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.
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.
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.