I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my college days and why it is that I’ve always loved being a student. My son goes to a daycare near our state university, so I’ve been spending a lot of time on campus lately. Every morning, I drop him off, then head off to the student union to get some work done. Working at the union brings back memories – it’s the same place that I used to study at back when I was in law school nearly a decade ago.
Being in this college environment got me thinking about the surprising parallels between the life of a student and the goals of financial independence. When I think about it, a lot of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed being a student are the same reasons that I imagine many people aim for financial independence. More freedom and time. Fewer people looking over your shoulder. More control of your life.
I’m not financially independent, so I can’t say what financial independence really feels like. But what I do know is that the things that made me happy in school are pretty similar to the things that I want out of financial independence. Here are a few things that come to mind.
Controlling Your Own Time
The life of a student is interesting. You usually don’t have any money – but what you do have is time. Not necessarily a ton of free time (although you definitely do have more free time compared to other stages of your life).
The thing you definitely have, though, is more control of your time. Of course, you have classes. But those make up a small part of your day – a few hours at most. When I was in school (even in law school), classes rarely made up more than 3 hours of my day. The rest of the day was mine to use however I thought best.
I loved having control of my time like this. It didn’t mean I could do anything I wanted. But it did mean I could control what I was doing and when I did it. I seem to work better at night. So that’s when I worked most of the time. During the day, I did the things that made the most sense to me.
It was this freedom I had over my time that made my transition into the working world rough. I was in school for a long time – 4 years of undergrad, plus 3 years of law school. After 7 years where I had a lot of control over my time and a lot of autonomy over my life, going into an office with a boss that controlled the majority of my waking hours was a shock. I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do during the day. In fact, at every job I had, I received stern warnings that I needed to be at the office by a specific time.
It’s probably why when things got really tough at work, I thought about going back to school. Even now, most of my backup plans consist of me going back to school.
Having some semblance of control over your life is important. I think that’s what most of us want – some level of control and autonomy over our lives. That doesn’t mean doing anything we want anytime we want.
But if I want to do something during the day, I want to feel like I can do it without having someone yell at me for not being at my desk.
Long-Term Goals, Long Vacations, And Assignments With End Dates
One thing that always frustrated me about the working world was how things never seemed to end. You’d get an assignment, finish it up, and then immediately have something else to work on. I felt like I was running in place.
I’m pretty good at grinding through things. In college, I could grind through final exams, working 12 hours a day for weeks if I had to. And in my first year of law school, I worked 12 or more hours per day, every day, for an entire semester. What made the grinding possible was knowing that there was an end date. I’d finish up exams or get through a semester, and I’d know that I would have a month off to do my own thing.
Things weren’t like that when I started working at a regular job. No matter what I did, I knew that something else would be waiting for me. You can grit and grind through anything for a while. But grinding through things forever isn’t something that people should do. I know I couldn’t do it.
Students have long-term assignments and long-term goals. There are end dates. It’s all well-defined. Financial independence seems to be similar. You create your own goals and projects. Sometimes you’ll need to grind through things. But when you want to stop, you get to stop.
Not Getting Hassled By Bosses
By far the thing I’ve always hated most about working a regular corporate job was getting hassled by superiors. It’s not a failing on my bosses or that I had bad bosses or anything – it’s really more about me and how I like to work.
I’ve always been an independent worker. I think that’s why school worked well for me. School gives you assignments with long deadlines and general guidelines to follow. But after you get your assignment, there really isn’t much oversight from anyone. You know when it’s due. And you need to get things done by then (of course, this freedom usually meant getting assignments done the night before it was due).
The bane of work for me was the update meeting. Every job I had, I’d have chunks of my day where I needed to give updates about what I was doing. I get why you have to do this. In an organization, you have a lot of moving parts and people need to know what other people are doing and where they are.
But that wasn’t for me. I just wanted work to be like the way school was. Give me something to do, tell me when I need to do it by, and I’ll go do it.
The best thing about financial independence has to be the fact that no one controls you and no one can hassle you. Student life doesn’t seem so different. There’s some hassling. But for the most part, you’re doing your thing, on your time.
In many ways, the benefits and aims of financial independence aren’t that far off from what it’s like to be a student. It’s not the same, of course. Someone that’s financially independent has money. Someone in school is likely broke.
But both people have more time on their hands compared to most. They both are hopefully using their time to improve themselves and learn new things. And importantly, they both have time that they get to control – at least to a greater extent than most people.
FI for the People says
Oh, man. I feel you when you say that “The bane of work for me was the update meeting.” Like you, I get why organizations have them, but as someone who, without fail, gets assignments done on time and in as good of shape as possible, I all but completely resent having to have to take the time to prepare for and participate in those meetings and to experience the accompanying stress of them (even when i’m not the person being interrogated). And that’s to say nothing of the excruciatingly tedious nature of these meetings when they’re group meetings. I’d love it if the prevailing practice for businesses was that one’s solid, good track record gave one a sort of “get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Financial Panther says
For me, it’s just stressful having to tell people what I’m doing. I know it needs to be done, but the anxiety kills me.
David @ Filled With Money says
In some ways.. You could actually look at financial independence as a way to get back to school and work on whatever projects you want to whenever you want to.
To those people who think FIRE people will be bored with retiring early… Well… It’s no different from going back to college!
Financial Panther says
In my state, you can take college classes at out state university for $10 per credit if you’re over 60 years old. That’s something I’d definitely do in the future.
Impersonal Finances says
There is a little nostalgia to being so openly, unabashedly poor in college. I’ll never have the same value for a dollar as I did in those days. But, you’re right, retirement provides all the same perks, with the added bonus of actually being able to spend money on enjoyable activities.
Financial Panther says
It’s kind of nice – no one’s judging you. Just do your thing. It’s why I think paying off debt and saving towards Coast FIRE level is easier when you’re younger. You can live on nothing and there aren’t a ton of expectations on you yet. Once you get older, start having kids, a better career, etc, it gets harder to live like you’re a student.
Mrs. FCB @financialchainbreakers says
Great analogy. When I was in school, I was able to make time for all sorts of hobbies and projects. Then the structure of the traditional workday made those things a lot harder to do. I’ve resented it ever since!