I came across an interesting article the other week written by a guy named Jacob Jolibois about deserving what you want. The article was genuine and intriguing, but also sparked a question that I’ve toyed with in the back of my mind for quite some time. Do we “deserve” early retirement?
Jacob writes about Jay Ducote, who is now a nationally-recognized food blogger and radio personality. He got his start by simply blogging about the lunches he ate back in 2009, which seems like ancient history by now. Through persistence, he accidentally fell into something lucrative and exciting. Exciting, indeed. The dude has a media company and regularly speaks about food stuff, cooking.
“Sometimes it’s about showing up every week consistently,” Jacob wrote.
I agree entirely. Most of what early retirees aim for is only achieved after years of consistent and determined pursuit. We aren’t the “get rich quick” types. We didn’t win the lottery. Most of us haven’t inherited millions from wealthy family members.
We’re regular people, doing regular stuff, pursuing lofty goals. We work hard and smart to achieve those goals. Saving, investing, sacrificing, you get the drill. It’s all basic stuff.
The intriguing part of Jacob’s article comes from the quote by Charlie Munger: “To get what you want, deserve what you want. Trust, success, and admiration is earned.”
Do we deserve what we get?
If a man kills another man, most of us would agree that the murder deserves to be punished. He did something wrong and needs to suffer the consequences of his actions, not to mention removed from society for our safety.
Similarly, U.S. Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger successfully landed an Airbus A320 passenger jet in the Hudson river after blazing a trail through a flock of Canadian geese, which disabled the plane’s engines, during its ascent out of La Guardia Airport. Not a single death resulted from the water landing. Surely, Mr. Sullenberger deserves praise for his miraculous response to a potentially deadly situation.
Even so, the word “deserve” is loaded with meaning and context. Absent of life-and-death situations, do we deserve what we get? If we save hard and fast for many years, do we deserve to achieve our goals? If we spend like a drunken sailor, do we deserve to be broke?
Let’s go to the dictionary!
The meaning of the word deserve
Dictionary.com defines deserve as such: “to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities, or situation”. We need a cause and effect for the word deserve to be applicable.
We do something. As a result, something else is warranted.
Thus, if we spend a decade furiously saving our cash to accomplish our dream of retiring early, we, therefore, deserve to retire early. We did something in order to facilitate a result. Easy, done.
But, there’s a problem. The problem lies in our minds and how we manipulate this situation into something more akin to, I don’t know, “entitlement”. Replace the word deserve with entitled and we quickly begin treading deeply in shark infested waters with soggy dictionaries floating on the surface.
If we save hard and work smart, are we entitled to retire early?
Entitled contains a much less positive connotation. It implies that a result is deserved in the absence of effort necessary to achieve it.
Deserve vs. Entitled, and which one is the right answer
For example, the phrase “Americans are entitled to a living wage” focuses entirely on a result rather than on effort. On the other hand, “Women deserve equal pay to men” is a statement that very much suggests effort. Women work just as hard as men and, therefore, deserve equal pay.
Deserve is the right answer. Entitled is the wrong one. Unfortunately, our society merges the two into an unhealthy relationship that bastardizes the entire concept of work vs. reward, cause and effect.
The reason is because sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. And when that happens, we often feel entitled. After devoting the effort, we expect our just rewards. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work that way. It may not be fair, but it happens.
Strangely, I do not feel that I deserve early retirement even though my wife and I are putting in the effort to make it happen. I definitely don’t feel like I’m entitled to it, either. I do feel, however, that I am entitled to try.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
What say you? Do we deserve what we get? If we work our ass off long and hard in pursuit of a goal, do we deserve that goal? Further, are we entitled to it?
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.