How to quit your job: The Jump

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.

This is why its important to optimise for the right objective.  The Escape Artist’s objective is happiness.  The potential constraints include not having enough, peer pressure, limiting beliefs etc.

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.

Brainstorm

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”

Sundance: “No”

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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24 comments

  1. AsianExpat · · Reply

    First – great blog, thanks!
    I think one aspect of FIRE that is not discussed enough is that there are many people, including myself, who are already FIRE or able to be FIRE. The problem is that being FIRE can create relationship issues, suddenly after a stable routine of going out to work both have to spend a lot more time together. As a guy I have to say that women spouses may prefer their “man” to be out working while they take care of home issues or indeed go out to work themselves. Of course there are all the usual suggestions of talk about it beforehand etc., but I have not really found a proper solution to this very real problem.
    In my own case it seems to me that the best way is to carry on working, if only part time, to keep some semblance of the man going out to “hunt”, even if there is already plenty of mammoth meat in the freezer!
    Modern society still does not have all the answers to deal with human beings deep needs, developed over thousands of years.

    1. Thanks AsianExpat. This is a common issue so thanks for raising it.

      A FI friend of mine had a great answer to the spouse that didn’t want them to be at home more of the time. They dug out the title deeds to the house (which was registered in both names) and showed it to the spouse….reminding them that the house was owned 50:50….so both of them had an equal right to be in the house during the daytime.

      Once that starting point has been established, the answer is to communicate and negotiate openly and constructively with your spouse rather than running away from the issue. Its not difficult.

      1. Cerridwen · ·

        Some adaptation is usually necessary when one partner retires and the other is still at work. Several of my friends have had to have words with newly retired husbands about not phoning and disturbing them at work when they can’t find something in the house, or need to know something NOW and can’t wait until their spouse comes home.

        My husband has just retired and things are going OK so far but I am trying (gently) to offload some off my Saturday household chores onto him in the hope that he will get them out of the way during the week so that I have more free time too. As you say, it shouldn’t be difficult, but it does require kid gloves at times 🙂

      2. AsianExpat · ·

        Cerridwen, this is also a very good and relevant point. My wife also, understandably, wants me to do more around the house. I am quite happy to do more but I think men need to be sold the idea as we just don’t think some household chores need doing so often! In retirement we can become short of something to strive for or achieve, especially if we were in responsible, achieving, jobs beforehand. I am trying to think of housework as something that through which I can achieve something i.e. a beautifully clean house or a very happy wife etc., but it’s not easy! In any event all retirees need to find something to do to occupy themselves such as a hobby or volunteering or even getting a part time job! I am only six months into my FIRE and WE are still adjusting but retirement should not be seen as stopping work but having the opportunity to do something else that you enjoy, which may in fact be a new job! That something else probably needs to be independent of your partner. In my own case I have a part time job, I study online (lots of interesting free courses out there), I MUST exercise every day, do ancestry research, play soccer at the weekend (veterans sports are becoming more and more popular) and do some housework! There are lots of free resources online to help retirees find something to do but meanwhile I would suggest that your husband reads “Mans Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, an amazing and famous best seller.

  2. Good analogy! We do NOT worry that we will suffer from “one more year” syndrome. We will quit the SECOND we have enough to do so, and in fact are always revisiting our budget to see if we could trim some more and make it happen sooner. We can’t wait to get out of corporate land!

    Have fun at the festival! We go to Coachella every year, so we understand. 🙂

    1. Thanks. I’ve not been to Coachella but I just had a look at the line up…and any festival that includes both AC/DC and Florence and the Machine has got to be worth checking out 🙂

  3. A fantastic and (as ever) detailed analogy! Thanks, TEA.

    The important thing is the sitting back and thinking rationally part. It is easy (and something you see so often) that the time span and the sheer size of the task at hand for FI scares people off. They don’t set the emotions aside. Once you have though, you can start to challenge the usual perception.

    (Now I have to go and watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid again. Not seen it for ages.)

  4. Red kite · · Reply

    Hmm, your posts are certainly striking a chord with me…I am definitely paralysed by fear (but hey I was never one for bungee jumping either). It’s not even so much the money side of things, it’s the fear that if I jump, and don’t like the water, there’s no getting out again…

    1. If you have the money side covered, then everything else is (relatively) easy. After you quit, if you want to get another job later then you can always get another job. You can volunteer, work part time, try for your dream job….all without worrying about money. The world is your lobster.

    2. @Red Kite, your thoughts resonate. There is always a “what if” nagging at you. But as Samuel Johnson once said, “nothing will ever be attempted if all objections have to be overcome first”. There will always be some doubt even if minor and as TEA said, you can always get back working if push comes to shove.

  5. What a terrific and timely post. I too need to watch this movie again. When I first saw it, I wasn’t entirely sure they escaped. I thought maybe the rocks did indeed kill them. Pessimism. My greatest challenge. I’m bookmarking this to help put a dent in that mindset. They escaped to freedom! As will I.

    1. AsianExpat · · Reply

      Sadly, they don’t make it, in the end they die in a blaze of bullets – see episode 5/5 of the same YouTube series. Freedom of a different kind perhaps…..

      1. Damn. I did remember it correctly, after all.

      2. No, no, no! Cassidy and Sundance DO make the jump off the cliff and they DO escape to freedom.

        Now I grant you that they die in a hail of bullets at the end of the film…but we ALL die at the end of our own films because none of us are immortal. That’s the fucking reality of the human condition, my friends. The important point here is that Cassidy and Sundance overcome fear to live (and die) as free men. We all have to check out of the hotel of life sometime…which is why we have to make the best of it whilst still alive. And when our time comes, it’s better to go out in style rather than dying of a heart attack in the office 😉

      3. AsianExpat · ·

        Agreed 100%!

  6. BeatTheSeasons · · Reply

    Going back to the first paragraph, can I suggest that those still in the prison camp might consider working at festivals rather than going as a paying customer? You can do perhaps 15-20 hours work before, after and during the event, depending on which area you work in. You typically don’t get paid but gain free admission, often get a few free meals (which is a big bonus considering festival food prices) and you can make lots of interesting friends. We’ve just come back from a week long family holiday at Glastonbury which cost us a grand total of £150 plus petrol.

    1. Fantastic suggestion…this is on my to-do list.

    2. This sounds like a great idea – where do you sign up to work at a festival?
      Glasto-hell doesn’t appeal anymore that it is a small city when it is alive. A festival that still has small-scale roots and atmosphere appeals. 🙂

      1. BeatTheSeasons · ·

        MSE has a piece on how to sign up:
        http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/free-uk-festivals#free

        But the best jobs come from knowing the right people once you’ve started to get involved in the festival circuit. This is a great example of why social capital is as important as financial capital.

  7. @TEA, I would like to know much more detail on how you actually pay your bills during FI. Are you using dividend income. For eg You receive your £400 gas bill, £300 shopping – how are you paying for those ? Does using your partners salary count as FI ? Personally I’m suffering from OMYS, but next summer I’ve decided I’m PROBABLY going to pull the plug before I reach 50. Rev, jon

    1. Jon, you made essentially the same comment almost one year ago. You are stuck in a rut, my friend. If you would like help to get out, then email me and lets talk.

  8. LOL …. That’s one thing I don’t miss. The work calls at the weekend when you are supposed to be relaxing, all part of the job role in plenty of corporate prisons – 24/7 access, your life is not your own. (…How dare you have a life outside work…)

    Now, I can go away at the weekend – as I will be this weekend – and not have to worry about being called or worrying about making it back into the office on time.

    Fear is a big emotional hurdle for people to cross when it comes to jumping. There’s a lot of social and peer pressure surrounding you and preventing you from jumping. The social norm is to “have a job and go to work”. Its expected and seen as the way to contribute to society and pay your way, including your taxes.

    If you retire early in the UK you are seen as:
    1. Someone who as won the lottery/ received an inheritance.
    2. Someone who has sold a business and walked-away.
    2. Lazybones – a hanger-on. Surfing the generosity of the state or a ‘walking purse’ (whoever that is – parents, sibling, spouse, partner, gullible friend)
    3. Ill – you have a medical condition that is preventing you from working.
    4. Someone who is deluded (no funds and living a lie)

    The UK population is dismayed over the possibility of retiring early. It is only blogs like yours that start to illustrate that it is possible in the UK and that it isn’t just a “US thang”.

    Enjoying the posts – keep enlightening us and motivating us to continue the FI journey and not crack.

  9. Jim McG · · Reply

    Good post, and I echo all you say about The Fear. I was well aware of it when I was working, life without an income but with continuing expenses and overheads, well, no way. And it’s not just the money, as some of your commentators point out. What will your spouse think? Your mates? It’s no use pretending these things don’t matter either. FIRE was forced on me through redundancy and my only regret is that I hadn’t planned (outside of the finances) enough for it. Obviously the financial planning is crucial, but giving thought to what you’re going to do after you jump off the cliff and land in the water is almost as important.

  10. @TEA, yes, you have a good memory but this is something I need to do myself. There is some logic (I think) to my position, the closer I get to 55, I will also be able to access my personal pension which gives me significant margin, I will keep you posted as to when I take the plunge.

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