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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Running to a big pile of money

I read something the other day that really resonated with me. Partly because it's Christmas, partly because we've just stepped out of Thanksgiving and all the American's are talking about what they're thankful for and what rocks about their lives. Partly, but most;y, because someone asked me to sit down and write out my 6month, 1 year, 3 year and 5year goals and all I had was 'big pile of money, stop going to work'.

I had a target thing that I wanted, but I didn't have a reason why.

I came across a blog post by 1500 Days to Freedom that captured my existential dread in a nice short, snappy sentence "I was running away from a bad situation, but what was I running to? "

Mr 1500 quotes the 4 phases of Financial Independence as:
1. Normal life. Get a job, start a family, work till 65, retire, play golf.
2. Run to a big pile of money. Realise that plan A sucks. Attempt to acquire large amounts of assets so that work is no longer a requirement.
3. What am I running to? Realise that a big pile of money is great, but if you're just going to sit at home watching re-runs of Scrubs and scrolling Facebook, what is the point of a quitting work?
4. Figuring the rest out. Once you quit you job, how will you live your life in such a way that you’re happier, more content and fulfilled?

What am I running from?

Let's start with the easy part of this discussion, I'm running away from...
  • Working 9-5, 5 days a week, for 50years
  •  Answering to a boss for 8hours a day
  • Wasting another 1.5 hours commuting each day
I'm not sold on this idea of trading time for money, 10 hours of each day of my life. Something like 40% of my time is sold to my employer for the foreseeable future.

In other words, keeping with the end-of-year theme, someone invited you to a New Years Eve party, but then said you need to spend the first half working behind the bar, no drinking, no flirting with the 'real' guests. By the time you're welcome to leave and join the party, everyone else is pretty wasted, and you're tired and crabby and just want to lay down. What a way to party!

Life is that New Years Eve party. If I'm spending the first forty or so years of my life working day in and day out, I'm not enjoying the party.

In this case, it's obvious that we're running from 'working the bar' to 'busting moves on the dance floor'! But life in general isn't that clear cut. At least I don't find it to be.

What makes us happy?

John Lennon is attributed with saying when he grew up he wanted to be happy. No careers, or big bold plans or labels, just 'happy'. That's great and all, but what defines happy? How do we become happy? What makes us happy? Lennon might be right in saying the point of life is to find happiness, but he was glossing over the point of the question. When they ask in school what you want to be, they don't mean "What label do you want applied?" they mean "What do you want to strive to become that will make you happy?". The happiness is implied in the question.

When I first saw the John Lennon quote, I felt pretty smug because I had always said I wanted to be happy. I never answered that question with 'Doctor' or 'Lawyer', I generally went with 'happy', or for a brief period when I was obsessed with dolphins I said 'Marine Biologist'. Looking back, I feel like saying I want to be 'happy' is like saying I want a million dollars, eternal joy, and never to get out of bed. It's vague, nonsensical and immeasurable. It's also lazy. I want happiness, I don't have a plan on how to get it, but if you could package it up and deliver to my door in 3-5 working days, that would be great.

What can I run to?

So my current existential dread is caused because I don't know what I'm running to. When I was younger I loved playing video games, I was really into dolphins and would print off pictures and make little books. I laid in the grass, loved reading books and I never remember a moment of boredom. Unless I was being polite and grown-up at family events *yawn*. As an adult I think I'm bored all of the time. In an attempt to get away from it I started saving and investing heavily so I wouldn't always have to go to work, so I would be free to do whatever I wanted.

The problem is, I have no idea what I want to do. Left alone with a pile of free time, I become lethargic. Everything seems like too much trouble. I have a few different projects half baked, half started and half finished, but after a four day weekend, I haven't touched any of them.

I was hoping to end this with a big positive revelation, but instead we have this rather troubling truth - I find myself running towards a big pile of money, with no idea what to do when I get there. I guess that puts me firmly in stage 3. I'm past running to the big pile of money expecting it to solve my problems (don't get me wrong, I still want the big pile of money) but I don't know what will solve my problems. Travel? Hobbies? Would I build the homestead I've always dreamed of?

I can play more games, and go out on more dates with Mr. FIRE, but I also thrive on being productive and achieving things. Could I retire to different work that I enjoy and would do for free? Go back to university and study things that don't relate to a career, but are just interesting? Or do something else entirely?

If your life wasn't limited and defined by the work that you do to put food on the table, and a roof over your head - what would you do with your time?


  1. Hi, wow this post really resonates with me... I also have no idea what to do with my free time (sometimes I think because I never really developed hobbies as a teenager... it was all about studying even up to my mid 20's!) I'm exactly like you, sometimes after a weekend, I realize I haven't done anything but read blogs and watch videos, not exactly inspiring and I also feel lethargic. I'm still not sure what my answer is... but just wanted to let you know that I'm also feeling that existential dread...

    1. Hi Argggggg (excellent name for this comment)

      I'm sorry to hear this resonates with you! I sort of want to consign this post to the Whingers Anonymous scrapheap, but it really shows what I was feeling when I started writing. I read something recently that said it's a big problem in our 'instant gratification' culture.

      I'm sorry I don't have any pearls of wisdom for you :( Hang in there buddy! I choose to believe the only way is up!

  2. Oh boy do I hear you. My mum and I were discussing this the other day, as I was expressing concern (?#$!??) that hubby and I are getting closer to FIRE (we are both 41) and I'm SCARED!

    I mean - I know I've worked really hard in a high stress situation for the last ten years, I'm finally out of that and working part time to try and improve my heath - but I'm so tired all the time! My down time is Netflix, xbox, sudoku, reading and procastinating. Unfinished projects, unfinished projects everywhere.. Where is my passion?... How can I be 41 ans not knkw what the hell I want to do, aside feom a vague need to feel like I'm "really" contributing that I've had for as long as I can remember?

    Mum has a theory - she thinks that given my naturally introspective and somewhat guilt prone personality, combined with a supercharged sense of responsibilty (thanks for putting me first in the birth order Mum) and the fact that I've been mum/wife/business owner/dutiful daughter for a good long while now, that I just can't relax yet and that given time and space and less that I MUST do, that I'll find the energy (both mental and physical) to work out what I really WANT to do. Would love the old duck yo be right!

    1. It's cool to hear that you're close FIRE< and that you've achieved so much to give yourself all those titles! Congrats :)

      Maybe you need to retire slowly - one thing at a time. I mean you can't retire for parenting, but you can step back as a business owner and hire someone to slowly take over your role.

      It sounds like you have a fascinating story to tell :) Best of luck with your FIRE and whatever it brings you

    2. Personally, retiring to "netflix, sudoku, reading and procrastination" sounds like the best thing in the world, I'm happiest when doing those things. I left out xbox, but put in nintendo and I'm right there.

    3. For a day, or two, or five I'm all over those things. But after a while I need some kind of challenge, something to show for my time. I used to spend 2 straight weeks gaming back in high school (hello school holidays!) but either I'm old and grouchy, or games are getting worse these days

    4. Yeah you have a good point. I think most of us would end up doing something productive and enjoyable, e.g. I'd like to have chooks again, grow veggies, do up old furniture....the list goes on. None of these things themselves are worth much or are in any way considered a 'great' thing to accomplish, but I think all together it would be a productive, satisfying lifestyle.

    5. That's most of my list :) I already have chooks and a tiny veggie garden but I itch to expand it and set up an orchard.

      I picture my 'retirement' sitting on a deck with wine, cheese, and my trusty dog looking over the orchard full of chickens. I've tried to pull together a micro-version in my tiny suburban home to fill the gap between now and then :)


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