This is a guest post from Zev. Many of you may know him from the forums and some of you may recognize the name from the copyright page in the book. He contacted me out of the blue earlier this year offering to correct the book manuscript for me. Knowing that my English is not perfect, I took him up on the offer and we spent about three or four months passing the manuscript back and forth getting rid of 99.9+% of my errors—I’ve never seen so much red ink on any of my papers. During that period he chose to become financially independent himself. You can see the steps he’s already taken in his journal.
I had the privilege of being one of the first readers of the ERE book, and, having balked at actually pursuing ERE earlier this year after discovering and poring over the blog–“I live in New York City; I don’t want to be an urban hermit; I fail to see the miser’s contribution to society”–the book gave me a broader outlook, ultimately leading me to decide to become financially independent–nothing resembling “retirement” really enters into it–within five years; my ERE/FI date is 7/15/2015, and so far I’m running about a year ahead of schedule.
The primary reason for my decision, to put it in extreme terms, is to resolve the tension in my life between greed and passion.
Like many in the labor market, I have mostly based my decisions about what sort of work to do on what will provide the maximum return on my time. This has led me to be self-employed in the same transcription business for my entire adult life (I’m 32). I’ve become steadily more productive, savvy, and reputable in my business, and my income has risen accordingly. I am one of those “rational economic actors” that economists like to presume in their theorizing; I have “followed the money.” So far as I can see, this puts me right in the middle of the pack of the American workforce, albeit with a lot more control of the fruits of my labor: I sell my labor to the highest bidder, with the usual considerations of legality, ethical standards and safety–if there’s a black market for transcription, I haven’t heard of it.
Also like many people, working full-time has crowded out the activities I feel most passionate about, which, as is typical, are far less remunerative–reading, writing, playing music, making films. For someone with a middle-of-the-road constitution, at best–I sleep nine hours a night–“work-life” balance realistically translates to giving my best hours to my business and doing mostly passive activities and errands during the rest of my waking hours. This pits my social life, passionate interests and day-to-day upkeep (not to speak of downtime) against each other for the scraps of my schedule.
Truth be told, I’ve had a number of false starts in pursuing other careers–music/songwriting in my mid-20s, filmmaking a couple of years ago–and while the poor compensation didn’t scare me off, the opportunity cost of not maximizing my income, and the prospect of not ever having meaningful savings, did. Ironically, I never socked away so much as a dollar until setting my ERE/FI goal a few months ago. This lack of savings also puts me right in the middle of the American heap–“I must be rightfully compensated, so I can spend spend spend, because I deserve it.” This “because” has actually been more mysterious to me than that–“Why? To what end?” do I earn what I earn, do I maximize what I earn? I paid lip service to my neglected passions–“My income allows me to buy the gadgets with which to compose music and make films; my flexible work schedule gives me time to pursue them”–but as Jacob writes in the ERE book, the gadgets largely became tokens of my interests rather than tools to execute on them, and I would haul them from this closet to the next. My free time I have overestimated, both in quantity of hours and quality of focus.
So, while I guard against seeing ERE/FI as a panacea, I do see it as a potentially transformative opportunity to be freed from “maximizing profit” as my raison d’être, as well as a compelling answer to why I currently pursue it. I have the nagging feeling that this pursuit of maximization is more neurotic and deeply, culturally embedded than can be cured by a modest dividend-paying portfolio, but I feel an equal urgency to give myself the gift of the best 40-50 hours each week, freed from all anxiety about making a living INDEFINITELY, and see what creative output comes out of that.