Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

Feeling comfortable?

In a way, aspiring to financial independence is all about comfort.

Forgetting what the jam-packed commute feels like.  Never having to deal with workplace politics again.  Leaving all the money worries behind and spending the rest of your days in a state of pure bliss and relaxation.

Tube hell

Ain’t gonna miss this part of the day

If that doesn’t sound absolutely grand, I don’t know what does.  That is, until you consider all the thorny patches on the road to this state of hedonistic nirvana.

The most obvious one is spending less than others.  In a society where the majority of people are programmed to spend at least as much (if not more) than they make, putting a lid on your spending isn’t easy.

There are good reasons for it, too.  Humans are social animals.  Ever since we emerged as a species, social acceptance played a key role in our survival.

Just imagine getting kicked out of the cave for being “different”.  That certainly didn’t increase anyone’s chances of making it through the night – and keeping their genes in the pool.

As a result, thousands of years down the road we are now coming off the assembly line with a default setting that causes us to mimic the behaviour of our “pack” to avoid a disastrous outcome.

It takes a lot of hard work and painful introspection to re-program the way our brains are designed to work.  And the further up the food chain you are, the starker the comparison.

Some people just can’t bear to rock the iPhone 6 like I have been for the past five years.  For others, flying commercial is an absolute deathblow to social ambitions (unless you can claim it’s all about climate change).

No matter how obnoxiously wealthy you may be, there’s always someone with a bigger yacht – or a prettier private island… tough life!  And if you do manage to get your own psyche under control, you’ve then got to get your significant other on board too.

For many people, it’s a task akin to having to stare down Federer’s serve at love – forty, what with the ball boys, audience and umpire all squarely in his corner.

Making More Money

There is an alternative of course.  Find some middle ground in terms of spending and focus on increasing your earnings instead.

But dig one level deeper and you’ll find that it’s not so straightforward either.

You can only work so many extra hours before you start sacrificing your sleep, health, and time wiht your family.  Higher paid jobs come at the expense of incremental stress or straight-up physical injury.

When you do manage to squirrel some money away, you begin to agonize over the best way of putting it to work.

A quick glance at one of the many Facebook groups, personal finance forums or the comments sections of some of the more popular FIRE blogs out there and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The stock market is never going back up again!

Index funds are a scam.

I’m telling you, this time it’s different…  it’s the DEBT SUPERCYCLE that only happens once every 500 years.

My wife said she’ll kill me if I hold anything but cash.

In other words:

Buy low, sell high?

Even the most sanguine, balanced person will waver when faced with a barrage of information like that.  I mean, it all sounds way out but what if? 

Argh, life just doesn’t get any easier….

The Biggest Lie Of Them All

Having navigated the years of angst and emotional pressure, you’ve finally arrived.

The stash is there, ready to support you and your family into eternity.  You’ve waved your cubicle goodbye, secretly enjoying the wistful looks your colleagues have given you on the way out.

Keys in the ignition, pedal to the metal, bring on the good life.

And then, after the initial honeymoon period, you suddenly realize that nothing has changed.  Or rather, everything has changed but you haven’t.

You are struggling to overcome the mental barrier of switching from saving to spending.

The stock market still keeps you up at night… will the 4% rule really hold up?  And if it doesn’t, does that mean you’ll have to go BACK to the cubicle?

Was leaving work a good decision in the first place?  Why do the days feel so empty and devoid of purpose?

Chris Mamula from Can I Retire Yet? wrote this excellent post on what early retirement really feels like.  And unlike the rose-tinted version we all paint in our minds just before drifting off to sleep, his is an unabashedly realistic one.

It’s totally worth a read – because there’s a very high likelihood you’ll experience many of the same issues Chris has.  You better be prepared to work through them, line by line, if you want to finish off your FIRE journey on a high note.

The biggest financial independence lie we keep telling ourselves is that it will somehow make us happy.  It won’t.  You know what will?  Operating outside of our comfort zone.

Best thing about it?  You don’t even have to wait until financial independence to be happy.

In his most recent Sunday Best post, the Physician on FIRE has a very poignant piece on a colleague of his who passed away shortly after retiring early from medicine.

For those of you who view FIRE as an escape from the uncomfortable life, it’s a stark reminder that life is for living today, not in the distant future.

Imagine you only had ten more years to live.  How about five?  What about one?

No one knows how they would react in that situation, but something tells me the vast majority of us would immediately start doing things that are right for us.

Putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how unconventional the path may be. Having the tough conversations with your family.  Leaving a job you hate behind for a more rewarding one.

Most importantly – ignoring what everyone else has to say along the way.

Facing our own mortality can be an incredibly powerful way of crystallizing a lifestyle we’ve been dreaming of… so why wait?  Giddy up, strap yourself in and start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Chances are, you will soon find out that your journey is even more enjoyable than the destination itself.

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Banker On FIRE is a London-based M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker.  I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence and living the best life possible.

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11 Comments

  1. Great post. I think early retirement is a lot different than what people think it is. If you are planning on retiring in your 30s or 40s just to stay at home all day and do nothing productive, you are in for a rude awakening. I do not know a lot of people who can do that and still be happy.

    The majority of the FIREd people do what they love whether they get paid for it or not. Most of the time they also end up making money because it’s something they are so passionate about that it’s inevitable not to get paid for it.

    P.S – This really made me smile 🙂 “I’m telling you, this time it’s different… it’s the DEBT SUPERCYCLE that only happens once every 500 years.”

    • Thank you. Nothing pains me more than seeing people put themselves through discomfort and suffering for decades just in the hope of becoming happy at some point in the future.

      If you aren’t happy on the journey, you won’t be happy at the destination. What’s even worse is you are unlikely to reach the destination at all as you will probably lose motivation and give up.

  2. Thought provoking and something I think alot of us who are career driven have found this.

    From the moment I started work I was fixated on earning more money (as I think alot are) and I spent my 20s and early 30s being stressed working long hours and generally being dissatisfied with how much I’d achieved. I felt I deserved more. Definitely trying to live up to my dad who is self made and ended up as ceo. That’s what I wanted

    Suddenly a break at work occurred and my income shot up by 50 % in a year and has continued to rise rapidly to the point was earning more than double what I’d earnt just 3 years before. I still had a goal to reach 6 figures but I was earning about 60k a year at that point so was in the area that I’d always wanted to get to at age 34 . And it had happened so quickly.

    Just like you say I looked up and realised I’d achieved my goal and wasnt really any happier. I’d almost say for a couple of years I was in a mid life crisis wondering what to do now. It also coincided with moving to a family home and then 12 months later divorcing my childhood sweetheart who I’d thought was the love of my life. My entire life road map had come crashing down.

    I actually found counselling helped with this. We’d had marriage counselling and I continued by myself after the divorce and made me realise how much I’d achieved and how I needed to cut myself some slack

    Now I definitely work to live rather than the other way round . I don’t have nearly the same drive at work though I’m still performing well but I have a healthier relationship to it and am looking for activities that interest me not necessarily pay me more money. I definitely do NOT want the stress of bigger house nicer car hedonic treadmill and realised management holds zero interest to me . I have ENOUGH and FIRE has given me another goal. I also have hobbies. I have a new partner who is much more of a home maker than my old one and so the balance is much more complimentary. She’s not money orientated at all whereas I am and again she keeps my more extreme tendencies balanced

    My long term goal is once I’m fired I’d like to do financial education. I am absolutely passionate about this and would happily do it for free all day every day.

    • Your comment is one of the most insightful perspectives I’ve read on the topic. Fantastic first-hand perspective and in many ways, similar to my own journey.

      I would probably venture to say I’m slightly behind you in terms of working through some of the family expectations that come from my grandfather and father both having risen well beyond the level they started at.

      Thankfully, like you, I have a partner that balances me out and takes some of the edges off, and the self-reflection that comes with writing this blog helps as well.

      Very happy to hear you are in a place where you are content with your life. Many people aren’t!

    • It was when the counsellor asked me for a brief history of my life to that point and I covered various things. My parents divorce and my moving out and buying a 1 bed shared ownership flat. Then moving to a 2 bed 2 years later before 5 years after that my current 4 bed semi. Also doing well at work and getting married. She commented that I seemed to have done an awful lot in a very short space of time and was living life on fast forward.

      It hit me like a freight train that I’d spent so much time trying to get to the next arbitrary level I’d never really stopped to wonder what I was working towards or appreciate quite how far I’d come and what I’d achieved. It completely flipped my perception to one of gratitude

      • Yes. Keeping your head down and working very hard can take you a long way, but one day you look up and realize you’ve been missing out on a big chunk of life.

        That has been my experience over the past decade in banking but then again bankers have a short shelf life so I know it won’t last long! 🙂

  3. A fascinating post, enjoyed reading that. I’d like to say that I am enjoying my life, have a great work/life balance, like my job and my boss. I have good sets of friends to socialise with, hobbies and interests and know that I will have time for more when I retire. That said, I’m realistic enough to know that things still won’t be plain sailing once I pull the FIRE plug on full time work and I will no doubt encounter the issues highlighted in the Can I Retire Yet? post.

    I think one big one will be spending instead of saving…that’s going to be really tough!

    However, first things first, I need to steer past this ‘blip’ in my investment portfolio before I can really plan for anything else in detail!

    • Thanks Weenie. I think if you are able to find balance in your working life, you’ll be able to do so in retirement too.

      It’s the people who are just “waiting to be happy” that will struggle when they realize an arbitrary number in the bank account doesn’t make them so.

      By the way, at the rate the market is recovering that blip will soon be behind us!

  4. I’m very much enjoying the journey of FIRE. I found it around 1.5 years ago and so grateful of the way that it has very much re-wired my brain in spending habits. Apart from the recent COVID-19 pandemic which has put some very real strain on the business, I’m glad to have some sort of ‘safety savings’ blanket, which I couldn’t imagine not having now (the panic / fear of not having an emergency fund at all only a few years ago was just normal!).

    In terms of when I reach the FIRE goal – I anticipate between 10-12 years time – I imagine I’m going to still be working but on a part time basis. I’ve always been a bit of a worker (not the sort of one to take a rest!). But who knows – I feel it’s going to be turbulent times and times to remember once the coronavirus stuff has settled down a bit!

    • I feel the same way. Just can’t imagine going tools down, not in the near future anyway. Could be fun for a couple of weeks and then I’ll slowly lose my sense of purpose.

      Taking the intensity down a few notches though? Can’t come soon enough!

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