A day before we left the “mecca of #FIRE” Longmont, Colorado, a reporter and cameraman from a local ABC affiliate made the trek up from Denver to chat with us for a story. It was our first “real” television interview.
After showing them around Charlie (our Airstream), we went outside, got all mic’ed up, and chatted a bit on-camera about what we’re doing around here.
One of the reporter’s questions stuck with me, and it’s something so basic and interesting that I couldn’t help but write about it.
The question: What’s one thing people can start doing today to make a change?
I gave my answer, but the more I thought about the question long after the interview, the more I wish that I said.
What’s a blogger to do? Blog about it, of course!
By the way, if you are curious how the interview turned out, here it is:
What’s one thing people can start doing today to make a change?
Okay okay, in the interest of full disclosure, that’s not exactly the original question. The question she asked was about early retirement. But, since I’ve restructured the blog a bit to cover a higher-level view of kicking ass in life regardless of your goals, I’m making the question a little bit more generic.
The answer to this question is buried within the different parts of what makes up the delicious gooeyness of the larger concept of “change”.
First, understand what’s wrong
I’m not a big fan of changing things that aren’t broken, and I’m sure you aren’t either. If you’re looking for a change in your life, why? What is it that you’re trying to get away from? What is ruffling those feathers of yours?
For example, it could be your job. Or even your home life. Something’s wrong. What is it?
For me, it was a relentless draw on my mind that, even though I achieved so many layers of what’s considered “success” in the United States, I still wasn’t happy. My garage kept my Cadillac SLS, supercharged Corvette convertible and Yamaha R1 sportbike clean and clear from the brutal heat and sun of southern Arizona.
I owned a home in the suburbs of Tucson. Held a well-paying job. I had what most people would consider a successful, yet comfortable, life.
But, that’s also not the whole story.
One day, I finally realized that my life was crap.
One morning I stepped into my garage, took a look around and finally asked myself the question that my subconscious had refused to let me ask: “What is all this stuff for”? The cars. The motorcycle. The house in the suburbs.
Steve, you have lots of money coming in. You have a 500HP Corvette and a Cadillac luxury car sitting in your garage. You have an insanely fast motorcycle that can outrun virtually any vehicle on the road. You have a nice house 10 miles outside of the “big city” of Tucson in a nice suburban community.
Why aren’t you happy? What the hell did you do to yourself? You should be happy.
But I wasn’t, and I needed a way out.
Next, what could make it all better?
Make no mistake about it: The grass is always greener on the other side. Don’t kid yourself into believing that one simple change will automatically make everything better because, more often than not, life doesn’t work that way.
That said, change is necessary. For all of us. Change is what takes us from a place that we don’t like to one that we like much better. It worked for me, but it was also a process.
Here’s a realization that I found to be remarkable: What made it all better for me was finally admitting to myself that I don’t like working full-time jobs. They just don’t agree with me. Regardless of what the job is, I’m the kind of guy who just gets tired of the routine. New jobs are fun for a while, but they also become “the norm”. Eventually, that new and exciting job becomes that thing you’re trying to get away from. The wicked cycle continues.
For me, a new job wasn’t the answer.
I told myself that I just can’t keep this mind-numbing charade up. I just couldn’t do it, and standing in my garage that afternoon, I finally allowed myself to acknowledge the truth: “I’m done”.
At this point, I realized some crucial details about my life:
- I had a bunch of shit that I thought made me happy
- I had a well-paying job that provided the resources to buy that shit
- I derived absolutely zero satisfaction out of my job, but yet I continue to work it
Naturally, so I thought, the fix was to stop working jobs that I don’t like to pay for things that don’t make me happy. It seemed to make sense, so I accepted it. Boom, done – problem solved.
It only made sense that early retirement was my way out. Early retirement is the road to happiness.
I was putting together a very simple equation: After I retire, I will be happy. Until I retire, I won’t be.
I now realize that my purpose is not to simply “quit work”. My goal is much more fundamental than that. It always has been even though “early retirement” was the well-packaged and easily-digestible phrase that seemed to provide the fix.
What I truly crave is that child-like bliss of having options, waking up every morning with a fresh mind and an open calendar.
In my case, the thing that could make everything all better wasn’t a new job. Or moving to a new city. Or even changing careers (though for some people, making those changes CAN help). Freedom was the answer. The freedom to choose my own destiny and control my time.
Freedom CAN make it all better.
Finally, what’s one thing that you can do now?
Get out of debt. Find a higher paying job. Start going to the gym. All those things are typical answers to this question, but the answer in my case was more fundamental than that.
I needed to understand why most people will never get rich and then do the opposite.
Why will most people never find the “riches” they seek?
1: They prioritize other things – The phrase “actions speak louder than words” gets to the heart of this cause. Almost everyone wants riches, but until we prioritize getting rich over spending money on stuff that we don’t need, most of us will never truly accomplish that goal.
2: They don’t believe that they can – In some cases, people simply refuse to believe that anything GOOD could possibly happen to them. A poor attitude is a devastatingly destructive state of mind for people who want wealth.
3: They want to keep up with the Joneses – When status matters, keeping up with the Joneses is how that status gets maintained.
4: They don’t accept that “it takes time” – Our inability to delay gratification keeps money flowing out of our wallets faster than we could possibly blink. For most of us, getting rich takes time. It means sacrificing a little discretionary spending for the sake of your future self, and the word “future” scares a lot of people.
In other words…
Stop giving a shit what other people think (especially those Joneses!). Focus on yourself. Be selfish. Your neighbor cannot accomplish YOUR goals for you. That’s a job that only you can complete.
Believe that you can achieve any realistic goal that you set for yourself. Any goal. As long as it’s realistic, believe in it. Live it. Devote your heart and mind to it. In other words, prioritize it above anything else.
In life, I’ve found that if you want something bad enough, most of us possess the ability to attain it. Beyond just talk, hope and feeeeeeelings, a deep-seeded desire to achieve is almost always enough to meet your goals – whatever they may be.
Most people just talk. They hope.
Other people do. They want something bad enough to put action behind their words. Give their hopes and dreams clout in the real world. Even if that means saying no to the next happy hour invitation because you’d rather save that cash instead of buying booze. Or opting for lesser expensive foods over that organic stuff. Or driving your car straight into the ground instead of upgrading to the latest and greatest thing every few years.
Life is a mind game, and the more devoted we are to set our minds to achieving our goals instead of caring what other people think of us, the more likely we are to make every one of our goals our bitch.
Every last one.
Remember, small changes make a huge difference
Compounding is the notion (or in investment terms, an actual mathematical formula) that things build on one another, and each step we take originates from a different starting point than the one before it.
My previous life serves as a primary example of how the decisions I made turned into habits, and those habits began to compound. For example, remember that time I burned through a half year’s salary right out of college to buy a Corvette? Yeah, I’m talking about this kind of shit.
Had I left it at the car I bought, it may not have turned into such a money pit.
But, the Corvette I sold many years later was a far cry from the car I bought the year I graduated college. Buying the car fueled some fire within me to drive the fastest and loudest car on the road. Thus, I upgraded the hell out of that sucker. A new cat back (exhaust system) here, headers there. A supercharger went on a few years after. Race camshaft. High-performance clutch. New racing tires and chrome wheels.
Each purchase individually didn’t seem like much, but in the end, I sunk more into the car in upgrades than I did to buy that son of a bitch. Those purchases compounded into blowing tens of thousands of dollars under my very nose, and I refused to let myself admit that to myself.
Compounding takes the smallest decisions we make in our lives and magnifies them under a microscope for closer inspection. What do those decisions look like when the results are observed over a number of days, months and years? Are they pretty?
When the changes you make are positive influences in your life, they slowly build, exponentially. They build upon themselves and begin to systematically change your life.
For the better.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.