I’ve had an epiphany of sorts.
Rather than a flash of inspiration, or a sudden strike of brilliance, this has been more like a light bulb dimmer switch slowly being pushed up, gradually providing more and more illumination.
I’ve come to realize that my drive reach financial independence and retire early isn’t really about financial independence at all. It’s really about personal independence; FIRE is Freedom.
PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE THROUGH FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE
I don’t like being told what to do. Never have. I can’t imagine that anybody actually likes it, but it really does bother me, no matter how innocent or helpful someone is trying to be.
For example, let’s say that you and I are driving through a crowed parking lot looking for an open spot when suddenly you see, and helpfully point out, a car that begins to back out of their slot. So naturally you say “hey that car is pulling out; park right there.”
Yeah … that bugs me. I know that it shouldn’t but it just does and my knee-jerk reaction is to keep driving until I find another spot that nobody told me to park in.
That might be a bit of an extreme example, but it illustrates the point well. Even when someone is just trying to be helpful, whenever I’m told what to do, my walls go up. I withdraw a little bit. I might even be the tiniest bit resentful … for a little while anyway.
I know that reacting like that is dumb, especially when I know the person is just trying to help. Yet, even in that very moment when I can feel myself getting agitated and I tell myself to relax, that it’s no big deal, I still can’t help it – it just bothers me when someone tells me what to do.
Why? Because I’m not in control.
“I like being told what to do” – nobody ever
Don’t Tell Me What To Do
Now that you know this unflattering little tidbit about me, maybe you can imagine the joy I experience every Monday through Friday as I go to work. Not because I get to or because I’m following my passion. No, I’m going to work because I have to.
Because I still need that paycheck and that means I’m not in control. Grrrrr!
Trading My Time for Money
As far as work goes, I’m really very fortunate. I work for a large, well-known company. They’re stable and pay well. I work in an exciting industry. The benefits I get are fantastic. The work life balance is so good that it’s really kind of ridiculous. I like the team I’m on and the people I get to work with.
In short, I have nothing to complain about, yet, I find myself complaining about work far more than I should.
Until recently, I really didn’t understand why. I knew I had a good thing going. I’ve always been a happy person (still am), but I assumed that maybe I was just getting grumpier as I got older. That’s probably very true, but I’m also realizing that I just really resent being told what to do.
Which is kind of a problem when you go to work for someone else. I mean, that’s sort of what work is all about – in exchange for that paycheck, and great benefits, and work-life balance, my employer gets to tell me what to do. I know this and I accept it. But I’m also coming to resent it more and more.
FIRE is Freedom
For the past couple of years I’ve been scratching and clawing my way towards a goal of becoming financially independent. My hope was that financial independence would buy my freedom and that, in turn, would be a good thing.
And it will – but not for the reasons I’ve thought.
My recent epiphany-of-sorts has helped me come to realize that one of the things that truly makes me happy is the freedom to use my time as I wish. Financial independence has been my goal, when in reality, it should have been my strategy to reach a different goal: personal independence; i.e. freedom! Freedom to:
- Lie on the sofa all day eating Doritos and watching reruns of American Pickers.
- Get up at 6:00am to go fishing on a Wednesday.
- Stay up late writing blog posts and not worry about getting up early the next morning.
- Do whatever I want to do with my time, however unproductive or idiotic someone else may view my use of time to be.
But I’m still about 10 years away from accumulating enough assets to become financially independent and reaching personal independence. That’s 10 more years of going to work for someone else, trading my time for money, being told what to do, not being able to call all the shots. And that’s frustrating.
A Means to an End
My job, however great it might be, is currently just a means to an end and as long as that’s the case, then I’m always going to have this conundrum.
Don’t misunderstand, my problem isn’t that I’m “working” – I don’t mind working at all. I grew up in a blue collar home where I learned how to work hard and how to appreciate the value of hard work.
No, the problem is that I’m working for someone else – someone else controls my day so I’m not truly free, and that personal freedom is what I’m looking for.
I think that’s why the concept of F-You money sounded so satisfying when I first heard about it. Having the freedom to say “What’s that? You need me to work on my vacation? Guess what? F-You!“
It’s all about personal freedom – it always has been, I’m just now beginning to understand that better.
My plan to obtain that personal freedom has been to reach that point where my investments generate enough cash to cover all of my expense. Once you reach that point then you’ve bought the freedom to call your own shots.
To make that happen I need to save up 25 times my annual expenses, that amount of money will generate enough cash each year to cover my expenses and at that point, work will be optional.
It’s going to take me about 10 more years to reach that point. But what if I could somehow earn enough money, outside of my full time job, to cover my expenses? If I could call all my owns shots while still working, wouldn’t that provide the personal freedom I’m after?
Let’s pretend for a minute that this humble blog suddenly began to produce enough money each month to cover my living expenses. If that were the case I’d quit my current full time job in a heartbeat, even though I wouldn’t be financially independent, and even though quitting my full time job would seriously extend the amount of time it would take me to reach financial independence.
Why would I quit and seriously delay financial independence?!?
Because my real goal would have been met!
The Best Thing Money Can Buy
Money buys freedom, and I’ll be free when my investments generate enough income to cover my basic expenses. That’s what being financially independent means to me. But if this blog suddenly met my financial needs, then what would be the point of sticking it out in a full time job that weighs down my happiness? I could quit my job, do whatever I wanted to do, and still make ends meet financially.
Sure, I’d need to keep “working” – but this blog isn’t really work for me. It’s fun. It’s a hobby. This blog is just me typing my thoughts and opinions on my computer during my lunch break. I get to write about whatever I want. I get to post as infrequently as I want. I get to call all my own shots. I can do it from Seattle, or I can do it from Peru – I’m not anchored down by it.
If I could do that full time and have my expenses covered…..well, that’s exactly what I’m striving for! This whole financial independence journey is all about happiness. Money is just the tool I’ve been using to buy my freedom, which will bring me happiness.
Personal Freedom is Greater than Financial Freedom
Now that I’m shifting my goal from financial freedom to personal freedom, the question I need to answer it this: do I make a serious effort to turn this blog into a revenue-generating business rather than a hobby that I hope to make a couple of bucks from?
That would spending a lot more time on this site that I currently do. I’d need to spend time and money investing in myself (writing classes, affiliate marketing classes, etc.). Would being forced to spend significantly more time on this site take the fun out of it? I don’t know, there’s a lot to consider, but right now I’m leaning toward jumping in with both feet.
This was very much a stream of consciousness post – so thanks for slogging through it. Do you think there’s a difference between financial independence and personal independence? Is one more important to you than the other? Whatever you think about this, please let me know in the comments – that is if you don’t mind – I’d never tell anyone else what to do! 😉