When I first discovered the concept of early retirement, I thought it was the solution to lasting happiness and bliss.
The idea is simple: save up enough money over the course of 10 to 15 years so that you can live purely off investment returns/dividends, and never need to work again.
I hated the idea of working 40 hours per week in a cube for 40 years doing work I found pointless, so stacking up enough savings to never need a traditional office job again seemed like a great idea.
The more I researched this idea, though, the more surprising results I found. As I consumed books, articles, podcasts, and videos by people who had actually quit the rat race at a young age, I noticed a trend: each of these people experienced a void in their life.
The same pattern kept popping up: people would achieve the financial means to quit their day job, then travel for a couple weeks or months…then get bored.
The reason is because humans adapt quickly. The most obvious example of this is hedonic adaptation: as one increases their income, they tend to inflate their lifestyle more and more, yet remain roughly at the same happiness level.
This is because everything becomes normal over time. The new house, watch, phone, and car all become quite ordinary after a while. Even constant travel and leisure becomes mundane quicker than one might think.
The solution, in nearly every case, was for these people to pursue work they found fulfilling – starting a business, an agency, a blog, a podcast, building a product, etc. – that used their unique skillset to help others and ironically help them earn income at the same time.
When you have something to work on, to build, and to create, you suddenly kill the void. You have a reason to get out of bed each morning and do work that you find meaningful and that makes a positive impact on other people.
It turns out that work is also correlated with longevity. In a fascinating study on retirement, researchers found that retirees were 51% more likely to have died than their counterparts who continued working, and a 5-year increase in the retirement age was linked with a 10% decrease in all-cause mortality.
As anecdotal evidence, just look at anyone in their 80s or 90s who continues to work full-time like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, or Jiro Ono – it’s not about the money for them, it’s about doing work they love.
If you’ve never heard of Jiro Ono, I encourage you to watch the Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Check out the trailer below:
Doing Work on Your Terms
The path to a good life doesn’t involve quitting work entirely, but rather finding fulfilling work that you can do on your terms.
Personally I don’t hate the actual work I do as a data scientist at my day job. I do, however, hate the environment that this work is wrapped in.
I don’t enjoy commuting, attending pointless meetings, going through performance reviews, dealing with office politics, or being expected to sit in a certain spot in a certain building for eight hours each day.
If I was instead able to work on data analytics and visualizations for projects I find meaningful and during hours that I choose, I’d be much happier.
Related: I enjoyed statistics so much that I decided to start my own site Statology that teaches students various statistics concepts. Because this was a project that I decided to undertake on my own time and had no restrictions or deadlines, it was extremely fun to build despite the fact that it took several months.
I believe many people share this sentiment. It’s not the work we hate, it’s the environment that the work is wrapped in.
In general, the 9-5 schedule is outdated and unnatural. Office environments are not conducive to most types of work. From many people I’ve talked to, a common trend I notice is that most people are actually happy to work several hours per day, but only on work they find meaningful and only on a schedule that is flexible.
The Role of Financial Independence
Of course, the best way to obtain the freedom necessary to do work you enjoy on your own terms is to attain some level of financial independence.
This is the path I’m currently on myself. I’ve managed to save about $120k over the past 2.5 years.
My original goal when I first started was to save $1 million and never work again. Now, my goal is to save $250k – $350k and build up my income streams outside of my day job to a point where they consistently cover my monthly expenses.
In the last few months, these income streams have covered 50-75% of my monthly expenses, so I’m getting close to hitting this target.
For me, meaningful work is blogging and creating websites. Once I do quit my day job, though, I suspect that I’ll discover more work I enjoy doing once I have complete freedom over my time to experiment with different types of work.
I suspect that this is an additional benefit of not having a traditional job – you actually have space to experiment and tinker with different project ideas, which could turn into unexpected income streams.
Finding Fulfilling Work
If you’re on the path to financial independence, I encourage you to start thinking about finding fulfilling work rather than attempting to hit some net worth number and never work again.
More than likely, once you start experimenting with different types of work, you’ll find that you can earn at least some income doing something you enjoy.
This means that you could actually quit your day job before you’re completely financially independent since you won’t rely completely on investment returns and dividends to support your lifestyle.
I’ll leave you with three quotes from three incredible thinkers that emphasize the role that work plays in a meaningful life:
“We act as though comfort and luxury are the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about” – Albert Einstein
“What humans need and want isn’t a complete release of tension and responsibility, but the pursuit of a worthwhile goal that they chose freely.” – Viktor Frankl
“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” – Richard Feynman