Living free NOW. It is for the likes of you!
We have a guest post today for you from my venerable namesake Andy @ liberate.life blog. I’ll keep the intro short and sweet as don’t want to give away any of the goodies contained within! I’ll just mention that as Andy didn’t provide me with a picture to lead with, I decided to just put up a picture of a cat, he looks like he’s living pretty free to me, so there you go.
Anyway without further ado, over to you Andy…
I’d like to stop you from wasting the next 10 years.
If we’ve not met before, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Andy and I run a website called liberate.life which is the voice of the anti-financial-independence movement.
Well, that’s probably going a bit far: I’m pretty frugal, I’m a keen investor and nobody shouts the words “Money’s not for stuff, it’s for freedom!” louder than me. So I’m a massive advocate of using the accumulation of money (that the rest of the world thinks you should be spending instead!) as a tool to build freedom in your life. I think that makes me a ‘FIer’.
However, besides the FI community, I’m also involved with another weird cult. These guys are even crazier than you lot!
Believe it or not, I’m currently sat in a room full of people who aren’t financially independent but they still have freedom and autonomy. These people don’t have bosses. They don’t have commutes. They don’t have performance reviews. They don’t even have specific working hours.
I mean seriously, I live quite near the sea (in Devon) and you can guess what the surf/wind conditions are like by looking at which seats in our co-working space are empty.
The most interesting thing about my friends here is this: they’re all nice, ‘normal’ people, just, I’d imagine, like you.
I want to convince you to come and join our cult, but we’ll get to that a bit later. First, a bit of background…
Getting free soon
I got really interested in personal finance several years ago. It didn’t take long to discover the concept of financial independence.
I was in the early stages of what has since become a well-paid career and I was sick of the 50 hour sacrifice that I was making every week, so I started saving like crazy. I became addicted to the idea of becoming independently wealthy whilst I was still very young.
However, I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that I’d arrived at the party too late to have a chance of joining the ranks of the financially independent this side of my 40th birthday.
Once I’d factored in a few of life’s realities (like being 30-something, having kids and becoming the main family breadwinner) it became clear that, if my only options were working for somebody else full-time vs being completely financially independent, I would be suffering in the rat race doing the former for a long time!
The problem with that is, I want to live my life NOW!
At the moment I’m young, fit and healthy. My hair is only just starting to go grey. I’ve got 2 kids under 3. I can still (just about) get away with being in a band without it being forced to play Status Quo covers. Why on Earth would I voluntarily subject myself to the quite unnatural ‘standard working week’ for however long it took for me to save enough to never have to work again?
I decided to try a different way instead.
I reasoned that, when the aim is to win back your time and self-determination, perhaps it’s best to just focus directly on achieving that, rather than killing yourself for 10 (20?) years to build a Rube Goldberg contraption to get you what you want.
I had officially come to the conclusion that (in most cases) saving your way to FI, in order to live life on your own terms, is the canonical example of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I’ve written at length about my journey to that conclusion here.
Anyway, I changed direction and am now enjoying a life of freedom and autonomy, at the age of 33, despite not being financially independent.
I built the life I now enjoy by following a very simple recipe:
- I analysed what value I am able to provide to other people and worked out some methods for providing that value flexibly and efficiently instead of having a job
- I carried on living on far less than I am capable of earning
- I built a safety net to catch me in case I got it wrong
…and then I ditched my job and vowed to only work as much as I needed to (or as much as I enjoyed!) for the rest of my life.
I make the majority of my income as a freelancer, but, and this is the most important statement in the entire article, that particular detail is completely irrelevant.
But I could never…
This is where I usually start to lose people.
As soon as I mention that I’m a freelancer and I have a well-paid professional skill, the complainypants‘ come out of the woodwork:
This approach obviously works for you Andy – you’re an engineer. There’s no way I could ever apply your principles to get free almost immediately because there’s no such thing as a freelance X.
Suffice it to say that this is an epic failure to think even slightly outside the box.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean with a slightly silly made up example.
Quitting the zoo
If you are, for example, a zookeeper*, it may well be true that you couldn’t just build a life of freedom and autonomy based around earning income as a freelance zookeeper because…
Waaahhh!!! Nobody hires freelance zookeepers.
[Note: I have absolutely no idea if there is such a thing as a freelance zookeeper. Please leave a comment below if you know!]
But, if you wanted to get out of the rat race quickly, switching from employee to freelancer would only represent the most obvious choice.
What about taking a step back and being open-minded about how to solve this problem?
What exactly does ‘being a zookeeper’ mean anyway? Well, certainly more than the job title, that’s for sure.
I’m certain you have administrative and operational duties which have caused you to become very good at organisation.
You’re no stranger to spreadsheets (you use them to analyse feeding trend data). You’re an expert at dealing with the public. Perhaps you’ve even been involved in marketing the zoo.
You know a lot of people in the industry, and many more in related industries such as food suppliers and companies who make fashionable collars for lionesses.
And we’ve not even got to your specialist animal handling skills yet…
Think about all of those skills, interests, contacts and personal qualities you have as components. Other components you have at your disposal include your personality traits and your positive habits.
* [Who the fuck would want to quit that job anyway?]
Throw away the instructions!
Now, the easiest thing to do with a pile of components is to build the model that they were intended for. That is, the path of least resistance method for turning your skills, interests, knowledge and personal attributes into money, is to have a job.
It’s a tiny baby step down the imagination continuum from traditional employment to becoming a freelancer. I freelance because it’s an obvious option for me, but maybe it’s not for you.
However, it is possible to use your critical faculties and all of that incredible creativity that you pour into solving problems for your current employer to solve your lifestyle problem directly, rather than keeping the job and saving like crazy for as long as it takes.
Here’s the problem with your job.
Jobs are shit
Well, at least as far as building an autonomous and flexible life goes.
Jobs in general have two positive attributes:
- The income turns on as soon as you start working
- They are a good way of learning skills while somebody else bears all of the risk and pays for your mistakes
Beyond that, jobs are a horrendously inefficient, inflexible way of being compensated for (a fraction of) the value that you produce.
It’s true that exceptions exist (i.e. there are certain incredible things that you’d struggle to do without doing them as a profession – possibly zookeeping), but for the most part, jobs are a bad economic bargain.
Now, obviously we FIers are ultimately interested in having the power to do what we want, when we want. We’re all working hard to achieve that.
The unfortunate thing about having a job as part of the strategy to achieve it is that there are only really two positions that the switch can be set to:
- On. Having a professional job and saving like a mad (wo)man. A number of hours (usually greater than 50) of 45 weeks of every year must be sacrificed to doing what somebody else wants us to until we can move the switch to the other position…
- Off. We have successfully endured the first stage. Now we don’t need to produce any economic output at all for the rest of our lives.
I suppose there are a few tweaks which can be made here and there. I worked 80% of full-time before I quit. Our host, The FIREstarter has got a pretty sweet part-time pattern worked out too.
However, neither of these variations give you the freedom to just say
Bugger this. I’m having 3 months off to record my debut album.
at least until you’ve banked enough to throw the switch to ‘Off’.
If you’re not OK with that limitation, I’d suggest that you embrace my philosophy of ‘thinking outside the box’ and get involved with the cult that I warned you about at the start of the article: The Cult of the Small-Time Entrepreneur.
That filthy word
I feel like the ‘E’ word gets a bad rap amongst ‘normal’ folks with good, honest 9-5 jobs.
The faces in the following rogues’ gallery represent the range of opinions which a lot of people I know (who aren’t entrepreneurially-minded!) have of ‘business people’:
[Image credits: Arthur Daley – ITV, Mr Burns – 20th Century Fox, Del Boy – BBC, Scrooge McDuck – Disney]
Now, don’t mistake my meaning. As much as I love capitalism for some of its qualities, there are some unsavoury characters in the world who are basically crooks and swindlers. But that’s not what the majority of entrepreneurship is all about.
In fact, to become a member of our cult, you don’t need to learn to be a sleazeball, bend the truth or polish any turds.
Actually, there’s only one essential requirement.
What’s the problem?
To build a system for producing income which isn’t ‘having a job’, you need to find one or more problems which people are willing to pay you to solve and then solve them.
Simple as that.
If you have a job, you’ve already done this at least once in your life. You probably didn’t frame it in those terms, but, in order for you to be, for instance, an accountant, somebody obviously had the problem of a lack of a full-time professional accountant at some point which you have since solved.
If you’ve only ever been an employee, it’s not that you’ve never looked for problems that people wanted solved. Rather, you’ve limited the class of problems that you’ve been willing to solve to those which are usually dealt with by hiring a full-time employee.
All you need to do is dig a little deeper. Stop thinking about job titles and start thinking about specific problems that you can solve.
For example, if you work with complex spreadsheets in your day job as a financial analyst, maybe you should be looking for problems which could be solved most effectively by somebody with advanced numerical and spreadsheet skills.
On the other hand, if you deal with the public on a day-to-day basis, I guarantee that there is a tiny enterprise out there somewhere which is good at providing its core product, but is terrible at presenting it at trade shows.
Just use your imagination!
In truth, there is a veritable infinity of unsolved problems out there, all of which are just waiting for somebody to solve them and make the world better.
And the great thing is, it’s not compulsory to spend 40+ hours of every week solving problems.
You only need to solve enough problems to pay your way. If you want more money, you look for more problems to solve. If you want a rest for a couple of months, you live on your savings and stop solving problems for a while.
It’s pretty simple when you think about it.
Sounds dead easy. Where do I sign?
OK, OK. I made it sound a lot simpler than it really is (maybe it’s the salesman in me ;-)).
Making the transition from being somebody who has only ever earned income as an employee to being a micro-business owner is a tough slog. To make this approach work, you will have to put in a ridiculous amount of effort. I failed my way to succeeding at running a very modest micro-business over the years between my teens and my 30s. I’ve literally spent a third of my life working this shit out!
The key is to keep going. Learn to accept embarrassment. Think of failure as feedback. Know that you’re building the skills you need to be able to generate income independently for the rest of your life.
You’ll probably find that most of the effort actually goes into generically learning how to be an entrepreneur, rather than solving whatever problem(s) you’ve chosen. It doesn’t really matter if your first attempt isn’t the most successful business you ever run, just that you start learning how to do it as soon as possible.
Hard, but in a good way…
I can’t deny it. Building even a tiny enterprise which makes a profit is really fucking hard.
However, I predict that if you combine the effects of doing this with your already very advanced personal finance skills (and for many of you, I’d imagine, 6-figure stashes), you can break free from the rat race and do whatever you want (most of the time) in a couple of years or less.
No 4% vs 3% SWR bollocks required. No concerns about down markets at the beginning of your retirement. No second guessing your allocation to bonds.
Just a nice healthy cushion in the bank and the ability to turn the tap back on when you need to. Oh yes, and most of the next ten years to spend however you want to instead of sitting through annual reviews and pointless meetings.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve chosen my Pareto Financially Independent lifestyle in part because of my personality. I accept that learning to ‘eat what you kill’ is not for everybody.
On the other hand, I strongly suggest that you don’t just give yourself a pass on this one because you think that you’re too introverted or you don’t bring anything to the table. I guarantee that you have something unique to offer and your life could be so much richer if you just chose to capitalise on that fact.
Anyway, I hope I’ve at least managed to rouse some curiosity and that this article has helped you in some way.
I’ll leave you with these thoughts: I am going to die. So are you.
We don’t know when, but it’s coming and there’s (currently) no escape. Go away and really contemplate that. How long have you actually got left?
Now ask yourself whether that long slog to an arbitrary numerical target (like banking 25 times your annual living expenses) is really the best use of what could be an absolutely incredible decade.
Finally, if you think doing things my way sounds good, but you just need a tiny nudge over the starting line, perhaps you should listen to my old pal Ralph:
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
That’s certainly true in my experience.
Now it’s your turn…
Get into that comments section and tear me to pieces if you like. Tell me why some variation of this approach won’t work for you. It would also be great to hear from anybody who has taken a similar path to mine. What worked? What would you have done differently? Don’t be shy!
In between freelance engineering gigs, he writes about combining the skills of personal finance and small-time entrepreneurship to enable people to live peaceful, self-directed lives.
Drawing on more than a decade of entrepreneurial experience, he also offers one-to-one coaching for people who are looking to build flexible lifestyles based around tiny businesses and expert personal financial management.
So a Big Thanks to Andy for that excellent guest post! Hopefully you noticed all the links sprinkled through the article but in case you didn’t here are a few other posts you might want to take a look at:
How to work 33% of full-time – all over this shit 🙂
Rolling a boulder over a hill – A nice metaphor of the Journey to FI (or doing anything hard/worthwhile)