A dying person’s last words…financial independence retire early is nonsense
You’re probably wondering what this post is about, especially given the weird title. But first, let’s ponder over a hypothetical question…
Would you accept this job offer?
- Working from home, flexible hours
- Working with people across multiple time zones
- 10-12 hours of work each day (50-60 hours a week)
- 50-70% travel is required (within NAM and internationally)
- A base salary of $200k USD per year
- Up to 15% annual bonus
- Health coverage + extended health benefits
- 401(k)/RRSP contribution matching up to 3%
- 2 weeks vacation
At $200k USD per year, the pay is quite good, especially considering the 15% annual bonus. This means you can potentially earn up to $230K USD or $293.6k CAD a year before tax. That’s quite a bit of money! Working from home is also a great benefit too since that means no commuting at all.
But working for 10-12 hours each day is more than your typical 40 hour work week. Working with people in different time zones means your work hours won’t be the regular 9-5. The 50-70% travel requirement means you will be on the road for most of the year and won’t have much time to spend with your family. In addition, 2 weeks worth of vacation means you won’t have much time to rewind and relax during the year.
If you were given this job offer, would you accept it?
In case you are curious, no, I’m not getting this job offer. But I think it’s an interesting question.
The Top Five Regrets of Dying
The other day I came across J.D. Roth’s post on How to build confidence and destroy fear. It was a VERY long read but extremely insightful. I always enjoy reading philosophical posts from other bloggers (and probably why this post is somewhat philosophical).
In the post, J.D. Roth mentioned the Top Five Regrets of Dying by Bronnie Ware. Bronnie has worked in palliative care for many years. She has spent time with people near death and listened to them describe their fears, anger, and remorse. The 5 common recurring themes, hence the top five regrets are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back at it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it.”
Throughout our lives, we spend too much time wondering what people think about us. So we end up doing the things that others expect of us, or the things we think are expected of us. In the extreme case, we project a false image of ourselves. We go through our lives as others expected of us, rather than doing things that would bring true happiness to us.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
This regret is most likely due to the common belief that you must climb the corporate ladder and make as much money as you can in your career. Many were taught that money and status equal happiness. So you work harder and harder to bring in money and so the title on your business card can look more impressive every year. It’s a vicious endless cycle.
Are you defined by [Name], [Title] at [Company], on your business card?
I think not.
Instead, become the CEO of our own life. This is a far more noble and worthwhile position, and there is no one more qualified for the job than you.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
It is OK to be open and express yourself. You might hold a grudge against someone because something had happened between the two of you and you failed to express your feelings. But holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It doesn’t make any sense. Rather than bottling up your emotions, open up and express your feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
It might be easier to keep up with friends through social media like Facebook, Instagram, etc nowadays. But make a conscious effort to take the time to sit down with friends that you haven’t seen in many years and just catch up on things and life. Looking at myself, I am guilty of not catching up with friends more often.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
Happiness is not a fish you can catch. Happiness, or joyfulness, is something that’s internally driven and it is very much within yourself. Calm your mind and reach in deep within you to understand what makes you content and at peace.
Mrs. T has been talking about going to a music concert for many years. But we have yet to go to a music concert together, because, well, we wanted to save money and invest that money to generate passive income, so we can be financially independent in the near future.
After reading the post by J.D Roth, Mrs. T decided that she really wanted to take the opportunity to go to a Pink’s concert in Vancouver next year. She signed up for the Ticketmaster insider mailing list and received an early bird code to purchase Pink’s concert tickets. The tickets were $82.50 each. Although we spent $165 for the two of us for a concert, I was so happy to see how giggly and excited Mrs. T was and the fact that she will finally see Pink live. I am looking forward to spending time with her, just the two of us, and enjoying the concert next year.
This is a perfect example of letting yourself be happier. What I realized from the concert ticket purchase experience is that spending a small amount of money to bring the two of us closer is worth it. So what if we have to delay our financial independence journey by a few days because we spent $165? In the grand schemed of things, it’s not a big deal at all.
As I mentioned on this blog many times already, it is about finding the right personal balance between saving money for the future and enjoying life now. It is no good to be on either end of the two extremes – only saving or only spending. It’s all about living a life that you can truly enjoy now while keeping in mind what the future might be like. Enjoy the present moment, because who knows, you might not be here tomorrow…
Money isn’t the solution to happiness. You are the solution for happiness. When you are on your deathbed, don’t you want to look back at your life and be able to say that you have lived without any regrets? Don’t you want to say without a doubt that you had found happiness every day in your life?
So go out and spend a few dollars here and there and live it up a little bit so you get to enjoy the present moment. Spend money on the things or experiences that truly make you happy. By that, I don’t mean that you should buy things to cheer you up if you are in a bad mood, because that can bring you down a whole different path. I mean that you should allow yourself to purchase something that really brings joy to you for a long time.
Some Things You Cannot Prepare For
The other day I was putting Baby T1.0 and Baby T2.0 to bed. Both of them asked to get carried to bed and to get lots of hugs and kisses from me, so I obliged. As I was carrying Baby T1.0, I noticed how big and heavy he had gotten. As I carried him with him sitting in one of my arms, his legs were dangling by my knees. The same thing happened with Baby T2.0 as well, except her legs were hanging by my crotch area (note to self: gotta be careful when carrying her). After I put both of them to bed, turned off the light, sang to them, and sitting in their room watching them laying on their beds slowly falling asleep, I had a smile on my face. I had a nostalgic moment.
The few days after Baby T1.0 was born, Mrs. T and I were taking turns staying up to look after Baby T1.0 if he woke up at night, so the other person could get some sleep. One night around 2 AM in the morning, Baby T1.0 woke up crying. It was my turn to tend him, so I picked him up, got out of our bedroom, and rocked him in my arms. Baby T1.0 was swaddled up. After rocking for a few minutes, he eventually settled down and fell asleep. Every time I put him back down to his crib, however, he would wake up and start to cry. Therefore, I decided that I would hold him in my arms. As a newborn, Baby T1.0 was so small I could carry him with just one arm. Swaddled up, he fitted nicely on my left forearm so I could hold him with my left hand. My right hand was free, which allowed me to sit in front of the computer browse the internet, and stay awake. I spent a few nights like that with Baby T2.0 as well.
When I sat in their bedroom, looking at both of them sleeping peacefully, I felt that my mind was blown at how quickly both of them have grown. I can no longer hold them in one arm. Picking them up and down now requires quite a bit of effort.
I may sound nostalgic but being a dad hasn’t been all fun and games for me.
The reality is, that parenthood has not been a walk in the park. It is also something you can’t fully prepare for.
When Baby T1.0 was born, he lost 14% of his birth weight in the first few days of his life. While it’s normal for babies to lose some weight after birth, it is necessary to take some action if the loss is over 10%.
When Baby T1.0 was 3 days old, our midwives told us to go BC Women’s hospital to get some blood work done and to get some donor milk to help with his weight gain (due to losing 14% of his birth weight). When we returned home and about to start making dinner, the midwives called.
I picked up the phone in the living room and was told that we had to go to the hospital for a jaundice treatment immediately. (Baby T1.0 was born at home as planned, same as Baby T2.0). Apparently, Baby T1.0’s bilirubin level was quite high and the midwives were very concerned, especially given the higher than usual weight loss.
While on the phone, I looked at Mrs. T, who was sitting in the next room trying to feed Baby T1.0 with the donor milk through a tube stuck in the bottle and at the same time trying to breastfeed him. All I could see was Mrs. T was crying uncontrollably. She was scared. She was scared that our little tiny boy would not make it.
I was scared too, but I tried to be strong and supportive. This was a completely new territory for me.
We arrived at the hospital on Halloween eve. Many of the hospital staff were wearing Halloween costumes. (A hospital worker dressed up as Bane with the mask and scared the crap out of us… not a good idea IMO). After sitting in the lobby for over 30 minutes due to some confusion whether or not we were in the right place, we were finally admitted and Baby T1.0 was immediately put in an incubator with lights to help him break down bilirubin in his body. The nurses and doctor then put us on a strict 3-hour feeding schedule to get his weight up. This meant feeding Baby T1.0 exactly at midnight, 3 AM, 6 AM, 9 AM, noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, 9 PM, then repeat the entire feeding cycle again. We were also encouraged to squeeze in one or two extra feeds in between if it was possible.
Now you might think that the 3-hour feeding schedule is easy. If you think it’s easy, let me tell you, you are absolutely wrong!
It was a lot harder than we both had imagined.
It was hell.
Because each feed consisted of feeding Baby T1.0 from the breasts, supplement with donor’s milk & expressed breast milk (and later we had to introduce formula to further help with the weight gain). After every feed, Mrs. T would then pump to get some expressed milk for the next feed. The entire process would take about 1.5 hours, which meant we really would only get 1.5 hours of sleep at most in between feeds.
We did this crazy demanding 3-hour feeding schedule for over 2 months because Baby T1.0 was very slow in gaining weight. Neither Mrs. T or I really slept during that time. Somehow we survived and somehow I managed to work full time after 2 weeks of parental leave and I managed to not fall asleep at work and I did not take a nap during lunch during the 2 months period despite lack of sleep. I also somehow managed to successfully finish a multi-million dollar work project on schedule during that time.
Just like Baby T1.0, Baby T2.0 was jaundiced and had to go to the hospital for light therapy as well. When we got the phone call from our midwives, Mrs. T and I just looked at each other and said: “OK, let’s do this.” We knew what we needed to do and were ready to do that. She had lost about 11% of birth weight but having gone through the similar ordeal with Baby T1.0, we were prepared to do whatever it took to get her to regain weight. The doctor and nurses put Baby T2.0 on the same 3-hour feeding schedule to get her to gain weight (we were doing feed on demand prior). Fortunately, Baby T2.0’s bilirubin level dropped very quickly and she started gaining weight as well. We only had to stay at the hospital for one night, or about 12 hours in total.
Baby T1.0 is 4 years old and Baby T2.0 is 2 years old now. Each day, there are amazing moments when they are playing nicely together, following directions, and sweet and loving; then there are frustrating moments when they are throwing temper tantrums, screaming and crying, hitting each other, and simply won’t listen to either Mrs. T or me.
What I have come to realize lately is that parenthood is a constant learning process. There are no how-to parenthood instruction manuals, there are no shortcuts, and there’s no one solution that will address every single problem.
It’s easy to look forward and wonder what it will be like when both kids are older, more independent, and can follow instructions better. But it is also a dangerous thing to be stuck in the looking forward loop.
I have learned that I need to cherish every moment and love my kids regardless of whether we are having good or more challenging moments. Be a parent to them first, a friend second. As a parent, my responsibility is to teach them to be responsible beings and teach them important life skills.
Seeing and Defining “Work” Differently
How would you feel if you quit your full-time job to work exclusively as a wedding photographer? That way you can be at home during the week to look after the kids. I can then have more clients during the week.
This was a question that Mrs. I asked me the other day.
I thought what Mrs. T had suggested was a great set up. I was legitimately excited about being completely self-employed and shooting weddings seasonally. But then I started making up excuses…
“But that means I would be shooting weddings basically every weekend in the summer.”
“Hmmm, I would really need to market the heck out of my wedding photography business. I don’t know about that.”
“If I charge $3,000 or more for an 8-hour wedding, I’d need to shoot X number of weddings each year to make up my current full-time work salary. And I would need to spend X number of hours each week per wedding to edit pictures… That’s a lot of weddings to shoot and a lot of hours editing pictures each week…”
And so on and so forth.
At the back of my mind, I was feeling uneasy about the idea of losing a regular steady pay cheque every 2 weeks. Self-employed has its ebbs and flows, so income does fluctuate. Some months you make more, some months you make very little. I wasn’t sure if I was completely up for that.
As I was going down the deep rabbit hole inside of my head, Mrs. T hit me in the head with one of her usual insightful remarks:
Isn’t your wildest dream to do something that you truly enjoy? You have always enjoyed photography, and I really enjoy helping people through my holistic healing practice. Isn’t this what we planned to do once we are financially independent? I know you enjoy what you do at work, but why wait to pursuit your photography dream until we are financially independent?
Exactly what I am waiting for so I can quit my job in the high-tech world and become a full-time wedding photographer? I’m not quite sure. Maybe because I am enjoying what I do and enjoy the challenges I face every day? Maybe I’m not quite ready to be self-employed full-time. Maybe I enjoy shooting weddings because I shoot weddings part time and it’s still kind of a novelty for me to shot them. Perhaps a part of me is still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be financially independent retire early.
I dislike using the word “retire” or “retire early” because I don’t think we will ever retire in the traditional sense. Mrs. T and I plan to work on projects (like my photography business and her holistic healing practice) when we are financially independent. So the income that these projects generate is simply a bonus.
And it looks like we aren’t the only ones that have come to this realization.
Noticing a trend of people writing about how "no one really retires." I couldn't disagree more. Doing a quarter as much work as I used to, entirely for myself, feels 100% different. I don't know any early retirees working as much as they did in a career.
— Tanja Hester (@our_nextlife) May 9, 2018
“Working” entirely for yourself and taking on work because you choose to, not because you have to is 100% different than working full-time and possibly having multiple side hustles because you have to.
Start seeing and defining work differently. Work doesn’t have to define who we are. We have the power to define who we are as individuals.
Financial Independence is Not a Singularity
Just like parenthood, I do not think financial independence is something that you can fully prepare for. Yes, you can have ideas about what your financial independence life might look like, but that image will most likely change.
There is no one single way to achieve financial independence, there aren’t instructional manuals, and there are no guaranteed shortcuts. How we plan to achieve financial independence may be entirely different than your financial independence plans.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that financial independence is not a singularity.
What do I mean by singularity? (BTW, this is the math nerd in me making stuff up..)
Perhaps controversial, I do not believe financial independence is about a specific singular number. It’s not about having 25 multiples of your expenses; It’s not about having a set amount of money in your bank account; It’s not about withdrawing a set amount of money each year.
You may have a number based on your financial independence assumptions. You may have historical expenditure data. You may have a buffer in your budget that you can eliminate to hit a specific number.
Life is fluid and things change.
As will your financial independence plans.
There are many unexpected expenses in life that you may not be able to control – your car may require an expensive repair, your dishwasher may need to be replaced, you might be pregnant (or you might get your wife pregnant) unexpectedly, you may decide to take an unplanned trip, cost of food may suddenly increase, etc.
Rather than seeing financial independence as a singularity, see it as a loosely defined zone. You might be able to get in with X amount of money and you might be able to get in with Y amount of money. Just like life is fluid, be fluid with financial independence. Don’t lose sleep over a specific number. Don’t lose sleep over a target FI date. Don’t spend every single minute of your waking hours thinking about these numbers.
Money or Time? What’s More Important?
Going back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post. Would you accept the job offer?
Knowing what I know, I find it really really hard to answer this hypothetical question.
On one hand, taking the job means earning an extremely high income, which will help us build up our passive income stream quickly and expedite our financial independence journey. But this will be at the expense of working longer hours, spending less time with my family, and spending more time on the road. Are the tradeoffs worth it just so we can become financially independent quicker?
On the other hand, not taking the job means status quo. We continue with our financial independence journey and follow our plans. And who knows, maybe our plans may change, and we end up becoming financially independent earlier or later. But since we don’t have an FI date in mind, who cares right?
Maybe I would say yes to the job knowing that we can expedite our financial independence journey by a few years? Maybe I would only work at this job for one year or two and try to bring Mrs. T and the kids on some work trips with me so we can spend time together?
Maybe status quo is perfectly fine because I have found the right personal balance?
Honestly, it’s a tough question to answer.
What would you do?
I Am Not Perfect… Improvements needed
Taking a look at the top 5 regrets of dying again, is there anything I can improve on?
I am far from being perfect.
For one, I can work on staying in touch with friends more. I am not one of those people that just phone up friends randomly and just to catch up with them. What I need to do, perhaps, is to have more get-togethers with friends and keep in touch with them.
Another thing is to prioritize what’s really important in my life. I spend many hours at work and often have to work at home before and/or after the regular work hours. Sometimes, work seems to be my top priority and everything else comes after work. I need to realize that family comes in first. Baby T1.0 and Baby T2.0 won’t stay young forever. I need to spend time with my kids and be the dad they need me to be. I also need to spend time with Mrs. T, work on our relationship continuously, and be the husband she needs me to be. My parents won’t be here forever, so I need to spend as much time with them as possible, and at the same time, cherish the time that we spend together. I also need to let my two kids spend as much time with their grandparents (from both sides) as possible, so they will ever-lasting memories of their grandparents when they are older.
It may seem that I have all the time in the world… until I don’t.
Determine what’s really important in my life and work on these important things. I am the master of my own life, so be that master. Don’t let other people control what I do with my life. Be true to myself.
I have been getting better at expressing my feelings after meeting Mrs. T and marrying her. This is something I will need to continue to work on. Through this blog, I have also been able to express myself. I am grateful for that.
On my last day on Earth, it really won’t matter whether Mrs. T and I achieved financial independence at 38, 40, 45, 50, or at a specific age. It also won’t matter whether we have retired early in our 30’s, in our 40’s, or in our 50’s. In the grant scheme of things, financial independence retire early is just a tiny little part of life. After looking, examining, and pondering over what is really important in life, perhaps it is nonsense to think that financial independence retire early should sit at the top of the “importance pyramid.”
On that faithful day, I want to look back at my life without any regrets and leave this world with a smile on my face, and know that I have left a legacy.