Earlier this month, I gave a presentation at CampFI – Midwest that I thought might be worth sharing here in a written format. I titled the talk “Create Your Own FI” and the idea was one that I’ve been thinking about for a while – that financial independence (FI) isn’t something that we necessarily have to wait for, rather, FI is something that we can work to create for ourselves right now.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s essentially what I’ve been building towards over the past few years. Regular readers of this blog know that even though I worked as a big shot lawyer, I still spent my spare time earning income in ways that, by most measures, was beneath someone of my educational background – things like dogsitting, working as a bike messenger, charging electric scooters, walking dogs, and other similar, seemingly low-level gigs. I obviously could have made more money working as a lawyer, but I found that the money I earned doing these sorts of activities – things that were admittedly simple, but that I actually enjoyed – felt much more valuable to me.
After five years of following the traditional, clear career path, I took a big leap of faith, quitting my job as a lawyer to try my hand at becoming a full-time blogger and gig economy worker. I’m not financially independent. But to some people, it sure seems like I am. I work on my own schedule, do the things I want to do, and instead of my life fitting around my job, it’s now the opposite, where my job seems to fit around my life.
When you think about it, financial independence isn’t about quitting work. It’s about gaining back control of our lives. Jobs have a funny way of taking that away from us, forcing us to change the things we do to fit the contours of our jobs. We end up molding our lives around the often arbitrary requirements of our employer, giving them the best hours of our day and leaving the leftover hours for ourselves. And if we want to change up our day, we have to ask for permission.
It’s this lack of control that I think leads many of us towards the path to FI. It’s not necessarily that we hate working – it’s just that we want to feel like we’re in control of our lives. Sure, you might hear the occasional person say that they want to sit around doing nothing, but the truth is, anyone driven enough to do something way out of the ordinary is probably not the type of person that’s going to sit around doing nothing. And, even if you want to sit around doing nothing…well, it doesn’t take a million dollars to do that.
For a long time, I thought that the only way to financial independence was to slog your way through your working years. Grit your teeth and get through your workweek, save as much as you can, then you can go and do what you really want to do. But the more I learn about the world and how money works, the more I’ve concluded that the slog your way through work path to FI isn’t the way to do it. Instead, we can get there much faster by creating our own FI. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.
Work Isn’t Something To Just Tolerate
One of the big realizations I’ve had over the years is just how much of our life gets spent doing work. No matter how much you want to get rid of the work portion of your life, the fact is, work is going to occupy a huge portion of your life. This is true even if you’re trying to get out of the rat race as fast as possible.
Break down a typical day as an example. Most likely, it looks something like this:
- 8 Hours Sleeping;
- 8 Hours Working; and
- 8 Hours Doing Your Own Thing
When you look at it, most of us spend half of our waking hours working. And that number is likely higher when you factor in commute time and preparing for work. I’d wager that most of us likely spend more of our waking hours working or doing things ancillary to work than we spend doing things for ourselves. Something that takes up so much of our life isn’t something that we should slog through or just tolerate or bear.
And yet, that’s exactly what most of us do. For years, we’ve had a conception of a life that looks like this. Slog your way through 40 years, then you can retire and do what you want.
- School: 0-22 Years Old
- Work: 22-65 Years Old
- Retirement: 65+ Years Old
The financial independence movement brought a major shift in our thinking of work. Rather than work for 30 or 40 years, some people found that if you hustled hard and saved a huge chunk of your income, you could be financially independent and free of required work within a decade or two. Instead of slogging through 40 years of work, you only needed to slog through 10 or 20 years.
- School: 0-22 Years Old
- Work: 22-32 Years Old
- Retirement: 32+ Years Old
But even ten years of just slogging through work seems too long to me when you consider that half of your waking hours during those ten years is spent working. With work being such an important part of our life, I think we should be striving to make life look more like this:
- School: 0-22 Years Old
- Work: Create your own FI doing work that brings you joy and supports your life.
The turning point for me was sometime about a year ago when I took a sick day from work, then spent that day working on this blog at a coffee shop, doing deliveries, and walking dogs. I wanted to do this every, single day. So what was holding me back? Why couldn’t I figure out how to do work that made me happy and made me feel in control?
Work might be something that we all have to slog through in small doses. But if it extends out into years or decades – that’s something that I can’t do.
Remembering Some Important Facts When It Comes To Creating Your Own FI
There are a couple of important facts that I think are worth thinking about when it comes to the idea of creating your own FI, rather than simply slogging your way towards FI.
You are driven. The fact is, if you’re reading a blog like this, you are likely much more driven than the average person. Normal people simply aren’t seeking out information like this. And if you’re the type of person that’s seeking out information like this or is really trying to change your life, chances are, you’re likely the type of person that’s going to be able to figure out some way to earn an income doing something that really lights you up.
Life is long. There’s this strange thing in our society where we push people to figure out what they’re going to do with their life at a really young age. And the things we push people to do are things that we think are safe. Instead of treating life as long, we act as if it’s short. I’ve learned to really appreciate just how long our lives are. We have decades to live, which means we have decades to learn, explore, and discover what really drives us.
Remembering the relative value of money. Objectively, money is money. But in reality, money has very different values to you depending on how you earn it. I never felt particularly satisfied with any paycheck I received as a lawyer. But the money I make on this blog or from my dumb gig economy side hustles have always felt amazing – much more valuable to me than any dollar I ever earned from my prestigious lawyer job. It’s at a point where I’ll even trade less money simply to be able to earn it the way I want to earn it.
It’s faster to build to FI than it is to save for it. If you need $40,000 per year to live, in theory, you’ll need to save $1 million to have it last forever. The question to ask yourself is which is easier – save $1 million by slogging your way there, or simply finding a way to make $40,000 per year doing something that doesn’t feel like work at all? From my own experience, it sure seems easier to build your way to a FI lifestyle than it is to save for it.
Creating Your Own FI
The traditional FIRE path is appealing because, in a lot of ways, it’s similar to the clear, career path – it’s something in front of you that’s easy to see and easy to follow. All you have to do is get a good job, save a high percentage of your income, and then walk away once you hit your number. Anyone can tell you exactly how to do that.
Creating your own FI is harder though. There’s no blueprint you can use, no path you can follow. No one can tell you how to do it. Instead, you have to figure it out on your own.
That means trying things out. Exploring what drives you and what brings you joy. Figuring out who you are and what makes you, you. It’s a scary thing for most people to do.
Financial independence is for everyone. And I think creating your own FI is something that anyone reading this can do. But how you get there – that’s up to you to decide.