This is an interesting topic that Emily and I were discussing today. At some point, people quit believing that they can be anything they want to be. When, though? And more importantly, why? There are a couple of key points to this article. First, is a take on family dynamics, when those change, and we explore the reasons why. Second, we explain the actual benefit of certain lifestyle choices to open up your world to get back to that same place of possibility and excitement.
‘You can be anything you want to be!’
-Your parents, as long as you’re under 14 years old.
This overarching topic came up because we were discussing how family can be, and are, critical of some of our life choices. Which brought up the question: at what point do parents switch their tune of ‘you can accomplish anything you want’ and imploring you to continue exploring your interests to figure out what you would enjoy doing to browbeating teens and young adults to make safe, boring, and passionless choices. It’s an interesting question, that doesn’t have a clear answer. As we aren’t parents, we’ve only been on one side of this exchange.
As a parent, telling your child they can be anything is a harmless thing, after all, they’re just kids. This is a way to foster their imagination, help them find their passions, and teach them to not limit themselves. Want to be an astronaut? A rock star? A doctor? A professional athlete? Go for it! Knowing damn well that statistically, they aren’t going to be any of those things. It’s just a fun way to keep them upbeat and optimistic about life before they find out that the world is going to try to beat their asses down until they’re malleable unenthusiastic little gears that fit into the machine and never have any individuality.
At a certain point though, this is no longer a fun little exercise, it becomes poor parenting and borderline dangerous. Imagine having to tell other family members, co-workers, and even acquaintances that your kid is something other than some incredibly successful pretentious asshole. Of course everyone wants to be proud of their kids, but competing with other people over their kids’ accomplishments is a whole other level. In their defense, the unknown is scary. The known, which is a bullshit 9-5 job isn’t scary, even though it sucks. After all, your life isn’t that bad, is it?
We are both in typical jobs, and our parents are proud of us. We invest in real estate, and while our family doesn’t really understand it, they’re still proud of us. When we say we are quitting our jobs to live off investments, it’s such a foreign concept to them, that they can’t be on board. They’ll still say they’re proud of us, but they openly question why we would quit our jobs at the peak of our careers thus far. If we maintained our jobs, even though we hated them, bought all the usual things (newer cars, newer phones, bigger house, etc), and lived an otherwise miserable existence, that wouldn’t get questioned at all. After all, that’s the American dream: to have your ‘need’ for showing off possessions to surpass every other priority in your life, even if it means sacrificing your physical, financial, and mental health.
Quit your jobs to blog? Quit your jobs to travel full time? Quit your jobs before having other W2 jobs lined up? That’s madness. Instead, their idea of helpful advice is to ignore the math, stick it out for 40 more years at that miserable job, and then you can live the life of your dreams, for the few years that you are physically able, and then you can regret not quitting sooner.
Build the Life You Want
To me, this is the biggest benefit of FIRE. By focusing on living within your means, saving, and investing, you can ‘retire’ decades early. Now, what do you do to fill that time? Anything. You. Want. Now you can go back to the mindset that you had as a child when your parents told you that you could be anything in the world. Want to become a professional dancer? You can now spend 40+ hours a week practicing the tango. Turns out you hate dancing? Quit, and now you can spend your time being a professional scuba diver. Build furniture, make music, write, paint, exercise, volunteer. You can choose to do literally any hobby or interest full time, part time, or no time. You aren’t feeling ambitious this month, and your whole goal is to watch every offering on Netflix and to get the trash to the road on Thursdays? Well, damn it, you can do that, not that I suggest it.
All of a sudden, the whole world of possibilities is open again. And even better, unlike when you were a kid, this time you hopefully have a solid understanding of your likes and dislikes. Of course, there are going to be some limitations. As a 40 year old man or woman, you aren’t going to be an Olympic gymnast, but with the right sport choice, you can still be an Olympian. You also don’t have to pick any one thing if you don’t want. Spend your days, weeks, and months doing whatever happens. Cook with your family one day, take a bike ride the next day, try to learn to code the day after that, eliminate all obligations for a month and travel to a place you’ve never been, or a place that you love to go. The world is your oyster.
‘But, James, what if I actually like my job?’ Congratulations, once you hit FI, you’ll like it even more. Without the concern of a steady paycheck, it shifts the power from your employer to you. You can turn down aspects of your job that suck, or you don’t enjoy. You can design your dream job. Worst case scenario, your employer doesn’t go for it, and you either suffer through the shitty parts, or you start looking for another job that fits your criteria. Best case scenario, your employer realizes how vital you are, and wants to do anything to keep you on board so you get to essentially create your own job description.
Another thing is, there are a lot of people who love their job. Until they don’t. Jobs change, managers change, co-workers change. If you love what you do, and who you do it for then count yourself lucky. But, what if your manager leaves, and you’re stuck working for someone that you loathe. Or, your company gets bought by another company and they come through and change all the expectations of your job and your two favorite co-workers quit. Do you still love your job? If you’ve taken the precautionary actions of accumulating a nice little nest egg, this situation doesn’t have to be a prison sentence. You can quit before you’ve got another job lined up.
We are going to pretend to be all of your parents for a minute. Listen to us very closely. You can still be anything you want to be, and we will be proud of you. You don’t have to feel stuck in the choice that you made at 17 years old when you picked a major and profession that you thought would make your family happy. Don’t feel trapped in a career path that you didn’t even really choose, but one that you just kind of fell into. There has never been an easier time in history to pursue your true passions. The world is an amazing place where people are doing incredible things. Be one of those people. We are going to close out this article with one of our favorite quotes:
‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”