I recently hit a net worth milestone: $200,000. That’s more than I paid for my house. It’s a fair amount of money and I’m proud that I’ve made it this far. But it is nowhere near enough for me to stop working.
The pursuit of financial independence is my passion. It gives me hope for the future and is the reason I haven’t quit my current job despite the fact that I hate it. But sometimes I have to stop and ask myself if sticking this out is the right call, when I could be living a different life and doing something else to earn a living.
It’s Official: I Hate My Job
I am at the point in my still-early career where I go to work solely for the paycheque. I don’t go because I care about the work I do. I don’t go because I enjoy it on any level. I go because I need to earn money to fund my needs and wants.
I went to university for almost a decade because I wanted to work. I wanted to be good at something, and to love it enough to want to do it even when things got hard or boring. What do you do when you’re halfway through your program of study and realize, “Uh oh. This is not what I want to do, especially for the next several decades”? Well, someone with more guts and imagination than myself might have cut their losses and tried something else.
Not me. I’m a coward but not a quitter. I quickly gave up on finding the “meaning” in my work that millennials supposedly value above all else. If I could just be sort of OK at my job, and not hate every part of my work day, that would be good enough.
I sort-of half-got what I wanted. I’m marginally competent to the point where I can get through the day. My hope to not hate all of it never did pan out though. I find my job stressful and unpleasant to the point where thoughts of the past day and worries about the next day bleed into all the time I’m not at work.
I Really Should Quit
Forty hours a week is a lot of your life, no matter what anyone says. One time an acquaintance said to me in justification of his multitude of hobbies, “I just have so much time outside of the 9-to-5, even with volunteer work and a family!” (True story. I kind of wanted to punch him but didn’t.) I figure this must be a function of having a tolerable sort of job, one that doesn’t leave you exhausted and empty when you get home.
You can always make more money. It’s time that is valuable beyond all else. Every hour you spend at work is an hour you will never get back, and if you hate it, that’s an hour of your precious life that you can never spend doing something that makes you happy.
I’m barely 30 years old. There’s time. I could try and wiggle my way into a related career. Selling my house would be easy enough and living in a city isn’t the end of the world. I could find my way back into academia. I could get started in a new line of work, or maybe even learn a trade, which would allow me to continue to live where I do. I’m sure I could even earn the same amount of money I make now doing something else – perhaps I’d start my own business – if only I was a little more driven, a little less risk-adverse.
I could make a change. Most of us could, I think. Is the job you are doing right now really the absolute only thing you could do to make the amount of money that you actually need?
So Why do I Stay?
I said that I don’t quit my job because I need the money. That’s not the whole truth though. I am very fortunate in that I don’t need near what I earn in order to pay my expenses. So in reality, the reason I stay is that this job feels like my best shot at achieving financial independence as quickly as possible with as little risk as possible. That, and I love where I live.
There’s switching costs to consider as well – when you’re occupying a niche position in a very small town, chances are good that a job or career change will also require relocation. And depending what you want to do, you may need a whole lot more training and education.
At the end of the day, there’s a biggest fear of all: after all those costs have been swallowed, you wake up in a new job and realize you’re just as miserable as you were before.
I’ve done the math. Unless I have a really clear idea of what I would like to do instead – and a very high degree of certainty that it would work out – this is where I should stay. This is about as high a salary as I can hope for in my field, and combined with the low cost of living in the area, I feel like I would be crazy to not stick this job out for as long as it lasts.
The Economics of Settling
So maybe I’m settling. I could do something different; I could live a very different life. But right now, FIRE makes more sense to me than anything else. I may not do it forever, but right now it is the blueprint for my life. Building my financial house allows me to keep the panic at bay. Decreasing my dependency on the system – grocery store, utilities, regular paycheques – helps keep me sane.
When financial independence is your goal, then looking at your work situation through a strictly economic lens makes sense. And that means picking the job and the location that gives you the biggest differential between salary and living expenses. That last point is key – you will get further ahead making $10,000 a year less if the smaller paycheque is earned in a place where your net housing/transportation/etc costs are $15,000 less.
Hating almost everything about my job is what drives me to pursue financial independence. I’m not sure if I would do this if I liked my job. That being said, I’m actually pretty happy with my standard of living. I like my house, my car, the food I eat, and the things I do. I honestly don’t think that living in a bigger house, driving a nicer vehicle, or eating more meals in restaurants would make me significantly happier.
Due to circumstance (a big part of this is my simply being willing to live in the middle of nowhere), I am unlikely to make a higher salary than I am making right now without making some serious changes. And when I say “willing to live here,” I should stress that if I was financially independent and could set up camp anywhere, the little pocket of Canada I call home would be pretty high on my list.
Sometimes my life here feels like a holding pattern. Like I’m waiting for some grand opportunity or inspiration to fall from the heavens and hit me in the head. When that happens, I can quit my job, abandon my life here, and head off into the world to do something new. The rational, pessimistic side of my brain knows this is unlikely. We reap what we sow, and this is the life I have designed for myself. Which is fine, because when I am gathering and splitting firewood, or harvesting vegetables from the garden, or foraging out in the woods, I often think, YES! This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. This is good. And I just have to leave this idyllic life for a big chunk of most days for a while longer, and one day I’ll be free.
What I love about early retirement extreme is that even working toward it for a short period of time is beneficial. You can build up an emergency fund or jump-start your retirement savings in a few months when you’re saving 50-75% of your paycheque.
Living below your means is good insurance. In effect, I’m building my own pension – the longer I keep doing what I’m doing, the higher my net worth and the greater my passive income. Like a pension, I only get what I put in. In this case, there is no guarantee I’ll have enough to live off of if and when my current employment comes to an end. But the more I have, the less desperate I’ll be to take the first new job that comes around, and the more flexibility I’ll have to go back to school or consider positions that pay less but that I might enjoy more.
I couldn’t justify sticking it out for salary if everything I earned went out the door to pay expenses and buy shit that I really don’t need. (I’m very pointedly not counting things that contribute to self-sufficiency as “shit I don’t need.” For example, my honey bees). Money has to buy me an awful lot of happiness to make up for the unpleasantness that goes into making it.
Money is important no matter what anyone says. But I don’t think of money is something to be used to buy stuff. I think of it as a tool we use to buy safety, security, and eventually freedom. And that, for me, is the essence of FIRE.
Summary: At Peace with Inertia
Maybe as millennials, we are just a bit spoiled. I know I am. And I also know that spending 35-40 hours a week at a job where I make a good deal more than the average worker is hardly the worst thing that has ever happened to a person.
Besides, the majority of people hate their jobs. This is a normal thing, right? After all, if work was fun, no one would need to pay us to do it.
So how much do you have to hate it to want to build your life on the foundations of early retirement extreme? Is it worth it?
I don’t know, to be honest. I didn’t really expect to come to any great conclusions with this post alone. It’s just my explanation for what and why I’m doing what I’m doing at this point in time. I hope it’s of interest to someone out there, and I always love to hear others’ stories if anyone’s up for posting in the comments.
Today I went to work and it sucked. Then I came home and went outside to work in the garden before coming in to do some cooking and baking. And all of that was good. Tomorrow I’ll head out in the backcountry to do some foraging. And after that, only time will tell. But for now, this FIRE stays lit.