Simple Dollar reader Jennifer pointed me toward this discussion thread on LinkedIn, in which a big group of people are complaining about the idea of financial independence.
The discussion starts off with this:
Anyone else disagree with the constant “retire early” mindset? This dominates the retirement media newsfeed. No, I don’t want to clip coupons to retire at 35 so that I can worry about my $500 monthly budget while living in a van. I want to have a long career facing steep challenges, impossible odds, business turnarounds, success, failure, and the inbetweens. I’m invested in my career and I don’t see it as a quick meal ticket.
And here are a few key responses:
I don’t get this absurd fascination with “retire early” either. If you are passionate about what you do, then why would you consider retiring early? If you’re not passionate, then maybe you need a career change. Bailing out in 30s-40s really hurts you because you are just getting into prime earning years, which hurts your potential savings and your social security contributions. Not to mention that early 30s is when most people start families and how can you support a family if you take the early retirement approach? Unless you get in early on an IPO and can walk away at 35 a multi millionaire, which is extremely rare, why would you subject yourself to a life of penny pinching and coupon clipping?
What if everyone retired early? Who is going to turn the lights on, pick up the trash, run the factories? I’d argue that early retirement (without finding another job of some sort) is selfish. You need to trust that the people next to you are carrying their weight. “Drink from the well, replenish the well.”
When you have the chance to do more why in any way you want to settle for less. You’ve been living in the same cocoon the whole life and now when you have the chance to explore and actually do something really good for your future, why do you want to settle for less. The kind of thrill, knowledge and wisdom one can get is amazing. And this gonna lead to nothing but unhealthy and obese people because when you have nothing to do with your life you just sit and eat.
What I see in each of these messages is someone who has different life goals than I do. Their life goals seem very oriented toward their careers, particularly in terms of rising to some level on their career path. In the third message, there’s even a hint that society should expect everyone to follow this path.
Here’s the issue, though: not everyone has the same goals in life.
Many of the people in that discussion view a lifelong career path as a goal they hold extremely dear to their hearts, but a lifelong career path isn’t really a goal that I have for myself.
For a while, I tried to follow a career path in a research field and it led either right to a management situation, which I wasn’t interested in, or into doing very repetitive maintenance work, which I also wasn’t interested in. I realized this and switched careers.
For a while after that, I tried to be an “online entrepreneur” and a bit of a “financial guru,” but I found I didn’t like that, either. Again, I was moving straight toward managing people and away from creative work that I enjoyed doing and conversations with people I could help.
I looked ahead at my future and I saw that if I followed a “career path,” I was going to end up places I was unhappy with. I love my work, but I work to live, not live to work. I have many other goals in life that don’t involve my career at all.
I want to be a good, involved father for my children. That role will change as they grow up, but I want to be a valuable father figure and mentor for as long as they need me.
I want to be a great husband for Sarah. I want to have her close every day of my life and enjoy as many life experiences as I can with her by my side.
I want to learn how to do countless things. Learning new things has been something that has made me feel deeply alive for many, many years.
I can make an extremely long list of other things I want to do, from hiking the Appalachian Trail to doing charitable work, from writing a novel to going to meditation retreats, from playing in a bluegrass band to spending more than a week camping and hiking in every national park, from launching and organizing a local tabletop gaming convention to running for the state Senate.
Those are all things that I would like to achieve in the future years of my life, probably in the next 20 years or so.
At the same time, I don’t want to spend those years of my life bolted to a smartphone and focused on workplace politics and making products no one really wants while convincing them that they do. In short, I want to reach a point where money is not a consideration at all in terms of how I spend my time. Given that most of the things I want to do with my time aren’t incredibly expensive things, saving as much money as I can at an earlier time in my career where my focus is on parenting and many of the other options aren’t on the table mostly due to parenting enables me to no longer have to work for money later on when I don’t have the same commitments to parenting.
In short, when our youngest child walks out the door, I want to be financially prepared to no longer have to work and to start doing all of those other things I want to do with my life without a need to continue to work for money.
That’s really the end of the story when it comes to my reasons for seeking financial independence. The idea that I’m aiming “to clip coupons to retire at 35 so that I can worry about my $500 monthly budget while living in a van” is ludicrous. Someone who advocates coupon clipping as a frontline strategy for retiring early has a warped picture of what early retirement is, as is someone who visualizes a $500 monthly budget – I’m aiming for an annual budget similar to what Sarah and I would spend alone if we didn’t have kids so that our fundamental lifestyle doesn’t change.
What it comes down to is this: different people have different goals in life. Sarah and I have life goals that aren’t career-focused. Other people do have life goals that are mostly career-focused, and that’s okay. Some people find their calling and purpose in life through their career path, and others find their calling and purpose elsewhere. What matters is that you find your calling, not where you find it.
What about that other claim, the one that implies that people have an economic responsibility to work, earn, and spend? I do have a responsibility to my neighbor, but that responsibility doesn’t come in the form of buying things I don’t want in order to possibly help keep him employed in an extremely indirect way. My responsibility to my neighbor comes from conversations, from giving a helping hand every once in a while, from watching their property to make sure nothing goes awry. I have no moral responsibility to buy things I don’t want or need.
Beyond that, my money is still helping the economy even if I don’t spend it immediately simply because it is invested in something. Almost every financial investment a person can make puts that money to use somewhere in the economy. Using your money to buy things is not the only way to help the economy. Buying things is one way to help certain sectors of the economy, but investing is also a way to help other sectors of the economy.
In the end, don’t let people who have different goals than you chide you or make you feel bad for the goals you have. Your goals are yours and yours alone, not theirs. Similarly, there’s no reason to chide others for having goals different than your own.
What matters is that we have meaningful goals that inform our use of our time and our money in a positive way. That’s true whether you’re highly career oriented or if you’re highly oriented toward retiring early. What matters is that you have a vision of your future, that vision is a positive one, and you’re working toward it in a meaningful fashion.