I’m looking forward to going to a festival this weekend without worrying about work. In previous years at festivals, I dreaded getting a call from the office when in no state to deal with it. This got me thinking (again!) how strange it is that some people have enough to quit, yet continue to work demanding jobs that they don’t love…or even like. I know, its crazy!
Some people don’t even realise they are already financially independent because they haven’t heard of the concept and have no idea how much is enough. Others have heard about FI but are worried. They may read about FI endlessly, hanging around forums and blogs like this. They have read about the safe withdrawal rate and run the simulations. They have more than 25x their annual spending. But they never pull the trigger because they are trapped by fear and existing habits.
I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad. The Escape Artist does not believe in FI-shaming. Its just that I’ve been through the same emotions and thought processes, so it seems a shame to let the learning points go to waste.
Quitting work is a bit like jumping off a cliff. To illustrate, watch the short (2 mins) film clip below. If you are at work, The Man may use his IT lackeys to block your access. So watch it at home in all its multi-media splendour.
In the clip, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid find themselves in a spot where their freedom and survival are at stake. They’re forced to make a tough decision quickly. The situation seems hopeless but if they can use creativity and overcome their fear, there may be a way out.
Note how incredibly easy we FI-seekers have things in comparison. In getting to financial independence, there is plenty of time, no real cliffs to be jumped off and no risk of being crushed on the rocks. This is another example of how life is not at all hard for most of us these days. But we all still have to face the unknown at some point.
Cassidy and Sundance expertly demonstrate several techniques of good decision-making in order to address the reality of their situation, overcome fear and escape successfully. Let’s walk through how they do it.
Acknowledge reality…then work through your emotional reaction
When Cassidy and Sundance first see the cliff edge, they experience fear and an emotional reaction.
The guys are realists. They know that the pursuers and the drop can’t be ignored. Gravity is a fundamental reality in the same way that we can only invest what we don’t spend.
Once they have addressed the reality of the situation, the guys acknowledge their fear and start to process their emotional reaction. Sundance swears: Dammit!
It is no bad thing to give voice to your emotions. As you may have noticed, The Escape Artist thinks swearing can be an useful tool. Unless you are a robot, you can’t always suppress your emotions and stay healthy. Its good to acknowledge your emotions, examine them and ask whether they are helping or hindering you in any situation.
Get space to think
Cassidy and Sundance walk back from the cliff edge to shelter behind a rock face, providing protection from their pursuer’s line of fire and from the drop itself.
Once you have got your emotional reaction out of the way, its time to think rationally. This means engaging our capacity for analytical logic as well as creativity. But to do this, we need time and space to think. This means not just physical space but also head space.
So don’t waste weekends and holidays just healing from your job or following other people’s agenda. Instead use the time to think and plan. You could try turning off the TV and the news media because that shit is taking up valuable head space and mental “hard drive” capacity.
Define the problem
In the clip the problem is defined visually by a shot of the drop and then cutting to pictures of the attackers closing in. Cassidy and Sundance do not need to waste words, time or energy on stating the obvious.
But often in life, we need to spend more time explicitly defining the problem. This involves setting specific objectives and identifying constraints. If you define any of these incorrectly, you may end up making bad choices.
Examine the options
Butch: “The way I figure it, we can either fight or give…if we give, we go to jail”
Sundance: “I’ve been there (jail) already”
Cassidy kicks off by setting out the obvious choices. Sundance rules out living the rest of your life in prison as an unacceptable option for free men. Sundance lives by his beliefs and one of those beliefs is that its better to die on your feet then live on your knees. Remember how the film ends?
The rejection of living life in prison prompts Butch to think harder. He put himself into the shoes of the attackers. This is a good example of getting a new perspective on a problem. Its like anticipating what your opponent will do next in chess. This process reveals that the pursuers have the advantages; the high ground and the ability to snipe or trigger a rockslide.
Focus on what you can control
Butch: “Kid, the next time I say lets go someplace like Bolivia, let’s go someplace like Bolivia”
Sundance: “Next time”
Butch notes the learning points from the current situation and resolves to do better next time. Note how Sundance does not lash out at Butch’s implied criticism. He acknowledges that Butch is making a valid point but also reminds Butch that that is not the key issue right now. By doing so, Sundance brings the focus back to what they can control here and now. No time is wasted on sunk costs…what has happened in the past has happened.
Butch: “We’ll jump…it’ll be OK…if the water’s deep enough”
Here, Butch successfully demonstrates brainstorming. Remember there are no bad ideas during brainstorming, however outlandish they may initially seem. The point is to get new ideas and new options on the table. The jump idea challenges Sundance’s existing world view and his limiting belief that he can’t swim…so he pushes back. But note his reluctance to explain why. Butch has to keep probing to get to the truth (see below).
The trick is not to get over-whelmed by knee-jerk negativity but to become an idea machine and allow your creativity to flourish.
Make a decision
Butch “Well, we got to (jump) or we are dead…come on”
Butch: “What’s the matter with you?”
Sundance: “I can’t swim”
Butch: “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya!”
Having identified and analysed all the available options. Butch makes a decision to jump. Note that Butch is not superhuman, crazy or immune from fear. He is rational. He understands and acknowledges the risks involved in jumping. Its just that the risks in not jumping are greater. Sometimes inaction is the most dangerous path.
Note how the guys use humour and teasing to communicate and achieve the common objective of getting over the cliff. This brings us to the final point which is to use peer support.
Use peer support
Cassidy and Sundance go off the cliff together. Not holding hands (that might have seemed insufficiently heterosexual….he’s called Butch for a reason) but rather both holding a belt. This represents emotional connection. The guys are supporting each other.
Butch shows that he is prepared to jump first and jump alone if necessary. Although the two men are peers and are equals, Butch is the older and the more experienced of the 2 men. Sundance is scared to jump but reluctantly realises that Butch is probably right.
Sundance must decide whether Butch is someone he should follow. To do so, he sensibly uses The Principles of Lifehacking as his guide. There are 3 questions. Firstly: has Butch got more experience than him? Answer: yes, Butch has the grey hair and Sundance is called the Kid.
Second: has Butch laid out an intellectually coherent case? Answer: yes, they have aired the issues, heard the objections and Cassidy’s rational argument has prevailed.
Third: does Butch have interests that are aligned with Sundance? Answer: yes, they are on the same side and Butch has plenty of “skin in the game” in this situation. If the decision to jump is a bad one, they will both suffer the consequences.
Once the decision has been made, Sundance does not waste time and allow inertia to cripple him. He quickly heads for the edge, jumps and our heroes escape to freedom.
I know what you may be thinking. If only you can do one more year, save an extra £X,000 then you will feel safe and you can then quit easily without any fear. Well, I’ve got news for you. For most people reaching FI, stopping work will always feel like jumping off a cliff. It certainly did for me. But, almost a year on, I am still alive and pleased to report that the jump is way less scary than it looks.
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