Completing the circle of life with FI and early retirement

Published March 16, 2016   Posted in How to Retire

Recently I stumbled upon a bit of an epiphany. The goal of financial independence and early retirement is not just about quitting work or hating your job. That part I already knew.

Complete your circle of lifeIt’s also not about finally sleeping in on a Monday morning or sitting on your front porch all day pissed off and with a shotgun in your hand, Clint Eastwood-style. Nor is it about “escaping” real life or the idea of ditching conventional wisdom in pursuit of something better.

The goal of FI stems from the symptoms of our failure to complete our life’s circle.

Sound strange? It might, but stick with me. I can’t put my finger on when, but I discovered a truly profound feature of financial independence and early retirement – the “why” of early retirement. At least for me.

Completing our circle of life

To understand what I mean by “complete our life’s circle”, we need to think back to when we were children. That will be easier for some of us than for others, of course (that’s an “old joke” aimed at nobody in particular!).

As children, we were probably asked what we want to be when we grow up. At that point in our lives, curiosity reigned supreme. Everything was either new or new “enough” to be interesting. Through school, every year we got a new set of classes, new teachers, new classmates and perhaps new goals. We probably also wore a new set of clothing to replace those out-of-style rags we bummed around in last year. The passing of each year was almost another opportunity for us youngsters to reinvent ourselves.

Remember that normal looking kid who turned into a goth and started dressing in all black one year? Or that dude who somehow grew a stash over the summer? The kid who seemed to lose (or gain) 50 pounds? We all probably tried a new lifestyle more than we think and we did so because we humans enjoy variety. Adventure. Something fucking new.

Many of us joined clubs or played sports in the hope that maybe, just maybe, we will be good enough to make it big time, because why not…it could happen. You’re a kid. Might as well give it a shot.

Though many of us struggled through portions of our childhood, there was still an element of excitement. Every year we got smarter and wiser (at least in theory). We added new skills to our collection, made new friends, saw new things, learned new subjects. Most of us don’t appreciate it at the time, but very often our childhood is the most exciting part of our lives.

This dude sure does know how to adventure

This dude sure does know how to adventure

The world was intimidating, but also ripe for the taking. We could do virtually anything we want. In a word, we had choices.

As we grow older, the monotony of life begins to settle in. After college, we begin our careers in the workforce. While this new phase in our life generally does offer some degree of adventure, it generally fades quickly. Within a year or two, we are so ingrained in our jobs and robotically going through the motions of adult-living that excitement and adventure only seem to happen on vacation or over the weekend, but even then, it’s typically short lived and clouded with an invisible but very real sense of looming work…a return to our “normal lives”.

And let’s be honest – life very often lacks variety. From the moment we select our major, we are mapping out our entire career path for the rest of our lives. It is possible to completely switch careers to something entirely different later in life (or our major in college), but that tends to be the exception rather than the norm. Computer science degree holders rarely become professional photographers. Very few English literature majors discover the next biomedical breakthrough that can cure a cancer.

Truthfully, what does your company actually want out of you? They want you to do your job, your whole job and nothing but your job in exchange for a paycheck and maybe a yearly cost-of-living raise. That’s it. Same shit, day in and day out. Even if you enjoy what you do, the tedium of it all eventually gets to us.

It gets to me, anyway.

Very little of what most of us do is truly freeform creativity. If you work at an ad agency designing clever graphics depicting overly happy people eating or drinking consumables, you might think that you’ve found a loophole. After all, your work allows for “creativity”. But, it’s certainly not freeform creativity. There are restrictions and many of them. Your creativity must make money and fit within the bounds set by clients, managers or arbitrary rules. You can’t act like a kid and draw whatever the hell you want any longer.

Face it – after we “grow up”, very little of what we do is truly creative.

If you feel like your job isn’t fulfilling, it may not be due to choosing the wrong career. Like me, you are probably trapped in society’s pigeonhole of singularity (my term!). It doesn’t matter what career you chose. It is more fundamental than that. We do not have the same choices that we once had as children, and THAT may be the unfulfilling part of many careers. It is not about the choice you made. It’s about no longer having the choice!

In a very real way, life has the tendency to remove choices from our lives. It wants us to drive down a very narrow path, do some work, rest for a little while, then do more work. The same work.

Having a choice is the spice of life. My career has become the anti-spice.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Our answers to that question probably included lofty professions like an astronaut, a professional baseball player or hell, maybe even the President of the United States. It probably didn’t include marketing assistant, janitor or sitting and typing shit into a computer all day (hey, that’s me!).

In other words, we thought big thoughts. We expected good things to happen to us. We wanted to be the best, do the best, and leave our mark on society – things that most of us simply cannot do by spending more than half of our productive living years in an office. If you notice, the typical answers to that question have one thing in common: moving! Not many of us longed for a desk job when we were youngsters. Desk jobs aren’t exciting!

And it occurred to me that “what do you want to do when you grow up?” is a lot like asking what do you want to do when you retire (early).

Our answers are largely the same, this time focused on meaning rather than professions.

Ultimately, we still crave the same level of excitement we experienced going through grade school. Most of us enjoy trying our hand at new things like we once did as a child. Interested in watercolor painting? Try it! Want to get good at tennis? Why wait? Think you can become the next Beethoven? Seriously, the sky is the limit.

We come full circle when we give ourselves another opportunity to, well, experience.

Early retirement is about standing in the very same shoes that we stood in as children as we peered out into the world, completely overwhelmed by how much opportunity there was to make a serious impact, pursue our life passion and choose new and exciting things to try.

In other words, we want to complete the circle. We want to be kids again.

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30 responses to “Completing the circle of life with FI and early retirement”

  1. I definitely reined in my creativity in college in hopes of earning a degree and making money. I think you’re right that this is an almost ubiquitous pattern. And that the tedium of the same old thing and lack of choice definitely motivates us toward freedom. I guess we’ve always been told that we’re not kids anymore and have to grow up and be boring and do the same thing for 30-40 years–and believed it until recently. Great post!

    • Steve says:

      “And that the tedium of the same old thing and lack of choice definitely motivates us toward freedom.” – wow, couldn’t have said it any better myself. Perfectly worded, Kalie. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. Mr. SSC says:

    That’s a great point! I specifically didn’t major in music or philosophy because I wanted to “not still work in a restaurant” once I got a college degree. 🙂 Yes, it’s all about the opportunity and what to do with it when we get our freedom back to choose what we want to do. That was when we decided “well we’re not really looking to retire, as much as have a major lifestyle change.” Those savings afford us that freedom to change our lfiestyle to one with no income, little income, or lots of income and just more time and better schedules. It’s like your FU money, vs F. You money, 🙂
    Like Mrs. SSC and her recent desire to learn the cello. Why the hell not, it’s never to late to try something new. Great perspective!

    • Steve says:

      Agreed, it’s never too late to learn something new. My wife wants to learn the guitar, so why not? When we are on the road, you will probably hear the melody coming from our Airstream – though the quality of said melody is still yet to be determined! With practice… 😉

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since I only have about 5 months left of full time working. Creativity really is the big thing lacking for me right now. I already have so many ideas of things I want to do once I have more time and freedom. I can’t wait to be able to try new things and experiment. If I try something and it doesn’t work out, so what! Move on to the next idea.

    I’ve been very aware of big dreams just listening to my kids the past few weeks. Time to get back to the place where anything is possible!

    • Steve says:

      I plan on doing the same thing, Ditching The Grind – try something new. If it doesn’t work out, no big deal…move on. I truly believe that the successes that we have in life in many ways stem from our failures.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. That’s really what it’s all about. I see early retirement in much the same light. It’s a renaissance in a way; a rebirth during midlife that lets you try out different experiences in life before you get too old.

    I’m a fan of trying new things to see how it goes. Having the time (and energy!) to try new experiences if a magical blessing.

    • Steve says:

      It is a renaissance…very much so. Getting to re-approach life with a fresh new perspective, learning new things outside of your typical confining office environment. It’s a wonderful feeling.

  5. John says:

    Having retired from full time work earlier this year, I can say it is quite an adjustment! While I’m “only” 49, my career was certainly long enough to get used to work. For me at least, it’s taken some time to get used to “six Saturday’s a week”, but I’m up for the task!

    Congratulations and best of luck with your FIRE!


  6. Kate says:

    Such a timely post….I was was having breakfast with two former coworkers a couple weeks ago and we were discussing how every day feels like Groundhog Day. Same stuff, every single day. We can’t seem to escape it.

    I live within 30 miles of the university I attended for undergrad. I like going back there every so often because I can reclaim the feeling that the future is wide open and anything is possible. It makes me feel excited about what the future holds, rather than dread the monotony.

    Totally agree about wanting to be kids again. ER to me means that my days are open and I can decide to do something on a whim. No more alarms or schedules!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Kate. That’s really what got me, too – the same stuff, different day kind of thing. Regardless of how much stuff I accumulated, it was always just the same. Every day. I soon realized that acquiring a bunch of stuff just wasn’t worth it.

  7. I totally agree Steve. Having choices makes life exciting. It’s hard to have a ton of choices when you’re at the office M-F from 9-5 (or 6, 7, 8…). So many things I want to be able to put in 5 or 10 hours a week to, but just can’t since 50ish hours are already spoken for.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Fervent. Yup, completely agree – when 50 hours a week are already spoken for, it’s darn tough to REALLY take control over your life. That is not my idea of living the good life!

  8. I think you have captured very accurately how the circle of life seems to go for most people. Of course you and many of your readers realize that and do not wish to follow the traditional path. You know, stuck at a dead end job for years because of our inflated lifestyles and lack of savings. You offer a different approach: Start living those dreams now and at an early age! (However there is work we must do)

    You are taking a shortcut with your new travel trailer, retiring in your 30’s, to focus on writing and photography. The circle of life doesn’t have to be traditional for those that are willing to do the work and sacrifices to pursue their dreams.

    Love the post!

  9. Matt Spillar says:

    Steve, great post! It’s fun thinking back to the carefree days of being a kid, and I love the comparison to early retirement. I saw a quote recently that this post reminded me of, “My favorite childhood memory is not paying bills.” Isn’t that the truth haha

  10. Jack says:

    Truer words. In my youth I busted my hump getting ahead, but with a family, it’s time to change focus and help my children explore the wonders of the world (and not get stuck in a daily grind!)

  11. Tawcan says:

    Totally agree on your points. As we age we seem to become less and less creative. When’s the last time that you pick up a pencil and draw? Having a young kid at home, I keep getting reminded why FI is the way to go.

  12. Stockbeard says:

    Wow, how the heck did you know I wanted to become an astronaut as a kid???

    In all seriousness though: the worst for me right now is how my work-life balance is impacting the amount of stuff my kids can do, and I think it relates to what you’re saying. Kids are stuck in some of their parent’s life choices, and I’m always worried that I’m not giving them a childhood as enjoyable as mine might have been. (One example: it was easy for my parents to take a 2 week vacation and take us to some cool place every year. My work choice – in this case, working in the US for a company that give few vacation days – means I can’t easily do that with my kids)

  13. Kristin says:

    A very thoughtul & philosophical post! Ordinary life & a day-to-day job rob us of the opportunity to have choices. I for one can’t wait to have choices again that aren’t constrained to a 2 day weekend and a fixed amount of vacation time.

  14. To me, the biggest difference between childhood and adulthood isn’t a lack of thoughts, it’s a lack of questions. I have a sign in my classroom that says, “Leave with more questions than answers.” Questioning aligns perfectly with your call to adventure and quest for creativity 🙂

  15. It’s a good point. There’s not a lot of meaning in my job (yay, customer service). Then again, other than increasing my incidence of swearing, I don’t really let my job define me. So I’m not to perturbed by the idea of what I’d “really” like to do. Maybe it’s because we’re not sure whether retirement is ever in our future, or maybe it’s because, thanks to health problems, we’d still not travel a lot. And I work from home. So I don’t foresee a big change if I were able to retire tomorrow.

    Then again, I was always that boring/annoying kid who tried to be more like a grownup when I was young. So perhaps I’m not a good example.

  16. I have many of the same thoughts as I approach my final day on 4/1. There are a lot of activities we leave behind when we are growing up. They don’t fit in our work world life. Now, retirement allows us to revisit those things. I wrote a post about an episode of The Wonder Years that has a narrative that captures some of those exact thoughts –

  17. AJ says:


    You hit the nail on the head! I have been doing IT for the last 29 years and many of them providing 24×7 online support. When I retire in 3.5 years, I just want to play and travel a bit. I want to work on my RC cars and to paint my model cars. I want to be a kid again!

    Btw, luv your airstream and truck! You guys will enjoy life w/o work and just travel.

  18. Sam says:

    Being able to free up time to do the things you want to do is a great reason for FI. At the same time, being able to do what you want each day is possible for many people (not all). We can make time to play guitar, learn something new, or exercise everyday. Heck I do all 3 everyday and have 2 toddlers…and so does my spouse. The reason is for our self care. Yes, we will have financial freedom, but we will do it so that we are still appreciating each day we have in this beautiful life. Pleasures like playing in the yard, feel like a vacation everyday. Granted people have their own obstacles, but for those that are stuck in a rut, you have a choice. I have to work hard to not get obsessed with FI cause I’ll miss enjoying the process and all the things in the moment.

  19. Mrs SSC says:

    Oh my! When I first read the title I thought that you were announcing a pregnancy! But, yes – being like kids again would be awesome. I often watch my kids and wonder what it would be like to be that carefree again, but with the knowledge of an adult… and that is exactly what FIRE is about.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Yeah, that probably won’t be happening anytime soon (or at all!), but I can see how you got that impression based on the title of the article. 🙂

      Yeah, those carefree days are nice. I try to get myself as close as possible to achieving that sensation again, but it’s not always easy. Adulting is hard.

  20. […] Completing the circle of life with FI and early retirement […]

  21. […] I truly crave is that child-like bliss of having options, waking up every morning with a fresh mind and an open […]

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