Work on Your Options Because Life’s a Bitch

I was saddened to find out this month that one of my colleagues at work had passed away suddenly.

At one point in my career, he was one of my managers, and we worked closely together on various projects.

He died at the age of 60 when most people start to contemplate retiring at some future date.

It’s easy to imagine all the things he will no longer be able to experience:

  • All the excellent travel plans he and his wife had envisioned
  • Taking up coaching lacrosse, which was one of his passions
  • Retiring to a city where he could enjoy the outdoors
  • Pursuing various hobbies at his leisure
  • Spending quality, stress-free time with his loved ones

Many of these things were abruptly taken away from him during what I imagine to have been just another ordinary night.

Of course, death can creep up on us at any time, and with no warning. I recognize that’s a fact of life and something that’s out of our control.

Still, though, the news hit me hard. But not for the reasons you might imagine.

A Silver Lining

You see this individual was one of the few co-workers that I’m aware of who retired early. He walked away from his job and successful career at the young age of 48.

He and his wife moved to a beautiful, outdoorsy city, and he got to experience every last one of the things I listed earlier. Although his loss deeply saddened me, I couldn’t help but see a significant silver lining.

He had managed to extract 12 very high-quality years out of his life, an effective 25% discount on his freedom. That’s something to celebrate and admire.

I still remember how I tried to process the news of his early retirement those years back. It was a very unusual development, and I was on the cusp of my financial awakening. Looking back, I’m sure that witnessing his exit from corporate drudgery affected accelerating my awakening.

A Road Less Travelled

After I had recovered from the news of his passing, I spent a lot of time thinking about what his life would’ve been like had he not taken that fork in the road 12 years ago, which led him to reclaim some of his freedom.

It’s quite a frightening thought. I have multiple examples of peers of his, who continued to work well past the age of 60. Many of them passed away very shortly after they retired. I’m confident they all passed away having accumulated a lot more money and had more impressive net worth values than he did.

But if life is a game of happiness, he managed to squeeze more pleasure out of those 12 years than any of his peers had during their entire careers. I say this because I watched them all work crazy hours, neglect their families, and defer their desires to a later time.

Sadly that later time never came for them. But it did for him, and it’s because he chose freedom over accumulation.

It’s About Freedom

When you run a personal finance blog, it’s easy for the main message to get buried under a pile of spreadsheets and financial projections.

Readers of this type of blog love to see numbers and crunch data. Money porn is a real phenomenon. I’m guilty of it myself.

But it’s events like the example with my colleague that serve as reminders of what this whole FIRE experiment is supposed to be about. It’s not about money for its own sake; it’s about maximizing happiness by creating options.

The more options available to you, the more freedom of choice you have to pursue what makes you happy.

It’s possible he would have been happily working a traditional career until the age of 60, some people love their jobs, and it’s their primary source of happiness. That shouldn’t stop them from making sure they have options in life.

A happy career can quickly turn into a miserable one. All it takes is a leadership change, or financial hardship at a company to turn your professional life upside down.

The earlier you give yourself access to real freedom, the better off you’ll be in the end.

My Strategy

I’m pursuing the earliest freedom I can practically manage for my family. I’m hyper-focused on the financials at this time, because I feel that’s my most significant obstacle concerning creating more options for myself and my family.

Getting the financials right will not guarantee happiness, but it will undoubtedly open up more opportunities to seek that happiness.

These are just some examples of the actions (past and present) my household is taking to create more options:

  • Reducing expenses well below our spending power. On a net income basis, our expenses are now less than 20% of our earnings. No lifestyle inflation here.
  • I am pushing for career progression and additional responsibility to maximize income. Our household income increased 5-fold over a 15-year career span.
  • I have eliminated all debt from our life. This helps the first bullet tremendously and frees up a ton of cash flow.
  • Started a FIRE fund to finance our freedom, with an aggressive plan to increase it considerably within five years.

Having the option to freely pursue whatever I desire, without compromising my family’s financial health is the ultimate objective.

The earlier I can make that happen, the better off I will be. This recent event with my colleague has further strengthened my resolve to chase freedom because, in the end, life’s a bitch…and then you die!


12 thoughts on “Work on Your Options Because Life’s a Bitch

  1. My grand father was a parapalegic by 32 and gone by 41. I’m 38. That’s my reminder to enjoy every moment as you never know. For the record by other grand father made it to 80 and my great uncles are in their 90s. So who knows.

  2. Thank you for the post. It drives home the point that money is just a tool to give you options in life. As a physician, I see bad stuff everyday. My role as a radiologist is to diagnosis disease through images. Everyday, there is at least one sad case – a “young” working age person with cancer of some sort. I’m constantly reminded to live life in the now, and be present in the moment.

  3. I’ve written before about seeing 2 colleagues – one who dropped dead one night at his back door, the other one struggling into work and teaching well beyond when she (and her students) wanted her to. It made me want to walk out the door while I was still enjoying teaching and while my students were still enjoying my classes and go galloping all over the world while I was still nimble enough to do it.
    (In that spirit, I’m taking a week’s Long Service Leave to add onto my 2 week’s school holidays, and next week I’m jumping on a plane to see China and North Korea!!! Exciting and a little scary too…)
    You’ve got to be able to grab opportunities when they arise, and being FI is a big part of that.

  4. When you see something like this happen, it can really make you think and re-evaluate what you are doing.
    Nothing wrong with working, but I’ve seen first-hand how the corporate culture can change for the worse over time. What used to be more like “family” slowly eroded as management changes and new policies took effect. New VP’s who didn’t even know you were making the rules and your manager and directors could do little about it. Do you want to devote yourself to that crap and be under their control until you’re 60+? You dont want to give up all your good years and die working for a company that doesnt really give a sh*t about you. Being in a position to buy back your freedom and have a choice is what its about. I’m basically at FI now and plan to keep it that way. I wont put up with that nonsense ever again.

  5. This is exactly why, at age 53, I pulled the ripcord and walked away from my job this week. I’m on sabbatical – I don’t know for how long. Three patients younger than me died this week. I can’t trade one more second for money right now. Working in a toxic corporate “hospital” culture along with frequent bad news was all I needed for a push to reach my best life yet.

  6. I think I got very lucky in life because I started a hedge fund with a friend straight out of university. Working for others can only make you a living. Working for yourselves can lead to exponential income.

  7. I disagree that life is a happiness game or that financial independence will secure happiness.

    Life is suffering and to persevere through that is what gives us brief happiness.

    Financial freedom does two things: It allows you to self direct your suffering rather than compulsory work. And it provides us resources and time to try to mitigate suffering from aging.

  8. Awesome piece, and thanks for sharing this humbling story.

    Events like that really put FIRE into perspective, and reminds those chasing it that controlling their TIME is the ultimate destination.

    Mine came in a different form this past week. I went down to southern Florida for vacation with the family, and the one thing I really appreciated was how peaceful it was down there. It gave me another spark of trying to reach my families FIRE dream ASAP!

  9. Death always puts life into perspective. We have a finite amount of time on this planet. It is great to save and invest the way that we do. There is no sense in putting off living until there is x amount of money in the bank. Everyday needs to be enjoyed on the path to FIRE.

  10. Thank you for your article!

    While I’m not guilty of money porn (at least not now anyway, grew out of it), I do sometimes get lost in the “FIRE getting.” The hustle and bustle of make make make, must reach FIRE.

    That sometimes, articles like these serve as a reminder to all of us on the FIRE path to slow down sometimes, take a breather, and truly enjoy the little things now, while we’re able to enjoy them.

  11. We probably all know people who have sadly passed away while still in the working stage of their lives and who never got to experience true freedom of their time. It’s a warning to us all.

    But how many of us know people that have achieved FI and gained their freedom younger than usual retirement age? In real life I mean – outside of the blogosphere).

    I’m hopeful that as “the FIRE spreads” we can pass this message to many more people and become role models for a more enjoyable and healthier way of life.

  12. In answer to your question, yes actually! I’m a Labour & Delivery Nurse and over my 4 year career so far, my work life has been 90% of the time happy outcomes – thanks in part to fantastic healthcare here in Canada and bringing new life into the world is just exciting for everyone involved.

    However late last year, I had a 30 year old first time Mom die in front of me as I held her hand from a pregnancy complication. She was only 5 years older than I am.

    Around this time, I had been so focused on FIRE, cutting my budget to bare bones, nixxing most travel, wearing the clothes I already had or borrowing from my sister, working overtime at work for extra money… I felt like I restricted myself quite a lot… and I probably would’ve done for the next 5 years until I hit 30 years like this woman.

    So it encouraged me to do the opposite actually! Instead of being more focused on FIRE, I relaxed this goal somewhat – I plan to for the rest of this year, maybe the next year also. I feel I can do this because I’ve built a good retirement fund so far, I’ve got a solid foundation on my career as a nurse, and bought a house I’m renting out for example… so I feel I have a good start so I can slow down for a bit now and then hustle at it again when I feel motivated to.

    Now I’m enjoying the fruits of my labour by allowing myself the opportunity to have fun and experience things I said I would do after I reached FIRE, but doing some of those things now because I don’t know if I’ll live past 30, so why put off my life until after FIRE which is at least 20 more years for me.

    I’m now creating a balance of being financially responsible so I can retire early and creating the life of my dreams today. It’s exciting to think about.

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