For the first time in my adult life, I’m finally free of all obligations to work.
Just over 2 years ago, I made the decision to radically downsize my life. I sold our family’s second car, took a lower stress job, moved to Colorado, and purchased a new house for half the price of my previous home. As part of this life-transforming move, I accepted a relocation package from my current employer that covered all moving costs and more – a total value of about $60,000. The catch: I had to work 2 full years or pay back a serious amount of that relocation money.
About a year ago, I declared myself financially independent based on the rudimentary 4% rule for calculating the amount of money needed for retirement. That was a nice thing to know, but I still had to finish out my 2 year commitment.
On June 1st, I fulfilled that contract.
And so here I am before you, financially and contractually free from any requirements to work my normal office job – and yet I haven’t quit. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m still working.
I had always planned on giving my 2-weeks notice the day I reached my 2-year anniversary, so what changed? I think the best way to answer this is by describing my typical work day.
I wake up around 5am, usually because my 3 year old daughter is at my bedroom door, asking if she can get up yet. We tell her no, that she needs to stay in bed until 6. Then I quietly sneak downstairs with my laptop and log into work. By 6, and sometimes before that, I’m pretty much done with my day’s work. I eat breakfast with my family, take a shower, and hop on my bike. As I ride down the trail near my house, I make a quick decision regarding where I’ll spend the morning. I like to mix it up between various Starbucks, the local library, or the YMCA. Today, I chose the library. Here, I’ll spend time reading, writing, programming, or some other activity that has nothing to do with my job. I keep my phone on, and answer emails or phone calls for work as they come in – but since most of my team is sound asleep in Shanghai, I rarely have much, if any, activity.
At lunch time, I ride home to have lunch with my kids. After that, I’ll either stick around and play with them for a bit, or I’ll go to the gym to work out. Then I’ll run some errands, and come home for dinner. 3 nights a week, I spend an hour on the phone talking to China – which would be annoying if I didn’t spend the entire day not working.
There are occasional days or weeks where things are a bit more busy. But even during those times, the benefit of being financially free is that it means I feel absolutely no stress with my work. I remember the old days, when I worked 70 hour weeks and still worried about the stability of my job. I can remember when an annoying co-worker would have me stressed and angry, coming home and ruining the night with my family because I still couldn’t let it go. I can even remember canceling activities on the weekend because I “needed” to work on some urgent project. Fortunately for me, those stresses no longer exist.
So while I started out this journey with the goal of retiring at 35, I feel like I’ve accidentally stumbled into a better situation. I get all the freedom and flexibility of retirement, but I still get paid.
Now, before anyone attacks me for abusing the situation and taking money I’m not earning, I want to clarify a few important points.
First, I’m doing everything that’s asked of me and more. This isn’t just my opinion, my quarterly bonus speaks for itself. The truth is, I’m able to pull off the ridiculously low number of hours simply by working more efficiently than my peers – most of whom are much smarter and more experienced than me.
Second, every two weeks in my 1-on-1 meeting with my manager, I freely admit that I’m not very busy and that I’m available to help on other things. On rare occasions, this bites me and I end up having to work on some really mundane process improvement document – but usually nothing comes of it.
Third, I’ve offered to work part time. After my manager stopped laughing (true story), I explained to him that I was serious. He felt it wasn’t worth the hassle of setting this up and he didn’t want to explain to others that I was now only part time, so he rejected the idea. Since working “full time” doesn’t change anything for me, I happily accepted this response.
I started out this journey asking “why should I work?” but now I find myself asking “why not?” And for now, I have no good answer to this. When I have one, I’ll know it’s time to retire. Whether that happens when I’m still 35, time will tell.