Some will never retire early, and it’s all their fault. It’s true. The choices we make and motivations we hold make a profound impact on accomplishing our goals – early retirement or otherwise.
I’ll let you know right off the bat that there’s a wheel barrel full of tough love in this post. I know that I’m going to piss some people off, and that’s fine. It comes with the territory. I’m okay with it. Still want to continue reading? Goooood.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “But I don’t want to retire early”, then simply substitute a major life goal instead of using early retirement. You aren’t getting off that easy. Regardless of the goal, this stuff still holds true.
If you fail at your goal, it is probably your fault
“There is no such thing as luck, merely opportunity meeting preparedness”
— General George S. Patton, Jr
First, I will plainly state that I do acknowledge the presence of “fortune”. Sometimes, good things really do materialize out of thin air. Then again, so do bad things – like blowing a tire at 70 MPH on I-80 in the middle of nowhere. Or, winning the lottery. Winning the lottery is good fortune (though playing the lottery was a choice).
Shit happens. Those of us who let that shit dictate our lives are bound to fail.
We cannot control everything that happens to us, but we sure can control how we react to our circumstances. Let’s look at an example of how this works. Pretend you’re a singer. You’re pretty good, but you haven’t caught your break yet. You’re still singing in local dive bars as the warm-up band. You’re just keeping the crowd half-way engaged until the real band takes the stage.
You keep pitching your band to music companies, over and over again. You keep accepting invites to play at small dive bars as cheap entertainment, often getting paid in a tank of gas or a cold beer rather than cash.
Finally, after years of shitty deals and small-time venues, you get your chance. A music company gives you a contract. You finally got “your break”.
Is that luck? If you send out 100 records to music companies and assume the “law of numbers” are bound to reward you with a contract, were you simply the beneficiary of a lucky break if someone accepts your offer?
If you met the right person to grow old with, is that luck as well? Or a job offer to your dream job. Again, luck?
Is anything really within our control?
Almost everything is within our control
“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I reject the notion that luck dictates our lives. Believing in luck gives us an excuse to fail without self-reflection. It assumes that there’s nothing we could have done. Our hands were tied. We might as well not even try, right? Because luck is a more powerful force than YOU?
The truth is that our lives are made up of a combination of things. Our upbringing. The things we experience. Our ability to think with our brains rather than our emotions. And, yes, our choices. Especially our choices.
Luck? It doesn’t factor in. At all.
Luck can make things easier or more difficult, but it doesn’t affect long-term goals.
If we’re training for a marathon, a couple of “unlucky” rainy days might keep us inside rather than out. But over the course of our six-month training regimen, those rainy days don’t make a difference. We had plenty of opportunities to train.
Besides, how bad do we want it? Those of us who want it bad enough will run. Yes, even in the rain. If we want things bad enough, we find a way to make them happen.
Back to the band scenario above – what about all those nights you spent pitching music companies? All those shitty gigs you decided to accept rather than pass up? Or, all the women that you DIDN’T settle for until the right one came along? Or, designing a tailored resume for your dream job, and dressing like someone who actually knows how to do an interview and gives a fuck about their future?
These successes aren’t luck. Companies don’t hand out dream jobs by drawing names out of a hat. Music companies don’t pick the next rockstar after a rousing game of eenie meenie miney mo.
Do you want to retire early bad enough?
Let’s say that you want to retire early. Great! What are you going to do to accomplish that long-term goal? Hope that you get “lucky”? Maybe someone will walk down the street and offer you a $100,000 job and force you to save half of it. How lucky would that be?!?
Of course, the world does not work that way. It is true that bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen when we least expect them to. Life is tougher for some than for others. Yada yada, I get it. There’s no question about that. Things may not work out the way we hoped. Got it.
The real question is how bad we want to succeed in life. How much are YOU willing to do? Early retirement isn’t going to creep up on you and present itself on a silver platter.
Things like stepping outside of your comfort zone. Saying no to those weekly drinking invitations or expensive dinners. Choosing to save half of your salary rather than wasting it on crapola. Refusing to upgrade your cell phone every year. Ditching cable or satellite television.
Enough excuses. “I don’t make enough to save”, 99% of the time, is bullshit.
It’s easy for me to say, right? I retired from a 6-figure job at 35. I was on easy street, wasn’t I? I could have fallen asleep and retired early, right?
…bad enough to change our lifestyle
It’s easy to look at our dual income in the information technology sector and conclude that our incomes let us retire early. Anyone who pulls in 100 Gs a year can do it. It’s easy when you make lots of money.
And you know what? It’s true. It IS easier when you make lots of money. Like, no shit.
The more money you make, the greater the potential for maximum saving. It’s true that my wife and I made good salaries when we were working full-time.
But, we also saved 70% of them. We could have easily paid for expensive dinners or “date nights”, bought a big house and drove around in the latest German-engineered auto. We could have had every movie and sports channel available at the touch of a button, right there in our family room. Nice cars. Extravagant vacations. It was all within our grasp.
But, what did we do instead?
We sold both of our homes and bought an Airstream RV to live in. Ditched cable. Used the cheapest cell phones. Hardly dined out.
And today, we boondock out in the middle of nowhere to keep costs low. We only allow ourselves $50 / month to go out to eat. We wait months to buy things that we want. We’re on a super tight budget.
We wanted early retirement bad enough to make what traditional society would deem to be “sacrifices”. It seems like nearly everyone has satellite television hooked into their RVs. We don’t. We cook in our Airstream most days rather than grabbing a bite out. We stay away from expensive campgrounds. We talk about every single purchase we make. Yes, including Amazon purchases. Okay, especially Amazon purchases [Amazon, you make it way the hell too easy to spend money!].
We have no traditional sticks and bricks house to return to. Our Airstream is it.
It’s all your fault
If you aren’t accomplishing your goals, it’s probably YOUR fault. You might not want it bad enough. Can’t live without cable television or the latest cell phone? There ya go. Did you choose a completely unmarketable college degree? Okay then. Are you out there fighting for yourself every day? Asking for help? Going the “extra mile” at work? Saving cash instead of spending it on alcohol / restaurants / shoes / yarn / cars / whatever? Are you telling yourself that your lack of success is due to “bad luck”?
If you are, then you’ll never succeed. Guaranteed.
If you don’t feel like you’re totally killing it, then get off your ass and do something about it. Can’t afford a college degree? Try a community college or trade school. Even online training programs can produce good results or at least show a current or future employer that you give a shit about your future.
…that you give a shit about your future.
Stop making excuses and start taking control of your life. Show up. Are you prepared to learn from your failures, never quit, and seek help while your friends are partying? How bad do you want it?
Make it happen. Put up or shut up.
EDIT: Based on some of the comments, I feel like I need to clarify a point. It is prudent not to compare ourselves to other people. Our goals are very personal regardless of who we are. There will always be those who are less fortunate than we are (being born into a poor “slum” country, for example). This article is about achieving YOUR goals, not “achieving as much as I did” – or your neighbor, or anybody else.
This is about you, not me. It’s about each of us and our ability to make the best of our living situation and achieve those goals that we set out to achieve.
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.