Ecuador Part 3: Passion Reignited


Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. –Helen Keller


I previously wrote about my Ecuador trip:

Today, I finally get around to part 3. First though, there are two thoughts that have been on my mind lately:

  • You should structure your finances so that you can leave work at the earliest possibility.
  • Work is the key to happiness. A life without work is hell.

On the surface. those thoughts are contradictory. I’ll get back to them in a bit…


Life is Good

I’m fortunate in many ways. It’s no understatement to say that I’m thankful every day for my fairy-tale life. Near the top of the list is finding something I enjoy doing that pays me (the old-school term for this is work). It wasn’t easy for me to figure out.

At the age of 23, much to the dismay of my family and a girlfriend, and despite being an honors student, I quit pharmacy school. I loved the organic chemistry and pharmacokinetics, but knew that working at Walgreens would be vastly different.

My decision to quit happened very quickly. I had wanted to drop out for a while, but needed a catalyst. This came in the form of a conversation I had with a computer programmer roommate in 1998. It went something like this:

  • Me: I don’t like pharmacy, but I don’t know what else to do with my life.
  • Roommate: There are loads of computer jobs with Y2K coming up.
  • Me: I’m not excited about going back to school for 3 or 4 years. I only have 2 more years of pharmacy school to go.
  • Roommate: You don’t have to. DePaul offers a 30 week class in mainframe coding. It’s a great program and if you get through it, you’re almost guaranteed a job.

I made the decision on the spot to quit pharmacy school. It felt completely right and I never questioned it.

After 20 weeks in the computer program, I had gone on 10 interviews and received 8 job offers. I took one of them and coded into the sunset.

However, I haven’t been doing much coding in my current job; more systems administration and support duties. In Ecuador, of all places, I rediscovered how much I enjoyed coding.

Passion Reignited

On the third day of the trip, a friend who was also on the trip introduced me to another attendee who I’ll call M. My friend knew that M had some questions about corporate structures and that I could help. M and I chatted for a minute and then boarded a bus for a hike. On the ride, M and I chatted a bit about corporations, but the conversation quickly changed course. We were soon talking about Tim Ferriss and a business idea that M had. I was intrigued by the conversation, but my ears really perked up when M said:

Do you know who Seth Godin is?

I wanted to reply:

Hell yeah I know who Seth Godin is! I love his ideas!!!

Not wanting to seem like a nutter, my response was more nuanced.

M’s idea was pretty neat and despite just meeting her, she seemed like the kind of person I could trust and work with. Sometimes you just know; you know? (Kind of like my decision to quit pharmacy.) However, I tried to contain my enthusiasm. I didn’t want to seem too eager or pushy (reverse psychology bullshit).

That didn’t stop be from doing a lot of thinking about M’s idea though. I actually couldn’t stop thinking about it; I’ve started small businesses in the past (Brewery iPhone App for Wisconsin!) and I love to think about them. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. When I ran into M, I’d unload my ideas on her like this one:

You can query IP addresses and display dynamic location results to incentivize visitors of the site to sign on!

I considered that M might think I was insane, but I didn’t care. Later in the week, we agreed to work together. And I felt something I haven’t felt in a while; fierce enthusiasm, determination and excitement for work.

On Saturday morning, when I should have been talking to other members of the group, I was in the library downloading materials that I’d need to complete M’s project. I needed to have them on my computer so I could work on the plane. No spare minute was going to be wasted. At the same time, I was asking the Mad Fientist (a fellow developer) about the tools I’d need to complete the project. Sorry Mad Fientist for all of my ridiculous questions.

On Saturday evening, I settled in at the airport and immediately popped open my computer to start preparing for the project. (Sorry fellow attendees if I appeared antisocial) I had a miserable redeye flight to Houston, but by some miracle, the rest of my row was empty. I didn’t sleep though; instead I opened my laptop, sat it on the tray next to me, and got to work. At 3am when everyone else was dreaming and/or snoring (looking at you lady behind me), I was studying Rails architecture.

More studying when I waited in the Houston terminal for my connecting flight home.

More studying on the flight to Denver.

It isn’t easy to think about software when you’ve gone 24 hours without sleep, but I couldn’t help myself. I love to code. I love to build systems. I love to build. I haven’t done it in a long time and I had forgotten who I was.



And now, we arrive back at the beginning:

  • You should structure your finances so that you can leave work at the earliest possibility: This work is the type that you must do for money. You may or may not like it, but you have to do it to pay the bills. There is risk here; your company could go under, you could injure yourself and not be able to do your job, or maybe your boss is just a dick.
  • Work is the key to happiness. A life without work would be hell. This is the type of work you do because it gives you joy. Unlike the first type of work, the metric of success isn’t your paycheck; it’s your happiness. If you’re very lucky, this work may be the same as the first bullet point.

I hope you have found meaningful work that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about. I hope that you don’t need an alarm clock to wake because you’re so excited to do the work that you know you’re meant to do. I hope that your work makes you a better person. I hope that you’re so enthusiastic about your work that you’d do it for free.

I have all of this and I’m so fortunate to have found it.

And if you haven’t discovered your work passions, I hope that you never stop searching.

Life is too short. Do what you love.

Join the 10s who have signed up already!

Subscribing will improve your life in incredible ways*.

*Only if your life is pretty bad to begin with.

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42 Responses to Ecuador Part 3: Passion Reignited

  1. So very true. So many bloggers post about you must want to retire early. The reality is most days I simply like my job and don’t want to retire. I work towards FI on he chance that most becomes some or, also possible, my employer decides to get rid of me.
    Fulltimefinance recently posted…Penny Wise, Pound FoolishMy Profile

  2. Great post. I’ve already thought about proposing part time work to my employer when I reach FIRE. I have a great job at a great company, but there are so many things I want to pursue on a personal level that I won’t be able to do until cutting back at work. Also, I think I will enjoy my work even more once I reach FI and no longer have to work to make a living. Once I start working for the pure enjoyment of what I’m doing and what I’m accomplishing will be a game changer.
    Go Finance Yourself! recently posted…Tax Time: Do You Have a Business or an Expensive Hobby?My Profile

    • Part-time is a great idea! Although, you may quickly realize that no-time is much better than part-time as your newfound time off fills up instantly… ***Looking in the mirror.***

    • Part time is awesome for the right situation. I’ve been doing it for a few years now. The key is to make it a win-win for you and your employer. I wrote a huge physician centered article about it (linked it to my name) which may help you think of various issues. Much is physician specific though.

      This article is fantastic. FI leads to freedom to work on what matters to you, not someone else.
      TheHappyPhilosopher recently posted…You Don’t Have to Hate Your Job to Want Financial IndependenceMy Profile

  3. Mr. SSC says:

    So true! Early on in our blogging about wanting to retire early, we realized we didn’t want to “not work” we just wanted a major lifestyle change. That was driven by the soul sucking nature of the megacorp we worked for, but also by the fact we’d created a mad, busy schedule for ourselves and our kids and wanted a better lifestyle.

    Now that Mrs. SSC left the megacorp to teach, she’s way more enthused about work everyday and could see doing that for another 5-10 years. I like my job, even with the corporate structure, I still love looking for oil and figuring out all that stuff. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if I worked another 5 or so years.

    I also think if it’s not work, every retiree needs an “ikigai” or purpose to their life post “work”. So even if it’s not a job, people without some sort of purpose die sooner than those that have something to wake up for every morning.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…It’s Not Always About the Destination; Except When It IsMy Profile

  4. That’s so cool! If I had to do undergrad over again I’d choose a computer science major. I’ve gotten into coding through work experience and personal interest over the last few years and it’s just a really cool thing to be able to do. When I get in the zone and I’m in perfect flow with my programming I feel invincible, like I could solve any problem someone wanted me to write a program for. I actually just parlayed my self taught skills into a new job that’s even more focused on coding.

    Anyway, can’t wait to hear about your project some more!
    Ellie @ The Chedda recently posted…The (Job) Hunt is OverMy Profile

  5. I am so happy for you to get the chance to find a passion project! It’s always amazing to me how long and hard I’ll work on something for myself. When I’m at work time drags on, but when I’m doing my own stuff time flies by in a blink of an eye! Can’t wait to hear all the details at CMCo!

  6. Great post! I just heard a podcast recently from Dan Millman the guy who wrote Way of the Peaceful Warrior…anyway, he said something that resonated with me. He said your job may not be your calling. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t like it or ever work in a toxic environment, but not everyone’s 9-5 is their calling. I kind of feel that way. I think I’m good at what I do and could see myself applying my skills TO my calling, but it isn’t my calling. Right now, that’s just done on the side for little to no money…at the moment. 🙂

    • Hang in there. It took me years to pick up steam as a blogger. Maybe that isn’t your side project, but whatever it is, if you truly love it, I believe that success is inevitable.

  7. I think work you LIKE is key to happiness. If you didn’t have anything to occupy your time, you’d be bored/crazy in no time.
    I’m so happy to hear you’ve found your passion again. 🙂 Hopefully that sweet work schedule will give you the time to pursue it. Writing is like that for me; it’s all I think about while I’m at my money-making job. But when I come home to do writing, it’s all worth it. FIRE is ten years away for me, but I don’t regret the decision for a second. I think the key to staying happy during the money-making phase of life is to build passion projects into your life. Once you let them fall by the wayside, it’s easy to feel unmotivated and unfulfilled.

  8. Good post. FI is mandatory, RE is optional. More stories that reinforce the same message. Love the ending “do what you love, life is too short”. Indeed!
    Ten Factorial Rocks recently posted…Hacking The Retirement CalculatorsMy Profile

  9. Enthusiasm! For Work!?! Who woulda thunk it?

    This is what FI is all about. Waking up and saying “What do I want to do today?” rather than “What do I have to do today?”

    PhysicianOnFIRE recently posted…Revisiting and Revising the Investor Policy StatementMy Profile

  10. Mrs. BITA says:

    I’m super curious about the actual project now.

    I kind of fell into (was shoved into) a computer science degree. I grew to love coding. There were times in my career when I could not wait to get in to work, I willingly worked weekends and I did not understand what the Monday blues were all about. I don’t feel that way any more. I miss the feeling though, and I want to spend some time figuring out what would bring that feeling back. And that is exactly what I plan to do once I have my stash of cash all squared away.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…Should I Get Divorced?My Profile

  11. ambertree says:

    Thanks for telling that work is ok. I do feel the same…
    I might not be FI already, I quit a job I stopped loving in exchange for one that I love. I got the opportunity to start with a white piece of paper… Loving every part of it.

    For now, best move ever.

    All the best with your project.

  12. This is the biggest reason to pursue FIRE, in my view — to be able to focus time on your passions and the things you value, rather than be forced to allocate time based on financial need. These passion projects don’t have to be as all-consuming as full-time work, and you can allocate a lot more time to fun unrelated pursuits — but they can take as much time as you want them to. That’s the ultimate end-state: freedom to do as you please, but still enjoying the satisfaction of meaningful work and regular achievement.
    Matt @ The Resume Gap recently posted…Sunrise in the Rearview: The Long Ride HomeMy Profile

  13. Jacq says:

    This is why I’m targeting FI. I don’t love commuting. I don’t love sitting in a cube, listening to people talk about inane stuff, when I’m over here getting work done.
    I love teaching – whether that’s yoga, or about wine, or something else. However, those career options don’t pay as well. Therefore, I’ll do a job I’m good at, save my money, and FI to the funner job. I’ve definitely had company layoffs happen, and my FI plans serve as a back up plan.
    I’m glad your passion for coding was re-iginited!

  14. The work paradox you described is at the heart of successful financial independence. It’s something too few of us are considering, IMO, and might make for a good book.

  15. MrWoW says:

    This gets me super excited to go to Ecuador this fall for a variety of reasons. But yeah, having that flexibility to explore different things is a big part of this journey for us.

    Even before reaching full FI we like to take some calculated risks to see how it pays off. And to follow our passions.

  16. Jason says:

    Excellent post and good luck with the project. Looking forward to hearing more about it. I am lucky in having work that equals happiness and I get paid to do it. I wish more people could have my experience.

  17. Stephonee says:

    Love this! It so perfectly answers the complaint (not that such complaints deserve answering) of people who say things like “Why retire early, just so you can be bored?” I have a few projects that excite me like this… I’m just always trying to find time for them! But when I’m retired… well… you know 😀
    Stephonee recently posted…Just Got Engaged? What to Do FirstMy Profile

  18. Mrs.Wow says:

    I admit I absolutely love my job! I am lucky enough to help lots of people everyday and thus adding immense value to my own life. Even when we are FI, I know I will continue to do my job, but potentially in more of a volunteer service work while we travel abroad. Although, I still do not wake up without an alarm, guess I need to work on that.
    Mrs.Wow recently posted…How We Cut Our Phone Bill in HalfMy Profile

  19. I hate my job, in fact enough to walk into my bosses office and ask for a demotion. Having money in the bank and not worrying about the outcome of that meeting is refreshing. I dont have near enough for FI but enough to go for a couple of years without an issue.
    Finding content in the next role and earn enough to build a future is now the next few weeks plans. Its a balancing act and this week I realized that climbing the corporate ladder is just not worth it. Work – life balance is too important and finding a passion for something in the role is what I need.

  20. Beautiful post Carl! Your thoughts completely match my feelings exactly.

    Doing what you love is truly a blessing. Finding financial independence was probably the best thing I could have ever done.
    Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes recently posted…Should I Be Investing In Airlines?My Profile

  21. Stephen says:

    I have meaningful work that I REALLY enjoy and have great opportunities through. The one issue is that it’s in a less desirable area that I don’t know if I want to spend my life. That’s the crossroads I’m stuck with.

  22. Brandon says:

    That’s awesome man. I can literally feel your excitement emanating through this post. What are you building!?

    What do you think about the concept of having a purpose? As I was reading this post and the subsequent comments I thought “What if I don’t have a purpose and looking for that purpose is a waste of time? Maybe I have lots of purposes?”

    It’s like looking for “The One” as your partner. I personally don’t believe in “The One” partner because it just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s romantic but not logical. How could, out of 7 billion people, there only be one person that I’m MEANT to be with? There could be many compatible mates. By the way if you share this philosophy don’t tell your girlfriend because she may believe in “The One” and get a little salty about you not believing the same way. A friend told me…:/

    Recently when I’ve thought about my post FI life I’ve been slightly terrified because of all the reasons mentioned in this post and in the comments. I don’t feel like I have defined my purpose.

    I picture myself slow traveling like Millennial Revolution and eating all the foods and seeing all the sites, spending an extended period of time with my family around the holidays, volunteering my time through mentorship and teaching, and writing, among so many other things. Or maybe I’ll concentrate intensely on something for a period of time and then change to focus intensely on something else for a period of time. There isn’t a single purpose theme through any of those things. And I think that’s okay…

    • I agree with you on all points! It is really silly to think that there is only one person out there for us. And even if you find someone you’re compatible with now, you or your spouse will certainly change over time and there is risk of drifting apart.

      I don’t think you have to have one set goal. When I mention programming, after the initial version of the code is done, I’d be surprised if I do it more than 20 hours a week. And that will be only when school is in session. Over summer and breaks, I’ll be traveling with the family.

      I’ve also found that on my days off, the time I used to spend doing other things has now expanded. I do 90 minute workouts instead of 30 minutes. I stay at the library for hours. On some days, I’ll just walk for hours around the neighborhood thinking.

      You’re going to be OK.

  23. Did I miss the connection to Seth Godin? I have an engineering degree (it sounds like you might be from Chicago… we might have gone to the same school) and during school, I thought is was so cool, and then my first year as a design engineer was awful and boring. I hated it. I then remembered that one professor said that you will only use about 10% of what you learned in school. So, my colleagues mentioned construction project management was much more suited for my personality. So, that is what I did. For the most part, I really enjoy this field. It also opened up the door to do some pretty cool work where I was getting paid almost 6 figures to do work that I was doing for free as a volunteer. That was awesome. However, I still felt like I didn’t want to be stuck on someone else’s schedule, so I freed myself financially from having to work full time. Now I work part time and have time to work on personal projects that may or not be for profit. Speaking of Seth Godin, I loved “The Icarus Deception”.

    I like the quote from Helen Keller. Since I feel like I’ve hit my financial goals, I’m now ready to hit my intellectual goals and I created an acronym that suits me: DUMB goals = Daring, Uncomfortable, Meaningful, Balanced
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…Manifesto for a “Free Range Nation”My Profile

    • Hey PP-

      Yep, I’m from Chicagoland (Northwest suburbs) and went to school at UIC and NIU. How about you?

      Love the DUMB goals!

      I’m glad you figured out what you wanted to do. The talk I gave recently at CSU was to students in the construction management program. Those folks make a lot of money!

  24. You seem so much happier in your posts now that you’re down to part-time work!
    I can’t wait to see what’s in your future and hear more about this project your’re working on!

    I hope one day I can find work that makes me as excited as your new project makes you.

  25. Sounds like your new project is providing a great creative outlet for you (beyond this blog). Agree very much that work is way better when you don’t need to work for the money and you can choose exactly what you want to work on.
    Freedom 40 Plan recently posted…Money Lessons From MomMy Profile

  26. Suzanne says:

    So that’s where you were on Saturday morning! I’m glad you and “M” are working together and that you found a project you can feel excited about. I am still looking for the work I feel passionate about and in the meantime I am focusing on the goals building my nest egg and gaining more financial freedom.
    I interested in hearing more about Camp Mustache CO. Keep me in the loop.

  27. Matt says:

    “I loved the organic chemistry and pharmacokinetics, but knew that working at Walgreens would be vastly different.”

    Haha! Yes, I always wondered what those poor saps behind the counter thought about going to school for years to be a glorified check out clerk. I’m sure the pay is good but the customers! No way. I feel for em’.

    Glad you were able to find something you enjoy doing!

    • Hey Matt-

      The funny thing about pharmacists is that they make loads of money. It isn’t difficult to start at over $100,000 and some specialties can bring in close to $200,000. However, counting pills and fighting with insurance companies is no fun…

  28. Average Joe says:

    This is absolutely true. My wife and I have always said that we work to live not live to work.

    We fully intend to continue to work in some sort of part time task when we get to retirement but it will be something like working at an animal shelter part time. I’d love to be a flight instructor on my own terms as well. I think that would be an awesome way to “retire”.

    I also potentially have the option to move to part time contract work for my current employer but while I enjoy my job there is a bit of stress even if it was part time. So I don’t think I’ll be going that route.

    Thanks for the motivational post!
    -Mr. Joe

    • Thanks Joe! Part-time flight instruction sounds pretty awesome.*

      Yeah, work is the key to a meaningful and fulfilling life. A permanent vacation would be hell!

      *Coming from the guy who always dreamed of flying F-16s.

      • Average Joe says:

        Flying F-16s was my dream too! I had even started getting my references ready for an application to the Navy when I found out I needed glasses. Boo!

        Luckily I enjoy engineering as well and decided to make flying a hobby.

  29. I hear you Mr 1500!

    I love programming but hate much of the bullshit that comes with a job: commuting, long and boring meetings, having to defer to managers who know less than you about certain things, etc etc…

    My current situation at work is pretty cushy but it can change very quickly, just a few months ago it was very frustrating as they’d changed the internal structure of our teams and was forced to work with someone who loves a long meeting or 10. When are we supposed to actually get any development done, Bro?!

    Luckily it’s changed again recently and for much the better, but again these things change fast. Anyway the point I’m slowly laboring at its that I will definitely continue to write code when I leave my proper job, and I’m not ashamed to say it will be with the end goal of making money as well, but that will be much less of a pressure factor and the coupling of money and work will be much looser. Hope that makes sense! 🙂

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