Working while you’re working towards financial freedom

A few months ago, it dawned on me. I could actually retire early and live a financially free life, one that satisfied the soul. And not just in 10 years when I’ll be 52 but in like 4 years, maybe even 2 years at a push!

My immediate excitement was further fuelled by feverishly reading the famous US bloggers on this topic – Mr Money Mustache, Brave New Life and the many others who have already achieved this aim.

But after an initial two-week burst of light-headed glee, I quickly found working life much, much tougher day to day. I’d found the path to a better more fulfilled-existence and, with that realisation, it simply made my current routine feel all the more depressingly mundane and pointless. I wanted out. I wanted to rush headlong through the next few years and get to my goal. What was I to do in the mean time? What was going to inspire me, motivate me day to day, when I’d essentially damned my day-to-day living.

beach work

Alarm call

Getting up for work was harder than ever. Sitting through boring, rambling meetings now made me plain angry. I was actually getting more stressed and upset than ever before. Dealing with work when marching towards financial freedom has become a real challenge for me.

I’ve had to jolt myself into reality that life is good, life is beautiful and it’s plain wrong and selfish to wish your life away like that. Having feelings of lethargy and sadness when you have everything you need in the world – and have just seen the light towards an even better future – is just stupid. I had a strong word with myself. “Buck up, pal!”

Happy while you work

I’ve been reading up on what other financially independent retirees (FI-ers) went through. But in truth, I couldn’t find anything on the usual blogs and forums that reflected my mood. Everyone else seemed very happy and calm in going through this transition.

For one, many FI-ers seem to actually really like work. I was surprised. I mean, I get that to a point. I enjoy working too, at times, but I always want it on my terms. I’m terrible for having a short-term buzz and no long-term vision. When I start a new job I’m enormously excited and passionate for the first 12 months but the enthusiasm wanes quickly as I seek out more variety.

I recently read about The Gervais Principle, which is a rather dour but engaging outlook on working life and how we fit into one (or more) of three roles – Sociopath, Clueless and Loser. It’s well worth a read.

These labels are not quite as they seem in The Gervais Principle.

The Sociopath is someone at the top of the tree, a successful senior manager who has no qualms in hiring and firing people, making cut-throat decisions and has little awareness of the emotive issues in a business. The Clueless is in the middle, blindly following the ambitions and demands of the business that the Sociopaths dictate and working their hands to the bone in pursuit of a decent wage. The Losers are those who haven’t been dealt such a good hand financially at work; they are missing out on the financial rewards but have less relentless pressure from above, arguably.

I’ve been Clueless all my working life. Now I want to be a Loser. And I’m not ashamed to say it!

I’m a Loser, baby

I’ve started to edge into that Loser space. Taking on less, leaving work on time, looking at the bare minimum I need to get done each day, week and month. I’ve been cutting out activities that I think won’t eventually evolve into anything of significance. And I’ve been standing back, letting everyone else enthusiastically join in on email conversations or debates in meetings, only getting involved when directly asked to. The work that’s left feels so much more valuable and I can devote a realistic amount of time to doing a great job on the important stuff. It’s refreshing.

The Norwegians and their 6-hour working day really are on to something.

Breaking even

It’s all about balance. As usual.

I’m a stickler for bullet points and mantras that can help summarise my thoughts and focus my mind, so here are my top 5 on, what I’ll call, ‘How to enjoy work while you plan your escape from it’:

  1. You’re actually already free. So feel free. 

    Realise you don’t NEED this. You’ve figured it out. You have seen the light and carved out a beautiful path to financial freedom and a wonderful new life. You no longer face decades ahead of slaving and worrying over your status in the workplace. If you were to lose your job now, it might set you back a bit but you would be ok. You would find another job in time to see you over the finish line. Hell, you might even start your early retirement even earlier than planned, knowing you’ve got some dosh tucked away and you’ll figure out a way to earn the extra needed to plug any gap in time (if there indeed is one – you might have over-estimated your requirements).Don’t get bullied into running additional projects or go chomping after the new boss to ‘fit in’ and secure your place at the table. You’re better than that. Fuck the hierarchy. Don’t for goodness sake take it home with you, whether it’s physically so on your laptop or mentally – no more work dreams please!

  2. Use this time to learn. 

    See what you can do in the workplace that will develop your skills for later in life, when you leave the traditional office environment. If you can’t find anything within the remit of your job, then use your carefully crafted ‘downtime’ to read up on exciting new projects, learn new skills, or get your colleague to show you some software that might come in handy further down the line.

  3. Make new friends, see people for what they really are, and be kind – help others. 

    You’ve started to see the escape route and you no longer need to fight your corporate corner. You can now help those around you who haven’t yet had the fortune to plot their path to financial freedom. Pay extra care to those who are suffering under the weight of a heavy workload, anyone who gets pushed into doing the mountain of menial tasks that get little credit, and colleagues who are finding it difficult to get a balanced life outside of work.

  4. Cherry-pick – do the tasks that make you happy. 

    This is your time. So what if you’re not held up as the golden boy or girl of the department. You don’t need to kiss arse or you’re your way to the top. They’re not going to get rid of you. And if they do, that’s cool – you’ll find something else soon enough and have some savings to fall back on while you’re looking. So look for the fun bits of work, those jobs that give you the greatest emotional reward. And take your time getting through them.

  5. Be brave, be bold, change the landscape. 

    You are different. You are no longer on the treadmill to 65-year-old retirement. Your path is shorter and sweeter than that. Embrace your innovation, your spirit, your daring and project it in the workplace. Have no fear at asking the questions no one else will ask. Make wild suggestions that rock the foundations of your company’s safe, mundane, routine processes. You might just find the more leftfield your thinking, the better the ideas – and the more excited those around you become.

Good luck, peeps.

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