An’ live off the fatta the lan’

Since I started pursuing early retirement I have continued in my full time job, but with an ever increasing desire for financial freedom. So much so that I check my investment accounts more often than I should and regularly dream about a day where I can just do whatever I like without any accountability. This is a tempting dream that I imagine many of us fall into.

Otium liberale

I have thought about the idea of otium for some time, and of a simple life of slowing down. I imagine this would be more of a contemplative pursuit; reading, writing and studying philosophy without having to deal with the demands of a job, which is really a huge time vacuum and for many of us can suck the enjoyment out of every day. Until you get home, then you have a discrete window of time available to do the other jobs of the day – tidying, cleaning, looking after kids. For the time being I have pseudo side-job which brings in extra money each month, which has turned out to be a hobby but it is also a means to an end. To really reach a point where otium could be a reality, I’ve probably got a fair way to go.

To raise enough money to declare yourself financially free is no mean feat. The vast majority of people get nowhere near it, even in the richest parts of the world. Without a healthy inheritance or a lottery win, the conventional early retirement advice for most people is to save a high percentage of their salary for a long time. High earners get away with a shorter sentence, but for most of us it’s still typically > 10 years. This is too long for us to really imagine as reality and so it’s likely that many of us fall into dreaming about the future in a favourable light.

Consistent Action in a Single Direction

The biggest obstacle to early retirement is either quitting early or becoming too obsessed with it that the rest of your life suffers. Our minds find it difficult to reconcile the disconnection between the money you have now and the money you deem to be enough to carry you through your retirement. This isn’t removed even once you’ve learned about the power of compound interest and you’ve read enough forum entries that it almost all seems possible. It turns out we are useless at predicting the future, and if we do, these predictions are almost always more positive than they turn out to be. Real life is messy and can get in the way.

What I tend to do is hover between two states – either I believe I’m never going to make it and focus on the long slog and how far away it seems, or I tend skip straight to the end, when I have several million pounds in the bank and I don’t have to work. Both are not good – we are designed to look for imperfections or potential traps that could endanger us, so for me at least, imagining and enjoying the exponential growth of my wealth seems alien. On the other hand imagining a perfect future is pure escapism on my behalf.

The Fat of The Land

If the future you imagine is better than what you have, then by definition you are not happy in some part with what you have now. You can come to terms with this or you can carry on imagining a future where your life will some day be better, like George repeatedly comforts Lennie with in the classic ‘Of Mice and Men’.

“O.K. Someday- we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and-”

“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted.

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

The problem is that this level of thinking has got you to this point in the first place. The fact that you have dreamed it and have a solid plan for executing this dream has elevated you to ‘above-average’ in this context. You know what needs to be done and you are doing it. But there is nothing more you can do, because the plan is so simple. You can mess around with your investment strategy but really it is eclipsed by the impact of how much money you can save right now.

Practice of otium

In the ancient world an early retirement (or any retirement!) have been a privilege and would be compatible with the idea of otium, or a withdrawal from public affairs to pursue a more contemplative life. Contemplation is a difficult thing to do when you have kids and a full time job, but there are little areas of the day in which you can give some thought to why you want to do this, and frequently reminding yourself that you are taking action. Below are some ideas of what I would class as positive and negative behaviour towards this; of course there is no right or wrong and you can tailor it to your personality type.

Positive actions:

  • Learning philosophy, understanding different ways to look at the world and deciding for yourself what is worth working towards.
  • Looking at charts to make sure you are on track (monthly)
  • Setting yearly goals, but not being disturbed if you don’t hit them
  • Earning money on the side where possible
  • Reminding yourself that even by putting some effort into your retirement planning you are far ahead of most people.
  • Helping others that have discovered an interest in early retirement and pointing them in the right direction.

Negative actions:

  • Looking at your investment balance every day – I am guilty of this but it really makes no difference.
  • Talking too much about FI/RE to others – they probably don’t want to hear it and it will probably either make them feel inadequate or like you are boasting.
  • Thinking that you are better than others because you’ve discovered this idea that no-one else knows and you therefore think you deserve it more.
  • Don’t think that suddenly everything will become better once you are retired, as this is simply escapism.
There is no leisure for slaves

The hard reality is that some level of sacrifice (and living of life) is needed to achieve early retirement and for some this is difficult to come to terms with. Very few people get the privilege of everything handed to them on a plate or a huge inheritance, and do we really want to be one of those people anyway, given the many stories we’ve heard of how it corrupts people?

In Politics, Aristotle argues that “the necessaries of life have to be supplied before we can have leisure”, and points out that courage and endurance are key qualities that are required for both business and leisure. He also states that ‘leisure is necessary both for the development of virtue and the performance of political duties’.

This is more in line with the ethos in the early retirement community, particularly summed up by Mr Money Mustache with his line ‘work is better when you don’t need the money’.1

If you manage to find a meaning for your job outside of work, then you might as well be retired any way. Financial independence will just give you more time to work on it.

References

1. Mr Money Mustache – Full Talk at WDS 2016

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