A reader emailed me this question:
I would be interested in what you did – just quit and stop working one day? Go part time first?
How easy/hard was it to actually do it when you realised you could?
The short answer is this: When I think about all the shit I put up with over 22 years in the Prison Camp, quitting my corporate job was EASY.
But it’s an interesting question that deserves a fuller answer. Lets break down the transition down into phases:
1 : The Oyster and the Pearl
Getting to financial independence is a bit like an oyster growing a pearl. Firstly, its pretty rare. Second, it takes time. Third it requires some grit. The grit can be a mixture of positive factors (talent, creativity, resilience) and negative (e.g. disliking your job / commute / lifestyle).
I’d like to say that the accumulation phase was all flowers and positive thinking but in truth fear (of poverty) and greed (money represented security and status to me) provided much of my motivation. This provided much of the energy that I channelled whilst earning, saving and investing.
The hard bit is holding down a well-paid job and not succumbing to the temptations of lifestyle inflation. By comparison the transition to life “outside” is relatively easy….provided that you open your mind and stay flexible.
2 : The Lightbulb
There comes a point at which you stop blindly groping in the dark dungeon of consumer society and the lightbulb of financial independence comes on. You then see the world as it is, rather than as adverts portray it.
In October 2013 I discovered the Mr Money Mustache site via Monevator. This was when I realised that the stuff I had been thinking about for 20 years was not just my random hallucinations, there was an actual thing called financial independence.
The beast had a name…and once it had been named it could be visualised. Once it could be visualised, it could be re-created. Other people had made it out, so why couldn’t I?
From that point on, I judged everything by whether it was consistent with my objective of financial independence. Every action was either taking me closer or it was not. I focussed on the former and cut out the latter.
I devoured financial independence websites. But reading alone was not enough. I immersed myself in the ideas of FI by listening to the Mad Fientist podcasts – interviews with people like Mr Money Mustache, Jim Collins and many others.
I filled my long commute this way and it was therapeutic – like hearing sane voices in bedlam. I listened with a notebook and wrote down ideas for things to try, books to read and experiments to undertake.
3: How much is enough?
The short answer to this question is that an invested net worth of 25x your annual spending is probably enough.
This means that no matter how rich you are if you don’t know what your spending is, then you will never know how much is enough.
You need to follow the money. I spent a period of several months tracking every single pound that went out of our bank account. It became a game to see if I could get it lower each month. The process of observation changes the behaviour of the phenomenum being observed.
4: Preparing to quit
By November 2013, I realised that I had probably already had “enough”.
This information was hard to process immediately…it seemed too good to be true. Surely I must have overlooked something? Maybe there was an error in my spreadsheet? Had I fully considered all future liabilities?
This is where some parents can fall into the trap of assuming that they have to fund their childrens first flat, polo ponies or whatever. The phrase “I want the best for my children” sounds laudable if you don’t think about it too hard. But you risk crippling their independence with economic outpatient care. And your kids are not gonna thank you for killing yourself on their behalf.
Once I realised we had enough, I braced myself to speak to my wife and tell her I intended to quit. Had she signed up for a Walking Wallet? Would she now turn around and tell me, Apprentice style, that I was fired?
The fact that I had stacked shelves in supermarkets and worked in factories as a student was a great source of mental strength for me here. In a worst case scenario, I’d lived like that before and I could do it again. Like Gloria Gaynor, I knew I’d survive.
To my wife’s eternal credit, when I told her that I was quitting and didn’t intend to get another “serious” job, she just calmly said fine. I had talked about quitting for years and she probably assumed I didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Now we’d see if I was all talk or not.
I don’t want to disappoint any readers but I did not walk straight in to my bosses office and tell him where to stuff his lousy job. This was partly because he is a decent guy. More to the point, I needed to wait for my bonus in March. Not that it was particularly big, but The Escape Artist does not leave free money on the table when offered it by The Man.
I used to have a whiteboard in my office and each day I wrote up on the board the number of days left until bonus day: 7 March 2014. Rubbing out yesterday’s number n and writing up n-1 was often the highlight of my day.
The act of quitting feels uncomfortable. You are always taking a leap into the unknown – like jumping into water from a high cliff. You are pretty sure its deep enough and you can swim…but there is only one way to find out for sure.
5. The notice period
After I quit, I had a notice period of a few months which provided a gentle run in towards the finish line. In this period, I worked standard office hours but still worked late where needed on client projects….old habits die hard.
Ironically the job became much more bearable in those last months. The relationship evened up so it was no longer like that between Feudal Lord (employer) and Serf (me) but more like an agreement between consenting adults. I started to relax and to treat the job like it was just a job…rather than a crusade by which I would single-handedly save capitalism.
I started this blog in May 2014….I found the process of writing cathartic. A bit like therapy, only cheaper and with more humour. The process has encouraged me to be much more open, not only on the blog but also in real life. I now practice radical honesty which people either find refreshing or a bit unnerving. I’m fine either way.
6: Total freedom
Having spent 22 years in the Prison Camp building a stash that would mean I would (hopefully) never need to work again, the actual gap between my last pay cheque from my employer and my first income from coaching was 4 days. Can you see how ironic this is?
This is why I don’t participate in competitive pessimism on safe withdrawal rates. The idea that you, as an intelligent and motivated person who has achieved FI, are never going to be able to earn any money ever again is
fucking ridiculous very conservative.
I have even done some contracting work for my former employer since I left. At this point, you may be thinking of calling the Internet Retirement Police. But this is not cheating – financial independence is the end of forced work – not the end of all work.
I did have the odd moment when I felt slightly disorientated by the prospect of total freedom. We get so used to having guards and routine in the Prison Camp. When you are FI you have to be comfortable with spending time with yourself and thinking consciously about your choices. Some people continue with their job because they are scared of spending this time with themselves, dealing with their emotional shit. They use work as a distraction from introspection, scared by what they might find.
My sense of humour and creativity had almost disappeared in the Prison Camp, crushed by stress and routine. When creativity re-appears, fun things start to happen. This weekend I was out walking in a local RSPB nature reserve with my two boys. We passed the time with rap battles. This would never have happened whilst I was in the Prison Camp.
7: New challenges
Its all about the journey and not just the destination. I am planning new challenges that will broaden me out and stop me from becoming a stereotypical retired person playing golf, watching Jeremy Kyle on daytime TV and waiting to die (probably a relief after watching Jeremy Kyle).
For example, I am planning some cycling challenges for spring next year when I plan to cycle up Mont Ventoux in Provence and the Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees and maybe do Lands End to John O’ Groats. I also want to spend more of my time outdoors so I’ve volunteered for a nature conservation charity.
My plans are still a bit half baked but, as they rise and firm up in The Escape Artist’s Ideas Oven, I will share them with you on this site…
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