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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Enduring

Posted by Tim Stobbs on November 2, 2016

Perhaps this is odd, but I’ve always had a sense of pride on my ability to use my willpower to finish difficult tasks.  For example, I’ve completed writing 50,000 words in a month twice (National Novel Writing Month) and signed up for third time, I will read 100 books in a year (2016), and we have improved our net worth from $66,000 to ~$900,000 in ten years.  None of those are easy, but I got them done.  I feel good when I get a hard goal completed and do feel a bit of pride at my ability to endure.

But perhaps more interesting is asking myself: why did you endure it at all?  Because when I ask that question I am forced to admit I likely have a lot more alternatives than I’m prepared to really examine.  My current one is why am I enduring work at all?  I could just leave tomorrow and be fine for like years and sort things out after the fact.

I think the honest answer is the fact that I’ve turn enduring almost a habit.  Just a bit more to the next goal, just a bit further to the one after that.  I’ve trained myself to a master level of making progress on some things in my life.  I’ve tricked myself into an endless cycle of improvement that I’m not ever sure what the end of it lies sometimes or take the time to appreciate what I’ve accomplished.

This becomes apparent to me when I look at my ability to get things done.  I’m very good at writing out a to do list for home or work and getting most of it done in a set period of time (week or weekend are the most common).  Yet what I’m not good at is relaxing enough some days.  I get so busy in the cycle of life I fail to step back and enjoy the view periodically.  I’m too absorbed in getting the next item done on the to do list that I forgot the point of the list was just to remember things.  Just because it is written down does not mean I need to do it right now.

So a deep concern I have going into retirement is: how will I adjust to all that free time?  As I previous mentioned I could keep very busy if I wanted to, but the broader question is then why did I bother doing all of this if I’m just working as hard as having a full time job.  Where is the payoff for enduring all these years towards a goal to merely replace it with some other goal?

Maybe I need to learn to do nothing.  Sit alone with my thoughts and bask in the moment.  Enjoy now and not look towards tomorrow to be happy.  To exist in the sunny afternoon with not much to achieve but enjoying the sun.  It isn’t that hard to just take a second and realize that you can have a happy moment just about any time of the day.  To do lists don’t have to be complete, it’s okay to disappoint others at times or even yourself after you sign on to a overly hard goals.  There is tomorrow and your to do list will never be done.

Not Alone

Posted by Tim Stobbs on October 12, 2016

“You are crazy!”

“You can’t do that!”

“But you are too young!”

Those are just a small sample of some of the reactions I’ve seen to my early retirement plans, as you may have noticed they are not particularly encouraging.  Actually I would save the majority of comments I see on websites that have a story on early retirement are negative.  You can argue the why of that until you run out of air, but in my case I’ve actually cease to care about the negative comments directed at myself.

What I don’t like about those negative comments is I wonder how many early retirement dreams were cut short before they ever began because that sort of feedback.  You have to keep in mind that those of us who are discussing our plans publicly are a tiny faction of the overall who just did it and didn’t tell anyone.  After all if you are willing to insert a little lie like “I work in private wealth management,” no one will ever know.

The major problem in the beginning for most people is the isolation.  With the typical person being negative towards the idea of early retirement, it is rather hard to meet someone who will talk to you as if it could happen. Or even provide some useful feedback on the crazy ideas running around your head.  Oddly, I think that is why I got interested in blogging myself: I wanted to share and discuss my ideas.  What I didn’t consider was how helpful it was to have someone read a post, leave a comment (good or bad) and indirectly tell me: you are not alone.

The journey to early retirement is a long one.  In fact, decades is the normal time frame.  So having doubts and being a bit lonely in the journey is entirely a normal feeling at some point.  It can be hard at the start to be so excited by the concept, but have no one around you to talk to.  So thank the heavens for the internet and personal finance bloggers!  Here at last is a group of people who you can talk to in forums, on blogs and now with conferences in person.  We can learn from each other and finally have someone tell you: you aren’t crazy, but have you considered this?  Again it will be rarely spoken or written, but it is still there: you are not alone.

So the next time you run into someone who is new to the idea of early retirement, try to be patient with them.  Not all blogs are the same, they will find one geared to their particular level eventually, just be nice to start with and remember to imply if not tell them: you are not alone.  We understand and welcome to the club.

The Dark Fears

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 24, 2016

I’m now finally towards the end of my long goal to save enough money to retire early at some point in the next year or two.  So on the one hand, I do fully admit to being a bit excited by that idea.  On the other hand I notice little bursts of fear and doubt surfacing periodically that for a moment crush that excitement in a burst of negative emotions.

Of course I think to myself: Dude, what’s your problem? You should be thrilled to be this close to done.

Yet those dark fears that I don’t spend much time thinking or talking about still bubble up.  Some of those thoughts include: Do I have enough money saved? What if I forgot something in my calculations? Can I actually pull the trigger at the end or will I fall to saving for one more year? Or even worse, if things go really well could I change my plan and pull it earlier than I’m planning? Should I save a bit longer and just don’t worry about some part time work?

Then after those thoughts burst through my head I remind myself that doubt is normal.  Hell even fear is completely normal in the case.  I’m planning to alter the single biggest part of my week days and leave full time work and the career I have always know for a completely uncharted area of my life.  So yes, fear is perfectly normal.

Yet acknowledging the fear as normal doesn’t make it go away.  So instead of avoiding these thoughts I have decided to spend some time in them looking at those questions in detail and trying to determine some idea of what that uncharted part of my life will look like.

In effect, I’m down into the weeds for a while looking at:

  • How exactly will I take the money out of the investment accounts to live on? Monthly, every quarter or yearly?  Which accounts do I use first?  How do I keep our income tax to a minimum?
  • I’m also looking at fears.  So I retire and the stock market tanks immediately – what do I do?  How much of a reduction in the markets do I tolerate prior to using that plan B?
  • What if I fail at retirement?  At what point do I go back to work full time?
  • What if I fail at writing fiction? Do I keep at it or switch to non-fiction? Or do both?
  • What else do I want to do with my life?  I’ve gained over 25 additional years without work, so what exactly do I want to accomplish with it?

Some of those are easier to answer by just writing up an investment plan that includes what do do when the stock market drops 5%, or 10% in a year.  I’ve also created a fairly detailed model of the first five years of retirement and stress tested various scenarios so I can see what happens if I don’t do any work at all during that time.

But even as I look at some of those questions I’ve come to realize something important.  You can’t always know everything in advance.  Some questions can’t really be answered in advance of that uncharted area of life.  I don’t really know what I will accomplish in the next 25 years of my life and well that isn’t that much different that most people.  I can’t know everything that could go wrong in the next 25 years with the stock or bonds markets. I can’t know government policy that will make things better or worse for me.

But I do know that I’ve learned to be more flexible about things.  I have managed to handle of lot of stressful situations in my life such as a 10 week premature baby, or working several jobs at once.  Yet I found a way to make it all work and I’m not about to really lose that skill set all of a sudden.

So in the end, I do think things will work out.  After all, why I’m considering all these dark thoughts I seem to forget something equally important: what if things turn out better than I expect?  After all I’ve been saving for over 10 years now towards this goal and I’ve consistently beaten my targets (hello, the title of the blog of free at 45, but I’m now looking at leaving before 40).  If I earn some extra money I will likely save it, since that is a really hard habit to get out of.  I’ve never spent everything I have earned and I really don’t think that will change in my retirement.

What are some of your dark fears about your retirement plans and how do you deal with them?