If you’ve read this Playbook for any length of time, then you probably know I have a goal of achieving this thing called financial independence.
Well, it’s more than a goal. It has a lot of meaning to me and I want to share with you the reasons why. But before we get to all that, let’s discuss what the heck it is.
What is Financial Independence?
What would your life look like if a paycheck was no longer a motivating factor for where you live, what you do, how you contribute to the world and how you spend your days? To me, and to a small but growing segment of the population, this is the ultimate freedom.
Financial independence, or FI, simply means you have enough money saved up that you are no longer dependent on employment income to fund your lifestyle. In other words, once you are financially independent, you have the ability to retire from mandatory work.
It’s important to note, however, that achieving financial independence does not mean you will never work again. For some people it might. But for many, including me, it does not.
The beauty is it gives you the ability to choose how you spend your precious time on earth. Which may or may not include working. The choice is yours.
For some, FI means choosing to work at a job that doesn’t pay as much, but is more aligned with your values or has more flexible hours so you can spend more quality time with your loved ones. For others, it means traveling the world, or moving somewhere new. Or starting that business or passion project you have always wanted, without the pressure to generate massive income right away, or ever.
Whatever that genuine life looks like to you, financial independence can help you live it.
Why Financial Independence?
If you absolutely love your job, I want to offer you a heartfelt congratulations. Seriously, you hit the jackpot.
But for most of us, we spend the majority of our day, during the majority of the week, nearly every week of the year, during most our lives in places we would rather not be, doing things we would rather not be doing.
Deep down we know it’s not right, but society tells us we must do this in order to be responsible humans. If aliens came down to earth and watched what most of us do day after day, they would think we were insane for doing what we do.
Financial independence gives us another option.
Financial independence is about taking back control of our lives, so that we get to decide how we spend the most limited resource we have, our time.
For the majority of my life, it was instilled in me that being a responsible adult involved having a good paying job and working at that job every day. It was evident to me, even at a young age, that most people didn’t love their jobs, but they went to work anyway.
School reinforced this idea. Get the best grades you can, so you can get into a great university, so you can make a lot of money during your career. College took this concept a step further. There was a tremendous amount of pressure during my senior year to land a good job. God forbid I graduated without one and had to go a few months without being employed. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but it was a real fear for me, my friends and our families.
But thankfully I landed a job before graduation as a credit analyst at a prominent commercial bank. Was it exactly what I wanted to be doing? Not really, but I was offered a salary and the peace of mind that came with having a job right out of school. It felt good. I was genuinely excited to begin my working career.
I remember my first day so clearly. My alarm went off at 5:30 am and I shot out of bed ready to start the day. I put on my suit and tie, winked in the mirror, had a nice breakfast and was in the car by 6:15. Traffic was bad that day, but I got to the office by 7:30 and walked into the building with the sort of nervous, excited energy that accompanies you during the first day of anything.
I was ready to take on the world.
By the time I got home that night at 6:30, all enthusiasm was gone. I was devastated. I was exhausted. I loosened my tie which felt like a noose and had this overwhelming thought: how am I going to do this all day for five days a week for the next 40 years of my life?
Later that night I went to the gym to blow off some steam and fought through the after-work crowd to get to the free weights. As I was doing my curls, I looked at myself in the mirror with tears in my eyes. I felt hopeless. I felt trapped.
I silently asked myself, “is this what my life is going to be like from now on? Does it really have to be this way?”
The voice in my head immediately responded, in a strong, parental tone, “This is what being a responsible adult is. You are being a positive role model for your two younger brothers. You will get used to it.”
And just like that, I shut up and obeyed.
And over the next few years, whenever my life would feel like déjà vu, whenever I would feel that midweek depression that came around like clockwork, whenever I would question what the hell I was doing, I would get the same reflexive response. This was life. It’s what everyone does. When I would complain about it to my dad, he’d say, “that’s why they call it work”.
I bounced around a few different companies hoping to find the answer, but there was always that lingering discontentment humming in the background. I was slowly giving up hope of an ideal life.
Words cannot properly express the emotions I felt when I first discovered the concept of financial independence in 2016.
I began reading countless stories of ordinary people taking back their lives by being a little more thoughtful with their money. Many of them were even able to quit their 9-5 jobs in their 30’s, including this guy with a mustache. And it was all so much more achievable than I could have possibly imagined.
It was as if my life had a new purpose. I finally had proof that there was another way. This was the way.
I now had real motivation to save my money other than to buy the house in the suburbs or the fancy car everyone expected me to want. This was the financial goal I wanted to pursue. It was the goal I had to pursue.
My Take On FI
I recently took the train into work on a beautiful summer morning. When I got off the train, I saw something very disturbing. As I observed the sea of professionals funneling down to a single file line to get down the escalator, they all had one thing in common.
Whether they had their headphones in or were staring down at their screens, they all had the look of defeat. No excitement, no enthusiasm, no expression. It wasn’t even 8 am yet and they looked as if their day was already ruined.
I couldn’t help but thinking they looked like prisoners that didn’t know they were in prison.
It’s not that I hate working. I actually like it. I love the feeling of contributing, building something, being productive and adding value to other people’s lives. I just don’t want to work for 9-10 hours a day, 5 days a week for 50 weeks every year, especially if it’s something I don’t love doing.
So I am now on the path toward FI and I will get there decades before most people plan to retire. And because I know it is achievable, I feel a tremendous sense of purpose to my days. The money I save is going toward my freedom. It is incredibly empowering. Spending much less than you earn and investing the surplus wisely is all that’s needed.
And when that familiar feeling of discontent about work bubbles up to the surface these days, the voice in my head tells me something very different:
It doesn’t have to be this way.