I spent my entire adult life honing the set of skills and knowledge that I use in my career. After a decade of work, my field fascinates me no less, and often far more, than back when I was just about to first step into it.
Leaving it completely is not something I wish to do. Quite the opposite. It’s hard for me to completely disengage, even for a few days. Over the weekend I find myself sneaking a peek at some specialized discussion group, a cool paper that was just published, an interesting innovation related to my work.
I know I am not alone and there are others like me.
I believe for us, the power of Financial Independence is not so much to Retire Early, but a lever to gain autonomy and greater control over all aspects of our lives, including our career.
I wasn’t financially savvy in my 20s. My income accumulated in cash accounts yielding virtually nothing. I didn’t have a clear vision of what it means to be “financially independent”, or “able to retire”. Indeed, the best thing about this community is how it helped me grasp those concepts.
Still, a couple of years ago, I performed a set of simplistic, financially naive, excessively cautious calculations, and realized that if I stopped working completely, I should be able to live on my current savings for the rest of my life.
This realization had a profound effect upon my career.
I actually did try retiring for a while, traveling and living the sort of life that is often glorified here. I relocated to an exotic country as a permanent tourist, exploring its seemingly endless attractions with a local girlfriend, and often just lazying around on some pristine beach, indulging in nothing but recreation for days on end.
The math really does work: even my highest expenditure days – renting out huge suites with expansive balconies in boutique hotels, staying at perfectly manicured resorts, and dining in the most upscale restaurants – cost less than the daily rent on the mediocre apartment I used to keep in a high cost-of-living location back in the US.
It sounds like it will never get boring, but it did. At least for me. I missed the intellectual stimulation of work, the fun dynamic with the talented bright people I used to work with, and all the challenge, excitement, team spirit, struggles and (sometimes) triumphs of an American career.
So I came back.
One thing did change for me though.
I wasn’t afraid anymore.
There’s a certain natural tendency to look up to your employer. After all, they’re a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of employees, and you’re just a needy little “job seeker”. In our collective understanding, as well as common language, the employee depends on their employer, but the employer always has numerous eager “applicants” chomping at the bit to take their place.
In fairness, it is somewhat accurate. Good employers, the kind you’d like to work for, do typically have more applicants than openings. That gives them power, because they need you less.
As far as I can tell, there’s only one sustainable way to match that power:
What if you don’t need the job at all?
I was coming back to the US to realize a choice to work again. However, I didn’t need to, and could go back to retirement at any time. Work was not a necessity, and I no longer had to accept any of the bullshit that sometimes comes along with it.
Instead of presenting myself as this pliant, accommodating potential employee, ever attentive to his employer’s needs and adjusting accordingly, I grew honest and upfront about what I wanted. I became the chooser, instead of the one jumping through hoops, hoping to please and ingratiate.
You require long days? Nah-ah. Some team members were arrogant pricks at the interviews? Adios! The work site is noisy open-plan? Thanks but no thanks.
It wasn’t smooth sailing. I never got so many rejection emails in my life. At the risk of being paranoid: it almost seemed like employers were struggling to maintain the illusion of having the upper hand. I would get a cold-call from a recruiter, then chat with some girl from HR, when it quickly became clear they were expecting 12 hour days or something absurd of that nature, and the call would end in mutual understanding that I am not interested. Then the next day I’d get a formal email “Regarding Your Application” in which I was informed my Candidacy has been Rejected. I used to get maybe 2-3 of these in an entire job search. Upon my return, I immediately got 4 while barely getting started.
I won’t lie, it was emotionally daunting. The rejection email language evoked the image of a desperate “job seeker” fervently knocking on the resplendent gates of an illustrious employer, until shamefully led away by guards for being spoiled, ungrateful, unworthy. The fact that I never “applied”, was not at all interested, and the whole charade started with them approaching and pursuing me – offered surprisingly meager relief.
Sometimes HR seemed very accommodating. Short flexible hours? Sure! Want a private office? You got it. Some time to work on your own projects? Of course. Then, either immediately or after a couple more steps, I’d get the same rejection email. Employers, understandably, prefer less picky employees. Still it wasn’t easy to watch my acceptance rate plummet, after a solid decade of constant rise as my resume and knowledge kept growing.
After some soul-searching I realized that for that decade, work was both a sweet lover and a cruel mistress to me. On her sweet side, she was a source of tremendous pride and engagement, a sense of fulfillment, and of course rich material reward. On her cruel side, it felt like something I was dependent upon, that to an extent controlled me, controlled my life, something I had to fear.
The sweetness can stay, but the cruel mistress must leave. I am no longer dependent upon her. In fact, I never was. I never needed any job as much as I thought. All those sacrifices, working harder than I really wanted, accepting conditions and treatment I disliked, absorbing the stress and dissatisfaction – soured me on my beloved, and gained me nothing but some negligible material benefits. As I was learning finance, I calculated that had I left every job the moment it became unpleasant or imposing, but put my cash VTI instead of cash accounts, I’d have several times my current net worth.
Thus I eventually found a great job, with flexible hours, quiet working space, and friendly supportive team. I learned more about finance, discovered FIRE, and with my new understanding of SWR and retirement finance, attained a solid, methodical grasp on financial independence. I realize I don’t have to leave to a cheaper foreign country – with my current portfolio, I can retire right here in the US. I know how to leverage my earnings most efficiently, to further grow my asset base, empower myself as a free agent, and become ever more independent. I know how to protect myself against inflation, recessions, and other dangers of which I was mostly ignorant before. My relationship with my employer is one of mutual respect, without fear.
For me, personally, that is the ideal situation.