When you hear the term “financial independence” it is very often teamed up with “retire early” into the increasingly famous “FIRE” acronym. At least in this narrow part of the internet and personal finance blogosphere.
The retire early part of the deal was never a focus on this blog. We feel too energetic, too young, too full of potential of what we can give back to the world. To me, financial independence has become a symbol of when I can truly live life to the fullest on my own accord. That’s when I can begin living, unapologetically and without abandon.
I know the journey is a big part of the process. That it is important to live while on the way to financial independence. But to me, financial independence is the very idealized symbol of freedom. Why would I retire when I am finally free?
To understand why, I suppose I’d have to give a bit of background.
As a child, I dreamed of being a hermit and living in the middle of the forest growing my own food. I never told anyone. Even as a child, I understood that this was not what you were supposed to want to be when you grew up. As I grew into a young teen and early adult, I hid the dream so well that I forgot about it under the stress of school and hustle of surviving.
I did well in school. Theoretical knowledge and mathematical understanding came easy to me. Not so much physical exercise, but I did well on tests. Teachers, career advisers and parents all agreed that I had a good head on my shoulders and should use it for something useful. Which, as many people know, is more often than not coded language for something related to Science Technology Engineering or Maths (STEM) fields.
Since I didn’t know what to do, I ended up studying chemistry. Quite by accident.
While I suffered depression every late winter/early spring while in university, it was not until the end of my masters that I realized I had been living someone else’s dream. While I wanted to help the environment by working with analytical environmental chemistry, I would be but one in a choir of scientists who had tried to tell people we have a problem since the 60’s.
The idea that I could actually earn money online and be financially/employer independent had not occurred to me yet, so I figured I would try to get a job as a staff scientist. Trusting those with PhD’s to tell me what to extract and how to analyze it. I didn’t want to be the decision maker, and since a PhD made you a decision maker, I certainly didn’t want that.
But as you know, I am currently working on a PhD. Because we needed the financial security to turn things around. And the PhD gave us that. Plus I got to move back to a city I have good friends in.
I still don’t want to tell people what to do. And I certainly don’t want to be a leader in the workplace. A PhD would force me to be that, if I continued my career in chemistry.
I needed an exit strategy. A way for me to live the life I wanted, and not the life those around me had told me was the “right” thing to want or do.
I was gong to take my life back.
Almost as soon as I started my new job, I started looking online for how to best use our sudden influx of surplus money. Like so many others, I found Mr. Money Mustache and down the rabbit hole I went.
I know the term “retire early” is nothing but words. A way to try to convey intentions in an easy way. I also know it is receiving undue flack from lots of personal finance bloggers and that is not my intention. I applaud those who go for early retirement with gutso. Breaking conventions and ignoring people’s expectations.
But I’m not retiring. I have found the path that will allow me to escape from the expectations I accepted from others, while still being a productive, contributing member of society. A way where I could look at the weather outside and decide I want to go for a trash-picking walk along the coast at 12pm on a random Wednesday, and not have to be stuck in my office.
I found a way to make that little girl’s dream of her own little hermit homestead a reality. In many ways, it feels as if I’ve finally found a way to feel alive. And even while working my butt off to keep my head above water at work, it seems as if the depression is not hitting me as hard this season (knock on wood, fingers crossed, etc). Because we have a goal and a purpose and a dream bigger than a monthly paycheck.
I no longer feel as trapped by the education I chose because people told a young teen I had a brain and should do something STEM related lest I waste it and my “potential”.
You want me to call myself retired when I have finally, finally woken up?
Ain’t going to happen. I am too gosh darn excited and feel too lucky. And Mr. Frugasaurus made over €100 in January from his writing alone, freelance translations not included. Baby, we are on our way. But language matters, and how we talk to ourselves about our dreams and our future affects how we experience them.