The last three entries have been a little redundant – my apologies. I hope you somehow end up reading one out of three, or at most two. But here we are, another work themed entry coming your way. I am taking a note to review my prompts tomorrow afternoon and will make any edits as needed. It’s unlikely that I will actually do it, but I will take a mental note.
I mentioned this during one of the early entries, but I quickly want to recap my current situation for all my new readers.
I worked for let’s call it 13 years straight from when I finished college in 2003. Maybe just under 13 years since I didn’t start immediately after graduation, and I had a few weeks off here and there too. I made decent money, and my relatively light college debt, lack of overhead and general frugal nature allowed me to save quickly. And I should say I saved despite not knowing what I was doing from a personal finance standpoint. I held all my company stock, I kept my surplus cash in my checking account, when I did sell my timing was terrible, I never took advantage of the company match on our 401K plans. I did all the wrong things. But not having debt, not having kids, avoiding and health related disasters, and being cheap all keep me cash flow positive. After my foray into gambling, which did not work out at all, I decided to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do next.
That was roughly 4.5 years ago. I had at a few points in time during this period thought about going back to work, and have had ongoing contact with one specific company. I thought we would be able to get something done, putting me back into the games industry, but it never panned out. I didn’t make too strong an effort to join up with any other upstarts. I made half-hearted efforts, but nothing sustained. Lots of planning, information gathering, timelines, and that type of thing, but never really made any sustained efforts.
You can classify my current unemployment in lots of different ways, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I am in-between jobs, while also practicing lean FIRE, while also working on a few personal projects. I could go on and on, but the punchline is I’m not working, living off my savings.
I want to take a quick aside here and cover what I had always planned for in terms of an exit strategy from the corporate world. I have long been on the record stating that I wanted to be retired at 40. I didn’t fully understand what that would entail from a dollar standpoint when I was making the claim, but it was provocative, and implied that I would be earning before getting out so I ran with it. As the years went by, I learned about financial independence, what is commonly referred to as FIRE with all the different variations now. I was in on FIRE early before it was trendy, I have to give myself a little bit of credit there. I learned about how to calculate it too – 4% of your portfolio should cover your living expenses while ensuring that you don’t fully burn through your entire portfolio. That told me that I should be pretty ok to retire somewhere between $1-1.5MM. Might not be able to live in NYC or San Francisco, but 95% of the cities in the world would be available and I’m sure I could figure something out. So that became my financial target.
I don’t want to get into my specific numbers here, but I can confirm that I am not there yet technically. That’s when you start getting into FIRE variants – Coast fire – where you don’t touch your portfolio and just work enough to cover your living costs. Barista FIRE – where you work to pay for your insurance and to earn some extra pocket change, etc. There’s a lot of people on the FIRE train now, I would recommend Mr. Money Mustache. I feel like he might be as close to a kindred spirit as I have on this earth.
But that takes me to were I am today – not working, living off savings. Not in any imminent financial danger, but not so comfortable where I don’t even have to think about money. My situation and my ultra-conservative personal financial planning tendencies lead me to think about money a lot actually. I would like to think this tendency would die down if I had more, but I’m not really sure that it would. I’m just naturally a worrier I guess – I wish I wasn’t
Outside of the money worries, I am found myself thinking about getting a job again recently for general lifestyle purposes. I am sure you have heard about, or read about the problems some people have when they retire. They lose their routines, their sense of purpose and identity, and their social circle. I absolutely lost all of those things, but some affected me more than others. Routine was not a big deal. I quickly developed a new routine, and it continues to surprise me how quickly the days fly by even though I’m not really doing anything. Identity and purpose – identity was difficult since my career was the foundation of my identity. So that took years, and some pain, and it continues to flair up from time to time. But I’m glad I got this over with, because I think it is bound to happen eventually. It’s going to catch up with you, and it’s going to hurt if you aren’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared, went through the pain, but I came through on the other side. Purpose didn’t really bother me because I didn’t have a real purpose even when I was working outside of my selfish make enough money to retire goals. Social isolation did get me though. Since I am not doing what most other people my age are doing – focusing on career or focusing on raising a family – it can be difficult to relate to people. Combine that with the implied values judgement – I am not working because I didn’t consider it to be a worthy use of my time, you are working, so it’s implied that I think you’re wasting your life? On the other hand, I see that most of my relationships, not all, but most, were based on the idea of mutual professional assistance. I wouldn’t hang out with people I really didn’t like, but the foundation of the friendship was our common work experiences. So is it bad to lose those types of friendships? Maybe not, maybe it’s similar to identity. It’s going to happen at some point, it’s just a matter of when. I am ahead since I got it out of the way early. But what is undeniable is I haven’t made a sincere enough effort to make new friendships based on real interests. More genuine friendships. I know it’s really hard to do that as you get older, and it’s likely that sacrifices are going to need to be made, but I have to try.
Another thing I’ve noticed since I haven’t been working is that the void you have from your professional pursuits being eliminated will quickly be filled up by other things. For me the a number of items I would put under the umbrella of self-improvement gradually crept up until they were filling a fairly substantial portion of my old work time. Fitness, meditation, reading and learning, diet, sleep. Focusing on these things and making sure they hold an appropriate place in your life is not wrong or bad on it’s merits. But when you’re doing more and more just for the sake of it, you need to be careful to not latch onto them too tightly. I think I’ve done a better job recently of recalibrating everything. I don’t need to work out for 1.5 hours a day, don’t need to be reading 2 books at once every day, etc. I am glad I have learned the skills, but just want to get enough for the effective dose.
The last point I want to make before talking about specific jobs is happiness. I’m not sure if I am happier now than I was when I was working. I was very determined to earn enough to retire young, but I falsely assumed that accomplishing this goal would unlock some type of feeling in me that would make me content. I have been retired now, somewhat, for the last several years and the unlock never happened. In some ways I way better off, in others worse, net zero. So I think I had completely unrealistic expectations when it came to my preparation for life after work. You can’t just sit and look at the ocean all day. That might work for a week, or a month, or maybe a year, but then you’ll start to take it for granted. That’s kind of where I am now. I did what I wanted to do, but it didn’t provide me with the level of satisfaction I expected.
So I am thinking about work again. And I know this was covered yesterday, so I will try not to retread the same ground, but I’m working from memory here.
One thing I’ve been thinking about is the ideal structure of a day. Somehow I keep coming back to working 5-6 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is very closely linked to my time allocation exercises. 5-6 hours a day can be achieved without sacrificing any of my other priorities – working out, entertainment, enrichment, general nutrition. And it would also provide ancillary benefits like giving me a schedule to follow, and providing some extra fun money. What kinds of jobs allow for this type of schedule? Amazon warehouse, coffee shop, grocery store, or running something online.
Before you make a decision on the job, there are a couple more important considerations. First, is it important to you that your job is valuable to society? By valuable, let’s say big impact. I would argue that essential workers during covid showed that most jobs people overlooked in the past are incredibly valuable to society, but here I am talking about focusing on moving the needle in a big way. Working on products or policy that affect thousands or millions. I would say that if I’m being honest with myself that’s not a major priority for me at this point. I don’t feel compelled to work on something with the biggest possible reach.
Next, do you want to do something completely mindless or something challenging? I could go both ways here. Challenging would appear to be preferable at surface level, but the fear there is you get sucked in, and your career again assumes the dominant position in your identity stack. I think I romanticize mindless, manual labor because there is no way you could define yourself as a factory worker. It’s very clearly what you have to do for money, insurance, etc. But that said, I have never really tried it, so I’m not sure what the day to day grind would do to me.
Finally, I think about how long a time frame we’re talking about here. Eventually you will have to be retired, and find ways to be happy in retirement. I know this, and genuinely believe this break will put me in a better position for those years to come. In terms of the immediate, I am moving into what should be one of my top 3 productive decades. I wasted some of the first one back-tracking, but the stage is set now. I would like to think I can and should work for another ten years or so, but I wouldn’t want to commit to that number right out of the gate. Let’s say 3 years as a nice conservative estimate now, with 3-5 if you want a range.
Ok, I think that was another ramble. I’ll stop now, and talk to you again tomorrow. 53 Minutes. 2108 Words.