As 2018 slowly begins now the holiday season has passed a strange thought has hit me this week. It occurs to me how different everything feels about my life now that I no longer have to go in to work. Two years ago I was facing the unrelenting pressure of a demanding CEO, working long hours keeping production maximized at a chemical plant. Worried about my workers’ safety, the competitiveness of the plant, staying within my operating budget and fearful that I would inadvertently run afoul of one of the hundreds of environmental, safety and transportation regulations that applied to my facility. It was about six months prior to leaving that I realized I had enough money, more than enough, and that I wasn’t having fun anymore after a mostly fun and long career with the company. I pondered that situation for six months then two years ago this week I walked away from my medium six figure compensation package to the strange and unstructured world of being retired. In my case what I like to call Slightly Early Retirement.
And…it…is… so much better. I never realized the stress that weighed on me, or at least not until the very end of my career. But as soon as I left, despite the uncertainty I walked into, I was amazed. I was floored actually by the incredible lightness of my body. I felt like I was 50 pounds lighter, like I was floating. It wasn’t in a physical sense it was metaphysical, a spiritual lightness that remains just as strong two years later and it makes me smile, makes the child in me laugh and the old man in me tear up with joy.
It isn’t that I live a life of pure leisure, I still work. In fact just before I started writing this I opened checks for over $13 thousand for work done in three of my five side gigs in December 2017. $6,000 of that was a one weekend consulting job for old friends in Texas. I don’t need the money but I loved earning it, and it validates me in some strange way. Plus I enjoyed being the one guy that could come in and solve their seven figure problem in a couple of days and nights of work. But it had none of that old weight or stress or fear of failure. I walk in and walk out and don’t have to worry that I’ll get called in the middle of the night because there is a fire, or worse. It isn’t my zoo, and they aren’t my animals any more. I’m just like a visiting veterinarian who can make a house call or not, my choice.
Back in my 9 to 5 days that stretched into decades I did not think it could be like this, be good like this. I told people I wanted to work until I was 70 because in my mind I really did not have an identity outside of work. I cannot explain why I saw things that way, I had and have a lot of hobbies and volunteer gigs but I did not think they could ever give me the sense of mattering that work did. And while I was crazy wrong about not having an identity outside of my corporate world I was actually dead on about that last part. I do need to work and the reason life is so good now is that I have great work.
Work that is challenging and significant but not work that beats me down and kicks me in the teeth. I have clients that respect me and look up to me. I am no longer a Sisyphus facing a never ending and impossible task. I’m in control and the freedom of being my own boss is almost narcotic in its power. The knowledge that I have the time and money to reinvent myself as many times in the future as I want gives me a safety net under my high wire act. I don’t want to fail at anything but if I do, it is more of a shrug than a death. And instead of crazy 60 to 70 hour weeks I usually only work about two days a week.
I would like to say there was a master plan to get here but it happened more organically than that. Along the way in my career when I would find tasks that put me in the zone of deep work, contentment and excitement I began to consider what kind of jobs have a high percentage of that kind of work. And when it finally occurred to me that I was done with the old job I had a network of contacts that were receptive of my pitching them to become my clients and it all just worked from day one of being slightly early retired.
This post is not to tell you how to get to where I am. This post is to tell you that it is a lovely place to be no matter how you decide to build it. Whether it is teaching English in China or backpacking across Europe or being a part time consultant like me who spent this week hiking to frozen waterfalls in remote parts of Arkansas mountain country. However you choose tobuild your future life it is wonderful to have the freedom to live it on your own terms.
It is a new year, what are you going to do to gain financial independence and freedom? What life are you going to build?