitting there waiting to find out how long I have to live.
The doctor comes back.
“How’s your job?”
“You’re fine. Are you under a lot of stress at work?”
I like him because he tells me to read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and to take a meditation class. He asks me if I want pharmaceuticals and I tell him no. He writes me a prescription I never pick up.
I realize I’m trying to do too much. A full-time job, running a website that’s turning into a full-time job, finding time for a life. Something has to give. And I already knew that because I tried to quit my job two months earlier.
My boss had invited me into his office and when I sat down he slid an offer letter across the table. It was for a promotion.
“I’ve been thinking about quitting.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I want a break.”
“Well, I’ll support whatever decision you make. Take the weekend to think it over.”
How do you make big life decisions like this? My intuition is telling me it’s time to quit but I don’t trust it. I don’t know why not. So, I sit down at my dining room table and come up with a way to make a logical decision.
I write down what’s important to me. The ways I want to live my life. I weigh the importance of each one then score them against taking the promotion or quitting.
I feel like I’m crazy I have to do this, but I have my answer. Monday morning I show up in my boss’s office.
“I decided I’m going to quit.”
“Are you playing a card here?”
“Is it more money? More responsibility?”
“What is it then?”
“It’s me doing what I want with my life.”
“Well, if you stay, you have a really bright future.”
I start thinking about the money I’m giving up. The career I spent 15 years building. My identity. I get scared and second-guess my decision. I take the job.
It was a mistake. It’s always a mistake when you don’t follow your intuition. Or when you listen to everyone around you telling you what to do. What’s hard is convincing yourself that everyone else is delusional, and you’re the sane one.
I work a few more months. Then I meet with my boss and tell him it’s time.
People tell me I’m lucky to retire at 37. For awhile I believed this until I remembered I’d been working really hard towards this goal for at least six years. That’s when I decided my time was more important than money because time makes you happier.
Back then, the first thing I did was track where my money was going. I had no idea I was spending most of it (89% to be exact). I found the biggest expenses to cut, like the $1,000 a month I spent flying airplanes. Then I starting making cuts in other areas.
But you can’t frugal your way to financial freedom, so I took my career and learned how to become more valuable because top performers earn more money.
Reducing what I spent and earning more money meant my savings rate shot up. The first year I saved 15%, then 30%, then 45%. It topped out around 55%.
It doesn’t make sense to keep money in a savings account because it’s not working for you. You have to invest it so I put it in the stock market. I lost a lot during the financial crisis, but over the long term the market goes up. At 35 I became a millionaire.
Honestly, that was kind of a letdown. But I had enough money where I felt like I didn’t have to work if I didn’t want to. In fact, I reached what’s called the crossover point. Meaning I had enough money that I could take out what I spend and never run out.
Setting a goal to become financially free was easy. Getting there was pretty hard. But quitting, walking away from one life to start another, that was the hardest.
The funny thing about money is you always feel like you need more. I was still scared to walk away when I did. But I was more scared of finding myself at the end of my life having never done what I really wanted to do.
That’s not how you live life.