Oh financial independence; the holy grail of monetary freedom. The ability for our passive income streams and current assets to cover our expenses without another day of work. Thanks to FI my husband and I could throw in the towel on traditional employment. We’ve saved, invested and earned the right to step away from the rat race once and for all. We can now choose the option of early retirement.
We’ve reached the mecca of financial independence, yet here I sit pondering a new job search. The voice in my head says, “Wait. What? Excuse me. Repeat that! I don’t think I heard you right. Get a job?”
I have to admit the statement doesn’t always make sense to me. Why would I want to return to work when so many people are desperately trying to escape from it?
Leaving the Workforce
Seven years ago I left corporate America to become a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t plan to leave the workforce after the birth of my first child. I was forced out, just weeks after announcing my pregnancy.
After the initial shock I made the best of my circumstances and came to view my layoff as a blessing, but let’s be clear there is a HUGE difference between walking away from something and being sent away from it.
Those first few years of motherhood were tough for me. I struggled with exhaustion, isolation and a deep struggle to find an identity beyond motherhood. My husband and I fought a lot about roles and responsibilities. During that time I failed to carve out the space or energy to help run our family business, which rocked our marriage and our company.
Thankfully, time heals most wounds. As our boys have gotten older they need less supervision, hand-holding and support. Over time I’ve felt a slow, but steady sense of freedom emerging. As the clouds part and the sunlight shines I feel invigorated and renewed. With the boys in school I’ve also gotten a sneak peek into early retirement.
A Glimpse Into Early Retirement
Now every stay-at-home parent is collectively gasping at this statement. How in the world could child rearing feel like retirement? Sleepless nights, diaper changes, ridiculously earning mornings, and rarely finding a minute to myself. Yup, none of those sound like early retirement. I won’t disagree with that.
But I do think there are a few similarities. As a stay-at-home parent I don’t report to anyone, have to prove my worth, sit in an office all day or feel pressured by hard-nosed deadlines. At some point my children will be old enough to attend school for six hours a day. That will give me a few hours to do what I want.
Sure dinner needs to be prepared, the house cleaned, groceries purchased, finances journaled and my kids chauffeured back and forth to school. Not to mention all the other stuff that needs to get done. I don’t have an entire day to waste, but I do have a whole lot more time than I did when the boys were young.
This is a glorious feeling, so why in the world would I want to give up my free time for work? Shouldn’t I choose the option of early retirement instead?
What I Miss About Work
I read plenty of early retirement blogs that focus on the unpleasant aspects of employment. Despite the bad stuff there are still parts I miss. At work I enjoyed solving complex problems, writing code and doing nerdy stuff.
It was fun to analyze issues, discuss business needs and implement changes that brought new features to life. I enjoyed cooperatively bouncing ideas and solutions off of my teammates and bringing individuals together to form one united group.
Work was not all fun and games but I do miss the sense of connection. Quite frankly, I miss feeling connected to something larger than myself or my family.
Returning to a Technical Career
When I think about work I consider returning to software development or studying to become a data scientist. I deeply enjoyed writing code and learning technologies in my old job. I’m also a sucker for data, numbers and patterns.
The trouble is that my technical skills are outdated. To return to software I’d have to train myself to use the latest technologies. That’s not a problem, but it will take additional time and effort.
On the plus side technical jobs often provide utmost flexibility. The last time I worked I didn’t have children waiting for me after school. Now I need to think through the complexities of school schedules, work schedules and commutes.
Blogging as a Career
“Why don’t you become a full time blogger?,” a long time friend recently asked me. It’s always a possibility, but providing a steady stream of content isn’t easy.
In the beginning the journey to financial independence was incredibly gratifying. My husband and I reached new goals with such excitement. Our salaries grew. We received big bonuses. We eliminated mortgage debt. It was all so fun, but after awhile it became a boring routine.
We saved in our 401ks and HSAs and stopped buying things we didn’t need. As time moved on our investments grew and our bank totals reached higher heights, but as our chores became automated our need to discuss our finances disappeared.
About a decade after I began this blog I took a short hiatus to clear my thoughts. I returned reinvigorated and excited to write about money and financial independence, but I don’t want this blog to be my only creative outlet.
Teaching Others About Money
When I started this blog I had no idea who would find it. Over the years I’ve formed virtual relationships with some amazing personal finance nerds. Some of them cite my story as the inspiration for taking control of their finances and searching for better ways to save and invest.
That feels unbelievably fulfilling and rewarding and I am forever grateful for that. Maybe my calling involves teaching financial awareness. It’s among the list of options I’d like to explore.
A Teaching Career
My oldest son currently attends a private school that our whole family has grown to love. I currently volunteer there a lot, but I would love to find a more permanent position. My youngest attends a super cute preschool that might be able to use my help too.
Tuition is expensive and receiving a reduction in fees would be helpful. We are financially independent but shelling out $40,000 for tuition still doesn’t feel good.
Finances Are Still a Factor
Actually that brings up a whole other issue with work. I’d like to say that money doesn’t matter anymore, but I’m afraid it still does. As a software developer I earned a six-figure salary. Am I wiling to sacrifice my time and energy for a job that pays significantly less?
This is a tough question to answer. If I am trading my life energy for work am I willing to get paid very little to do so? I’m not sure.
I might prefer volunteering for free. That seems like a better option than a job with specific expectations, time constraints and low pay.
The Option of Early Retirement
My husband and I never set a goal for FI. Similarly we have not set a specific date for early retirement. Those objectives may seem unbelievably important, but in reality they are just dates on a calendar and numbers in a bank account.
So to be honest I don’t know what’s next. That’s the beauty of financial independence. We can choose the option of early retirement or we can choose to continue working.
That’s what FI buys us. We don’t have to work and we don’t have to retire. Instead, we have the option to make a choice. We can do what we want with our time.
We can also choose one thing in this moment and make a completely different decision in the near future.
The power of FI is not in leaving our jobs or finding new ones. The power is deciding what we’d like to do next.