Marla Taner – Striving for Happiness After Early Retirement

Marla Taner - Striving for Happiness After Early Retirement

My good friend Marla Taner joined me on the Financial Independence Podcast to go deep into some early-retirement topics that aren’t often discussed.

Marla and I met in 2014 at Camp Mustache and we’ve had a lot of fun (and sometimes heavy) conversations over the years so I thought it’d be great to record one for the podcast!

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  • How to deal with a sudden early retirement
  • Rethinking travel after leaving work
  • Finding happiness from within
  • Dealing with losing career identity and external validation
  • How to care less about “success”
  • The effort of happiness
  • Focusing on progress rather than the end goal
  • Doing the work to figure yourself out
  • Justifying the decision to retire early

Show Links

Financial Independence Podcast Advice

I’ve been recording this podcast since 2012 and at the end of every interview, I always ask, “What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone pursuing financial independence?”

I’ve received a lot of great answers over the years so I decided to compile all those answers into a PDF that you can download here for free!

Full Transcript

Marla Taner: We’re not going to talk about that!

Mad Fientist: Oh, we’re talking about it. It’s coming up.

Marla: Oh, no! I’ll just look like an asshole.

Mad Fientist: Quite right… quite right. I still haven’t recovered from it.


Mad Fientist: Hey, what’s up everyone? Welcome to the Financial Independence Podcast. The podcast where I get inside the brains of some of the best and brightest in personal finance to find out how they achieved financial independence.

I’m excited to introduce my guest today. But before I do, I have something to give you guys. If you listened to episode #40 of the podcast, you’ll know that my brother is over here, visiting. He was taking a little mini-break from work. And since he was here, and didn’t have a job, I was trying to think of something I could give him Mad Fientist-related that I could pay him for. So I thought it would be really cool if we went back through all of my old podcast episodes and extracted all of the best advice from those episodes.

As you probably know, at the end of every interview, I always ask my guests, “What’s one piece of advice you’d give to somebody on the path to financial independence?” So my brother went back through all the episodes since 2012 and he wrote down all those pieces of advice. And I put together a nice PDF. And it’s free!

So, if you are interested in getting that, just head over to, and you can get a copy of that and check out all the great advice I’ve received on the Financial Independence Podcast since 2012.

For today’s show, there’s even more good advice to come. I’ve invited my good friend, Marla, on the show. And Marla doesn’t have a blog, but she’s really involved with the FI community. I’ve met her a few times at various FI events. And I know she goes to Camp Mustaches. She’s been to Chautauqua. She’s been to some Camp FI’s. And so, if you’ve been to any of these events, there’s a good likelihood you’ve met her.

But we’ve had some really interesting chats over the years. And I wanted to try to capture one of those for an episode of the podcast. Luckily, she agreed to come on, and we had a really deep conversation about life after FI and the challenges that you face that you may not expect.

We dive into a lot of really important topics that aren’t often talked about that are related to early retirement and financial independence. So, without further delay, Marla, thanks very much for being here. I appreciate it.

Marla: Thanks for having me. Nice to talk to you!

Mad Fientist: I know this is a big treat. We go back to—when was it? Maybe 2013 or 2014? When was the first time we met?

Marla: I think it would have been 2014 at Camp Mustache.

Mad Fientist: That’s right, yup! Camp Mustache. That was my first one. And we met I think the day before the actual camp because you were good friends with Mr. Money Mustache by that point.

And if I remember right, I travel hacked to you right before we met. Do you recall that story?

Marla: Brandon, I’m very unhappy that you’re bringing that up so early in our conversation. Let’s just say that you cheated.

The last upgrade available at the hotel that we were all staying at, and I had recommended that we stay at…

Mad Fientist: That’s true, yeah. So, Mr. Money Mustache and I were sharing a room, and you’re sharing a room with our friend, Colleen. We got there first. And as we talked my way into this amazing two bedroom, two bathroom suite, so we each had our own rooms and a beautiful living room, you guys got stuck in two double beds or something?

Marla: I don’t want to talk about it.

Mad Fientist: So, we go way back. We’ve been friends ever since then. We had a fantastic time at Camp Mustache. And we’ve been friends ever since. And I’m so excited that you agreed to come on because you’re not a blogger, you haven’t told your story, and it’s an incredibly interesting story.

So, for people that may have not met you at one of these FI events, could you just give a little bit of your background and talk about how you retired four years ago?

Marla: Sure, thank you. I do take that as a little bit of a dig that I don’t have a blog because it’s been on my list, but it may not ever happen. But now I could just tell my story to you. So that’s great.

Mad Fientist: I retired kind of accidentally. I had always been frugal, and I was saving money. I did have a fairly high-paying career, but I’ve been frugal from birth basically. And I had just been saving my money but not knowing what I was saving it for. And when I did forensic accounting to look back and see, “Hey, why did I become FI without really trying?”, I realized that without knowing I was on the path to FI, I had just been doing all of these things.

So, I had always saved about 50% of my pay when I look back at it. I always had roommates. I never bought a brand new car. My parents were kind enough to help me with a house hack, which it would have never been called that at the time. But they bought a house that I managed with renting out to five roommates all through college. And I never inflated my lifestyle.

So, I guess I basically retired at 43. I figure I worked about 15 years, saving at 50%. And you’re the math guy. So I think that’s how it all worked out.

Mad Fientist: So, when did you realize that that was possible.

Marla: Well, I did have a “series of unfortunate events” I guess, to quote the book where I lost a job. I kind of had time for soul searching.

And so I guess during that time I was reading/researching, I stumbled on Mr. Money Mustache. And it changed my life. And then, I went to the first Chautauqua in Ecuador basically to meet him and to meet Jim Collins from JLCollinsNH because his stock series have really helped me. And so I just went there with my numbers and said, “I think I might be done. What do you guys think?” And they said, “Yeah, you’re done.”

So, I came home retired!

Mad Fientist: Wow! So, what was it like when you realized that you could retire? And if you hadn’t been thinking about it for years, building up to it and planning for it (like a lot of people are now who maybe have read Mr. Money Mustache since 2011 when he started and things like that), how was it just being plopped into retirement?

Marla: Yeah, I think ‘plopped’ is a good word. I think I was the happiest—like it was instant happiness and gratitude and sort of waking up with like a smile on my face thinking, “I don’t have to do anything. I have no deadlines, no schedule, no routine.” But at the same time, I also had no plan.

So, I always tell people it just feels like this—I always use the word ‘luxury’ because what could be more luxurious than having time to figure it all out? So, I feel really lucky. I feel like it was challenging, and I haven’t necessarily used the time as well as I wish I had. But it has evolved.

It’s been four years. And so I think a lot of writing has been done. One of the writers I like the best on this topic is LivingFI—it’s kind of an awkward name. He calls himself Doom. He no longer blogs which is a bit of a pattern with people who are already FI. They find other things to do and they stop blogging.

But he wrote some really brilliant things about how to come to the decision and the One-More-Year Syndrome and also the realities of what it’s like when you actually do pull the plug. And so he talks about a detox period and that that’s important for everyone. And I feel like I’ve been on the longest four years of detoxing without knowing what you’re doing. It’s a little bit silly.

But just in the last year and a bit, I would say I feel so much happier. And even happiness isn’t the right word. I’m more content and more comfortable in my own skin and comfortable to just be and not feel like I have to answer.

Everybody always asks the question like, “Well, what do you tell people about what you’re doing?” And that used to be such a fear and maybe you have a comment on this too. It was so scary to try to answer that question. I would make up stories, and I came up with great stories. I would tell people, “Oh, you could use this answer. And you could use that answer.” And what I found now is I just tell the truth. I don’t try to be aspirational about it and let people come to their own conclusion. Hopefully, they can see, if they know me, that I seem a lot more content. And if they don’t know me, they’ll ask interesting questions and the conversation goes in a much more authentic direction.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s really good. I still just rely on the old just programmer. But I just do it for myself now, I just work for myself—which is true. I still do write code for myself. But yeah, I haven’t reached the point where I’m comfortable just telling the full story I guess.

And have you ever had any pushback when you have told people that?

Marla: You get a lot of the typical, “Well, I could never do that.” And because I’m single and I don’t have kids, I think that’s a built-in safety for people to say, “Oh well, I could never do that because my expenses are too high” and that kind of thing.

Of course, I give people that. Everybody’s got to figure out their own—
Not very many people—and I’m sure you’ve found this to be true—actually want you to help them do the same thing you’ve done. And I don’t try to brag about my life or tell people they should live like me. I just tell them what I’m up to. And most people don’t want to drive an old car or live in a one-bedroom apartment. So they kind of maybe feel sorry for me. Well, that’s just fine.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, exactly.

So, you had a high power career, and I’m sure you had a lot of stress. So, do you think it took the three years of straight up early retirement to finally reach that point where you finally got all that career stuff out of your system?

Marla: I don’t know, that’s an interesting question. it definitely took more than a year. And then, there was a lot of false starts or ideas of how I’m going to spend my time without probably self-criticism I guess of like, “What am I going to do? Why aren’t I doing this?” telling people I’m going to start a blog or write a book or something that sounds great, but then still not doing it.

So, rather than the stress of the work, it was working that stuff out. It was trying to figure out what makes me tick, what’s going to make me happy. I can go on amazing trips, and I certainly did that a lot for the first few years, but then sort of what life do I want to live on a day to day and week by week basis.

Mad Fientist: So, let’s talk about that because we chatted in person about travel and things like that. So have you planned to do a lot of travel? And then, was it similar to my situation where it’s like, “Okay, yeah, this is fun and all. But doing this for the rest of my life like I thought I was going to isn’t really for me.”

Marla: Yeah, I still love travel. And I look back on the last four years of how I spent my time, and the first couple of years, I traveled for 119 and 110 days in each of those year.

Mad Fientist: Wow!

Marla: So, obviously, it was a big part of how I thought I would want to spend my time. And then, it’s gone down to—like this last year was more of an experiment in being home more. And it was around two months of vacation days or travel time.

So, I didn’t really have a plan like I wanted to be a full-time global nomad, that kind of idea. But the idea of slow travel and taking big trips and being on the move was very appealing. And to a certain extent, it still is. But I think that feeling where you’re working and you have a vacation, that feeling you get when you’re on vacation is so exciting. And it’s because it’s an escape from a stressful life. But if your life is no longer stressful, you no longer need that escape.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! Yes. So, how was the last year with less travel? Did you enjoy it more? Did you miss some of the travel? Or like me, did you really enjoy just normal life at home because, as you just said, it’s less need for escape when you actually can build a life that you really love where you live?

Marla: Yeah. I think it’s how I am on the inside that has changed. And no matter what I’m doing now, I think I’m going to just be more content. So the difference is like I didn’t miss going somewhere. I still have a long lists of places I want to go and things I want to do. I think it will vary from year to year how much I’m travelling or whether I move somewhere part time. I think the whole geographic arbitrage is very appealing.

I think I still look at life as an adventure, that I’m probably not going to live in one place as a home base all the time. But I think I’m just more comfortable.

That whole thing of “wherever you go, there you are,” that just resonates for me where I was searching for happiness in external physical locations or external experiences. And now I feel like I’m just happy to just be. There’s nothing aspirational about my life that other people can duplicate other than doing the work that it takes I think to try to figure yourself out.

Mad Fientist: So yeah, can we talk about that because I think you and I have had similar struggles after leaving work. And we’ve talked about it in person and things like that. You definitely seem like you’re in a great spot. So, can you maybe talk about that journey, some of the things that you did struggle with after leaving your job and how you worked through them?

Marla: Sure! I mean I think identity is a huge issue if your career has been important to you and you’ve always enjoyed external validation. I really did. And if you take that away, how do you get validated? And how do you recognize that, external validation, there’s nothing real about it, so you have to feel good about yourself just for being you?

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s the same conclusion that I’ve reached. And I forget where I was being interviewed for something, and we’re talking about success and how, if you’re okay with not having success anymore and things, I thought about like the past six months where I’ve actually had a normal life just here in Edinburgh and really trying to build this new life that I’ve always dreamed of having.

And you have a core focus over that time. It’s just like putting in the hours every day doing the thing that I want to get better at, and then just judging if I’m getting better against myself, which is nice to not even look externally because I sort of feel like I won the game. I won the game. I’m outside the game now. And now I’m just doing this thing on my own to just get better so that I have more fun doing it.

And that’s only a recent change. But yeah, not looking externally anymore is really freeing.

Marla: It is! And I’m not saying I’ve cracked the code, and I’ve figured it out. But at least I feel like I’m on the right path. and I think, what you’re describing, you are too.

I think IT would be great to delve into your latest written post, which I think was brilliantly written, about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the meaning of life. So the idea that if we get to a point in this pyramid of needs where we’re working on self-actualization, can that be something that’s interesting or instructive or helpful for other people who are kind of wondering, “Well, what am I going to do when I’m finished?” or “How can I start thinking about those things while I’m still working, while I’m on the path?”

I think that’s kind of the point. I think you have over to 200-ish comments from that post. And I would say like I didn’t find any that were negative. People were really kind of wowed by it. It made them think like—because you did your own pyramid about kind of the hierarchy of FI also. But more people were talking about that whole, you know, reaching the top of the pyramid. And I’m not saying that as like you and I are somehow self-actualizing, we’re at the top, and we’ve figured out all the rest, or that that’s better. A lot of people commented on how important the self actualizing piece is no matter what level you are in terms of needs and that many people have figured that part out even with very little in terms of money.

So, I look at it as good fortune to have the money so that I have the time, so that I can spend time thinking about this. I think if you’re working hard—and one of the posts that I think has been the most instructive for me, and I think is super helpful for anybody on the path to FI is Doug Nordman’s post called The Fog of Work. Have you read that one?

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I have. It’s great. I’ll link to it in the show notes.

Marla: And what he basically says, because he writes the Military Guide to Retirement, he’s basically using the metaphor of the fog of war, but the fog of work, and saying like, “How do any of us expect that we’re going to be able to figure anything out while we’re working? We’re tired! You barely have time to—you know, you come home and that’s when you want to have downtime or social time or go on a vacation.

And then, he even points out, when you’re on vacation, you’re having like the “work of play.” It’s work because you got to go see the sights and eat all the best food and drink all the best drinks and party. And of course that’s fun. But when is it that you’re supposed to have the time to do planning for your life or think about bigger things.

So, I guess that’s where, if you have this luxury—I’m not saying I sit around and ponder this out. But it’s great when we can make friends in the community who are either a little bit ahead of you in terms of being no longer working or they are pondering the same things you’re pondering.

Mad Fientist: The problem I see is that FI is like the perfect distraction from trying to do that or feeling like you have to. Like at least for me, I was like, “Oh, I’ll just be happy when I reach financial independence.” And I think a lot of people are probably in a similar situation. So it is like the perfect distraction.

So, I think I said in one of my posts, it’s like you said before, we feel like we’re above the consumer culture because we don’t have to go out and buy all these fancy, shiny things. But in reality, FI is just another shiny thing. And rather than treating us to make us feel better by going out and buying a fancy meal or going and buying a new bag or a pair of shoes or something, we instead are just focused solely on optimizing our investments or our asset allocation or something because FI is the thing that we’re using. We’re putting all our hopes and dreams on it. And it’s a perfect distraction to make us not have to think about these things.

So, do you agree with that? And do you see any ways to help people see that?

Marla: I just got goosebumps hearing that because I think we’re so much on the same page with that thinking. Everything can distract you, right? And to actually have to sit and be in your own thoughts, and be in the moment, and not be looking at your phone, and not be thinking about the next thing or the past thing—
And that’s where start to see a commonality with people trying to try out meditation and think about mindfulness and settling and quieting your mind and what the philosophers are trying to teach us. I mean that’s how I’m spending my time—reading things and really trying to just be, and be happy just being.

And that sounds simple. But it really isn’t. We all have insecurities. And we have active, chaotic minds. And we have self-doubt. And there are tools to work on those things, but you have to want to. And it can be painful.

Mad Fientist: So, during your journey, was there any sort of books that you read or any things that you did in particular that helped you get to where you are now?

Marla: Yes! In terms of resources that helped me or books I read, I found a few things. I happened on—I don’t love the Tim Ferris Podcast, but occasionally, I think he has guests that are really interesting. And then, I go seeking out more information from them. He had a guy on called Ricardo Semler. Did you listen to that one by any chance?

Mad Fientist: I haven’t, no. I’ll put it in the show notes, and I’ll take a listen then.

Marla: He is a businessman in Brazil. And he won all these awards because he took a family business. I think his father was dying or ill. He sort of made his son take over this very high value—it’s like one of Brazil’s top companies. And he was very young, in his 20’s. And when he took over the company, the first thing he did was fire 60% of his top managers. And then, he created this very different corporate culture which was very liberal and all kinds of interesting freedoms for the employees.

But in the interview that he has with Tim Ferris, he talks about a few things. One was I guess he had a health scare, or because his father had died young, he had a lot of fear about dying young. And so he created things called terminal days which he says obviously sounds very negative. And was referring to “terminal illness.” And so in his week, he made two days of the week, days that he had nothing on his schedule, and he could do whatever he wanted. His family all knew that they couldn’t schedule him. And he didn’t use them as like, “I’m going to go jump out of planes.” He really used them for just thinking and reflection and being able to say yes to things that came up and use those days accordingly.

So, he had some interesting philosophy that I liked. And also, I guess he’d won all these awards. He’d written books. He had thesis that he’d written. And he burned them all because he didn’t want his children to have to—he felt like there was so much ego around those things. He knew he’d done them. He no longer needed physical representations of those things. And he didn’t want his children to have their knowledge of him be based on these other people’s opinions or books. He wanted his kids to just know him for him.

And I was like, “Wow! This guy is really different.” His book is called Maverick, like the way he started a business. But he’s like a real philosopher at a different level. I found him fascinating.

And he talks about, as his business philosophy, the three Y’s. And you talked about that in one of your articles. And you were talking about Vicki Robin telling you like using the Y’s. And maybe you can talk about what Vicki taught you about it, and then I can tell you what he said about it.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, it was actually in that hierarchy of financial needs post. She said, “You just have to keep asking yourself why,” you know, figure out something that you really enjoy doing or got a lot of satisfaction from. And then just try to figure out why. Just keep saying, “Why? Why was that fun? Why did that give you satisfaction? And why was it worthwhile?” Just keep tryign to ask yourself why until you can’t ask yourself why anymore.

And that boils down to the core essence of what it was about that particular thing that made you so happy.

Marla: Yeah! And he talked about that. And he said you had to do it three times. And if you asked yourself, “Why this?”, then the answer to that question, “Why that?” And I think you did that very well in sort of coming up with your purpose or at least a synthesis of a direction or a statement of where you want to go.

And I guess it comes from Toyota. They actually had this five Why’s. It’s part of their management and production style. I looked it up on Wikipedia. It’s kind of interesting. But I think it worked even better as a personal something to think about. So, he was helpful.

And I read a book. This one was almost like a joke. It was called How to Be Miserable? And the author is Randy Paterson.

And so, I read it thinking, “Well, that’s kind of funny. I’m going to read this, How to Be Miserable?” Maybe I’ll even read you this little quote from it because it’s kind of crazy. I read the book and went, “Oh, I thought I was happy. But now, I don’t know.”

So, he asks this question. “There is one question you must never ask yourself.” And remember, this is a little bit tongue and cheek because it’s an instruction manual on how to be miserable. “If I were already good enough, what would I do then? If, that is, you didn’t have to make up for your inadequacy, what would you do with your life? If you did not have to [unclear 25:17], what would you read? What films would you see? What courses would you take? Where would you go? Having become fully capable, what would you use that capacity for? Where would you make your contribution?”

“If you ask questions like these, all your work on the misery project might come undone. You might begin living your life rather than preparing for it. And you might discover that that alone can sustain you, elevate your mood, and destroy the cynicism and unhappiness you have worked so hard to create.”

Mad Fientist: Wow! That’s really good.

Marla: Yeah. So anyway, that book is kind of fun. But it actually really was helpful. And you’re Non-Traditional Financial Independence, your podcast interview with Chris Hutchins, when he talked about doing one memorable thing per month, I thought that’s super cool too. That really stuck with me.

Mad Fientist: So, you’d mentioned something about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You want to talk a little bit about that because it definitely relates to what we were just talking about.

Marla: Oh, absolutely! That is a good segue way. I was looking at the pyramid and thinking it’s a nice answer if people are asking me what I’m doing to say, “Well, I’m self-actualizing.”

Mad Fientist: Yeah, it doesn’t sound pretentious at all.

Marla: No, it’s not at all pretentious. But then I looked at the pyramid and I went, “You know what? I don’t know if I figured out all of these. I’ve certainly got a roof over my head and enough food to eat. But these issues of belonging and esteem I think are really critical and important.”

And esteem, in particular, like when we were talking before about comparing ourselves to others or keeping up with the Joneses, being cautious about our ego and caring what other people think, I think that’s probably a lifelong struggle that is hard to get past. So I like to look back at the pyramid and say, “Maybe it’s more of a circle where we have to keep on working on some of these things.”

If we’re retiring early, and we’re leaving this high salaried career, we have to kind of face our own—you know, should we be doing that? Are we wasting an expensive education and an investment of time in our careers? And how can we justify that? And I think we want to justify it to ourselves, but we also want to justify it to others—this is where caring about what other people think really does come into it—and even to our parents.

I think many of us are leaving the workforce before our parents. And that’s really strange. And if we’re doing that, we want to make our lives—like, “Well, what are you doing instead? Why are you not going to be a lawyer anymore? How are you being useful or productive or living meaning?”

And so I think you touched on that in your article talking about “Do we need to leave a legacy, or are we searching for immortality?” I don’t know if you had some thoughts about that part of it. We can talk about that a little bit.

Mad Fientist: Sure, yeah. No, I’m still trying to figure it out. And like I said in the post, as I thought about all those things, I realized that that stuff isn’t actually worthwhile or important or necessary to strive for. And I couldn’t come up with anything better than just being happy and making as many other people happy as you can.

That’s really where I’m still at. I don’t know what are your thoughts on that. Are you similar…?

Marla: I think it’s true. I think that I want to sound good, both to myself and to others. And the “sounding good” is this giving back idea. And really, maybe the giving back certainly that you’re already doing by writing your blog and by sharing your story and by just being an example in the world, I think that’s enough.

And this idea of trying to just be and be content, I think maybe that’s the answer.

And then, what happens by being that way—like interestingly, I have in my room a Buddhist saying. I look at it every day. But I didn’t think about it until I was preparing to talk to you for this conversation. I was like, “Oh, this line kind of says it all.” And it just comes from Buddhist teachings. It says “to bring peace to the earth, strive to make your own life peaceful.”

What’s beautiful about that is it still has the word strive in there. So, there’s an effort required to be happy. And by us being happy, can we make the world happier? Probably. Can we be an example? Can we share our story and change the world little by little? We leave the workforce, that leaves a job for someone else. We show that you can live simply and without spending a lot of money and be content, surely, that’s a positive lesson for the world.

Mad Fientist: I’m so glad you said that. And I’m so glad you said the word strive as well. I have a few articles that I’m currently trying to piece together. And it’s sort of that exact idea. And it’s all about mastery I think rather than having these goals that you try to achieve and reach. It’s really just about getting better every day at being happy, at living life, at helping others, just all of those things, just trying to get better every day and striving for progress I guess.

Marla: Yeah, I think that’s what it comes down to. And I think that’s why having purpose, having meaning, you don’t want to give up on those ideas. It’s just that the direction doesn’t necessarily have to be something big or something that you can brag about or something that sounds good to others. It can boil down to something a lot more simple.

But then, once you’re thinking about the world in that way, I think opportunities to authentically give back or try to make the world a better place, I think those come out, that it’s all about motivation and maybe timing of how to work on those things.

This luxury of time that you buy yourself through the pursuits of financial independence gives you the opportunity to explore things that you never had time to explore before.

Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic. And this has been such an amazing conversation. I knew it was going to get pretty deep based on all the chats we’ve had in person. So I’m super excited that you agreed to come on. So thank you for that.

But I couldn’t let you get to the end of this without admitting to how cruel you can be sometimes. If you could just tell everyone the Benjamin Button story that has been haunting me ever since we met way back in 2014.

Marla: I’d like to point out that, as I’ve said in this interview, in 2014, I was not nearly as evolved in where I’m at. And obviously, I had a big chip on my shoulder. So I think the Benjamin Button story really shouldn’t be told because it’s not flattering to me.

Mad Fientist: Oh, it has to be. It’s got to be. Come on! You’ve evolved personally obviously. I’ve seen it over the years. But the Benjamin Button I think has still stuck around all these years.

Marla: I don’t think it’s fair because the Benjamin Button story, it just makes you look good and me look bad.

Mad Fientist: No, it makes me look terrible! Most of the audience has only seen me in pictures. And the Benjamin Button story is Marla saying that I look like 20 years older in real life than I do in pictures. You’ve made me take pictures while being with you multiple years in a row, and then showed people how much younger I look in the photos.

Marla: Okay, I’ll tell the Benjamin Button story.

So, for those of you who haven’t seen this classic piece of cinema, greatness featuring Brad Pitt, the story of Benjamin Button is a person who starts out old and gets younger versus the rest of us.

So, Benjamin Button starts as a very, very old man, and then turns into a baby at the end of the movie. And when I first was reading The Mad Fientist, I really loved the blog. And in Brandon’s about page—sorry, that was some Canadian pronunciation of “about.”

Mad Fientist: It’s happened more than once this time, and I just let it go.

Marla: We didn’t say I’m from Canada. But now, the secret is out. So sorry, I just said “out” too. Now I’m really in trouble.

Under about on the Mad Fientist’s blog, there’s a photo, a very attractive photo of Brandon. And he’s on a hammock in Thailand. And I was very envious when I saw his picture because I thought, “This guy is so young. How can he be so smart and have life figured out and know all these tax optimization strategies and have figured out all this stuff? He is just way too young to know all of this stuff.”

And so, it was with great relief that when I met him in person, I could say, “Oh, thank goodness. He’s not as young as I thought.”

So, I think that sounds very justifiable. But my mistake was I never should’ve shared that.

Mad Fientist: This was like the first time we met. We weren’t like buddy-buddy by then. This was like right out of the gate.

Marla: Yeah. No, we basically never met. And I had this in my mind as such an important thing that it just burst out of me. You know when you say things, and then you wish you could suck them back in? It was one of those moments.

Mad Fientist: So yeah, this has been great. I knew this was going to be awesome. And you definitely lived up to expectations, so I thank you. And as you’re probably aware, I always end all my interviews with asking: “What’s one piece of advice you’d give to somebody on the path to financial independence?”

Marla: I think it would be it’s not a rush. You don’t need to compare yourself to the latest 30-year old. There’s so much great life experience that you can have through your career. And you know what? Even if you’re hating your job, there’s lessons in that too because nothing’s ever perfect.

And I think I said earlier in our conversation that “wherever you go, there you are.” So, if you think you’re going to be happy because you retired or because you lost weight or because you gained mastery over something, that’s not what brings happiness. You’re going to have to do the work to be happy. And you can do that at whatever point you’re at.

So, there’s no rush. Enjoy the ride.

Mad Fientist: Perfect! Thank you so much, Marla. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, should they just leave comments on the show notes of this show? Or do you want to send them anywhere?

Marla: People can reach out to me on Facebook because I think it’s easy to find me. So, get my name in there, and they can send me a message that way if they would like to.

Mad Fientist: Okay. I will put a link to that in the show notes too so they don’t have to search for you.

Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see you again. Hopefully, you’re going to be making it over here for a trip, which we talked about before. But thank you so much for doing this.

Marla: Thank you very much for having me. It was a really good conversation. It was fun. I don’t think it was quite as silly as it should have been.

Mad Fientist: I know, we got way too serious.

Marla: …way too serious. And I think anybody that meets us in person needs to know that we are super fun and we do not talk about all this deep stuff all the time.

Mad Fientist: No. Well, you did share with me that you have a newfound joy of hard liquor which is a great after-work/early retirement goal of yours, which we didn’t talk about. But now that you do, then yes, when you come over, we’ll have some good whiskey, and we will have a proper conversation that we can record for episode two of this series.

Marla: I agree! More drinking, less philosophizing.

Mad Fientist: Alright! Thanks, Marla.

Marla: Thank you.

Mad Fientist: Bye!

Marla: Bye!

Mad Fientist: Hey, it’s the Mad Fientist here again. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Marla as much as I did. It’s always such a pleasure talking to her as I’m sure you’ve realized from listening to that.

Before I go today, I just wanted to remind you that if you want to get that PDF that I mentioned at the beginning of the show that contains all the great advice I’ve received over the years on the podcast, just head over to, and you can get a free copy of the PDF there.

Anyway, that’s it for today. So thanks for listening. I’ll see you next time.

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25 comments for “Marla Taner – Striving for Happiness After Early Retirement

  1. Jamie
    May 8, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    Super pumped about these T’s! Been waiting for this day for awhile so thanks for making it a reality!

  2. Lenny Bron
    May 9, 2018 at 1:17 am

    Finally got my hands on a Mad Fientist T-shirt!!! Can’t wait to rock it out!

  3. Accidental FIRE
    May 9, 2018 at 5:53 am

    Marla – your story is like mine! I too saved and worked hard without really knowing about FI. After I discovered the movement and MMM I realized I was indeed FI! So I started blog because I reached it ‘accidentally’ – sounds like you did too!

  4. May 9, 2018 at 7:24 am

    It’s so crazy to me that you took all the “right” steps towards FI without even realizing it. Congrats. Really enjoyed this episode to help think about life after FI. Oh and Marla’s laugh is amazing when talking about people judging her life.

  5. Mr. Financial Freedom Project
    May 9, 2018 at 8:36 am

    A thought-provoking discussion on the psychology of FI and early retirement! I can definitely relate to feeling the need to “escape” and make the most of time spent away from work. Prior to reaching FI, I often felt like I was simply “surviving”, rather than thriving. Life was living me, as opposed to the other way around.

    FI has the power to change all of that, and the freedom it provides can be life-changing. I shared pieces of my story and why I was driven to pursue FI from an early age in one of my most recent blog posts. Having once tasted the finer things in life at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, the low-hanging fruit of putting food on the table and paying the bills was no longer enough to satisfy. I had to have work-life balance and time freedom once more.

    I’ve added Fog Of War and How To Be Miserable to my reading list! Based on the brief descriptions mentioned in this episode, I’m pretty confident I’ll identify well with both. Thanks for another engaging and informative podcast!

  6. Lance
    May 9, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Marla! Great to see (and hear) you here! Wisdom and laughter – all sorts of good fun.

  7. Habits To Wealth
    May 9, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Marla, thank you for sharing your thoughts on FI!! I related to many of the topics and really enjoyed the discussion.

  8. Roxanna
    May 9, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Wow, this may be my favorite podcast that I’ve listened to in awhile. Like Marla, I accidentally FIRE’d at 49. Without the time to think it all the way through I wasn’t able to follow the common advice of “retire to something, not from something”. As I enter my 9th month of retirement I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on all of it. I suffered from feelings that I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t serving a big enough purpose but now I have realized that for right now I am very content and comfortable just being.

  9. Sara-Jayne
    May 9, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    This is great! And it just goes to show that ‘ingrained’ good practices when it comes to finance can put us all at a definite advantage – whether we realise it or not!

    I wonder how different the journey looks to someone who ‘accidentally’ gets to retirement finances, but already has a strong sense of self (maybe the sort whose job was a ‘leave it at the office’ type deal?) But then, is that the payoff? Quicker retirement opportunities for those folks who work in high-octane/stress environments (which tend to be better paid), but then a longer adjustment period?

    Interesting food for thought – thank you so much for this!
    – SJ

  10. Mark
    May 9, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Being 5 weeks into early retirement and a little lost, this conversion resonated with me. Especially Marla’s comment “It’s just that the direction doesn’t necessarily have to be something big or something that you can brag about or something that sounds good to others. It can boil down to something a lot more simple.” I spent several years planning how retirement would go and thought I had it figured out, but was surprised by the feelings of loss of purpose. It helps to read about how others are dealing with this.

  11. Craig
    May 9, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Wow, this was a very thought provoking podcast. Thanks for all of the recommendations, including the “fog of work”. I’ve been off of work for two weeks so far and I’ve found that taking long walks, naps and at-home activities has been great for the mind.

  12. JL Collins
    May 9, 2018 at 8:23 pm


    What a treat hearing your voice, and thoughts, again.

    Great podcast!

    Thanks for the shout out on Chautauqua and my Stock Series. :)

  13. Julie
    May 11, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Nice to have a Canadian on! *secret handshake*

    Something I would have loved to hear about from Marla is a topic that’s been making the rounds lately: FI aspirants hearing mostly about post-FI life from bloggers and podcasters who are now making an income from these activities and no longer living on just the income they planned to live on before “retiring” to their post-FI blogging/podcasting career.

    I don’t know whether Marla has started any lucrative post-FI activities, but if she is still living by her original de-cumulation strategy, it would be great to hear if she has encountered any unexpected complications.

    Thanks again for the great podcast!

  14. Nikki T
    May 11, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    There are lots of blogs and podcast on pre-FIRE, but too few on life post-FIRE and even less on the philosophy of it all. Excellent podcast!!!

  15. CurlygirlNY
    May 12, 2018 at 7:15 am

    I love this podcast! Enjoyed it so much listened 2x already and will again. Thank you Marla. So much out there on FI is about how to get there, but for those of us further along the path the topics discussed here are what we struggle to find our own personal answer to. I too woke up one day and finally took a hard look at my financial situation and realized I had hit the millionaire mark without even knowing it. Crazy but true when you’re raised by very frugal and simple living parents and you just work and save as you are raised without the carrot of needing to hit a certain number dangling over your head. Marla’s thoughts on just being, whatever that may be for each of us, hit home with me. Look forward to reading some of her suggestions. Thanks again!

  16. Ivaylo Durmonski
    May 12, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    The advice about “wherever you go, there you are” is one of the insightful things I’ve heard in a while. If you don’t enjoy the ride you won’t enjoy a bit of your life. Great podcast guys! :)

  17. MsModelMinority
    May 13, 2018 at 9:05 am

    Great episode, one of the best I’ve heard in a long while! For the last 5 years, my spouse and I have been actively working towards FI. Now that we’ve pretty much hit it, I’m starting to think (and worry) a lot about what I will do with myself after leaving my career. Marla – appreciate your humility in the way you shared about your story. Also, I love the quote you shared about bringing peace to others by striving for peace in yourself. I’ve felt a lot of pressure to come up with some “big idea” to make my post-FI life worthwhile, but maybe it’s just enough to find happiness and contentment for yourself.

  18. Scott Mario
    May 13, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Really enjoyed this podcast. Having recently FIREd myself, it was interesting to hear another perspective about adjusting to life off the hamster wheel. Prior to leaving my job, I was so focused on achieving my FI goals and escaping my job that I never stopped to consider what I would actually do with myself once that day finally arrived. I didn’t give much thought to finding a sense of purpose—chasing FI *was* my purpose. Now that I’m FIREd, I’m feeling a bit rudderless. It turns out that stepping off the hamster wheel is disorienting as well as liberating!

    I also appreciated Marla’s shout-out to LivingaFI, one of my all-time favorite blogs. Doom, if you’re out there, I hope you’re doing great.

  19. DaveNItUp
    May 16, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for all you do. Like many others, I really appreciate it.

    You chose not to publish a similar comment I posted on your “Hierarchy of Financial Needs” ( article. I think, maybe, because you found it wasn’t the type of positive vibe you want to promote. I get that and respect it, but please hear me out.

    You and the rest of the FI community are obviously “free thinking” enough to go against the grain of a lot of conventional thinking. I love the FI community, but does it allow for “unapologetic proficient slackers” like me ( and “Lacking Ambition” (

    It took having two very different kids to show me how powerful genetics and nature are. I used to try and bend myself and my kids to a bunch of societal “ought to’s”. I eventually came to realize that was wrong.

    I contend we all have a right to be true to our nature. To live authentic lives. It doesn’t mean we can’t try to bend our nature if we so choose or that we must bend our nature if we would harm others (e.g. pedophiles), but why do we have to?

    We do it to each other. We all throw around “ought to’s” all the time that ultimately result in inclusion of some and exclusion of others. I want my kids to love themselves for who they are ( and to only bend if they so choose.

    Why not be inclusive? Why can’t we all just lay our ideas on the table, walk away, and allow others to choose for themselves…guilt and obligation free? Why don’t we value authenticity over servility?

    When I read the “Lacking Ambition” article it resonated with me and, if I really think about, is more in line with my true nature going back to when I was a kid. I contend it doesn’t make me a bad person and I shouldn’t have to deny it. In fact, I won’t deny it. I really wish we would just let up on ourselves and each other.

    I guess what I’m trying to get you and others to question is whether your quest for purpose is making you exclusive (i.e. only allowing for a certain type of people (e.g. must be of service to others, etc.)) or are you remaining inclusive?

    I love this quote from (

    “Purpose by definition excludes the purposeless…But this relationship is not symmetrical: purposelessness does not exclude purpose…On the contrary, it includes, allows—and on the Daoist account, even generates—purpose. Not one purpose, however: many purposes, perhaps infinite purposes, a surfeit of purposes, all of which remain embedded in a larger purposelessness, but not contradicted or undermined by it.”

    Much Love

  20. Nevada
    May 25, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Nice to hear another great podcast. I always wait to the end of the talk to hear the words of wisdom. I am eagerly awaiting the PDF with the compilation of advice from all the guests. Thank you. All the best, Nevada.

  21. Colleen
    June 9, 2018 at 3:25 am

    Ah, Marla! What a great chat.

    I got the Mad Fientist email in South Africa but the hotel wifi was so bad everywhere I just got to listen now.

    Great to hear your voice (and of course your amazing laugh). Excellent insight.

    XO Colleen

  22. Barry
    June 17, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    I’m way late responding but really enjoyed the talk. You could have made it two hours and I would have listened. I really like Marla’s outlook and like her, I fell into FIRE a bit by accident, but not because I wasn’t working on it but I didn’t know what to call it. How awesome it would be to have a chat in person with you both. Thanks!

  23. Cody A. Ray
    August 10, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    Which article is this referencing? “Do we need to leave a legacy, or are we searching for immortality?

  24. Michael Richard
    August 18, 2018 at 7:32 am

    I can’t believe it’s been five years already. I started following you right before you hit the mark and it inspired me to start my own journey. Much has changed for me and my net worth and I have your blog as a place to thank.

  25. AlaskaFI
    December 28, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    I had a similar experience when I encountered the FI movement earlier this year. After running the numbers it looks like I’m about 2 years from an Alaska cost-of-living FI, which was a big surprise for me! And so of course immediately plunged into the psychological barriers and philosophical consideration of what I want my post-FI life to be, when to transition, etc… :-). I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one.

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