Today’s question comes from David. He asks:
“I happened upon your site today and engaged in some Sunday morning binge reading. I very much enjoyed reading your articles and appreciate your efforts to help others and to transform their lives. In reading through the questions that have been posed to you, I noticed that most of the questions concern ways to save and invest. Of course, amassing sufficient resources is a necessary step to early retirement but it doesn’t address the harder (at least to me) question of who one wants to be nor of what one wants to accomplish in retirement.
I have been fortunate to have a successful career as an attorney for the past sixteen years. Between a healthy income and a lifelong habit of saving, I can retire now (at a still pretty youthful 41), if I were to choose to do so. While I enjoy the intellectual aspects of my job and the relationships that I have with many of my colleagues, I find myself considering the same thought that you mentioned — that is, there must be something more to life than doing this day in and day out. I would also enjoy reducing the stress and anxiety in my life that comes from my work. All of that said, I’m not quite sure who I would be separate from my profession. My question for you is what process did you go through to consider how you wanted to spend your life post-employment? I would imagine that it is a continuing process for you and others, but I am interested in how you approached the issue.”
Like I always say, early retirement has nothing to do with doing nothing, it’s about gaining control over your time. Time is your most valuable resource.
Like Mark Cuban says, “You can’t buy it, you can’t find it, you can’t store it, you can’t trade it.”
And that’s why people want to become financially independent. They realize that every day their life is getting shorter, and wasting a single minute doing things they don’t want to do is a waste of a life.
I was friends with an executive and he told me he hated his job and didn’t want to keep doing what he was doing. And then he said, “This is it for me.”
Meaning, he was going to keep doing what he hated for the rest of his life because he wasn’t willing to give anything up (which is typical for guys in their 40s).
They’re working some high-pay high-stress job thinking superficial things will make them happy. Measuring themselves against other people.
I know, because that’s what I was doing. In my 20s I bought a BMW, a $200,000 condo, and started flying small airplanes.
If you never stop and think about any of this, how you’re living, then you’re destined to spend your life filling it with more stuff, trying to impress other people.
Instead, you can have a more meaningful life by filling it with stuff that’s important to you. That’s the question you need to be asking yourself.
“What’s important to me?”
And if you ask people this question most of them will say things like “freedom” and “flexibility”. Great, but that doesn’t mean anything.
You have to dig deeper.
So “freedom” becomes “time” and “time” turns into the question, “What would I do with it?”
1. Work on what I’m passionate about
2. Challenge myself, and continue to grow
3. Have an impact on the greatest amount of people
Yeah, pretty simple.
And now, whenever you’re faced with some major life decision — like quitting a 15-year career — it’s these little rules that help guide you.
This is how to start optimizing your life for meaning and significance. To stop measuring yourself against other people and start measuring yourself against what’s important to you. It’s how to wake up.
People would kill to be in your financial situation, because people are always telling me they want to being doing anything other than going to work. I mean, 70% of workers hate their jobs.
They’re telling me if they were financially independent they’d spend their time watching their kids grow up, doing more meaningful work, or taking a risk to try something new.
The reason you haven’t quit yet is because you’re attached to work: the nine-to-five routine, the relationships with coworkers, your identity as an attorney.
It’s a dependency.
Quitting means taking a big step from the known to the unknown. It means making yourself uncomfortable, but you change and grow the most by making yourself the most uncomfortable.
And the best part of quitting is when people ask you what you do for a living. Someone asked me this the other day.
“No, like what do you do for work.”
This is always a hard question to answer because how ridiculous does it sound saying you retired in your 30s or 40s. But it’s true, you no longer have to work for money.
So I’m spending my time reading, writing, thinking. Working out, doing yoga, meditating. Life slows way down.
And if you think having this level of freedom and control over your time will make you happier, or that your time is better spent some other way because you figured out what’s important to you, then quit.
It will be the greatest gift you ever gave yourself.
And the worst possible outcome is going back to doing what you were doing which people do all the time, but at least you’ll have figured out how to live a more meaningful life, and created the space for that growth.