A small step to join two worlds

“Responsibility is essential – Maturity, highly overrated.”

-Me

How much of your personal life connects with your work identity?

As I wrote just a few minutes ago on LinkedIn, I’ve never been one who puts up high walls between my personal and work identities. I think anyone who has worked with me would agree with this. True, I may have held back a bit on how I express my identity earlier in my career, but that didn’t last long. I’ve always felt you could be professional and command respect without wearing a different face at work. I have always preferred to “be myself” as much as possible at work and let people in to my life in whatever ways seemed most appropriate. It fits with my credo seen at the top of this post.

Since leaving the workplace more than ten months ago, I’ve kept busy with a whole host of pursuits. One such undertaking has been writing this blog. Until today, people have come to the site by two primary paths: social media (my shares or those by other readers) and via organic web search. A third way is by word of mouth – either from myself or other site viewers. I have shared this site with a handful of former colleagues; primarily those who I consider friends. However, the overwhelming majority of my large professional network is unaware of what I’m doing presently. When I left my last job I updated my LinkedIn profile with my consulting company and left it at that. Why?

What kind of messages would I be sending?

I’ve thought about this for some time and talked about it with a former colleague earlier this morning. That chat is indeed the inspiration for this post! Initially, I think I was concerned about the statement it would make to potential future employers. Wait, what? I thought I “retired” from the corporate world? True, but I was really thinking: “What if I’m wrong about early retirement? Is it risky to share a blog largely concerned with that very topic should I need to go find a job later on?” I’ve gotten over this. After nearly a year, I’m more confident than ever that I made the right choice. In addition, in the unlikely event I’m proven wrong, I have no concerns about my blog, my YouTube channel, or anything I’m doing impeding future job prospects. Would I really want to work for someone who’d hold these things against me anyway?

I think the other hesitation was around the message itself. I built up a large network of former colleagues, vendors, and customers during my 23-year biotech career. I consider this group of talented people a huge asset, and one from which I’ve gained massive leverage at times. Not everyone reacts well to talk of FIRE or the idea leaving one’s career to “do something else”, as I did. Would I alienate anyone with this kind of talk? Should I care if I did? What did I really want to share with this group anyway, and why? When I thought about it, my aims were really just to stay connected. Putting material out on LinkedIn might be a good way to do that in a broad manner. It might also bring interested parties to the blog and the YouTube channel, and open new avenues of exchange with them.

“Alea iacta est” (“The die has been cast”)

Suetonius to Julius Caesar (49 BCE)

So, what did I do? A few minutes before starting this article I wrote a LinkedIn post where I shared my “keys to success” in the workplace series to my entire network of ~2500 connections. I didn’t make some grand announcement of having retired early. My goal wasn’t to do that, or to boast, or anything of that nature. Rather, I saw it as an opportunity to share something I created which I thought would add value. I hope people will read it and perhaps share it with others who might find it useful. Maybe some of my connections will dig further, and read some of the other posts that don’t concern work, and discover what I’m up to? That would be great too, and even more so if it causes them to reach out and connect with me. I guess we shall see! Be not afeard!

image credit: Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

What’s next for this blog?

I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head for a few weeks and I decided that this post was a good time to air it. As I’ve continued to put more and more effort into my YouTube project, Two Sides of FI, I’ve felt less motivated to put the time I need to into writing this blog. To clarify, I’m not saying that I haven’t felt like writing lately – I often have. Rather, I just haven’t felt the desire to take the ~3 hours or so that I typically spend to produce the articles I’ve posted here to date (it took me about 30 minutes to write this one by comparison). I’m having a lot of “desk time” as it is between the channel and some other exploratory projects on my plate, and honestly I’m enjoying the YouTube work much more than the blog these days…

Why is that? I think it’s a few different things. First, the blog has turned out to serve a different purpose than I had thought – often the case for our endeavors in life, right? It’s been a much more useful outlet for me to process the emotions of early “retirement” since I left the workplace ten months ago. I’d assumed it would be more of a two-way street, where I’d get to engage with friends, family, and those who eventually stumbled their way to the site. I’m not naive about the difficulty of building an audience, so I knew that last group would take more time! But to be candid, the interactions overall have been limited. The blog have subscriptions have also flattened out, as are the views, likes, and comments coming from other social media outlets. It’s hard not to feel like you’re talking into a void in those circumstances. And I don’t like feeling like I’m constantly blasting content into people’s feeds that they may not be enjoying.

That’s not to say that I’ve not benefitted in many unexpected ways from this project – I certainly have! Leaving my career during this pandemic has certainly meant a lot more isolation than I’d have otherwise experienced in post-FIRE year one. That has led to more solo time to think, and perhaps an acceleration of emotions that would otherwise have been stretched out over time. Now I do think that’s a good thing, but it’s also been rather intense at times. Writing this blog has forced me to capture those thoughts and really work through them. As I’ve written, not always been an easy process, but I believe it’s been important for my development. I’m grateful to have had the experience.

I’d also hoped that others might find utility in the things I’d shared – whether it was because they were on their on FIRE path, were heading into traditional retirement, or were interested in my thoughts on succeeding in the workplace. And I did truly enjoy the conversations and exchanges I had with people about the things I’d written. Heck, if there’d been even just one of those, I think it would all be worth it. So I consider myself lucky I had the interactions about the blog that I did. But admittedly, those have also tapered off in the last few months.

On the other hand, I’m getting loads of positive return for the work that Eric and I are doing on Two Sides of FI. Don’t misunderstand me – the channel has not been an overnight viral sensation – nor was that our expectation! But we do have nearly 600 subscribers now, which to me is exciting (Eric is surely chuckling at that). Sure, we don’t get scores of comments on each video, nor do get thousands of views on most of of them either. But I see the weekly progress, I am enjoying the engagement with our viewers, plus I’m learning tons about YouTube and podcast production. Thankfully my creative partner is somewhat patient with me 😉 So candidly, I’m getting much more out of it than I am from this blog.

So what’s next and what does it mean for the next phase is NOW? I’m honestly not sure as I’ve not given it sufficient thought. Perhaps I’ll completely retool how I use the site? Maybe I’ll start daily journalling instead? In other words, write pieces that are less constructed (though honestly it’s hard for me to consider my ramblings to date anything but highly informal). I’m not sure. One thing that I continue to enjoy about this next chapter of my life is the feeling of relief that I no longer have all the constraints that I did prior. I can switch gears as I like, picking things up and putting them down again, even frequently. There aren’t any consequences! That’s reassuring to someone with as many interests as I have.

Here’s to whatever comes next! Surely you’ve realized by now that I’ll be sure to tell you about it once I figure it out. Above all, I wish you all well.

-Jason

PS – if you haven’t checked out our YouTube channel yet, I’ll take the opportunity to plug it. I’m really proud of how the show is evolving. I’m learning loads about being more authentic and honest, thank to the great example set by my skilled and well-practiced partner in crime. But I’ve still got a loooong way to go. Our conversations on the channel are forcing me to work through plenty of pent-up emotions and experiences – which again, I think is a really good thing. Our recent two-part series on the numbers of FI plus all the other emotional baggage and decision making that goes along with it is linked below. I hope you’ll have a look at them. Thanks any of your time that you can spare to check it out.

Part 1 of 2 on “the numbers” of FI – and a whole lot more. Part 2 is below
As promised, here is Part 2. I really like the way this turned out. Eric is a rather good editor.

FIRE is rarely, if ever, a solo journey

a picture of the author and his wife at Chichen Itza

Much of what I’ve written about to date on this blog has admittedly been rather self-focused. I’ve largely discussed the solo aspects of the FIRE journey: my career, the path I undertook to achieve my goals, and how it has felt to take these steps and process the emotions associated with the same. I have written about the impact of this path on my family, but not in extensive detail. This week I found myself thinking about how I was overdue to dig into this a bit more. If there is one thing that has been reinforced by time spent on the Two Sides of FI project, it’s that FIRE is not a solitary process. Most of us have a partner, close family, or others in our lives taking part in and being impacted by this journey.

My greatest FIRE mentor of all

The amazing person in this vacation photo with me (sporting my pre-FIRE hair!) is my wife, Lorri. We’ve been together for around twenty years as I write this. She is my greatest ally, closest friend, and the best person I have had the good fortune to meet. There is no question just how much my life is improved and enriched by having her in it. As I think about all the years we’ve spent together, I must also acknowledge that Lorri is among the most important mentors I have had in my life. I’ve written about the importance of mentors before, but largely in reference to my career or during college. We all must surely acknowledge how much we learn from our partners and spouses. But how does that pertain to FIRE? Very much so in my case.

In a recent conversation on my YouTube channel, we talked about how Lorri greatly influenced and enabled my FIRE path. Very early on, she gave a strong and supportive voice to what I had already been thinking – that I did not want to stay in my chosen biotech career until traditional retirement age. We both craved the freedom to spend our time as we wished: seeing the world, learning and experiencing all it had to offer, and doing so together, free of schedules set by the workplace and our bosses. Lorri helped normalize this idea to me, and together we formulated our plans and set out on this journey.

I have learned much from many FIRE blogs, YouTube channels, and from working with financial advisors. But in the end the most valuable and impactful input has been from Lorri. She has an unfailing ability to maintain perspective, and direct my focus to the things that are truly most important. It’s so easy to get hung up on the mechanical aspects of financial independence – the numbers, modeling, and other “busywork”. Rather, my wife has always ensured we spend enough time on what really matters: our family, our aspirations, and on the big picture. As someone wired for getting lost in the minutiae and in managing the many tasks involved, I can’t overstate how important this has been to our journey of financial independence and early retirement.

Before and afterwards, you’re in it together

Whether we are talking about pre- or post-FIRE life, the decisions made and steps taken impact our loved ones as much or more than they do ourselves. My own chosen career path and “leveling up strategy” to achieve FIRE, often meant long hours at work, substantial travel, several relocations, and frequently work interference in our personal lives. This meant sacrifices all around, including many made by Lorri. Yes, it was tough for both of us to be apart, particularly on longer work trips. But it was assuredly even harder for her, dealing with all the things back home, alone. I didn’t always appreciate or acknowledge that as often as I should have, and I feel pretty guilty about that. However, even when times were most challenging – when our daughter was very young, for example, my wife had a remarkable way of being supportive and keeping us focused on our goals. To set the record straight, there’s no question that Lorri had just as big a role as I did in enabling our success!

In the ten months since I took the huge step of leaving my career of 23 years, I have experienced a series of emotions. Documenting and processing these has truly been the biggest benefit I have experienced from writing this blog. However, it’s important to acknowledge that these changes do not only affect me! Lorri has been dealing with me in new ways – and for many more waking hours in any given week – than ever before. True, the isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified this situation. But even without those added challenges, this would still be a big change. Yet, Lorri has been incredibly supportive the whole way. She’s so great about getting me to talk about what I’m feeling, and pushing me to get out and take a hike together, or to plan a small family trip. I’m really thankful for that nudge and I know I don’t express that often enough.

Once recommendation I would share is to ensure you check in with your partner and your family along the way. I’ve gotten valuable feedback I might not have received otherwise, simply by asking questions about how things are going. Particularly in my initial months after leaving the workplace, I didn’t do a good job of this. I was definitely keeping my feelings bottled up rather than talking openly with Lorri or others about them. As you can imagine, sometimes this led to negative and frustrating outcomes. Realizing the benefit from talking more openly – something very much facilitated by my wife, I’m now better about this. Make no mistake, I remain overwhelmingly positive about my decision to continue on the FIRE path! But I’ve also learned that it’s easy to underestimate the impact of such large changes. Given that these also affect your family, it’s vital that you work together to both enjoy all the great things as well as manage the challenges as they come.

It takes a village, after all

All of this is not to say that any of us should expect our spouse or partner to be the sole outlet for helping manage challenges we experience, or to be the provider of all solutions. That’s a lot to ask! As close to perfect as she may be in my eyes, Lorri is not the only person from whom I receive the benefit of support. I have found tremendous value in talking with a few close friends and family. While we may all be on different journeys, there is surely something to learn from the path each of us is following. Admittedly I’m someone that doesn’t ask for help very often. But if you spend your time – virtually or otherwise, with the right people, they’ll make sure you get the support you need.

When I started working on Two Sides of FI with my longtime friend, Eric, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun – and if we did it right, informative for our viewers. What I didn’t realize was how impactful it was going to be for me, personally. Tackling the topics we have covered in our episodes to date (three released and a fourth about to go out as I write this!) has been of immeasurable help to me in managing this transition. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about producing a YouTube channel and podcast, it is that the editing process requires you to repeatedly review footage. This repetition, combined with Eric’s insightful questioning, forces me to spend a lot of time thinking about the exchanges we’ve had. After a fast-paced career where I feel like I was alway racing from one thing to the next without stopping to reflect, I’m now forced to slow down, focus, and think more deliberately. I think this is a hugely positive change for me. I recognize that blogging or YouTube may not be the right outlet for everyone. But even journaling, or simply confiding in a good friend, is a vitally useful way to process the many emotions experienced on our path through life.

Money topics, including FIRE, can be difficult to discuss for many of us. And not everyone will understand your decision to seek financial independence or to retire early – that’s a whole topic unto itself. It’s for this reason that I think online communities and social media can be so useful. I’ve received tremendous value from interacting on Reddit, forums, and more recently on a FIRE-themed Discord server. These forums can provide a very useful mechanism to seek advice, learn from others’ experiences, and talk with other like-minded people. This is online after all, so caveat emptor! Not all sites are as useful, there is always a certain noise level, and sometimes “group think” can be an issue. It is also vital to remember that not all information out there is 100% accurate. But in aggregate, I have gotten much benefit from the time I have spent with these communities, and recommend them as a valuable source of information on your financial independence journey.

Whether you are on the FIRE path or not, I believe there is something of value in what I’ve written here for each of us. None of us travels our path through life alone, and humans largely are not solitary creatures. Seek support in the comfort and guidance supplied by those closest to you. Don’t forget to acknowledge them either! It’s all too easy to get caught up in whatever we are feeling in a given moment. It’s vital that we remember the partnerships we have in family and friends. It is a shared journey and we need to support each other. I wish you all well and for the fullest success in achieving your goals!