Life is short. That’s what I figured out when I turned 35. Before that, I never gave much thought to the impermanency of life. Fortunately, I didn’t lose any friends and families when I was young. As I got older, I became much more conscious of friends, family, coworkers, and even celebrities who passed away. Micheal Jackson, Christopher Reeve, Patrick Swayze, Steve Irvin, John Ritter are all people I grew up with and they all died pretty young. They made me realized that I have to find happiness now and not put it off for too long.
*This post was written in 2014. Updated in 2020.
Anyway, I just heard that Dan, one of my coworkers from Intel, passed away. Dan was around 55 years old, but I’m not really sure. He never took the management route and he still enjoyed the technical aspects of engineering. He didn’t like the corporate environment and he always had something to complain about. He just seemed to be unhappy most of the time. I thought he was going to retire soon, but I guess he didn’t make the jump.
My last few years at Intel were terrible. My physical and mental health was deteriorating fast. I knew that the situation was untenable and I began planning my exit strategy. The money was good, but life isn’t just about money. In 2012, I left my engineering career behind and became a SAHD/blogger. Today, I’m much closer to living the life I want. We have less income, but my family is much happier overall. If you’re unhappy about your life (job in particular), then maybe these steps can help you figure out a way to move on to the next phase.
Why are you unhappy?
The first step is to figure out why you’re unhappy. Is it the particular job you’re doing? Is it the work environment and the company you’re working for? Or is it the whole career that’s you’re unhappy with? Actually, I started not liking my engineering job quite a while before I quit. In 2004, I moved from being a design engineer to a hardware validation engineer for a change of scenery. I stayed with the same company, but I changed offices, coworkers, job functions, and many other things. Life improved a bit, but the relief didn’t last long. Eventually, I realized that it’s not the job that I was unhappy with. It’s the whole corporate culture and engineering career. It took many years for me, but I finally figured out that I had to find another way.
Don’t listen to the critics
Recently, I received quite a few emails from readers who are trying to retire early. Many of them encounter stiff resistance from friends and family when they shared this goal. The American culture values hard work and quitting your job/career is a big no-no. My friends and family also didn’t understand why I wanted to quit my engineering career. Why spend all that time going to school, build a career, then quit at the beginning of your prime earning years? That’s downright anti-American.
Well, actually I did listen to one critic – Mrs. RB40. She was pregnant when I started Retire By 40 and she didn’t like it one bit. She values financial security (something that was ingrained from her childhood) and quitting my job would put that into jeopardy. I spent 2 years keeping track of all our income and expenses to show her that we can make it work. We cut out frivolous purchases and saved all my income during that period. We proved that early retirement is sustainable. She’s still working so we’re not quite 100% FIRE, but we’re on the way there. She plans to take a year off in 2022. Then, we’ll see if she wants to go back to work after a year off.
You just have to tune out the critics who don’t know your whole situation. Just focus on showing your immediate family that you can make it work.
Find what matters to you
For me, the main goal was to get out of the stressful career I was stuck in. However, I also had to figure out what to do next. You don’t want to quit your job and sit around all day. That’s an express ticket to Depressionville. You still need goals and aspirations after early retirement. At least, you need to have a short term plan and figure out what you’ll do for a few years after pulling the cord. Some people take a trip around the world. Some people volunteer. Some go back to school to find a different career. The possibilities are endless. Everyone has different callings and you just need to find yours.
For me, I became a stay at home dad and it has been great. It’s really a privilege to be able to spend this much time with my son. I know it’s not for every dad or mom, but it has been the 8 best years of my adult life. Being a SAHD became much easier when our son started school. I was able to spend more time blogging, running errands, and take some personal time. However, this year he’s learning from home due to the 2020 pandemic. I had to cut back on blogging a bit and spend more time being a dad. It isn’t bad, though. He’s older now and he’s much easier to handle than when he was a toddler.
Start Now and keep pushing.
I started blogging in 2010 and left my career in 2012. Is it really that easy? No, it didn’t just take 2 years to achieve my goal. I saved and invested since I started working in 1996. My goal wasn’t early retirement then, but I’m extremely glad I started investing so early in life. Early saving and investing gave me more choices. If I put off investing, it would have taken much longer to FIRE. Everyone should save and invest as much as they can when they’re young. You’ll have a lot more options later if you have some savings and passive income. You might love your job now, but who knows how you’ll feel in 10 or 20 years.
If you want to change your life, then start now. Read a lot, talk to some people who are living the life you want, and write up an exit strategy. It may take years, but you need to take a step and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Life is a journey
It took me a long time to realize that life is a journey and the journey is what you make of it. You don’t have to let other people tell you how to live. You can try different things and if it doesn’t work out, try something else. In 2014, being a SAHD took up all of my time, but it got much easier when our kid started school. In 2020, life sucks due to COVID, homeschooling, the economy, the election, and many other things. However, all those things will pass. 2021 will be a better year. Life will keep changing.
I used to be much more rigid and thought I had to stick with my career. People passing on around me really opened my eyes and showed me that life is short. My worst nightmare is to work at a job I don’t like and die at 55. I would have spent a huge chunk of my life doing something I despise. I would have missed out on these awesome years with my son and I wouldn’t even realize it.
What about you? Are you living the life you want? If not, what are you doing to change it?
Image credit: Jacqueline Munguia
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Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.