Learning

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.

Self-doubt…
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.”

Lessons

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.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

7 thoughts on “Learning

  1. > but a few years post-RE the symptoms of disaffection begin.

    hehe, nary a word of the possible issues of a global pandemic and all that jazz? Maybe there’s a post in this for me

    FWIW. in my view pretty much everything gets better when you ice the 9 to 5, assuming that is, that you have enough, and that you can tell the lizard-brain that you have enough in a way that it can understand. Both of those are tough preconditions.

    To be honest, when I wrote the post you kindly linked the lizard-brain was chuntering about inflation. Having looked at the options, I am not prepared to work hard enough to be able to get safety from inflation. Arguably I am too young to be able to get there from here, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I live again as long as my (shortened) working life was, and the world into which I started work was very different from the world I retired into. There’s not huge amounts of evidence that the pace of change is slowing…

    I work at a lousy, low, level. TBH a day a week is probably optimal, of late because I am design I have been on the critical path so it has been more. I don’t like being on the critical path, so I hit it hard and furious to get it out of my way and over the wall, and now I want a break for a while. Fortunately the pattern is OK with the customer.

    But in a pandemic, there is something to be said for doing something creative with other people, and while I have moaned at length for years that work is overrated, it’s not been allowed to get together with a bunch of other guys and do recreational stuff (walk hills, do much as a group, drink beer etc).

    The right sort of work – one fellow saying how’s about this making it better and i push back and say that would be a bear to make but would this do? – and that sort of back and forth is a serviceable replacement, with the added benefit that if the coppers stop me on the M5 to Exeter from Somerset then I am actually on an approved mission of working – to go an manhandle the manufactured bits into the product with the other engineer and find out what fits and what could be made better. I have absolutely no need of the money, this last year I couldn’t spend what I have coming in as it is. The money will never defend me against the worst that could happen, the lizard brain needs to suck it up. And it has to be the right sort of work – creative design yes, deliveroo minimum wage not so much, although arguably the latter is a lot more useful to society in the grand scheme of things. But that’s not a problem I can fix.

    But yes, I did make a difference in something and shot some ideas back and forth in a year when you couldn’t get together with others recreationally. So it performed a wider role that a FI person needs to look for it ‘work’. It’s fair enough, strange times need strange solutions…

    So I am not so sure of burnt out with RE. There is always a dynamic balance between hope and fear, the dialectic between the rational self and the reptile self is never resolved, it is part of the human condition. It’s not surprising that in the face of a heightened mortal risk the reptilian self makes more noise 😉

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    1. Thanks for your comments Ermine. As you can imagine my working and non-working lives have been pandemic 24/7 so any pretence that it doesn’t exist is blessed relief, even if that’s only through its absence in blog posts. Given my stage in life’s/FI’s journey, Covid is (I hope) largely an irrelevance in the grander scheme.

      I’m not suggesting things don’t get better once 9-5 are stolen back from ‘the man’, merely that things won’t be perfect in perpetuity post-FIRE. ‘Work’ carries negative connotations, though ‘activities’ or ‘purpose’ carry different, equally incorrect ones. What one perhaps hopes for is enough action to keep the hands from being too idle, lest the devil put them to use. Enough of a dopamine hit to stop the brain seeking it elsewhere e.g. in the perverse form of returning to the 9-5. The dynamic balance you speak of is undoubtedly key.

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  2. I love Ermine to bits but I think you have to bear in mind he is preternaturally well aligned with early retirement. Have a good read of his blog, but consider YMMV if you try and follow suit.

    Some are born FIRE, some achieve FIRE and some have FIRE thrust upon them.

    My experience of the latter-most over the last year has been a mixed bag to say the least. A mixed bag of mostly unpalatable psychological items.

    A painful learning experience would be a fair description and I would have to conclude, despite my best effort to educate myself in readiness over the past decade or two, I am probably more RIT/SHMD than Ermine. I’m disappointed with myself but its probably best to be honest about these things.

    Setting up a boxing match, Eddie Hearn style, between your prefrontal cortex and your lizard brain is a *real* grudge match… someone is going to get hurt. Be prepared to suffer and suffer some more, mainly at times of the day when you’d much rather be asleep.

    My key takeaway is it doesn’t really matter how much you may have socked away, you’re amygdala with its status anxiety and its cold dread of what the future may hold will not take much solace from those numbers.

    Its been educational to experience first hand just how little control you have over your own mind when you begin to diverge, in the Frostian sense, on to the road less travelled in your wild and yellow wood.

    To continue with, and suitably mangle my mixed metaphor – I’m still not out of the woods, not by a long old chalk…

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    1. Thanks Rhino. I’m well acquainted with the Ermine’s inimitable style and views on FIRE, having been a long-time reader of the happenings in Somerset. Your experiences are exactly the sort I want to learn from. Not so that my own will be pain-free and all plain sailing, but more to cognitively prepare for the dips and corkscrews on the rollercoaster ride ahead. A mixed metaphor is always welcome here – Mrs. MedFI has a unique talent for creating them!

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    2. Hey – of course you’re not out of the woods yet. It takes at least six months to even come up for air after retiring – and that’s for normies under normal circumstances!

      Everyone is of course different, but it was over two years before I managed to gain control enough ro b able to do simple things like enjoy music again.

      You may well me more along the SMHD axis, but you aren’t accumulating data against a normal backdrop, so I’ve venture it’s a known unknown. There be pestilence staking the land, and that’s gonna tickle the lizard-brain.

      And of course H/T to our host for his work in the line of fire!

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  3. Hey thanks Ermine, appreciate the kind words. My dad said the same thing (on the 2+ years adjustment) after he was effectively retired from running his business due to changing govt regulations. I think part of my problem was the manner in which I stopped working (nasty fallout at a tiny startup) and then a failed attempt at changing sectors (had a crack at a fintech role). Self esteem and confidence now at low ebb which ideally I’d like to rebuild somehow. As you say, I don’t think the backdrop of the pandemic helps. Icing on cake is ongoing long-covid which robs you of your energy and cognitive capacity. Its amazing how tricky stuff gets when you’re totally out of gas and your brain feels like a damp sponge. I’m hoping oncoming spring/summer months and being able to finally get out of the house will snap me out of it. Self-pity is neither a good look nor a winning strategy.

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