Some time after starting this humble little early retirement blog, I came to a fairly startling realization that my goal in all this is not to retire early. Early retirement was an easy out.
The truth of the matter is something much more insidious, which stems from an intriguing element in my life that deceptively manifested itself as a desire to simply quit work and retire as soon as possible. I thought I wanted to retire early.
And I do – as soon as freaking possible, but I finally allowed myself to realize that early retirement is not my true goal. It never was. I knew that I had a problem that needed to be solved. I thought I knew what the solution was.
And so I did what anyone else would have done in this scenario – I wrote a bunch of stuff down and turned it into a blog.
And the blog was helping. Unknowingly, it gave me an outlet to really consider what was bothering me throughout my career as a full-time office worker. It also made me realize that I knew the truth, too, about what I was missing in my life. All these years.
I mean I really knew it, but I buried that son of a bitch so deep that it couldn’t possibly escape my inner self and wreak havoc in my otherwise normal and comfortable existence.
I slowly began to realize the truth
The problem began to surface after working for years in the information technology sector for big nameless corporations. For the first few years after college, this phase in my life was new and interesting enough to encourage my subliminal mind to ignore what was building up inside me.
I never truly liked “work”, though. From the moment I set foot in my first office and plopped my ass down into my first cubicle, I did so only because I thought this was normal. After all, I spent the last four years of my life in school for a piece of paper they call a “degree”, then got a job working in a sterile neutral gray death chamber alongside nicely dressed inhabitance of the same breed.
We were all in this thing together, and that made it a little more bearable.
The jobs were okay. Like everyone else, I commuted into work. I parked my car in the parking lot next to exotic German “autos” and the occasional Porsche. Even a Bentley. Oh, and a Maserati, too.
Seriously, who drives a Maserati to work?
But I digress. The work was fine. I did what everyone else was doing, so I naturally assumed things were going okay. Made friends. Went to happy hour. Did work.
I painstakingly packaged myself as a “good worker”, volunteering my precious time for extra [uncompensated] work, always smiling and agreeing with the boss (okay, THAT part slowly changed over the years, but I certainly started out that way!), kissing ass whenever possible…basic madness most of us do to try and “get ahead”.
But I came to realize that I quite despise the taste of ass.
I put in some seriously long hours during periods of [management dubbed] “crunch mode” – of course, when basically every freaking week is “crunch mode”, it somehow fails to retain the same level of meaning that management probably hoped it would.
Over and over again, the process rolled on. Commute. Work. Commute. Work. And I did it for years. Year after year, the same thing.
The same damn thing.
I derived no enjoyment from any of it, but things never quite got bad enough for me to take a stand. Sure, I was growing tired of the constant monotony of this whole practice. I began asking myself if this is all that I have to look forward to over the next 30 years of my life. A damn depressing question to ask!
I tried my hand a starting a small business. I even took a free small business class held on Saturday morning for a couple of months, worked until 1 or 2am almost every day on the product that I was developing. Some people “get off” on this stuff. This is what they live for. Not me.
…the things that I did to try and make money. Additional money. Always, more money.
Working hard for that beautiful paycheck
I loved the thought of more money, but I hated the process to get there.
I always made good money, and that was perhaps the biggest problem of all. The money is what kept me from improving my life and moving on. The paychecks kept me coming back for more, like a thirsty hamster playing with that little water dispenser for a drink – or a rat meandering its way through a maze for the promise of a piece of cheese.
Over the years, I slowly let myself realize what I had always known – it wasn’t the jobs that were interesting after all. Not even the work.
It was the money. What I wanted was a nice paycheck.
Actually, no, that’s not quite accurate. Yes, of course I “wanted” a nice paycheck. Everybody wants huge sums of money.
More accurately: I NEEDED huge sums of money. I built what I had considered a normal lifestyle, a lifestyle of consumption. Of sport motorcycles. Of supercharged Corvettes. Of a home in the suburbs. My lifestyle was a leech on my freedom, voraciously sucking out my very lifeblood.
And I was doing nothing to extract that leech. In fact, I was pushing it deeper and deeper in.
Though I made good money and possessed the things that society would probably deem to be the mark of “success”, I was a hollow little office worker, unsatisfied with what the society-approved methods of “normal life” involved. It wasn’t working for me.
In a word, my life had become complete bullshit.
The BMWs driven by debt-ridden secretaries? It’s nonsense. The Porsches driven by over-worked middle managers? It’s nonsense. The $10,000 wrist watches? The 3,000 sqft homes? The $1,000 / month restaurant budgets?
It’s all complete nonsense. At least it was for me. And about four years ago, it came to a head.
That time I stood in my garage and mourned
Like I said, I had a house in the suburbs. My Corvette and Cadillac sat in my two-stall garage straddling my 1,000cc Yamaha R1 sportbike. I was the hallmark of success, or so I thought. Toys in the garage. A high-paying job. A mortgage. A job that gave me absolutely zero satisfaction.
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”?
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.
Check out Part 2 now!
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.