When you first discover early financial independence, it has a way of drastically altering your mindset. I kind of liken it to taking the red pill and being unplugged from The Matrix. You start seeing things in an entirely different light, and a whole new world of possibilities starts to open up again. It kind of feels like being reborn…
I first pondered the thought of early FI in November 2011, and embarked on the journey full steam in 2012. It’s been over two years now, and I’m basically as dedicated today as I was back then. My excitement for early FI actually only seems to get stronger and stronger as each day goes by and the momentum continues to build. It’s like early FI is so close to becoming a reality that I can almost taste it…
And therein lies the problem. As I approach within striking distance of early FI, I’m becoming less and less dedicated to The Company. I can’t lie… I space out at work often, and everyday I question “why am I still here?”
In my mind, I know for certain a much better path to take for my own life than the one society tells me I need to be on. I want financial freedom at an early age to do all the things that I have set on my bucket list. It’s an extensive list, and I’m itching to get started. I want to live many lives and YOLO it up every seven years. However, because financial freedom is still at least another year away, I have to find a way to pass the time without driving myself insane.
Still Not There
I can’t spend all day and night obsessing about early FI. That wouldn’t be healthy, and I would probably drain myself out from over-thinking everything. Yes, it’s nice to have dreams and ambition… But we also have to keep things in check and find a way to also make today enjoyable.
It’s not only about the destination; the journey getting there must also be fun and rewarding. It’s not always easy, but I’m finding a way to better balance today and tomorrow.
Here are some Jedi mind tricks I use to help me get through The Grind:
Tune Out the Noise
What makes The Grind especially tough for me is not so much the work I do, but the stupid corporate games that get played on a regular basis. For example, I just had a one-on-one conversation with the new HR lady, and I told her straight up my thoughts when she asked me for my opinion on how things were going. I basically said this, “There’s just no incentive for more senior engineers to stick around at any one company for too long. In Silicon Valley, there’s just way too many opportunities here. I can jump on LinkedIn and have a new job lined up tomorrow. If I do that, I’ll get a 20% raise and a signing bonus. If I stick around here, I’ll be lucky to see a 3% raise each year. Why should I stay long-term?”
The HR lady looked kind of surprised by my response. Thanks to the progress I’m making towards early FI, I’m much, much more of a straight-shooter and free speaker these days. 😉
At first, she dismissed my comments and got kind of defensive. She basically told me that she wasn’t my enemy but there were a lot of things that went on behind the scenes… Things that I was unaware of… and reasons why companies operate the way they do. She was trying to reassure me that The Company really did care about their employees.
I wasn’t buying any of it. I’m not naive to the rat race; I know how this game is played. When firing season commences, The Company is as heartless and cold blooded as they come. If the numbers don’t work out, no one is safe from the chopping block. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, or how loyal and dedicated you are.
So, I just don’t care anymore. I tune out all the noise. I put in the minimum number of hours I need to get my job done, and then I’m out of the office. I don’t chat and gossip around the water coolers. I don’t try and become best buddies with the higher ups to get recognized and promoted. I skip as many meetings as I can… and I don’t keep track, nor care how the company’s products are performing in the marketplace… My co-workers all seem to care so much! But really, what does it matter how much revenue your product generates? Whether your team brings in $5MM in revenue per year, or $10MM, you’re still getting that same 2% raise! (at my company for sure)
Co-Workers to the Rescue
I don’t like discussing work related topics, but I’ll gladly make friends with any co-workers who want to talk about ANYTHING other than work. To make the day-to-day more tolerable, lately, I’ve been playing a lot of basketball at lunchtime and after work with some other younger co-workers. With these guys, it’s great… We just get together and shoot hoops. We never discuss work, and leave all that stuff off the court. Now that summer is fast approaching, I’m looking forward to all the upcoming games we’ll be playing. When the weather is nice, more and more people want to partake and be active. Who doesn’t love a game of full-court basketball?
Focus on the Big (Better) Picture
Work is just a means to an end. These days, I have more than one income stream to feed me, so I don’t stress out about work so much anymore. The big picture is I’m only still employed because I need the W-2 income to qualify for more loans to buy more rental properties. That, and the extra income helps me rapidly replenish my cash buffer.
So, whenever I stop and think about my more important side hustles, I can’t help but smile. 🙂 No matter how much bullshit I get at work, I know that I’ll only have to endure it for so much longer. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m about to leave work behind in the dust.
Plan the Next Trip
I don’t like routine and monotony. To break things up and to keep the journey more interesting, I’ve been working on spicing things up with more traveling. Thanks to travel hacking, I have a lot of upcoming trips to look forward to. I’ll be in Seattle near the end of April. I have a trip planned to Boston at the end of May. In August, I’m embarking on my round-the-world expedition. And I still need to find a way to make it out to Memphis/Dallas/Houston sometime this year. That, and I still want to somehow find time to visit my properties in Chicago and Indianapolis this year. I’m not sure if the last trip will be possible, but I hope so! With so much to look forward to, I can’t help but be in a good mood most of the time. Again, work is no longer the focal point of my life and it’s taking a backseat to bigger and better things.
Back to Basics
At the heart of it all, I actually do enjoy my job. Engineering isn’t exactly the easiest subject out there, so it would have been extremely tough for me to finish off school if I really did despise it. No, I really did have a strong passion for engineering in the early days of my career. Over time, I’ve lost a lot of that fire, but the work I do is still rewarding.
I get paid to solve problems. More often than not, the work I do is challenging and finding the right solution is satisfying. If I can force my mind to tune out all the noise, then the actual work I do becomes a lot more bearable. These days, more often than not, I restrict myself to only working in the engineering lab. In the lab, actual work gets done, so no corporate politics are allowed to enter! It’s a restricted area, which helps me keep my sanity. It’s also where I like to hide when I don’t feel like attending any more useless meetings. I’m 29 years old and I’ve been working as an engineer for seven years. I don’t need anyone to micromanage me!!!
The work week can be grueling, and it can be especially tough for any employee out there who doesn’t get a ton of vacation days each year. For many workers in the U.S., all we get are 2-4 weeks of vacation each year. The days off are especially scarce during the first half of the year, since the holidays don’t arrive until the end of the year. To make the week-to-week more manageable, it’s important to play Jedi mind tricks on yourself. I’ve been doing this since 2012, and it does make the journey to early FI a lot more enjoyable. I know that my true desires and true passions have to stay suppressed for just awhile longer (No, I can’t go hiking on a whim at 11:00 AM on the weekdays, no matter how nice the weather is outside… sigh)… In the meantime, I’ll make do as best I can and live each day to the fullest (as much as possible). I find that the work week is a lot more tolerable when I cut out the noise, play basketball at lunch, focus on my early FI progress, plan the next big trips, and just get back to the basics of enjoying engineering in its purest form. Work is just a means to a (short) end. Better days are just around the corner. 🙂
For those who are also on the journey to early FI, how do you make the workweek more tolerable? Do you also play Jedi mind tricks? What helps you the most?