Reflections On Three Years Of Freedom

It’s now been more than three years since Mrs SMA and I declared ourselves financially independent and left our full-time jobs!

And I know there’s not many people who can discuss what that’s like.  So today, I’ll give you an update on how life is going from the other side 🙂

This article is a mix of things I’ve learned and realised, and how the last year has been for us personally.  

If you’re new here, I’ve done a couple of these updates previously here and here, as well as shared how we usually spend our time to offer some insight into how early retirement is treating us.

 

Some brief notes

I’ve noticed that you seem to learn more about yourself in one year of not working than you do in 5-10 years of work.   

I think it’s because you have so much time and mental space to think.  About life, about what matters, and about what you truly like and dislike.

Over the last few years I’ve learned a few things about myself and had many realisations about life – some of which were surprising to me, and others reinforced what I had always suspected. 

These observations are not waiting for a grand unveil.  They’re simply peppered throughout the articles on this blog through time.

 

So, how has the third year of freedom been?

Great!  Everyone has been healthy.  Our dog didn’t get himself into trouble this year, so no nasty trips to the vet, other than the annual visit.

We’ve been enjoying everyday life which, to us, is the whole point of financial independence!  We both visited family in the last twelve months and I also went to Sydney for the Playing with FIRE screening.  More updates here in our 2019 year in review.

Nature is something we both love, so we’re still going on our daily walks through the nearby reserve with our dog, as well as going for bike rides where we can always see kangaroos and abundant birdlife.  It’s  hard to overstate how much joy this stuff consistently brings me.

Oh, and we had a bunch of baby turtles hatch in our yard (the females laid late last year).  I managed to find 23 newborn turtles and take them across to the lake in the last couple of months!  It’s beautiful to see them swim away and know you massively increased their chance of survival.

The last few months have been a little strange due to coronavirus.  But for the most part, our lives were uninterrupted.  

Mrs SMA’s workplace got her setup at home, which she did for a while, but is now back in the office.  Her efforts in the garden are providing us with some lovely fresh food to compliment our meals.

I’ve committed more time to this blog and have tried to provide consistently good content for you.  Hopefully I’ve done that!  Strong Money’s readership has continued to grow, so that’s a good sign 🙂

As you know, I also started a podcast with Pat the Shuffler, which we’re really enjoying so far.  It’s still early days, but we’ve got lots of topics planned and no doubt some great discussions ahead. 

Early feedback suggests it’s helping make FIRE content more convenient, relatable and accessible to more people, which is our goal!

So what have I realised in this third year?

There are things about FI that has surprised me.  I mean, some of them are kind of obvious, but where the message often doesn’t sink in until you actually experience it yourself.  Here’s a few thoughts…

 

You still experience a full range of emotions and that’s okay

Being financially independent gives you no immunity over bad moods, crap days and generally being unhappy about certain things.

At times, I’ll get angry at myself for being grumpy or pissed off at something.  The reason I get angry at myself is for not appreciating our situation more.  But this doesn’t help, it just makes you feel worse!  

For those of you who’ve read Mark Manson, he calls this the Feedback Loop From Hell (for example, getting angry about getting angry, feeds on itself and turns into a vicious spiral).  Highly recommend his blogs/books by the way!

Anyway, for some reason, I felt like I shouldn’t experience bad days/moods anymore.  Because of our fortunate situation, somehow I should be permanently grateful, on cloud nine, and blissfully strolling through each day. 

But that’s just unrealistic.  You’re still human at the end of the day!  Just a human who no longer has a mandatory job to go to.  So, I eased up on myself and realised that I can’t always be in a positive mood. 

…Not that you should let yourself be miserable!  But let your normal emotions come and go, and simply observe them, rather than chasing them or arguing with them. 

In case it’s not obvious, I’ll spell it out.  Financial Independence does not make you happy.  You make yourself happy, by how you live, what you do, what you focus on, and the way you think. 

But, I will say this:  Being financially independent gives you much more freedom and time in which to experience and create a good life with happy times.  But the responsibility for making that happen is still on you.

 

The human mind is often in a state of conflict

Perhaps this is related to the above.  Here’s what I’ve noticed…

If I’m outside just hanging around in the yard, enjoying the sunshine with Mrs SMA and our dog, I start thinking I should go inside and do some ‘work’.  After all, getting stuff done is very satisfying, plus I want to be productive and help other people.

But, if I’m inside doing some work, I start thinking I should be outside in the sunshine with Mrs SMA and our dog.  After all, there’s more to life than work – that’s what this whole FI stuff is about!  So why would I be in here working when I love my little family and it’s so nice outside?

At this point, some of you will be laughing and others will think I’ve lost the plot!  Why does the human mind do this?  It’s bizarre!

Turns out, I don’t need medication (despite what Mrs SMA says!) because this is actually common.  The human mind gravitates towards a permanent state of dissatisfaction.  That serves society well in terms of progress, but not in terms of satisfaction and contentment.

Do you experience this too?  What does your mind say you should be doing?  Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear it.

 

Time management is an unexpected problem

This flows from the last point.  It could be that because of the above conflict I tend to switch activities too often and end up getting bugger all done sometimes.

Right now, I’m battling with what time of the day is best suited to do writing and podcast related stuff.  You could argue it doesn’t matter as long as it gets done. 

The problem is, I now like to do most things in the mornings.  Whether it’s running errands, groceries, meeting someone for coffee etc.  Then by afternoon, I’m not all that motivated to do mentally draining tasks like writing.  Stuff like exercise and reading are fine though.

The point is, this is a work in progress.  And there are still other things I want to do more of that I’m currently not doing.  I’d like to help in the garden and I’d also like to write a book at some point.

I’m the type of person who works best with structure and a plan, so I’ve been tweaking the order of things recently to take advantage of what time of day suits my energy for certain activities.  This is arguably a good problem to have, and something you’ll have to experience and figure out for yourself.

 

I never thought I would crave work

You might have heard me mention before that I never imagined what I would do after retirement.  I just thought about kicking back with a cheesy grin (and maybe a beer) and not doing a whole lot.  Ha!

That turned out to be a pretty silly view of early retirement.  Nowadays, if a few days go past and I haven’t done something productive (usually writing), restlessness kicks in and I feel compelled to go work on something.

The productive days tend to be more satisfying than the days of complete leisure.  Don’t get me wrong, both are nice.  The best days are a combination of the two – plenty of free time but you also get some stuff done.

Working hard was actually enjoyable (most of the time) during my path to FI.  Perhaps because there was a purpose behind it.  Even the days of overtime where my eyes were red and my body was tired, part of it was still strangely satisfying.

Occasionally, now I’ll write for the whole day and by the end, my brain is absolutely fried and my eyes are sore.  And there’s that weird feeling again.  You know, where you feel like shit but you also feel good because the job got done.

 

Living a self-directed life exactly what I hoped it would be

For some people, they can’t imagine what they’d do without the forced structure of a traditional workplace and a time clock to punch.  

For whatever reason, I could never accept working 40-50 hours a week for 40-50 years, at a typical humdrum job, with such little freedom and choice over how we spend our time.  

Looking back now, it turns out that pursuing FI was 100% the right path for me.  For others, they may be left wondering why they bothered and then wander back into the comfortable arms of full-time employment.  

Being able to choose how to spend your time is such an incredible luxury.  From choosing when you wake up, to going for a mid-morning bike ride, hanging out at a friend’s place, or just doing your groceries with very little people around, the tiny perks of being free accumulate into a hard-to-quantify benefit (article coming). 

 

Being an independent thinker is highly valuable

Most of you know this already, since you’re reading a blog about financial independence!  But it’s become increasingly obvious to me how many people don’t really bother stepping back and thinking about things critically.

Every aspect of our lives is impacted by the choices we make.  For the most part, our decisions determine our destiny.

Much of the population is taking their cues from each other and society about what is the ‘right’ way to live and what’s ‘normal’.  But if you learn to question things and think for yourself, you’ll be much better off.

Your career, lifestyle and finances are all affected.  So too are your goals, whether you have kids, what values you choose and the things you focus on.

Why leave that up to others to decide?  Why not question the norms and decide what makes sense to you? 

Maybe you come to the same conclusion as everyone else.  That’s completely fine.  At least you thought about it first! 

It’s the practice of questioning things that helps us learn and grow, and ultimately leads to a more well-thought-out life.

 

Final thoughts

Our situation is basically like semi-retirement, or a rolling productive weekend.  Both descriptions fit!

If you can’t imagine what you might do after reaching FI, don’t worry.  You’ll figure it out later.  But if you retire at an early age, it’s almost impossible to do nothing.

You’ll have this mental and physical energy that you’ll want to find outlets for.  So you won’t be able to help yourself!

This is part of the reason I think fears around running out of money are overblown.  There’s a huge chance you’ll soon find yourself doing something which will earn income, meaning you’ll be spending less from your portfolio than expected.

Just have the courage to break free from the golden handcuffs and venture out on your own path.

We feel very fortunate to have this level of freedom in our lives.  It’s something I think about and am grateful for all the time.

The first three years have been fantastic, and right now, we’re just trying to enjoy each day, week and month as it comes.  And although everyone’s idea of life after reaching FI is different, I wish the same enjoyment for you!

 


Video of the week:  In this clip from our latest podcast, Pat and I discuss the idea of side hustles, and whether they’re a good idea for those on the FIRE journey.  

31 comments

  1. Nice one. I think its great that you and alot of young people are switched on about the FIRE stuff.
    To be honest, im scared of getting bored in retirement and not being able to work. Ageism is a thing.
    Does anyone else (over say 45-50) feel like this?

      1. haha 😉 I’ve removed that part of the comment as it was a little bit spammy and unrelated to the article.

      2. All good Dave – I understand.

        Thanks John – let Dave run his website son and you worry about yourself. Yawn.

    1. Fair enough Geoff. Maybe you can look at winding down slowly rather than quitting altogether? More freedom without cutting the work connection entirely?

  2. Hi Dave,
    My wife and I are really looking at making a sea change and entering early semi retirement. We are 49 years old and both our sons live away from home.

    Just this morning I was telling my wife when is enough enough in $ terms. We own of our home in Sydney, Have a number of investment properties and a healthy share portfolio. It seemed to us that we were just continuing to work full time to provide more money for our sons.

    Reading your stuff has really made me think differently. We are looking to moving to Newcastle and both wife and I working part time. That way we can enjoy life. Good on you mate for talking about this stuff.

    1. Wow that’s fantastic to hear Jason! Makes a lot of sense to start enjoying life immediately as there is no need to keep pushing for more at this stage.

      Well done for realising you’re at that point and deciding to break the pattern! Too many people I think just keep accumulating for the sake of it, because it’s comfortable and it’s what they’re used to. You’ll probably find that if anything your wealth will continue to grow, even as you trim down work and enjoy more freedom!

  3. “The human mind gravitates towards a permanent state of dissatisfaction.”
    “Do you experience this too?”

    I think this makes sense from a evolutionary perspective, it’s the dissatisfaction that drives everything. Religions such as Buddhism acknowledge this through the Four Noble Truths.

    “I never thought I would crave work”.

    It’s strange isn’t it..

    When I was in my early to mid-twenties after a year of saving I took off on a one-way ticket overseas to travel for as long as I could (which turned out to be just over 15 months) and somewhere in that time I became desperate to work again, I had to means to go anywhere and do anything at will but all I wanted was to be productive again. It was a revelation that shocked me at the time because it seemed in such contrast to how I felt for most of my life.

    This is why i’m not anti-work as I pursue financial independence and why the retire early aspect of it isn’t the reason for me pursuing it because I felt like I saw the other side early on. I fully expect to do some kind of work even when financially independent. My father who’s 74 this year and retired still works odd jobs when he can, not for the money.. but for the need to be productive and active.

    Cheers.

    1. Haha fascinating, thanks for sharing the story Scott! It’s an important lesson to learn (that work is satisfying for its own sake), and it’s good to have had that revelation early! As you can probably tell, I was more in the anti-work camp early on when seeking FI. And of course, the ‘Retire Early’ part is just a luxurious option, whether we fully take it up or not 🙂

    2. “The human mind gravitates towards a permanent state of dissatisfaction.”
      “Do you experience this too?”

      I think this makes sense from a evolutionary perspective, it’s the dissatisfaction that drives everything. Religions such as Buddhism acknowledge this through the Four Noble Truths.

      —-

      I semi-retired a couple of years ago at the age of 45 and was lucky enough to have started down a path of contemplative awareness by dabbling in meditation and Buddhism before I pulled the trigger. It really helped navigate through feelings of unproductively and the slump in social connection that happens when most of us leave the workforce. It’s also helped this year as I was intending to cycle around the world but have instead found myself trapped at home like everyone else. Being able to recognise emotions like boredom, anxiety, frustration and dissatisfaction before being caught up in them is, in my humble opinion, a super power that does take a significant amount time to master and is therefore a great ‘retire-early’ project.

      1. Great comment Adrian. The mind is a funny thing, and as I think you’re saying, it’s helpful to be able to observe our emotions and figure out the causes, without identifying with them. Easier said than done tho!

  4. Noticed you mention a yearly visit to the vets with your dog… our vets in Geraldton offer a three year lasting booster now…. more cost effective and less vets visits.

    Hey it’s a saving too as the three year jab is cheaper than three one year jabs 😉

    Keep up the good work

      1. Hi, vet here.
        There are core vaccinations that are registered for 3 years length, but the health check is the most important part of the vet visit, picking up potential problems early/ discussing preventive care should very much appeal to FIRE-res as it is with us humans and our health, a stitch in the time saves nine 🙂

        Thanks for the article Dave, always thoughtful.

        1. Tash, good point, although we’ve always said if it ain’t broke don’t fix it

          our dogs are old now both over 10, we’ve decided that if they do get I’ll now with something bad, we’d just do the humane thing rather than chase good money after bad.

          After all a dog year is worth seven of ours so ours are like 91 and 84 this year 😳😳

  5. I love reading your blog. Great to hear retirement is still enjoyable. I am expecting to keep working once I achieve FIRE. But what will likely change is what that work looks like. I don’t plan to work full-time but rather will drop to parttime. Maybe even for a few months at a time every year rather than a permanent job. I think I will also be more choosy with my time and try to choose a job I feel is contributing to society in a meaningful way. So maybe do some thing that other people avoid within my field because the money isn’t as good for example but offers a great service.

    1. You are right Yoska. I find people are happiest when they are doing something to help other people. For retirees that may mean voluntary work for a formal organisation such as a charity. Or it may be something as simple as cleaning up rubbish in your neighbourhood or checking up on an elderly neighbour.

    1. Thanks Court. I just read the article – wow, so many of the same thoughts popping up! I think The Slow Life is dramatically underappreciated in the modern world and is probably one of the reasons people are so anxious and stressed. Always chasing something, but they’ll never arrive.

  6. Good post Dave.

    I plan to be productive doing things I enjoy. Blacksmithing is a passion for example. The best part is, it won’t matter if I ever sell anything I make or not. My wife plans to continue working for a few years longer than me simply because she enjoys her job. Like you say, the real benefit is in being in a position to make the choice for yourself rather than needing to work because you need the money.

    One other thing, I can’t remember if you have mentioned it previously, when saving those baby turtles, be sure to leave them as far as safely possible from the river. The struggle to cross the ground and then make it into the water serves to strengthen muscles and is very much needed for their development. Sort of like breaking out of a shell is a very important part of a bird’s development and if you break the egg for them, they fail to flourish and end up dying.

    1. Good stuff Adam! Removing money as a key driver of what work you do is super helpful in the decision making process.

      With the turtles, I wasn’t aware of that on muscle development. I’ll keep that in mind, thank you! It’s tricky because I’d be happy to let them make their own way but they get picked off by crows, which also hang out near the lake occasionally. I’ll often find them and let them ‘warm up’ essentially by making their way across our lawn for a while. Maybe I’ll have them ‘exercise’ in the yard longer before taking them across to the water.

  7. Mate have you ever tried / heard of ‘starting strength’? It’s a barbell based strength training programme. I feel like it would help with some of your sense of restlessness that you reflected on in this post.

    Barbell equipment is also relatively cheap as well.

    1. Hey there. Have had a barbell setup at home for a number of years now and am essentially doing that program right now (very much enjoying the simplicity and progression of it), after having done a bunch of bodyweight stuff for the last 12 months or so. Good suggestion! And isn’t Rip a funny character… 😉

  8. Yes, this urge to work… i feel like even though i am a mother of two kids under 5, i need to have a business while learning new skills, having a side hustle and getting healthy and fit. It is so tiring to lack the ability to be content right now with what i have.

    1. Wow Isabelle, I think you need to go a little easier on yourself! You have more than enough on your plate! I’d try to focus on the main couple of things that are the most important to your life (health, family, main business/job) and leave some other stuff for later 🙂

  9. Can I ask, have you gathered FI minded friends where you live? Have you developed a social group you so regularly to get out of your own head / off the internet?
    In my life, everyone else is so busy all the time. It’s hard to organise to get together. Everyones always in a rush! I’m not financially independent, but have cut hours to part-time and take my leave when I can at half pay for plenty of long holidays. Even at this stage, I find I have far more time than everyone around me. I enjoy my own company but not sure I would full time unless I had similarly minded mates around.

    1. I’m afraid that’s likely to continue – people keep living their busy lives so those with lots of free time are still rare! Luckily yes I have a couple of friends who are easy to catch up with if I want to socialise as one is retired and another does his own hours. Other friends are still hard to catch up with due to the busyness you describe!

      Luckily my social needs are quite limited as I have a strong introverted personality. But I spend lots of time off the internet by going for walks, playing with the dog, exercising, reading books and spending lots of time enjoying nature. I think it’s perhaps harder for extroverts to adapt to early retirement given their higher need for social interaction. There’s no easy answer here, but it sounds like you’ve found a relatively good balance at the moment!

  10. Question.

    Once achieving FIRE, how do you feel in terms of motivation?

    Reason I ask, is as a goal oriented person, I finished School early, University early, and (hopefully in the next few years), will finish work early.

    Are you goals orientated? A person I know that has FIRE’d longs for work, but is unwilling to action the desire and find something fulfilling (even part time/ voluntary).

    Great post by the way.

    1. Great question Matty. I would say that I’m not as focused on specific goals as I used to be (FI being my sole focus in the past). These days you could say my goal is to enjoy life while also doing productive work that means something to me.

      I don’t bother with arbitrary goals like “get X number of readers/subscribers by end of the year” and stuff like that, as it doesn’t really mean anything. I’m still motivated by things like health, work, contribution, it’s just that now I focus more on the habits and qualities of practising those things rather than a destination of a specific goal. And I find this approach to be more enjoyable than a destination focused goal.

      I hope that makes sense. Your friend sounds like they’re a bit lost and have become stuck in a rut being unwilling to even do something that they desire, which is a little strange. Ultimately they’ll end up being less satisfied than they otherwise could be, as it will be nagging away at them in the back of their mind.

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