As I enter my final year of full-time employment, the emotional challenges of financial independence and early retirement are becoming evident. Faint concerns are slowly growing into nagging worries, self-doubt is beginning to emerge, and there seems to be an ongoing battle between armies of excitement and apprehension.
For many, the biggest worry associated with early retirement is running out of money. This is actually not one of my concerns. In addition to trusting my investment plan and my math skills, I’m confident I could earn money again someday, if necessary. My lifestyle will be flexible enough to handle unexpected circumstances, of which I’m sure there will be many, and my ability to earn income will not drastically decrease after I achieve financial independence.
The only one of my concerns that actually deals with money at all is my apprehension about withdrawing from my portfolio. I’ve spent so many years building up my balances so the idea of actually taking money out is a bit frightening.
The majority of the emotions that I’m feeling now are actually deeper than financial worries or fears of uncertainty. As I approach FI, I am being confronted with questions about life itself.
Rather than dive right in to something as deep as the meaning of life, let’s instead begin this emotional journey up near the surface.
What I’m Giving Up
A question that has been going through my mind recently is whether early retirement will actually make me significantly happier than I am now. I currently have a great-paying job that is challenging but not stressful, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of the country, and I have the time and freedom to pursue other things that interest me. Do I really need 100% freedom? Will I miss the rewards that come from delivering value to an organization bigger than one I could ever build on my own?
Going a bit deeper, I’m beginning to wonder whether 100% freedom will actually make me unhappier. I have many lofty creative goals that I haven’t been working towards because I figure I’ll be able to “properly” tackle them when I don’t have a full-time job to worry about. Deep down, I know that this is really just a form of procrastination and an excuse for putting off difficult tasks.
After achieving FI, I won’t have full-time employment as an excuse anymore. Will I find other ways to procrastinate or will I finally start pursuing some of my creative goals? If I do start working towards my goals, will I fail? Has my procrastination been a way of keeping my dreams alive even though, deep down, I realize they are probably not attainable?
These questions lead into the big question: What do I want to leave behind?
I’m starting to wonder whether this question even matters. What is the point of having big goals when I will no longer need to be productive if I don’t want to be?
Mike, from LackingAmbition.com, wrote a very thought-provoking article titled Purposeless, in which he argues that one endeavor is no more meaningful than any other, in the grand scheme of things, so rather than feel compelled to accomplish specific goals, it is reasonable to simply focus on living a life that is as enjoyable as possible.
When you take a look at this amazing visualization of time, it’s easy to see where Mike’s coming from.
None of these questions are easy to answer but as I approach this big inflection point in my life, they are becoming more difficult to ignore.
Rather than be distressed by some of these questions and concerns, I am instead taking action now, in an effort to alleviate some of these issues prior to reaching FI.
To reduce my apprehension about withdrawing from my accounts, I am focusing on building up my passive income streams. If income-producing assets produce enough cash flow to cover the majority of my expenses, I’ll be less worried about slowly drawing down from my accounts, when necessary.
To handle my worry about what I’m giving up, I’ve decided to factor the things I like best about my job into the work I am currently doing on the side. I enjoy the challenge of programming and the process of creating useful things so if I continue doing that after financial independence, I likely won’t feel that I’ve given anything meaningful up.
As far as procrastination and creative goals are concerned, I’m making an effort to start work on some of those goals now. Hopefully by the time I reach FI, I will be over the initial “I can’t do this” hurdle and will be enjoying the challenge of pursuing difficult creative goals.
Finally, the meaning and purpose of my life. I haven’t figured this one out yet and can’t imagine I will anytime soon. That’s okay though, I think. Isn’t that what life’s really about? We’re all just trying to figure everything out as we go along. Maybe it’s the process of figuring things out that gives life meaning? Each person discovers how to live life just a little bit better and we slowly evolve as a species.
Whatever the point is, I agree that making life as enjoyable and interesting as possible is a worthy pursuit. Financial independence isn’t the solution to every problem but it does provide the freedom and flexibility to make changes that improve your life, and for that reason, it is a very worthwhile goal to pursue.
Image: Joe Shlabotnik