Episode 021 - Why, exactly, do we do this again?
I speak to a lot of people who are trying to attain financial independence and the reasoning goes something like this - “I don’t like my job, so I want to make a lot of money, save it and quit.”. I also speak to those that have done that, and they are not necessarily happy either. Let’s put this all into perspective, and talk about “Why” we do this.
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Not too much to report this week. It has been a good week for crypto investments, of which I am involved. I’ve seen 30% increases in capital value on some assets I hold in the space of 2 weeks, which has been enjoyable. That said, I’ve been in that field for 9 years now, so I know that things change dramatically all the time. However never hurts to be on the upside of an investment.
I’ve been personally completing out the remodeling of a house, which is a huge endeavor. Reflooring an entire house is a huge task, from flooring tile to baseboards to paint, and then everything that sits on top of it. We’ve been living with a team of flooring experts from Mexico, who I have befriended. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in Mexico that I understood the craftsmanship that is in the building trade there. Sure, there isn’t a lot of regulations & licensing, so you have to be willing to look deeper for true craftsmen because anyone could call themselves a builder or expert in their field. But if you are lucky enough to stumble upon real craftsmen, you should seize the opportunity. And that is what we have done.
When you take an entire house and refloor it, you literally move everything that sits on that floor. You come face to face with everything you’ve accumulated and put on that floor. This has given me the opportunity to be critical of the crap that has built up over the years and whether it serves me now or for the future.
I realize that you have to go through a periodic “shed your skin” process, in that you have so many things that have built up over time and you need to get rid of them. As much as I would have loved to spend the next 6 months selling old crap on eBay, the fact is that I can’t allow that to constrain me, so I’ve been charitable instead. Our local Savers has been the beneficiary of a lot of older technology items, clothing, furniture, etc. which has given me a really great feeling of releasing more shackles around me. I understand the attraction to minimalism, particularly if one spends a large amount of time traveling.
Anyway in doing this, I’ve completed the upgrade of my recording studio. I brought in my mixing desk that I had shipped over from Australia and has been sitting in a road case in my garage for 18 years. I didn’t think that I would have the room for it, but by refocusing what was important to me, I was able to make this work and I love my mixing console. I’ve done some really great projects on this board and the feeling of returning to that “instrument” is like playing an old guitar that I love.
I have a large vintage guitar collection, and I’ve been able to hang them in their appropriate locations in my studio. I’ve decided to spend more time this year in music composition and production. Not sure if you know, but I wrote and played all the instruments on the theme music for this podcast, and I love doing that sort of thing. However I was also raised in orchestras so I’m going to try and do some film scoring this year. I’ve dabbled in that in the past, but it is very hard so it gives me a challenge that I am really looking forward to immersing myself into.
Why am I telling you this? Well it gives you a sense of what a day in the life of someone who is unconstrained looks like. I don’t need to work, so I choose where to find my happiness. And that is actually the best segueway I can give to this episode because it really is what this episode is about.
Let’s get started with the core content....
I’ve spoken before (check out Episode 14 - College, Take the Red or Blue pill?) regarding the choices that Americans are expected to make at the age of 18 regarding their future. There is a very high chance that the choice you make regarding your career is going to be completely wrong. It is understandable because at that age you have no point of reference - it is like being forced to make a choice on something with no supporting information offered with the exception of other people’s flawed decision making experience.
So when people start off on the journey into their 2nd quarter (The Building Quarter) with a faulty foundation, it makes perfect sense that as they progress through the 2nd and 3rd quarters in their lives they come face to face with philosophical disconnects.
“I hate my job, but I need to make money to survive”. That’s the basic underlying tenet of what I hear. People I meet will tell me that, but in different ways. Some will say that they like their work, but hate their job. Other’s will say they don’t make enough money. And others will say they make more than enough money, but they are still unfulfilled.
To be honest, this is why I created this podcast and beunconstrained.com. I realized that 99% of all the information that I was finding out there regarding people and their search for FI or FIRE was bad or naive at best. Most of them knew deep down that something was wrong. But rather than seeking out what was the root cause of this, they found others that shared the same sense of helplessness and banded together to create what feels almost like religious cults that follow in some ideological mantra because the journey of trying to get out of the mess felt way better than the helplessness that being in the mess with no way out.
I mean its bad enough that you spend decades of your one and only life spending the greatest amount of your waking hours working in a job that is unfulfilling, but then you will add to that continuation of doing that, and adding to it living frugally to save a lot of money, forcing your family to go without, defer gratitude, with the goal of “retirement” when you have never experienced what retirement looks like and if you were to ask someone who is truly retired, they will tell you they are just as miserable then as they was when they were working - at least when they were working they had work colleagues to socialize with. Now they only have their friends at the community center, etc. They are still looking down the barrel at a life without purpose. Seeking out that purpose might be easier to start with in retirement, but few really understand that they could have been doing that in their 20s rather than waiting until they are too old to really do it successfully.
I’m not a psychologist, but I can quickly sense someone who is happy vs. someone who is not. And so can their families, spouses, children, parents, etc. And friends. The truth is that no one wants to be around unhappy people. They don’t want the stress of that person to roll over onto them - they have enough challenges in life to deal with without other’s problems being forced overtly or covertly upon them. So they detach. That’s a dangerous thing with families and one of the major underlying causes of marriage breakup. The media and statisticians will tell you it is due to “money problems” but it isn’t. Money problems can be solved. A toxic environment due to stress and the way people handle money problems cannot.
So why do we seek out FI?
Pretty simple if you split “FI” up into “Financial” and “Independence”. You learn quickly that once you have money or reduce the need to make it, then your focus shifts to what makes you happy which should have been the focus of your mission when you were 18 and didn’t need the money in the first place.
But our parents and society force upon us the need to “get a good job, rent a place of your own, get a car, etc.” and kick you out of the nest to a world that is structured around debt and promises that you can have all of this if you commit your future self to it. Eventually that future self becomes laden with mortgages, student loan debt, and other entrapments that further reduces your independence and that’s the world that 99% of people in the United States and other western economies find themselves in.
Trapped. Without choices. Without freedom. Without a sense of individual sovereignty and freedom. Welcome to slavery.
But with this, you get the short and long term mission - the short term is to get out of these traps as soon as possible. That’s the mission and ideology of FI. But the long term, and I would argue the far more important, is the mission of finding your purpose & happiness. And that the independence part of FI comes with the obligation of “great power and great responsibility”.
The great power of having independence is you get the most valuable currency of your life back - time. The great responsibility of independence is you come face to face with your quest for happiness. You see, in a perfect world, it forces you to return to your 18 year old self and realize that you lost time taking on debt, etc. thinking that this was what “grown ups do”. It isn’t. But by clearing that from your life, you return back to your 18 year old self. Fresh, new and ready to conquer the world again.
This comes with some regrets - the biggest was that you deferred your quest for happiness for decades. The quest requires focus and with the burden of a job and the demands of your employer, it is very hard to retain that focus. Everyone here is different and what makes us happy and fulfilled is really the most important thing we can ever seek out, but requires some dedication to oneself above the dedication to your employer.
The dedication pays off - you start to learn and know yourself. Once you can clear the static and tune into the messaging of your subconscious and what really makes you passionate and happy, the rest just falls into place automatically. Your life calling makes sense. Your purpose makes sense and everyone around you just starts to “feel great” about you being there. You get your confidence back. Your relationships with others glows and you get your life back.
Why didn’t anyone tell me that in my 20s?
Those that influenced you then probably didn’t really know the answers for themselves. Many older people may have found that in their post-retirement years. They went through that transition and had plenty of time to focus on it. That’s why you often see children building great relationships with their grandparents because they seek out wisdom and sometimes even their own parents can’t offer that to them. They devoted their time to providing security to the children but haven’t yet worked out that the greatest security they could provide would be to seek out their own fulfillment and then pass on how they got to that place to their kids. Not by words, but more by actions and their children’s observation of that happiness. Those that have come close to finding this send a clear message to their kids that they too must seek out their own happiness and find it early in life so that they create a baseline to have adventures from.
And you won’t find it in a job, a cubicle, a W2 employment contract, unless you first know what you are seeking out. No one ever told you that at the age of 18 because you can’t relate to the need for it yet. Everything is just confusing and pressure at that age, and we need to realize that we are often seeking out the answers to the wrong questions then and we don’t realize that we are going to pay for that mistake for decades.
Hence the popularity of the FIRE movement.
But for 99% of those seeking out financial independence, they are repeating the very same mistakes that got them in the mess in the first place. They think that money begets happiness. It doesn’t. However it sure can contribute to a sense of helplessness and when it comes to physiological survival, it is critical. That said, once you get it out of the way of your pursuit of happiness, you can move forward unencumbered. It then comes down to one’s self-disclipline to put their new found time to task in search of their happiness. But we are typically never trained to do that - we have spent most of our waking hours of our lives being told what to do. Now it is up to us to be our own managers.
Those that wait until the age of 65 to make that transition, statistically don’t end well. The statistics that I have referred to in episode 18 “The Retirement Myth” show that you stand a far better chance of longer life expectancy if you retire at 55 vs. 65. And the statistics show a massive difference - 18 months of average expected life after 65 vs. 28 years after 55. To me, that sends a clear signal that you MUST retire before 55. But why is it this way?
I would speculate that the pursuit of happiness must begin as early in life as possible, but it has to be fed with experiences. If you start this off in your 20s, then you probably have a statistically higher life expectancy if these numbers tell us anything. But if you leave it until 65, when you have devoted your life to making your employer richer but have little to show for it, it doesn’t work out well for physical or mental health.
So yes, I get it. The FIRE movement are onto something. But as long as they understand that the freedom to pursue happiness is the ultimate purpose and the money is just a step in that journey. I fear that 99% of them don’t understand this. That they are following some uber savings plan because everyone else is doing it. That they are maxing out their 401k or IRAs but they don’t realize that if the money isn’t available to them until the age of 65 or older, it is probably too late at that point. Yet this is the mantra being broadcasted to the masses by the financial services industry and by the mainsteam media that supports them. But do they ever talk about personal happiness as part of that stock portfolio or index fund strategy? Nope. Its only about the numbers to them, and that’s what is getting all of us in trouble.
In my opinion, before one should begin the process of FI or FIRE, one should first realize they are in charge of their own lives, they manage their purpose, they direct themselves towards their goals, and they have to be self-centered, self-motivated and self-serving. If you can’t make that transition, you might get to “retire” but you will be miserable because you don’t have the skills yet to live in the “buck stops here” world and be self-managed. You will yearn for others to tell you what to do, follow a herd and ultimately lose your treasure. You have to perceive the world revolving around you - not you revolving around the world.
See you can have all the money in the world and be miserable. I’ve experienced times in my life when that happened. It was horrible. It was better to be in pursuit of something - the journey really is the reward. But why is it that I was on the wrong journey? Well because I needed to realize that once the I understood that money was just a component of my security, I could then transcend the journey and realize that the pursuit of money alone wasn’t going to end the journey. With that as my mindset, I could continue on well after what many would consider “retirement”. And that keeps me sane and focused.
The real issue was not just money - it was all of the external factors that constrained me. Certainly there are many you just can’t control - your time (in that you grow older every day), your health (you can control much of this, but the body will wear out over time, and like a car may have mechanical issues that need attention), climate events (there’s no way to avoid a tornado, earthquake, etc. and I’ve already lived through the 1994 Los Angeles quake so I know what that looks like), war and geopolitical issues (seems like these are ever increasing these days), etc. I could go full on “prepper” and try and pretend that I had solutions to these things by arming my family, driving around in steel encased vehicle, etc. but I’m just not really interested in the burden that comes with that. I have to learn to accept that I have no power over these things. The best I can do is be nimble and able to escape a bad situation, and having a 2nd or 3rd passport is the best answer to that, as well as being located near an exit point. For us, living in Arizona we have a 2 hour escape path to Mexico planned in the case of unforseen situations.
But does all of this keep me happy? No. It just keeps me feeling a bit more secure. What really keeps me happy is that I’m free to pursue experiences in life and what really constrains me is when I’m told that I can’t participate in those adventures because it is incompatible with some other parties interest, specifically government, tax authority, bank, etc.
So in keeping with the entire purpose of being unconstrained, one must find their acceptable form of freedom within their life domain. That means you have to regain control of the things that may constrain you and stop you from pursuing happiness, and accept the things that you can’t control. Reduce your risks where you can, and then develop habits to ensure that this ongoing struggle is always won in your favor.
You see, money is just a part of this. If you think it is all of it, you will lose. Guaranteed. There are plenty of depressed, suicidal and toxic rich people out there. Many believe their money entitles them to impose evil on others, and many believe their money entitles them to have no responsibility to anything they do. For those people, they don’t tend to keep their money for long. Karma has a way of balancing things out, but many somehow manage to dodge bullets all the time. Unfortunately the most evil of those who have the money & power are often our own governments.
Back to basics
We have to focus our attention on what we can control. FI is a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to stop pursuing it. But I am telling you that with every minute of time you devote to financial independence, you need to match that with a minute of time in the pursuit of happiness, and despite what the TV commercials or road side signs might tell you, spending money is NOT how you achieve happiness.
The first part of that journey is to find yourself. I often get asked about what I did in my earlier years and my courage. The truth is that approaching a stranger and talking, or trying to do business with someone, etc. is not courageous. What is courageous is to be willing to approach yourself and ask hard questions. Who are you? What makes you scared? What makes you happy? What makes you proud? What makes you sad? What intrigues you? What draws you towards it? What do you believe your future will hold? What did you learn from your past? And how can you transcend the habits that are holding you back?
These are the questions we ask ourselves when we lie awake at night, unable to sleep. It is the quest to find answers and meaning for us, and to grow. Once we discover how we have to take the concept of thought and strategy towards an actual actionable task, do we start to feel meaning. And that is the beginning of the journey.
It is not likely to be someone else’s dream. It is not likely to be a job or a career, unless you have determined that you know your path. And you need to be willing to beta test things. That means if you think you might like to be an artist - a painter, start small and test the waters. Before you quit your job, buy all your paint & supplies and get out there doing it, how about starting as a hobby and finding out over time if you really like it? If the answer is that it was fun for a while and now you are bored with it, tick that one off the list because that isn’t it. But in pursuing it, maybe you stumbled on something that does work for you? Maybe computer animation? Maybe illustration? Maybe videography? Who knows. It is your job to find out though.
This all takes time and clarity of mind to do. Having a job distorts your reality so much that you never really are able to successfully focus on anything other than the job, and that creates expenses and costs that have to be met to participate in the job. Hence you begin the gradual decline towards oblivion and live in despair of it.
At this point, I’m going to introduce a constraint you must recognize and try to avoid - distraction of purpose.
Despite what we may have been told, clarity of mind is not a luxury. It feels like it sometimes, particularly in times of high demand from one’s job or workplace. But the truth is that we create that situation - it is not created for us. We immerse ourselves in what we are doing because of expectation (either directly by the boss, or indirectly by the teachings and observations during our childhood), by fear because we fear losing what we have gained, or by our own self discipline. We connect directly with the details of what we are doing, so that we lose sight of the entirety of what is going on.
The term “Forest & Trees” comes to mind - we are laser focused on trees, even down to the bark that makes them up, but we can never see the forest. It is seeing the forest that is someone else’s job, and typically that person is a senior manager or analyst. That person dictates the overall course we must follow in order to succeed, but the question really comes down to who’s success are we pursuing?
Is it our own? Clearly not. The senior manager or analyst is only interest in either their own personal interest, or the interest of the enterprise to which they preside over. So your needs are irrelevant. They may pretend to you that you matter, or play some sick & twisted game of “passive aggressive” where they trap you in some golden handcuffs in order to evoke performance in pursuit over the overall “forest level” strategy, but for the most part you can’t see the complete picture.
With that lack of vision, you make decisions based on flawed input data. You decide the level of intensity that you apply or the commitment level you are willing to give. That original job contract you signed when you took the position is long forgotten because it is all about making deadlines, keeping bosses happy, and yet you just can’t quite explain why you are doing what you do.
The lack of clarity is completely understandable. If no one tells you the big picture, how can you be expected to determine if that is what serves you? It is like the software developers at Facebook - they know code and they are good at writing it. But the purpose of that code is often layers and layers deep in someone else’s architecture, and hence you don’t know whether your code is being used for good or bad in that scenario.
If we are trained to work in this kind of twisted world, in which we cannot sanitize our decisions against valid and truthful data, how can we ever gain control of our lives and know whether we are doing something that is truly in pursuit of our happiness - compatible with our journey.
But clarity is further eroded by all the other inputs around us, outside of our job....
Observation vs. participation
Media can be your worst enemy. We spend a lot of time with media these days. Media is plentiful and relatively cheap to produce. This podcast, for example, takes minimal expense to produce other than my time. But I do it because I feel that I have a message to convey and my hope is that those that gravitate to the message can take it and move it forward to the next person. We create large change in social culture from the ground up and this is just a part of that process.
That said, as much as I love that you are listening to my podcast, the reality is that you should be out there doing something. Not for your employer but for you. Action is where you really learn things about yourself. Not listening to someone else telling you how to feel, how to think, trying to “trigger” you. That’s not going to help you on your mission. Even though its free to watch YouTube videos, if you find yourself transfixed by it, it may be just an excuse for you to not look at yourself in the mirror and move towards participation in your own journey. The more you avoid that, the more depressed you will likely become.
Our society today is consumed by cheap media. The larger outlets are getting desperate for your attention as they compete with your focus against Facebook, YouTube, Podcasts, Blogs, etc. It is not surprising that in this world of expensive TV advertising, that any threat to that model causes anxiety that manifests in accusations of fake news, and outlets looking to move towards niche audiences that they can target more successfully, rather than generalized journalism.
However what I’m seeing is that we, the consumers of said media, are playing right into the hands of the outlets by embracing the hypnotism that is rife in their messaging. This is only taking us away from our own personal journeys as we start to believe that the editors of said outlets are controlling the narrative of what is important in our world. Conversations appear to follow the news headlines rather than having more meaningful discussions on the achievements and challenges of each of our own personal journeys. The level of this has taken over regular thought to the point where only the “odd” people appear to not speak about the political news, the stories of wars, climate events, etc. even though most of them will never be touched by any of those stories. The level of time invested in discussing how one politician who is tainted with responsibility over some military invasion - whether perceived to be good or bad has little or NO impact on our day to day real lives. Yet we live in this fiction like it actually does matter. That one political party vs. another is the difference between life & death, wealth or poverty, enslavement or liberty. Yet we all know that after the election is over, it will be business as usual and we will return to our regular lives and be faced with the same exact challenges we had prior to the news cycle.
This is why it is important to participate in your own news story - not someone else’s. You make your own headlines as you quest towards you goal of happiness. And you celebrate your victories when you find financial independence or even just things as simple as saving money by either not buying something, or finding a way to acquire what you need with minimal outgoing expense.
Then you really have a story to tell your friends. It won’t be parroting your favorite TV news channel. It will be telling the “breaking news” of your own headlines as you share the stories of your own personal journey. It might even motivate your friends to consider their own quests and with this we can all advance towards something of value.
Focus on the right questions
If we take away distractions of irrelevant things, we realize that money is important but it is not the core reason we exist, but we have to effectively roll back the clock and undo the mistakes we have all made since we got kicked out of the nest and were expected to survive in the real world, then we can achieve what is needed.
This takes real effort. We’ve been fed a book of lies - in some cases maliciously and in other cases by the naivety of those around us. Many times we welcome those lies because they allow us to avoid seeking out the truth - as gruesome as it may end up being.
You must realize that money can be made without physical labor and that by distancing your time from the money made by your assets, you remove the control that one may have over you. But there are many other control points that you must be cautious about, and as we progress through more podcast episodes, we will cover them.
For now, know that the journey to becoming fully unconstrained is about personal empowerment that is the result of you finding your calling, and being able to live your sovereign and free life without the shackles around you. Those shackles are not just about debt and money - they are about all the illusions that distract us and enslave our minds. And they are also regional, which is why I advocate travel so much. It isn’t until you find yourself in a foreign land that you start to realize the only person you need to know is you and how you can deal with the challenges of this new place. That’s an incredible experience to have, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
FI is great, but FI is not the only answer. Focus not so much on the “what” of FI, but more importantly, the “why”, and it isn’t the “why of FI”... It is the “why” of you so that you make all of the items we talk about on this podcast feed into your own personal goals and adventures.
Seeking out the answers to why is selfish. It is supposed to be selfish. It is about you - no-one else. Like the flight attendants will tell you, “Put your mask on first before you try and help those around you”. Your mask is answering your own life purpose. Once you have that under control, you can be of value to those around you. But if you don’t know your own purpose, how the hell can you help someone else? You will just confuse them as you confuse yourself. And if you think that you are successful because you are FI, but you don’t really know why you are on this planet, then you haven’t made that much progress on your journey. Stop watching media, stop listening to those that also haven’t achieved any purpose and get back to looking in the mirror and determining your true purpose and what will really make you happy. You still have a long way to go.