As my workload finally eased up over the past few weeks, I have been able to spend a fair bit of time catching up with friends and family members.
Many people in my social circle also have young kids and demanding jobs. Between all the curveballs 2020 has thrown our way, it hasn’t been easy to keep the lines of communication open.
Thus, it was great to kick back in my lounger and get the latest download on what has been going on in people’s lives for the last twelve months.
If I’m going to be honest, there was one conversation I was particularly looking forward to.
A good friend of mine for the past twenty-odd years had left a highly successful investment banking career behind to take a senior role at a corporate. Let’s call him Frank.
Given he had scored a (yet another) coveted promotion just six months prior, the move had raised more than a few eyebrows.
Why not enjoy the spoils? What’s the point of walking away from a role you’ve been working so hard (and long) to get?
But then again, Frank has a young family. After a 15+ year grind in banking, a change was overdue.
I won’t lie – it didn’t take me long to go for the jugular. I was dying to know everything about the promised land.
The 9 – 5.
The undisturbed evenings and weekends.
The reduction in stress that comes from leaving a client-driven industry behind.
Alas, Frank shattered my dreams with his first sentence:
“Damian, I’m working even harder than I did back in banking”
As I struggled to digest the message, Frank went on to explain.
He is now a senior vice president at a fast-growing, publicly traded corporate. One of just seven execs reporting into the CEO. Direct line to the board.
As a result, work is busy. On top of his “day job”, Frank is involved in initiatives that span strategy, HR, operations, Covid response, and a long list of other topics.
He works evenings, weekends, and will consider himself lucky to take a few days off over Christmas.
To make things even more interesting, consider that by all conventional measures, Frank is already financially independent.
A decade and a half in banking combined with a savvy investment strategy have seen to that. But he wants more.
He wants the CEO role. A few board seats to follow.
A comp package that will push him into $10m+ net worth territory – or possibly much more than that, should his company continue performing the way it has been recently.
Most striking, however, is that Frank is truly happy. And that’s a fact. There’s enough self-awareness in him – and transparency between us – to know that.
He is happy to be in the driver’s seat. To be influencing both the strategic direction of his firm as well as the speed with which it is moving.
To be reaching levels that he, a fellow first-generation immigrant, could only dream of when we first met each other back in our late teens.
And, frankly, to be well-recognized (monetarily and otherwise) for his efforts.
The Pursuit Of Happiness
Depending on which internet echo chamber you fall into, you will end up bombarded with a different take on the relationship between money and happiness.
The spectrum runs from freewheeling spending to extreme frugality.
From couch bums to extremely rich workaholics.
Some people lust after power. Others after fame, sex, or beauty – the list is endless.
As Frank’s example illustrates, there are as many definitions of happiness as there are people.
And so after we had wrapped up the conversation, I pondered – what are the things that would make me happy?
The list I came up with is surprisingly simple – and short:
#1. A routine. The kind that involves exercising and sleeping enough to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.
#2. Time. Time with my wife, children, parents, and the rest of my family.
#3. Flexibility to focus on meaningful work, including helping as many people as possible through this blog.
By the way, this wasn’t my definition of happiness a decade ago.
I didn’t have children back then. The Banker on FIRE blog didn’t exist.
And if you had mentioned the word “routine” to me back then, I probably would have barfed. I wanted excitement and unpredictability – hence my choice of a career.
Equally, my “happiness list” may look different in 2030. Kids grow up and require less attention. Blogs wither and die.
But the critical observation here is that my “number”, whatever it may be, is not a gating item that precludes my ability to enjoy any of the things above.
At most, it’s an enabler. Simplifying things on the margin. Lubricating the wheels of life.
Just as it is for Frank, the number is part of the recipe – but it’s not the recipe itself.
Upon reflection, you may well find that the same applies to you.
Yes, it’s been a tough year. As we hunker down in yet another lockdown, the festive season may feel anything but this year.
But desplite any short-term challenges (which I am sure we will overcome), I hope that many of the components of your “happiness list” are already in place.
And if that isn’t enough to feel grateful for on Christmas Eve, then I don’t know what is.
Merry Christmas to all!