Author: Mike @ Freedom101
As early as I can remember adults would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I understandably had no idea how I wanted to serve my life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25-35 years, so I would often structure my response in the form of a question: “Who makes the most money?”
I’ve always had this fascination with money and how it equated to freedom. From a young age I recognized that once I had enough money I could essentially do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. The epitome of a self centered borderline millennial.
My Mother made it work amazingly well as a single parent for a good chunk of my youth and balanced finance with living your life and enjoying it in the now. When I was a teenager she brought me to a very intelligent Investment Advisor named Grant Mitchell (Thanks for that Mom).
I recall cornering Mr. Mitchell at one point during the meeting. I asked him if I would have one million dollars by the time I was sixty-five if I saved $100 per month. Without an absolute assurance, he reluctantly agreed that it was very likely. That’s all I needed to hear.
You see at the time one million dollars bought more than a down payment for a house in Vancouver (I had yet to learn about inflation), and it sounded like all the money in the world to me.
Regardless, I walked away from the meeting absolutely convinced that I would one day be wealthy. I often relay this piece of advice to our nine-year old son: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. I immediately believed I could and never stopped believing.
Mr. Mitchell currently sits as an independent Canadian Senator and probably doesn’t remember the meeting, but I do.
My Father taught me the value in owing zero debt to anyone, for anything, for any reason, ever (Thanks Dad). Always pay your debts, delay gratification, and pay down your mortgage whenever you have the opportunity, live within your means, were staples that were often repeated to me while growing up.
Paying off our large Vancouver-area mortgage in less than five years was arguably the biggest accomplishment that led Phia and I to retirement before our 35thbirthdays.
Neither of my parents were what you would consider wealthy but Warren Buffet would still argue that I hit the ovarian lottery, and I would agree.
I went on to hit another lottery when I found Phia. If you’ve been reading this blog I don’t need to explain to you that she very quickly becomes exceptional with whatever it is she decides to do. One plus one has always equaled three in our case. Picking your spouse is likely the most important financial decision one can make.
All that said, for 25ish years of my life I had an intense focus around money, which I continued to associate to true freedom as I aged.
So why did I spend my first year of retirement unhappy with myself? Why did I all of a sudden feel lost with a lack of purpose?
Without realizing it, most of my life I had a goal and once I achieved that goal I found myself lying around doing nothing. I spent more time on my phone than ever before, I stopped engaging with friends, I felt sorry for myself and that I had peaked, I found myself angry at silly things like traffic or young folks working cash registers that weren’t quite as efficient as I’d like to see them. Madness.
I got what I like to call skinny-fat (I’ve always had a thin frame but last December the scale read 202.5lbs which equated to a skinny fat guy for my build. You know, long thin arms and legs with a Mr. Potato head type mid-section).
It led me to feeling like being at home was a waste of time and that I should be spending that time accumulating more. To what end? I had no idea and didn’t bother asking myself that question for over a year. I just wanted to do something I was good at again.
I found that my previous career experience didn’t translate well to other high paying jobs. I was conflicted because I didn’t want another high paying job anyway but felt I should be searching. Like I was wasting time not earning more income.
I spent days scouring the Craigslist job section perusing job after job that I either wasn’t qualified for or had zero interest in. I felt like I was 18 years old again and had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
My big mistake was actually quite simple, as they often are. I continued to focus on money after leaving my job when I no longer had a need to. It was all I knew how to do other than my job, which I had just walked away from.
My brain pathways had been programmed to do my job, accumulate, save, and invest. I did it really well for more than a decade. I couldn’t turn it off. So when the first two programmed steps suddenly stopped (‘Do my job’ and ‘Accumulate’) I found myself very unhappy even though we were still saving and investing every month. Worse I felt I had no reason to be unhappy. No excuses. I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do and I felt I should have been happier than ever. But I didn’t do one of the things I normally do best: plan ahead.
How could I miss something so obvious? I believe it happens more frequently than people realize. It’s why we see people work for 40 years, retire, and then die within the first few years of their freedom. Or people retire only to return to a less meaningful or impactful job a few months later because they were bored.
I, along with countless others, lost my purpose after retiring and I failed to transition to a new purpose.
My wonderful wife transitioned seemlessly and was finding her purpose with our newest son. She seemed to excel and enjoy almost everything she did around the house. Along with this blog she routinely tasked herself with a long to-do list. I felt like I was in the way most days and I have no doubt she would tell you that I was.
Why was it so easy for her and so difficult for me? Well first off, it wasn’t easy for her. It was an adjustment that she took on while standing tall and with her shoulders back. Phia went out into the world and challenged herself with new experiences. She battled through them until she became proficient at them and tried to enjoy the process. She lived beyond her job.
All the while I excelled at Fantasy Hockey (winning back-to-back-to-back Championships, I might add), while my opponents were stuck at work not realizing how insanely competitive I can be (something I’m working on…). Needless to say it left me with the sinking feeling of ‘I should be doing more with my life’.
From my own personal experience women are generally just better people than men and generally better at life. They are more mature, less selfish, kind, have better perspective, and the list goes on for quite a while. Your experience may be different than mine, but you probably haven’t met the women in my life.
So, what changed for me? I started to think less about money. Even though I already knew this in my head and had read about it countless times, it was like I had this crazy epiphany. I slowly started to realize that I had positioned myself not to have to worry about money aymore. So I consciously stopped thinking about money.
I realized that worry was part of what was driving me to accumulate. I started to practise gratitude for no longer having that worry and continued with the gratitude habit in some form everyday.
I can be extremely focused when I decide to be, but I often find deciding to be the toughest part. So, I stood up and put my shoulders back. I faced the world with my new found drive and decided to focus on something and make it my new purpose. What better place to start than general health?
In hopes of feeling better I voraciously consumed information around a ketogenic diet. It led me to new areas that I’d never truly explored like pain management, meditation, sleep habits, and cold therapy. You want to feel alive? Stand under a cold shower for six minutes in the morning and I guarantee you’ll feel alive both when that cold water hits you and the second you turn it off (just remember to breathe).
One health idea snowballed into several and I’ve found myself overwhelmed with information in a very positive and exciting way. Feelings I hadn’t expereienced for some time.
I began my newly found practises by committing to 90 days of trial with a reassessment to follow. We just passed the halfway point and so far so good – I’ve lost 20lbs and a few inches off my waist, but more importantly I feel better.
A wonderful side effect is that it is positively impacting the people closest to me. Phia has fully jumped on board with the Ketogenic food-plan and sleep routines. She has prepared several amazingly creative and delicious vegetarian-keto-friendly dishes. My son’s are partaking in both the breathing exercises and the cold therapy. I’m running more with friends and rebuilding relationships. I’m writing more and enjoying the process. My purpose has been redefined and it feels great.
Even if you’re not retired, or planning to retire anytime soon, you can still commit to something that improves your life and do it every day.
Habits are extremely powerful and it can take 50-70 days for the average person to form one. Assume you are below average in this area, like I do, and commit to it for 90 days. Do it everyday.
That way you can make sure it actually becomes a habit. You will amaze yourself with accomplishment and find that the discipline can build on itself. Similar to interest, one good habit can compound into several very quickly.
Good health is remarkably similar to good finance. They’re both quite simple really, but not always easy. Both are driven by good habits.
Of course, your renewed purpose in retirement (or life in general) doesn’t have to mimick mine. But plan ahead and avoid the same mistake I made. If you’re struggling to find a new or renewed purpose, good health is a great place to start.
Hi Mike—it was so nice to read a post from you! It’s helpful for me to get a glimpse of the transition into post-FI life.
While I’m essentially living the FI life as a SAHM, my husband will have a big transition once he stops working. (And as you and Phia experienced, I’ll also have a transition since he’ll suddenly be around a whole lot more!)
This is yet another reminder that we should all think about what’ll bring our lives meaning BEFORE we reach FI. While I’m sure it’ll still be a bit bumpy, being prepared can only help.
Thanks for sharing your story. I hope to read more of your posts in the future!
Hey Mike, interesting to hear what you went through during the first year post FI. I can relate to the struggle in finding direction. Although I’m not quite FI, I have been putting a lot of thought into what comes ‘next’. Or for that matter, what comes now that I want to continue into FI. I think finding new subjects and challenges that suck up all that intense focus is definitely the key. Looking forward to more of your writing.