I retired at 35, and after three years, here's what I've learned about freedom
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You probably live in a free country. You're free to do whatever you like provided that your actions don't infringe on the rights of others to do the same. That's freedom, no doubt.
But, that is only part of the story.
There's freedom as protected by the government, but then there are freedoms that you naturally feel. Beyond the bare basic ability to make your own decisions in life, there are innate freedoms. You know, those deep down inside you that take up residence in your gut.
Yeah, those freedoms.
Before retiring early, I thought that I understood what freedom meant to me. And in some ways, I did. I mean, I was generally in the ballpark.
- I like adventure
- I hate the feeling of having a job
- I like exploring my creativity through photography
- I hate having to always think about money
All this still remains true. But, I had no idea what it actually took to maintain that level of freedom once I no longer had the distraction of a full-time job.
It's been three years since giving the middle finger to corporate America.
And, I've learned a ton about freedom during that time. I learned what it takes to maintain it. And, I also realized it isn't something that you simply capture and keep. It requires perpetual nurturing.
That's right, freedom is sorta like your 2-year old child. :)
What I've learned about freedom after three years of early retirement
Freedom requires discipline
Freedom isn't something that's suddenly achieved and then, well, that's it. You have it forever. That's just not the way this works.
It's incredibly tough to feel truly free. Even living in this first world bastion of wealth and opportunity, a sense of freedom takes work. Focus. It's not easy to attain - after all, if it were, we'd all feel 100% free.
Most of us don't feel this way.
Freedom takes drive and motivation. Discipline. Full-time jobs have a way of distracting us from our troubles. Once we're done working those jobs, though, we have a whole world that immediately opens up.
That's early retirement.
Opportunities abound. Jobs (if we want them) suddenly materialize in our laps. Our time - perhaps the most important commodity of all, is all ours.
That's downright frightening.
For my wife and me, our freedom is derived through adventure. We love to travel and see new places. We live a lifestyle that's about as cheap as we want it to be. No rent. No mortgage. No personal property taxes.
It's an exciting and frugal life, but it takes continued focus to maintain.
We live differently than most in order to achieve our level of freedom. We don't have a big house. We don't get the large master bedroom and a grand staircase. Or a huge television (we don't have a TV at all...by choice).
We've designed our lifestyle around freedom and we work hard to ensure this nontraditional life continues to provide us with a sense of freedom.
In some ways, it's tougher than any job that I've ever had. To keep driving forward. To keep pushing. But, it's also the most rewarding job in the world.
Freedom is a muscle
Freedom isn't an achievement that we unlock for the rest of our lives...sorta like earning a college degree. Once we get that piece of paper, it's ours.
Nobody can take degrees from us.
Freedom isn't like that. Freedom is an organic "thing" that needs to be nurtured in order to keep healthy.
I like to think of freedom as a muscle. Without focused attention, it doesn't grow. It can't. Muscles wither away when we don't train them. Our strength dwindles. We become physically weak.
Freedom works the same way. It's a state, but a moving one.
Sometimes we're in a state of freedom. Other times, we aren't. And, the more that we focus and work on our freedom - like we do our muscles in a gym, the stronger our sense of freedom will be.
We work on our freedoms every day. We try new things and push the limits. We only set foot in our comfort zones when we need to. Otherwise, we're out and doing things. Getting stronger.
We understand what makes us happy in large part because we work on it all the time. The world is our gym. :)
Freedom is different for all of us
Like I said before, basic freedoms already exist in this country (for the most part). In general, we all have freedoms like:
- The freedom to chose what cars we drive
- The freedom to make up our own minds
- The freedom to work almost any job
- The freedom to eat whatever we like
Basic freedoms look very similar for all of us. Beyond these, however, we start to employ our own autonomy about the things that we value.
And, what things actually make us feel free.
Early retirement has allowed me to survey the world with a fresh new perspective. Almost like a new lens in a pair of glasses.
And, it's becoming more clear to me - now more than ever, how different we are as people and how wildly unique our senses of freedoms truly are.
Ultimately, that's good. If we all valued exactly the same thing, this would be a boring world in which to live.
Fortunately, that's not the case.
And, that is what makes early retirement so remarkably freeing. The freedom to not only choose our direction in life, but also to pursue the things that give us that warm and fuzzy feeling each and every day.
Whatever that happens to be.