Everyone dreams of becoming free.
I’ve been working at it for a little over a decade myself. At twenty-four, after three years in my industry, I was hit with the stark realization that I didn’t want to do what I was doing forever; the thought of continuing on my current path until 65 or so felt unbearable.
Doing something you love for twenty or thirty hours a week is beautiful, even perfect. Doing the same thing for forty, fifty, sixty hours a week, no matter how much you may enjoy the core function, is a form of torture.
I felt like I was cursed to stumble through a dark cave for the rest of my life. (Yeah, I know, that might sound overly dramatic, but hell, that’s what feelings are — dramatic. And the truth is that’s how I felt.)
So I reached out. Co-workers, even senior folks that had been in the business for decades, offered no solutions. This is life, kiddo, they told me. What else are you going to do? You’ll get used to it.
I couldn’t accept the conventional wisdom, so off I went to the library. Looking back, I wish we had google — it would have made the journey much simpler.
After stumbling through loads of garbage, books about getting rich quick, stock picking and market timing, I found a gem called Your Money or Your Life. It opened my eyes.
This book urged people to think about work, life, time, and money in a different way than I’d previously considered. Your salary isn’t actually your salary, the authors wrote. Your hourly wage isn’t actually your hourly wage. You need subtract all surrounding costs in the equation to compute your real wage.
I started doing the math and found that I didn’t just work 45+ hours a week performing the actual function of my position. I was also putting in an additional 10+ hours a week thinking about my job, losing sleep over my job, buying clothes and getting dressed for my job, commuting to my job. It owned me. Once at work, I frequently went out to lunch with co-workers because hey, that’s what people did. Tack on another cost. I went out to dinner and drinks with people because I was expected to. Reluctantly attended Christmas parties and end-of-quarter after-work gatherings. Everything cost money, time. And everything needed to be included in the final tally of what the job cost me.
The cost was too great to bear. My hourly rate was halved after taking everything into consideration. Unpaid overtime, unpaid mandatory social events, uncompensated internal thoughts and planning related to fulfilling the requirements of my position. Software developers often say that they dream in code, which, if true, means that it’s possible for folks like me to consider the entirety of the week, 24×7 — 168 hours — to be considered working hours. But it doesn’t matter what your field is — everyone thinks about their job during so-called leisure time. It’s unavoidable.
Fortunately, the book offered a solution. Save and invest as much money as you can such that your money makes more money. Eventually, the money you make on investments will eclipse the cost of living. It is at that point, the crossover point, that you become Financially Independent. You no longer have any need to work.
FI. The concept rang true. Having enough money to buy my own freedom became the goal of my life.
I started to track my spending, my debts, my saving. Prior to reading YMOYL, I hadn’t even been enrolled in my company 401(k) plan. Afterwards, it suddenly became critical to examine the trajectory of my financial life. Because I recognized that taking control of your finances is taking control of your future.
Newly motivated, I learned how to cut my own cost of living. To save and invest. To keep track of money coming in and money going out. Because my new objective — the only goal that made any sense to me in the broader scheme of things — was to construct a life where I could eventually buy my own freedom.
I go through large stretches of life where the primary thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that I won’t be doing what I’m doing forever. That there’s an endpoint to the insane repetition of days, weeks, and years. A light leading out of the caverns, where the rest of the world lies waiting.