A monk was sitting with his friends at a table full of sweets. Cake, brownies, cupcakes, cookies – all kinds of confectionery. Everybody was indulging. Except the monk.
His friends said, “come on, have a little bit. It’s really good. It’s a special occasion. How long has it been? You used to have the BIGGEST sweet tooth of anyone I know!”
The monk said, calmly, “No thank you. I have no desire for sweets. I have enjoyed them for many years, and I have had enough.”
Everyone looked at him like he was crazy, and continued to indulge.
One, who was feeling guilty, asked, “How do you do it? You know, I really want to lose some weight, but I love sweets so much I can’t resist when they’re in front of me. What’s your secret?”
The monk smiled. “Keep eating.”
The New Drug
I had been afraid to look at how my net worth changed over the past year. I left my job over a year ago to “do whatever I wanted,” and since then have not had any stable income. Between selling stuff I had lying around and a few jobs I did for fun, I earned $1,859.42.
My total cash outflow for 2019 was $73,157.14. Higher than it had ever been before. I moved out of my parents house to my own apartment. I bought nice new furniture. I went on several trips, both domestic and international. I attended events. I bought personal development programs. I got a life coach. I bought a new suit. I spent as if I had all the money in the world.
I’m sure you can see why I had been afraid to look at the change in my net worth. I used to check it every month while I was working to see incredible gains. +$3,000, +$7,000, sometimes +$10,000 every MONTH. I knew that wasn’t happening in 2019.
Last Saturday something told me to face my fear.
This is what I saw:
Now you’re thinking, “Wow, no income, such high spending, sizable donations, and it INCREASED! That’s amazing. How did you do it?”
Yet I looked at this chart and felt something completely different. I felt pain. The pain of could have, should have, would have.
I should have continued working so I could have saved and invested more and I would have had more than half a million bucks by now. I was really tempted to do the calculation to see how much I would have had had I not made such a big mistake.
I can’t tell you how many times I beat myself up for leaving my stable-income, good-benefits, plenty-of-challenges job. I thought it was the biggest mistake of my life, that I’d never recover and get my life back on track. Family and friends echoed that thought. I believed it. I believed them. I thought I should ask for my job back. I thought I could get a similar job so I wouldn’t become unemployable. I thought I could be good at something completely different. I started applying for jobs, doing some new things, attending events, workshops, and trainings in attempt to “light the fire” within me.
Nothing worked. The real issue was this: I was not being honest with myself about who I wanted to be.
All my life I had been sitting on this branch by the stream of life, watching it go by. I didn’t need to take responsibility for my actions because I was a product of my environment. For each mistake I made, I had a justification and someone or something to blame. Why should I be at fault? I was just doing what I was told to do, or what I saw other people doing. It was the accepted thing.
Plus, everybody said it was the safe thing to do. “Life is hard. The world is brutal. You’ll be safe here. Don’t let go!” While deep down I wanted to, I was way too afraid to let go. I felt it was inevitable, I just thought I’d delay it as much as possible. Why not wait?
But when I made the mistake, the biggest mistake of my life, I wobbled and fell off the branch. I hung on for dear life, trying to resist the flow of life. My arms had no strength to pull me back up. Not that they’re weak – they’re stronger and bigger than they’ve ever been before. But I had no strength to perform that particular action.
I had two options: Hang on for dear life for the rest of my life; or let go.
How sad was I to believe that life had reached its peak at 27. How sad was I to think that I’d spend the rest of my life trying to rebuild what I once had. Maybe enough twigs would float over in my direction so that I could build a little raft so my arms could relax.
The biggest mistake of my life is ahead of me. I can’t wait to see what it will be.
There are so many things that people wish they had the time and money for. People want to travel, start a business, go back to school, support their families, buy cars and houses, and just take time for themselves. The things they lack are time, which they don’t have because they have to go to work, and money, which they don’t have because they don’t know where it all goes.
That was me in the beginning. I was someone who knew nothing about money other than how to make it. I taught myself how to implement the steps to building wealth, and in short order I was full of myself as my investment account was.
Financial Independence is not difficult to achieve. Wealth is not difficult to build.
I can take someone who knows nothing about money and set them on the path to financial freedom in a few months.
But there’s a problem. A BIG problem.
One that I ignored, then threw myself from the ladder.
Most people are running away from something. They want to become financially independent so that they don’t have to go to work. They don’t have to wake up early. They want to become wealthy so their children don’t have to struggle as they did. They don’t have to pay down their debts anymore. They don’t have to choose between their money or their life.
Money is not about that.
I, along with many others who have reached Financial Independence, have realized this the hard way. Money will not change your life. It won’t fix it. So many people believe that once they are rich, they will no longer have “have to‘s” in their lives, and they can be happy.
No, money won’t change your life. It will enhance your life though. Including the problems.
Read between the lines of each person’s story I linked to just above. All of the problems they talked about experiencing after reaching Financial Independence were present in their lives before they reached Financial Independence.
Saving is the opiate of the Financial Independence movement. I was addicted for four years. It numbed the pain, gave me something to live for. I didn’t have to face my problems because I was doing the accepted thing. Who thinks saving is bad? When I got off, I went through withdrawals. What was I worth when the 80% of my income I was saving became $0?
I see a lot of people getting on saving. The media portrays the lifestyles of the rich and wealthy and perfect in every regard. Now, they are turning the Financial Independence movement as a way to live a rich, wealthy life and stop working in a short amount of time. This is partly because some of the biggest names in the FIRE movement have painted such a rosy picture in blogs, podcasts, and on social media without being honest about the dark side of Financial Independence. They may not know how, and that’s okay. But there are several stories just like mine popping up every day.
You know, the funny thing is that I read some of the stories about the dark times people went through once they achieved financial independence. My ego didn’t let me get the message. I thought I would be the exception.
I thought I knew who I was.
Now I know there are some of you who still think you’re not saving enough. You know you would be better with more money. You may even be in awe that my net worth increased after a year of doing whatever I wanted. You may want to know my secret.
There’s only one thing I can tell you.
March 2020 Update
I’ve never lived through a recession. Many who lived through the 2000 and 2008 market crashes told me, “You have no idea what it’s like. Just you wait. See how you feel when your portfolio gets cut in half.”
Always wondered how I’d feel.
I gotta say, it’s pretty underwhelming.