Our lives are too short to be able to learn everything through our own experiences.
A degree of how we behave comes from lessons learned through the experiences of others. Assimilating these lessons into our own schema is a process; listening, reading, empathising, weighing, reflecting, adopting or rejecting. Second-hand experiential learning is an invaluable skill.
Don’t mistake my sentiment as an advert for blindly following what you read or hear. Due diligence is…well, due. But those who can hone said skill will be able to act synergistically by marrying together the auto- and allo- experienced.
Investor behaviour in a market dip is the perfect example. How should you behave when your numbers start falling for the first time? You have no personal experience to draw on. Those who are able to critically appraise and then follow the oft-repeated advice of not selling are likely to profit. Those who haven’t been able to glean this lesson from others may end up learning it themselves (which is no bad thing, though perhaps fiscally sub-optimal).
More than a number
This month I’ve been reading the decumulation blueprints on offer over at SQ HQ. What can I learn? Which parts of peoples’ plans resonate with me, reflect my values, match my ambitions? Which aspects, ideas or goals should I co-opt to adorn my minimal viable plan? This isn’t obsequious adulation or imitation of others. It’s integration.
At the time of writing there were posts by fourteen other authors. I admire their variety, ranging from meticulous intricacy to broad sweeps of the FI brush. The theme of these heterogenous plans is unsurprising; finance, money, assets, quantity. All-in I classify the majority of them as being mostly or entirely numbers-based.
What stood out, however, was how few described their non-financial intentions for the long, work-free, financially independent glide path. Where were peoples’ plans for their free time, for maintaining joie de vivre, for optimising life’s quality? Although by no means the only post symptomatic of this, FI UK Money encapsulated the notion perfectly:
“I don’t anticipate any problems on [the behavioural] front as we both work for ourselves and are self-sufficient in many respects. We don’t have any trouble filling our spare time out of work and we are looking forward to a less hectic existence.”
A Chat with Kat seems to lend suitable weight to this aspect of the endgame in her seedling plans, though undoubtedly the stand-out post is Living A FI‘s tour de force on his life since becoming financially independent. It’s rich in experiences we can all learn from.
Perhaps there’s an erroneous expectation on my behalf – articles on decumulation are naturally going to be finance-focused. Perhaps it reflects a difficulty or unwillingness to articulate the more personal, emotional or nebulous aspects of retirement plans. Perhaps focusing on the cold, hard numbers is easier than sharing desires, dreams or aspirations, or facing up to the reality that FI(RE) won’t quash all of life’s difficulties.
There appears to be this supposition that shedding the 9-5 will bring about an automatic, indefinite increase in quality of life. This seems a truly erroneous assumption to make…
FIRE burnt out?
2020 saw a ripple of discontent in the FI blogging sphere; a communal pause for thought. There was a slew of commentary on the merits and sustainability of a post-FIRE lifestyle.
I’ll refrain from too detailed a dissection of the issues that arose, but themes included redundancy, boredom, social isolation, purposelessness, status anxiety and the arrival fallacy.
• GFF decides FIRE isn’t for him
• Indeedably ponders being stagnant, and short-sighted
• The Accumulator expresses his FIRE fears
• The Ermine thinks about working again
• Finimus describes the slide from rejuvenation to ennui
• Fire and Wide shares warnings of the post-FI reality
The timing of the early retirement reality hitting home seems variable. Blog-based evidence would suggest at three to five months things are still rosy, but a few years post-RE the symptoms of disaffection begin. This is no taboo or secret; other authors have provided insight on how it might be avoided.
When describing successful early retirees, Sassenach Saving summarises: “A common theme of each of these stories…[is that] most of them retired to something else. They didn’t simply quit a 50+ hour per week job with no plans for what comes next.”
Early retiree Bully the Bear reflects that “If we don’t have a meaningful outlet to pour our life’s best work in, we’ll never end up free, regardless of whether materially we are financially free or not.”
What have I learned?
Articulating the post-FI(RE) ‘activity’ plan is difficult, but assuming everything will be better once the 9-5 shackles are off is folly. Nobody can predict life’s vicissitudes – the issue with financial independence is that you are predicating your plans on the notion that your future life mirrors your life of today. Returning to work, for reasons financial or otherwise, is not wrong or bad. If, however, avoiding undesired or unintentional changes in lifestyle post-FIRE is the aim, then one’s planning must incorporate a degree of malleability.
Driving at high speed and then slamming on the brakes risks setting off the airbags. Coasting to a stop seems like a better strategy. Tapering work, rather than sudden cessation, will facilitate adjusting. There’ll be a sweet spot between ‘all work’ and ‘no work’. A working-wean can help discover where that optimum balance lies. Evidence from the Blue Zones suggests that purposeful work contributes to longevity; a planned, meaningful pursuit will be both beneficial and necessary.
Early retirement discontentment is common and strikes after a couple of years. The initial satisfaction is derived from free time, a lack of work commitments, time spent with family/friends, exploration of other hobbies etc. Eventually this is replaced by frustration, ennui, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. At the point of reaching FI, a 1-2 year sabbatical could instigate the initial benefits. Returning to employment in a more limited capacity, followed by the aforementioned gradual reduction in workload, might mitigate the onset of the detrimental aspects of early retirement.
None of these lessons will grossly affect my MVP. Indeed, they are mostly in keeping with my existing philosophies – simplicity, flexibility, resilience and a focus on quality.
Overall the lesson remains clear: financial independence must be permissive, not definitive.