[We’re in the California Deserts this week to visit Mrs. RB40’s families. Summer isn’t the best time to visit the deserts (so hot!), but we got some family stuff to take care of. We’ll just have to get things done in the morning and hang out at the pool in the afternoon. The Joshua Tree National Park is on our itinerary, but we probably won’t stay long.
Today, Early Retirement Dude is helping out with a fun story. FI is really awesome, but happiness is even better. Read how his friend found happiness.]
I was famous, or rather “famous,” when I was twenty-three. From 1991 to 1993–my business school days–I was a disc jockey for two local radio stations: the big classic rock one and the dinky college alternative one. Good times. Work all day, party all night.
When you’re a DJ you get recognized around town. People want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You do live broadcasts from bars and get free concert tickets and go backstage and they give you the rock-star treatment. It’s heady.
But I was indoctrinated into the birth-school-work-death cycle, as so many of us have been. And I found my first job to be a severe culture shock. I’d been conditioned to think of having a corporate job as “normal,” so after graduating I left my rock-n-roll lifestyle and joined the workforce…whereupon, although I was making scads more in salary, I was immediately miserable and started planning my escape.
You grok me? Being ill-suited to corporate careerism? Going nuts one slow day at a time, for money? Regretting, maybe, that you sold your dreams for less than they were worth?
Some of us find salvation in the pursuit of FI/ER. Others…well, let me introduce you to my friend Serrano.
During my DJ days I moved in the same circles with a bunch of local musicians who were my age. Serrano was among the best of them. (I leave you to guess why everybody called him Serrano, but you’ll figure it out.)
Serrano was the drummer for a grunge band. And he was GOOD. I’d never seen or heard a drummer like him, and as a DJ I’d seen plenty. Serrano was talented…great-looking…had a shock of curly black hair…and we all wanted to strangle him for it.
But halfway through his senior year Serrano knocked up his girlfriend. They had a quickie wedding by an evergreen-shaded creek in a nearby national park. I was one of his groomsmen.
Naturally Serrano was dejected about what had happened–mourning his old life and learning how to breathe in his new one–but before we get into the “Kids ruin FI/ER” debate, know that he and his girlfriend were genuinely in love and the two of them had always wanted a big family. So they’d gotten it: even if too early. Twins. Serrano and his wife had twins.
Serrano, being a straight-up guy, took a full-time job in his major–which this being prior to the internet was some kind of mainframe network development I’d never heard of. He tried to keep his band going for a while, but what with all his new responsibilities he just couldn’t hack it.
Fast-forward twenty-five years of high times and low. Today the twins and Serrano’s other two kids are grown and gone, but Serrano and his wife are still happily married. I asked him one time about where his head at is with respect to his drummer days, and he says he doesn’t regret a thing.
In December of 2015 Serrano got laid off from Comcast (hereinafter “Satan.”) Satan had some kind of shortfall in his quarterly numbers, so he took up his brimstone hay-fork and prodded Serrano’s sales-support IT department into that eternal hell of laying everybody off and making them reapply on their own jobs.
Serrano didn’t get his job back. Naturally the layoff/reapplication process included a cut in head count, and Satan filled Serrano’s seat with an employee who was younger and less skilled than he was, yet senior to him and better connected politically.
Serrano was devastated. He had to interview all across the country, find another job, sell his house, pack up his wife and her mother, and split town.
But here’s the serendipitous thing. I didn’t know Serrano was shooting for this until after it happened, but he found a job running the various library systems for the Athens campus of the University of Georgia…which, if you didn’t know, is an epicenter of the college music scene. It was a pay cut, OK, but there was this one particular side benefit.
He called me a couple of months later. “Dude, get this…me and these four guys are playing a gig together and I want you to come down.”
“No way,” I said.
“Yeah, man. I mean…it’s a wedding and all, but it’s a couple of tattoo artists. They’re cool. A gig, dude. I can’t even tell you how good it feels.”
Right the frig on, I thought. “I’ll be there,” I promised.
And I was. Serrano was a little rusty on the skins, but by God, his joy filled the ballroom.
We got caught up over a few IPAs, and me being me, we talked a while about finances. He’s got your standard retirement plan. No pension but puts some money in the university’s 403(b) every year, which he’ll be eligible to draw from in twelve or so years. House is almost paid off and they’ve got some savings. Looking like he’ll get to draw Social Security. And he’s got one other thing going for him: given that he and his wife have four kids, they won’t lack for food or shelter in their old age.
Serrano will never be financially independent or early retired. But so what? He snuck up on an old source of happiness, seized it, and jammed it back into his life.
And isn’t that a potential we all have? We make our choices but we never relinquish the freedom to change our minds. Happiness is out there waiting for us, we can find it, and in fact it wants to be found. Maybe not in FI/ER, but hell…most of us will never be ace drummers, either. Many paths, one goal.
The Early Retirement Dude tunneled out of the workforce in 2005 after a twelve-year corporate career in financial services. He did it the old-fashioned way: hustled, saved money, and put it to work for him. Since making his escape he’s done pretty much whatever he wanted, but now the rum is gone (why is the rum always gone?) and he’s fallen back on running, bicycle touring, hanging out with old friends, and trying his best to be a good father and husband. He does, however, occasionally step on his naughty bits. Visit EarlyRetirementDude.com for his insights into all things early retirement, including his award-winning history of the financial independence movement.