I was saddened to find out this month that one of my colleagues at work had passed away suddenly.
At one point in my career, he was one of my managers, and we worked closely together on various projects.
He died at the age of 60 when most people start to contemplate retiring at some future date.
It’s easy to imagine all the things he will no longer be able to experience:
- All the excellent travel plans he and his wife had envisioned
- Taking up coaching lacrosse, which was one of his passions
- Retiring to a city where he could enjoy the outdoors
- Pursuing various hobbies at his leisure
- Spending quality, stress-free time with his loved ones
Many of these things were abruptly taken away from him during what I imagine to have been just another ordinary night.
Of course, death can creep up on us at any time and with no warning. I recognize that’s a fact of life and something that’s out of our control.
Still, though, the news hit me hard. But not for the reasons you might imagine.
A Silver Lining
You see, this individual was one of the few co-workers that I’m aware of who retired early. He walked away from his job and a successful career at the young age of 48.
He and his wife moved to a beautiful, outdoorsy city, and he got to experience every last one of the things I listed earlier. Although his loss deeply saddened me, I couldn’t help but see a significant silver lining.
He had managed to extract 12 very high-quality years out of his life, an effective 25% discount on his freedom. That’s something to celebrate and admire.
I still remember how I tried to process the news of his early retirement those years back. It was a very unusual development, and I was on the cusp of my financial awakening. Looking back, I’m sure that witnessing his exit from corporate drudgery affected accelerating my awakening.
A Road Less Travelled
After I had recovered from the news of his passing, I spent a lot of time thinking about what his life would’ve been like had he not taken that fork in the road 12 years ago, which led him to reclaim some of his freedom.
It’s quite a frightening thought. I have multiple examples of peers of his who continued to work well past the age of 60. Many of them passed away very shortly after they retired. I’m confident they all passed away, having accumulated a lot more money and had more impressive net worth values than he did.
But if life is a game of happiness, he managed to squeeze more pleasure out of those 12 years than any of his peers had during their entire careers. I say this because I watched them all work crazy hours, neglect their families, and defer their desires to a later time.
Sadly that later time never came for them. But it did for him, and it’s because he chose freedom over accumulation.
It’s About Freedom
When you run a personal finance blog, it’s easy for the main message to get buried under a pile of spreadsheets and financial projections.
Readers of this type of blog love to see numbers and crunch data. Money porn is a real phenomenon. I’m guilty of it myself.
But it’s events like the example with my colleague that serve as reminders of what this whole FIRE experiment is supposed to be about. It’s not about money for its own sake; it’s about maximizing happiness by creating options.
The more options available to you, the more freedom of choice you have to pursue what makes you happy.
It’s possible he would have been happily working a traditional career until the age of 60, some people love their jobs, and it’s their primary source of happiness. That shouldn’t stop them from making sure they have options in life.
The earlier you give yourself access to real freedom, the better off you’ll be in the end.
I’m pursuing the earliest freedom I can practically manage for my family. I’m hyper-focused on the financials at this time, because I feel that’s my most significant obstacle concerning creating more options for myself and my family.
Getting the financials right will not guarantee happiness, but it will undoubtedly open up more opportunities to seek that happiness.
These are just some examples of the actions (past and present) my household is taking to create more options:
- Reducing expenses well below our spending power. On a net income basis, our expenses are now less than 20% of our earnings. No lifestyle inflation here.
- I am pushing for career progression and additional responsibility to maximize income. Our household income increased 5-fold over a 15-year career span.
- I have eliminated all debt from our life. This helps the first bullet tremendously and frees up a ton of cash flow.
- We started a FIRE fund to finance our freedom, with an aggressive plan to increase it considerably within five years.
Having the option to freely pursue whatever I desire, without compromising my family’s financial health is the ultimate objective.