I’m originally from New York State and as such, I know the state motto: “Excelsior”. The translation of this from Latin is generally stated as “Ever upward”. I can hardly think of a better sentiment to share at the end of 2021, another challenging year for everyone. I’ve been quiet of late on this blog and I wanted to ensure I didn’t let the end of the year pass without writing at least a short post.

First, I’m doing well, and I hope you are too. As I write this, it’s now been just over 1.5 years since I left my career behind. I remain incredibly grateful and excited about all the opportunity ahead of me and for all the “possible futures” (a term I am borrowing from my Two Sides of FI show partner) that may come. Despite the challenges we all know, my family and I have made many nice memories throughout the year. Barring a few colds that have run their courses, we’ve remained healthy, and we are very thankful for this. Thanks are due to all who worked tirelessly to produce COVID vaccines, diagnostic tests, and who have endeavored in so many ways to keep us all safe and healthy.

I’ve decided not to write another milestone post until at least my two year mark. But to briefly summarize a few happenings from the last six months:

  • Our YouTube audience has grown a lot and we’ve now published 23 full-length episodes
  • We took a five-week long trip to visit family and friends we’d not seen in well over a year
  • Lorri and I started a (beer) homebrewing club in our town, and it’s coming along nicely!
  • I found a great online community in the FIRE Discord server
  • I have started to explore a new podcast + book idea (stay tuned!)

I’ve been a bit less regular about this blog of late and as I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard for me to predict what will come for it. I’m often inspired to write about what I’m thinking, and I’m happy to do so as I have good ideas. But given the energy the YouTube channel is taking – and I’m loving every minute of it! – it’s not too surprising that I don’t want to write as often or on my former weekly cadence. I remain appreciative that anyone wants to read my thoughts and I’m grateful for all the feedback I’ve received over the past 1.5 years.

Above all, I wish you the very happiest of holiday seasons, and for a healthy, productive, and rewarding year to come. I do hope that your own paths remain “ever upward” in their trajectories, and that 2022 (and beyond) brings you fulfillment of your own goals and dreams. Excelsior!

image credit: Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Choosing FIRE: considering the top regrets of the dying

I came across this image in a Reddit post earlier today, after which I found this article in The Guardian. My initial response was to share the picture on social media and then with my friends on the FIRE Discord server. Why the latter? Because I was sure it would resonate with them. Contrary to one popular dismissal of the financial independence/retire early path, most don’t elect FIRE because “they hate working”. Rather, achieving FI enables a means to live life the way one chooses, including the option to stop working if and when they want. In other words, to reduce or eliminate the requirement to spend the majority of one’s waking hours working instead of doing other things of interest.

I fear that I can’t add much wisdom to the profoundly important words written above. If nothing else, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to reflect on how my FIRE journey is very much related to several points contained within. Above all, I hope in sharing this that it might cause you to consider whether you are making the best choices you can to honor your inner needs and desires, avoiding later regrets. To repurpose something I usually say in another context, the best time to start doing so is yesterday, and the second best time is today.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

I’ve never felt pressure from family to achieve X, nor was I told that only path Y was the “right one” for me. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, and I’m truly thankful that I’ve not experienced this. As such, I’ve felt comfortable living the life I wanted to live as an adult. But I have certainly had my choices challenged by former colleagues or friends at times, particularly when it came to job changes. Most often they had good intentions and believed they were supplying me good career advice. But I was on a different path and the difficulty was that I didn’t feel comfortable explaining that until the very end of my career. Quite honestly, I wasn’t very courageous about describing my path and the rationale for it, and that created challenges.

I didn’t always know about FIRE but I did know early in my career that I wanted to retire early. I also didn’t know how I’d achieve that early on. I didn’t magically come to my career “leveling up” strategy. Rather, it evolved through several early moves in my career and seeing the benefit of the same. I realized that by building breadth in skills, and not fearing moves into new companies and stretching beyond my comfort zone, that I could accelerate my path. Importantly, my wife always supported me in this despite the challenges it meant for our family. We believed in the end goal we were seeking. While my path was not the traditional one, I’m not sure that it was courageous. But I can say that I’ve tried to honor what I knew in my heart I wanted to do. And here I am!

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I really like this point and yet I’m of two minds on it. First, the obvious one: By achieving FI at age 46, I eliminated the requirement to work until traditional retirement age. I therefore created the option to stop working so hard, and I took advantage of that just over a year later when I left the workplace. So conceivably, I have been largely successful in avoiding having this regret. Right? Mostly.

In my case, electing this path meant a series of tradeoffs were made along the way. Part of my journey included several roles at start up companies, meaning very long hours spent at work and therefore away from home. It also meant frequent jobs changes and associated moves away from family and friends. In the second half of my career, the roles I had involved extensive travel, which meant more time away from my wife and daughter. All of these had impact on my family and meant that I wasn’t always there for specific events, or at times in my daughter’s early years, just to name a few. Were those the “right” decisions? My wife and I accepted them with eyes open and as a team. But they had a cost.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. Yes, I worked hard. But many people work just as long or longer hours, do harder/manual labor, do it for many more years than I did, and are compensated far less for their efforts. On net, I believe the choices I made were the best for my family and so I do not regret them. But it’s worth reflecting on what it took to get here and be doubly appreciative for what I have now. I am very thankful that I no longer need to work so hard.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Me being me, this one warrants a whole post unto itself. But I’ll be brief in the moment. Suffice it to say, I don’t usually shy away from my feelings. One of my favorite things about my FIRE journey is that I now feel the freedom to share more openly about it. Don’t be mistaken – I still hold back at times, as my Two Sides of FI show partner is correct in reminding me. But through this blog and our YouTube channel, I’ve become more comfortable with openly sharing my feelings (to an increasingly larger audience!). That’s been really good for me and I hope that it helps others as well. At times, I admit that all my corporate training still wins out, and I choose my words more carefully than I should, muting the emotions underlying the point I’m making. But i’m improving and I feel strongly that having the freedom that FIRE has provided is helping – in all things, not just in content creation. And I’m really happy about that.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Generally speaking, I think I’ve done a good job with avoiding this regret. I’m a pretty nostalgic person and enjoying keeping in touch with friends made through the years. That said, leaving the workplace and my prior and subsequent moves have created physical distance between me and my friends. True, I now have the time to travel more frequently to see them. Since leaving the workplace, I have taken several opportunities to visit out of state friends, which wouldn’t have happened were I still working. And this has been hugely positive for me. Not having a work calendar and a vacation days allotment is so freeing.

On the other hand, as we’ve discussed on the YouTube channel, FIRE does have a way of creating distractions if not challenges to friendships. Not everyone sees the validity in this path and may have difficulty talking about it. Honestly, it’s hard when you don’t feel comfortable discussing something so important to you with close friends because of how they react to it. I’ve certainly not worked through this yet but it is something I think about a lot. I do need to write more about this, if nothing else. I’ve got more to process here, and it’s important. This is one area in which FIRE path folks need to be prepared. I want to remain close to my friends irrespective of my path, assuming they’re willing.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We can’t control everything in life. Misfortunes and hardships may come at any time. That said, it is often spoken that we choose how we react to these things. I will freely admit I did not always choose happiness. While working, I often let many things get to me, compete for my time, and challenge my wellbeing. Like many, the ever-present cellphone became a real difficulty for me. The text messages and emails from customers and colleagues were never ending, and I found these impossible to ignore. This certainly affected my mood at times as my family will attest. Naturally I could have done more to deal with this, and I’m surely not saying FIRE is the only solution! But electing to follow this path has been an important part of me deliberately choosing happiness over stress.

The important point to make here is that I am very happy and I am increasingly choosing to be so via this path. I know how fortunate I am to have achieved what I have, and I remind myself of that often. I am truly grateful that my wife and I get to choose our path forward from here. Are our options limitless? No. We don’t have a Fort Knox-like stash of gold to fund an insanely lavish lifestyle. But we do have the freedom to live well without the requirement to work – and that’s huge! We are in good health, are relatively young, and have many options available to us. It is now on us to create the life we wish to live from here on out, for the remaining years we are vertical on this planet. It is overwhelming in some respects but we absolutely look forward to the challenge of determining what to do to maintain and grow our happiness in our life together!

Will I have regrets as my life nears its end? I have no idea. Like most people, there are things that I wish had happened differently; that I had made better choices or avoided hurting others by my actions or via neglect. I am far from perfect and I can’t change that. I do know one thing: I think it highly unlikely that I’ll regret my decision to follow a FIRE path. I wish you life devoid of regrets and full of happiness. Mahalo. ?

image credit: Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Retirement: The dreaded “R word” and a potential alternative term

A topic I’ve danced around since the very first post on this blog is whether I consider myself to be retired. Many will note that I tend to use quotation marks when I write about early “retirement”. And Two Sides of FI, the YouTube channel which has become an increasingly important part of my life, doesn’t even acknowledge the “RE” part of “FIRE” – at least in name. I’ve also mentioned on that show that when I meet new people who ask what I do, I most often respond that I’m a consultant. Why is this topic so tricky? Let’s dig in!

What does the word retired actually mean?

“withdrawn from one’s position or occupation having concluded one’s working or professional career”

-Merriam Webster

In my mind, if we’re talking about the biotech career I chose and worked in for more than 23 years, then I suppose that definition is largely correct. I say largely because I still occasionally take brief consulting calls for which I am paid. So that work is certainly adjacent to my former career. But even outside of that, I haven’t ceased “working”. As I wrote about recently, I’m also working one day a week at a winery tasting room. I also used to volunteer one day a week at our local vaccination clinic, and am about to start another volunteer opportunity elsewhere. Are those things work, or does working require pay?

So, the definition above – and several others I consulted, don’t really help me gain any clarity. I did stop working in my chosen career and have no plans of going back. I feel reasonably confident about that though am also honest that it’s only been 15 months since I left my job. Things could change, even if I don’t foresee it. That said, I’m current working part time and have no hesitation in speculating that I may well do other things down the road that earn money, whether in my own business or for others, that qualify as work. I love the idea of creating a small business, in fact. So am I retired?

Retirement and societal expectations

From the many (often uncomfortable) conversations I’ve had to date, there’s clearly an element of work tenure i.e. years of duration that plays into people’s expectations of when you “can” retire. In the US, unless prevented by illness or injury, or they hit the lottery, most people work until age 60-65 – and many even longer than that. This is for a variety of reasons, though most often out of sheer necessity (i.e. to pay the bills or to maintain employer-provided health insurance) or love of their job. If you cease to work sooner – at least in a standard full time role, this can be met with a variety of responses, many of which are rather negative or even hostile. This side of FIRE admittedly sucks.

On the increasingly rare occasions where I’ve used the “R-word” with people of a variety of ages, I’ve received a broad range of responses:

But you’re so young! (thanks, but no)

What will you do with your time? Sit around and do nothing?

Surely you’re just taking a break and will go back.

Are you sure you don’t just hate working?

and my all time favorite: Must be nice

We talked a lot about these responses on a popular episode of Two Sides of FI and several other shows. I get it. FIRE and the concept of intentional early retirement isn’t terribly common. Leaving the workplace prior to age 50, as I did, is quite rare – less than 1% of Americans retire before this age, according to many sources I’ve seen. So I completely understand that it’s still an unusual concept for many people. However, some of those same people then go on to overtly state or at least suggest that doing so is “wrong” or at least “not normal”. The former is unfairly judgmental to say the least, with the latter being closer to factual. It’s certainly not common, but does that make it abnormal?

I propose we consider an alternative, using a very familiar concept

Maybe the issue is the very word itself. As my wife Lorri stated recently, retirement is a loaded word with lots of expectations. Why should it be a bad thing for someone to choose a path outside of the most common one? Is it simply yet another opportunity for our brains to fall back on the logical fallacy of appeal to tradition? If one is meeting all their obligations and doing their best to continue to grow as a human and contribute to society – what’s wrong with taking a different course via early retirement? Maybe it’s time we rephrase things entirely…

I hosted a lovely couple in the tasting room last week during a quiet time – so they had my complete attention. I would estimate that they were in their late 50s to mid-60s. I learned that the husband retired from his career eleven years ago and the wife is retiring next year. The man’s wife described his transition from his law enforcement career to his current state, one filled with charitable work and yes – plenty of leisure time, as graduation: “Eleven years ago he graduated from his career to where he is today”. I understood and embraced her meaning from the get-go though it was the first time I’d considered it. He was very fulfilled by and enjoyed his former career. But he had other things he wanted to do! So he graduated to the next phase of his life. That sure sounded familiar to me!

How is graduation used most commonly? Outside of the strict definition of the conferral of degrees or certifications, it describes a transition from one stage to another: finishing high school and moving on to college, or perhaps finishing vocational school and undertaking your first paid job. It follows logically to me that irrespective of your age, exiting your chosen profession to move on to “whatever comes next” is similarly a graduation. Perhaps we can remove the weight and seemingly finality associated with the term “retirement” and look at it for what it is: yet another of many transitions we undergo in life. In that way, age (a proxy for years worked) can be removed from the equation and the whole matter viewed more objectively.

I find that idea rather appealing. What do you think?

image credit: Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash