Do You Desire Freedom or the Pursuit of Freedom?

by FI Fighter on April 22, 2015

in Thoughts

freedom1

I had lunch with a good buddy today. Now that I’m on a leave of absence, I’ll admit that I’ve gotten into too much of a groove of doing things solo again; I’ve resorted back to my introverted tendencies, which is something I don’t necessarily want to indulge in. Being around people is a wonderful thing, and today’s meet up was a reminder of that.

As usual, we cracked jokes and talked nonsense for a good portion of our meet up. But at some point, the topic of financial freedom came up some interesting points were made. After some time, I commented to my very successful friend, “You know you’ve already won the game. You could retire tomorrow and live out the rest of your days in great comfort. Your house is worth well over $1MM and it seems to keep getting more and more valuable with each passing day.

My friend thought about this for a moment, before answering back with the ultimate deal-breaker:

Yeah, but I don’t want to move someplace else. I like it right here in the Bay Area. I want to stay where I am. And if I sell my house, I won’t be able to buy something similar for much cheaper. And the cost-of-living (COL) is so high…

This comment left a mark on me… and it made me think about many things. For starters, we are absolutely dealing with some serious first-world problems here! Even if we kept things within relative distance, I’m guessing the majority of people in this country would marvel at what a “lucky son of a gun” my buddy is to even be in the position that he’s in. How many of us could have reasonably expected our homes to appreciate by over $700,000 in less than a 15 year period?

When Luck Gets Us

Human beings are very interesting creatures. For starters, we are all highly adaptable and can adjust to many different scenarios. Economic booms. Recessions. Great Recessions. Regardless of what the world hits us with, we always find a way to bounce back and persevere onward.

Forward march.

But in the process, do we take for granted our blessings? As a freedom fighter who has been on the journey since 2012, you could say that financial independence is something that’s on my mind a lot… I’ve dealt with all the emotions and hurdles that come along with taking on such a massive life challenge; there have been many ups and downs along the way:

Joy. Frustration. Anger. Heartbreak. Euphoria.

In a sense, because the goal of financial freedom isn’t easy to obtain, it makes me push that much harder to achieve it. But what if, instead, it all magically fell into my lap at the very beginning, without the struggle. Would I still appreciate it just as much? Would I still go through with my conviction and quit my job on the spot? Or would my thoughts and actions be the antithesis of everything I’ve been writing on this blog over the last few years?

The question becomes: Do you truly desire freedom, or the pursuit of freedom?

A Different World

I still vividly remember when I was starting out my engineering career and the Great Recession hit. In an instant, most everyone’s retirement account balances were reduced to a fraction of their peak values. One gloomy afternoon, I happened to stumble into my manager’s office, and I can still recall the intensely perplexed look on his face:

Can you believe all this bullsh*t going on in the market lately? Look at my account balance, it’s all gone! Looks like I’m not going to be retiring early like I had planned…

When things get tough, people find a way to knuckle up and get things done. We get more creative. Resourceful. We work harder. We burn the midnight oil. We basically do everything that we can to overcome what feels like an insurmountable obstacle.

Along the way, we lament in all the things that we should have done:

  • Why was I so greedy?
  • Why didn’t I sell earlier?
  • Why did I stop paying attention to fundamentals?
  • How did I not see this coming?
  • I could have retired!!!

We vow to ourselves that we will never let this happen again. Greed will never control us again and we will instead count our blessings everyday. More importantly, we won’t let something as fragile as financial freedom slip away from our grasp again…

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

When times are bad, and there is doom and gloom in the air, we tend to learn many things… But when the tables turn, and the pendulum swings back the other way, do we end up not keeping our very promises?

What Do You Really Want?

Fast forward to present day, and times are good again. Yes, my manager is still working. Although his portfolio and assets have recovered in value, I really doubt that he plans on quitting his job anytime soon. Ditto for my good buddy, even though both gentlemen easily could today, if they wanted to.

Which makes me tend to believe that true financial freedom isn’t what everyone ultimately wants to achieve with their lives. Even if they say that’s what they want, I’m starting to believe that it’s the pursuit of financial freedom that drives people to do the things that they do.

And that’s understandable… Human beings are resilient, but they also desire structure in their lives. No matter how much you claim to covet financial freedom, it’s a drastic life alteration to just wake up one morning and sever ties completely with a routine that you’ve been practicing for the last many years of your life.

Drastic change is not for everyone.

Also, most people just want to be comfortable. So, even though everyone says that they would retire right away if they won the lottery, I highly doubt that most actually would. And it might be surprising to learn how many early lottery millionaire retirees inevitably end up back at work…

How You Can Tell

How can you tell if it’s freedom you want, or simply the pursuit of freedom? Well, how about putting together a list of all the activities and hobbies you would pursue if you somehow found a way to free up 8 additional hours each day? Does the thought of ditching the 9-5 routine make you feel all giddy inside? Does your heart start racing at the thought of all the new possibilities that will open up for you? Can you easily get lost in daydreaming about the many hundreds of different places you’ll be exploring outside the cube? Does absolute control over your time and day mean sooooo much more to you than where exactly you live (geographic arbitrage)?

If so, it’s probably TRUE freedom that you want!

But if instead, you look for excuses and come up with a laundry list of reasons of why you still can’t retire early…

  • But I still need $X more…
  • But the cost-of-living (COL) in Location Y is too high…
  • But what about medical bills?
  • But my pension isn’t ready yet…
  • But what if the market crashes again?
  • But…

When it comes down to it, if you truly desire freedom, you will take action and make it happen sooner rather than later. You’ll kind of have to… because the thought of working for many more years is something your body can’t process or comprehend. The burning desire to do something else cannot be tamed or extinguished. Even if you don’t currently have all the answers, you just know in your heart of hearts that you’ll figure out a way to make it all work… You want freedom that badly!

On the other hand, if you need to get all your ducks lined up in a row first, you’ll probably end up playing the “one more year” game for perpetuity. That, and deep down, you probably don’t hate your job as much as you might think… And that’s all perfectly fine. We all have to move at our own pace… and some of us are more conservative than others.

Like my old boss and good buddy.

When times are bad, they’re working. When times are good, they’re still working. Yet they talk about how blissful absolute freedom would be…

But if they really wanted it THAT BAD, and they could make it happen…

Wouldn’t you?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 No Nonsense LandlordNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 5:15 am

As someone who could leave today, and have a near 100% certainty of living as good, or very likely better than I do now, I am going to put in the proverbial “One More Year (OMY).

It’s better to lay a solid foundation while you can, because after you leave the workforce for a few years, it’s minimum wage jobs when you come back. I am a technical worker, similar to yourself. You cannot go back to a technical job after a few years of being out. You will be either too old, or your skills out of date.

Make hay while the sun shines. It may be cloudy in the future.

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2 MarkNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 7:30 am

To echo off landlord,

Suppose one of you wants to build a house. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

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3 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 8:13 am

Mark,

Yes, and you keep sweating it out until you have enough and then some extra for that house. Then the house is complete and you start the next one, and then another one. Pretty soon, you have multiple completed houses.

But you don’t stop. You keep going. Now you’re building new houses all the time. It’s never enough. But you claim to want to stop…

You don’t have to, of course, you can do as you please. Maybe you just love building houses so you should just keep going.

Cheers!

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4 MarkNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 1:01 pm

I forgot to put quotes. That was a saying a very famous man said. The point is let us prepare for the future and not go forward without a plan. You have successfully created a plan and are living it out.

We could all be so lucky

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5 Curtis@PayOffMyRentalsNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Mark,

At leat give credit to the scripture of the Bible you’re quoting from……

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6 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 8:08 am

Eric,

I agree that a solid foundation is a must before attempting something as bold as early FI. I just find it interesting how the “enough” part of the equation seems to change, depending on where we are in the market cycle.

For instance, suppose $1MM is considered “enough” when times are bad. Now, when times are good and that portfolio has shot up to $3MM, shouldn’t it now be more than “enough”?

My point with the article was to illustrate how adaptable people tend to be… Once you get comfortable with a new reality, it becomes another normal thing and you carry on the same as before.

My old boss and co-worker may very well keep working and accumulating another few million dollars… Nothing will likely change. They will both most likely grind it out until traditional retirement age until the brain will finally say “I have enough”. Which may or may not be true.

They tell themselves it’s freedom that they are after, but that’s probably not the real case. And I’ not saying there’s anything wrong with that. The pursuit of freedom is pushing them forward, and I’m starting to think that’s the most satisfying part.

Take care!

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7 Financial SamuraiNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Great point about making hay while the sun shines. If the economy was in the dumps, I definitely would NOT be spending time consulting elsewhere as I have for 1.5 years.

The one more year syndrome is strong, and will capture the best of us. It’s hard to break out! I wrote a post exactly about overcoming the “one more year syndrome” to help people take a leap of faith.

Sam

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8 Dividend HustlerNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 7:33 am

Hey FIF. Great article. Thanks for sharing. These friends of yours are in a great position and I’m guessing they wanna build up as much as a nest egg as they can before they throw in the towel. There’s usually more to the story which we don’t know about. For myself, when I reach my number in passive income, I’ll cut back and work part time. I’d like to spend more time with the family, do fun things and relax more. Work out especially. I’ll always work though if not at my business, I’ll manage the portfolio and I will consider that work when I reach Financial Freedom. To each their own, all we can do is worry about our own lives. Take care and hope all is well. Cheers bud.

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9 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 8:17 am

DH,

Yes, that’s most likely the case — They want to keep building up the nest egg… When you have family and kids to raise, an extra margin of safety is of course necessary. My buddy doesn’t have kids, so I’m not sure what he’s padding his stash for? 😉

This bull run has changed the perception of wealth for many people. I never thought I would see the day when $3MM, or $4MM, or $5MM wasn’t enough to retire comfortably on… And I used to think just getting to $1MM was a big deal…

Going part time is a great strategy. I’m going to attempt pretirement myself… I’m not sure life has to be so binary where you’re either working full time or not at all…

You’ve got a great plan in place and I’m sure you’ll get there in due time!

All the best!

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10 MaxNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 7:53 am

Hmmm – I think people are at different places in life. Personally, I’m planning on keeping my home in the Bay even if I decide to move away and rent it out. It was a major reason why I wanted to buy a home in the first place here so that I’d always have the option of returning. For a long time I realized I could go other places, but in the past when I’ve traveled I’ve always wanted to return home. I’ve been fortunate that my family has been supportive of this and provided me with a place to live in between things while I figured things out. However, I didn’t want to rely on them in case for whatever reason that was no longer an option.

Currently I have 2 of my cousins who have moved into my parents house and a few more are planning on visiting – while I would love to spend more time with them – it’s also a liberating feeling to not worry about being pushed out or feeling like I resent them or vice-aversa because of the lack of space.

I realized a while ago that I could probably live in lower cost areas and be retired a few years ago – but I think it’s also not quite what I want. I like the idea of being able to travel more freely and while I plan to spend most of my time in lower cost areas – I’d like the ability at least to go to some more expensive places as well to check them out.

However, it is comforting to see my home value rise and I have thoughts every now and again of what if I were to just sell it and try something new….

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11 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 8:26 am

Max,

Renting out a place is a great idea. The whole concept of geographic arbitrage is what even makes early FI possible for many people.

And it makes perfect sense… Make a lot of money someplace expensive, and move over and indulge in some place really cheap.

The expensive home will still be waiting for you, whenever you decide to return. If you still have a mortgage on the home, you could even go away for many years and let someone else pay it down for you while you enjoy your time in the sun. You’ll most likely return even wealthier than before you left…

This is a very real option for many people… but it’s radical and far-fetched from mundane everyday 9-5 life, so not many people will be comfortable attempting it.

This is something I’m looking forward to doing myself someday soon.

I do hear you on wanting to stay put and remain where you are. The Bay Area is a wonderful place to be.

All the best!

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12 JPNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 10:36 am

Well said Fi Fighter!! Put me in category 1 of people that are striving for FF and really want it. I love what I do, but feel like the idea is flawed that you have to work at a JOB until your 60s or 70s and pass up on incredible opportunities along the way to travel or spend time with family, or build a canoe. Sure, have a back up plan, but at some point, that back up plan will be so strong that you really can pull the plug on work. Yet, people think they still have to work to get MORE of a cushion. You should always do SOMETHING, but it takes a strong disconnect from societal expectations and working-to-make-more-$ in order to find out what that SOMETHING really is. Maybe it’s your previous job, maybe it’s learning how to sail, maybe its a start up idea that allows you to maintain freedom. You probably won’t know what it really is until you take that leap of faith. If you want to make excuses why you have to continue on working when your passive income is 20k/month, then all the power to you, but maybe FF isn’t for you.

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13 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:17 pm

JP,

I totally hear you on that — There’s no way my mind can process working until I’m into my 60s or 70s.

Definitely, it’s important to have backup plans, but there comes a time when we must take that leap of faith and attempt something drastic; in this case early FI!

And if you fail, well there’s another life lesson, and it’s back to the drawing board. I’ve always felt if a person is dedicated enough to achieve early FI, then they are resourceful and creative enough to figure out a way to overcome any other obstacles along the way… There’s nothing that says if you fail, you can’t come up with a new (better) plan and try again!

“If at first you don’t succeed… dust yourself off and try again”

All the best!

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14 The ProfessorNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 11:19 am

Good article. I’m definitely in the pursuit of freedom camp. I would get too bored if I retired.

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15 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:17 pm

The Professor,

Thanks! Being in the pursuit of freedom camp is highly rewarding in its own right!

Cheers!

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16 Financial SamuraiNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Hi FiFighter – Is your leave of absence paid or unpaid?

One of the hardest things to do is walk away from high pay. The only way I could do it is if I was able to negotiate a severance package to walk away. That’s what my catalyst was, otherwise, I would probably still be working!

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17 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:20 pm

Sam,

It’s paid leave but I hear you on the difficult of walking away from a high paying 9-5 gig… I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes…

Where I’m at now, freedom itself is something I’m coveting more and more on a daily basis.

Take care!

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18 ZeeNo Gravatar April 22, 2015 at 8:39 pm

I think having no structure to daily life would be a huge and difficult change. I could imagine doing that for a short period like 6 months or a year of being a nomad just traveling and exploring. But at some point I would want some stability again. I’m not talking about going back to a full time (or more) job, but maybe a part time volunteer position where you do something positive or help people and make a real difference in some peoples lives.

I think the key would be maintaining some sort of structure while still having a lot of flexibility for other opportunities.

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19 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Zee,

Definitely, structure is important to daily life. Without the 9-5, one would have to find other worthwhile goals and pursuits to fill their days. And that’s something that I believe becomes increasingly difficult over time, so early FI is something best attempted when one’s own mind is still nimble and open to new ideas…

Luckily, I feel like I have a million things I want to attempt in early FI, so I’m not anticipating the change being too difficult… In fact, even right now, my days are filled and eventful and I’m loving the extra flexibility afforded to me.

All the best!

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20 Midwestern LandlordNo Gravatar April 23, 2015 at 8:29 am

In general, it is my belief that if people are working, a majority of time it is due to the fact that they still need the money. For the few that could technically retire but do not, it probably boils down to timing, goals, positive work environment, perspective, etc. Maybe they have a highly compensated job and it is hard to give that up?

For me, my driving desire from day 1 was to become financially independent and have control over my day. That was more important than continuing to work and pile up more resources. Time is a resource we can’t buy back.

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21 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Midwestern Landlord,

Yes, people have all sorts of reasons why they are still working. Unfortunately, one can play the “one more year” game forever, and the longer you attempt that, the harder it will be to pull away for good.

I’m with you and the control over my day is what I’m after the most. Time is indeed precious and I want to maximize as much of it as possible.

Take care!

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22 BeSmartRichNo Gravatar April 24, 2015 at 3:28 am

Very interesting article which made me to look in the mirror once again and made me stronger to pursue what I always wanted to dream of. Until then, I won’t stop.

Cheers!

BeSmartRich.

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23 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:30 pm

BeSmartRich,

Glad you enjoyed the article.

Keep at it!

All the best!

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24 brianNo Gravatar April 24, 2015 at 8:23 am

Well said FI fighter!

We are all excuse machines (at least I know I am), where there is always another hurdle to throw in front of yourself before you can make the commitment. Its kinda like having kids….you want there to be nothing be green lights ahead, but that just never happens. You’ve just got to trust that its there and make the plunge@!

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25 FI FighterNo Gravatar April 27, 2015 at 11:33 pm

Brian,

I hear you — We all want life to be smooth and comfortable, but there will always be ups and downs and uncertainty. I think early FI is another one of those things… When we are younger, we are resourceful and figure out many ways to solve daily problems… It almost seems that as we get older, we lose our creativity and instead need more and more reassurances to do anything.

I know that attempting early FI prematurely is rather scary! But I also know that to keep doing what doesn’t make me happy when tomorrow is not guaranteed is also CRAZY! At some point, the reward outweighs the risk and you just have to do it!

Take care!

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