Old dogs can learn new tricks. Preconceived notions are not reality or facts.
Several years ago life was going fine for me. Business was good, the sky was sunny and I thought I had a firm grasp on how the world worked. An avid reader, I chanced across a blog that pulled me in deeper than any before. Normally I read several blogs with no blog standing out from the crowd. I digest what I can and move on. Then along came Mr. Money Mustache.
Some blogs are better than others. Quality is frequently an issue, but personal taste is too. To make matters worse, this Mustache guy had a serious following. High quality suited to my tastes with a massive audience started me questioning some of those preconceived notions.
Most issues I was in complete agreement with. There was one stand-out: retirement and what the word meant. At first I had an identity crisis. Was I really retired all along and didn’t know it? Is it wrong to have gainful employment?
The only way to figure this thing out was to attend personal finance conferences with like-minded people. That was two years ago. In the beginning it made the confusion worse and the crisis more acute. Then I developed my own definition of retirement to suit my needs. Finally, last weekend, I made what I feel is the final leap in my evolution toward a retirement definition I can use in my personal life.
Four Letter Words
First impressions are everything. Work is a four-letter word and certain demographics are quick to point this fact out. If you enjoy your work, too bad! The goal always seemed to be about quitting your current gainful employment as soon as possible. But I like my job!
Work is a four letter word, but not a four-letter word if you get my meaning. There is nothing wrong with work! Work, force times distance as defined by scientists, is good for the body. Sitting all day is the bane of good health and happiness. An oxymoron of life is most people sit on their tail all day doing work. And we are overweight and unhealthy. Might I suggest a walk? Walking is “real” work.
There is an animal called the FIRE community. It stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, as if they two go hand in hand. They don’t. It’s a misnomer.
Financial Independence means you have enough money to pursue your dreams and still pay the bills. FI means your investments throw off enough income to cover your lifestyle. Your spending level determines your investments needs to reach FI.
Retire Early is complete BS! Anybody can retire at any age. Sometimes people are forced to retire early due to corporate downsizing. Amazing how these people yearning for early retirement lament the fact when it is forced upon them. Do they discover something you and I don’t know about this retirement thing?
According to the dictionary retirement is defined as something that is used up or worthless. Use the correct terminology (Hey, buddy! Can’t wait to see you become worthless so you get the hell outta here!) and you’re liable to get your beak busted. The only explanation for the heavy use of the word retire without a proportionate level of busted beaks must have something to do with terminology.
Early retirement is possible without financial independence! There is no connection between the two situations. None. Having enough money to do what you want is totally unrelated to being “used up, worthless”. In fact, early retirement has more to do with laziness than FI.
When in Rome, they say. So I joined this FIRE community totally aware I was a fraud. The FI part was nailed down decades ago, but the RE part wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Retire, I asked? Retire from what?
It took a while to find a reference in my life. Waaaaay back in the beginning (when God was creating the heavens and the Earth (not that far back)) I had a job working for someone else. It was the only time in my life I worked for someone not a family member or in my own business. When I met Mrs. Accountant things got steamy fast. What can I say? She’s hot! Well, a year after we met we were headed down the aisle. Before the preacher would marry us we needed to attend some classes with the preacher. During this process it was noted I was living the early retirement lifestyle sitting at home and reading all day. This would not do. The church needed a custodian (read, janitor) for the attached school and I was available. So I was a janitor. For a year.
The people at the parochial school were awesome! It was a pleasure to work with them daily. Except I felt empty. My temperament didn’t allow me a life swilling toilets and mopping floors. A year after I started I quit. Call it retired, if you will. I was used up, all right! It was the only time in my life I felt what many people seem to feel about their job. I was FI and now I exerted my RE part of the equation.
A New Life Lesson
Fast forward thirty years and life was ready to smack me up beside the puss again. I adopted my new family in the FIRE community and started using their language as I felt they were using it. As soon as you were FI and quit your job you were also RE, even if you started your own business.
This confused me. I had my own business and enjoy the work. Why are they FI/RE and not me? It wasn’t them; it was me!
Last weekend I attended Camp Mustache in Seattle. You can read about it here. I attended all but the first Camp. A husband/wife team there retired a year or so ago to travel the world. They are young whippersnappers, barely tipping the scale past age 30. They did this all on teacher’s salaries! I was lucky to be there the last years to see this whole thing unfold. Social media allowed me to see the world through their eyes as they traveled.
This year at Camp they were back home, so to speak. Instead of the world, they now traveled North America in an RV. The husband also started a business.
I kept indicating he was still retired. It took my thick skull two days to understand he is NOT retired anymore! (He must have discovered he wasn’t as “used up” as he thought he was.) His words, “As of three weeks ago I am no longer retired.”
Hallelujah!!! Finally, I found someone who worked his own business and still fit in with the FIRE crowd. I felt a tear welling. I am normal after all!
Of course, reality wiped the tear from my eye quickly. Joe, the husband of our husband/wife team, ran his business a bit different than mine. Soon the advice was flowing on how other uber-successful people ran their business. Yours truly didn’t do it that way.
As a business owner I am very hands on. I meet with clients, review practically all tax returns before they leave the office and spend serious time plying my trade. The worst part is I am an integral part of the firm. If something happens to me it could kill the company. How stupid is that?
Multiple stories were told of business owners who found the right balance between work and personal life. This post isn’t long enough to dig into those individual stories.
Once again this highly intelligent group of successful people educated this country accountant. My desire to “do it all” limited my reach and puts the company (and the employees and clients) at risk should my health give way or I meet my demise.
Life is a series of unending lessons and I just picked up a big one. The new information is now getting pressed into action. Changes are happening at the Wealthy Accountant headquarters to protect the company should I not be available. And it all started with a couple of 30 year old kids living the dream of early retirement to see the light.
They say the teacher will appear when the student is ready. This is wrong. The teacher was there all time. It took the student all this time to open her eyes and see the teacher next to her waiting to teach. That is the life lesson learned by your favorite accountant this past week.
Teachers are usually disguised. Thirty year old kids (teachers in a past life, I might add) taught me a lesson I wasn’t ready to hear a year or so ago. I never thought much about military personnel in the past, but a retired military guy has plowed an endless stream of wisdom my way since we met. I now call him friend.
I am not retired and I am proud of it. My index fund is bursting at the seams so I proudly proclaim financial independence. None of that matters. What matters are the friends I have gained and the teachers I have found. My eyes are opening for the first time. Like a newborn child, my vision is blurry. But I can see. I can see! And teachers are everywhere, willing to take my hand into the brave new world I have discovered.
Old dogs can learn new tricks.
Wednesday 7th of June 2017
I've always been a little hesitant to follow the "Retire Early" people out there. Like you said there is a big difference between being financially independent and being done working. Financial Independence should mean that if you want to work you are doing something you enjoy. And if we live within our means and do fulfilling work are we really just living our whole life in this state of "retirement" that so many people are chasing?
Jordan @ New Retirement
Wednesday 7th of June 2017
I would love to hear more about what you are doing in your business to make sure it can continue to run without you. I am making my first hire in the next month or two and would love to structure my firm this way from the start.
Wednesday 7th of June 2017
My practice is a true S corp, no LLC, because I started before LLCs were clearly defined in Wisconsin where I practice. As a corporation I have a board of directors. Should something happen to me the board would be tasked with finding a replacement CEO and president, just like any major corporation. Corporations have what is called "continuity of interest". This means corporations never need to die like people do. The structure allows for the smooth transition from one leader to another. It works awesome in theory at least.
Friday 2nd of June 2017
Congrats on the "aha!" moment and finding clarity on your definition of financial independence and retirement.
It's nice to see folks within the FIRE community start to define their own paths and definitions of what FI means to them. For myself, I would gladly delay any sort of "early retirement" if I was able to reach a certain point of financial independence where I could simply do what I enjoy. That's really what it is all about: having the ability to do what you want (pursue a different career path, art, entrepreneurship, volunteer work, etc.) and not be concerned about paying the bills at the end of the month.
Besides, sitting around avoiding any sort of work for 60 years doesn't sound all that fun! Finding a passion and going for it sounds much more appealing (even if takes some work).
Friday 2nd of June 2017
I'm going off into my financial plan now, and removing the phrase "early retirement" completely. FI is enough.
Friday 2nd of June 2017
The word retirement has its own bad aftertaste if you wish. People don't like it, it means you've worked the whole life and now you're old. I don't like this word either. I've been living in Russia for the most of my life and in my motherland this word is worse than a curse. It means you're almost dead and living below the poverty level.
But I like Financial Independence and addition to Early Retirement, it changes the taste of this ugly and unpleasant word "Retirement"; at least it does it for me. It means that I can do what I WANT, when I WANT it and how I WANT it. Early Retirement gives us freedom, freedom of choice, freedom of the golden cuffs.
Freedom to start a business, freedom to help people, freedom to inspire others and be inspired. It's not about money.