Today’s guest post comes from The Graying Saver who discovered the FI movement in his mid-40s. Something I’ve always enjoyed about the FIRE community is the diversity in ages of those involved. I discovered the movement at the age of 43. Since then, I’ve met FIRE fanatics as young as 17 and as old as 70.
Another aspect of the FIRE community that I enjoy is that we tend to be a thoughtful bunch. This shines through in the Graying Saver’s post today. I won’t spoil it, but the Graying Saver has a pretty great story to tell…
How I Conquered Grumpiness With Gratitude
I’m 47 and only discovered the idea of financial independence and early retirement about 15 months ago, so I’m a little older than many in this community and I’m off to a late start. As such, I often get impatient with my progress and that can make me grumpy. Being grumpy gets in the way of being grateful. This is not good because as numerous studies have shown, there is a very strong connection between feelings of gratitude and feelings of happiness. Of course, I want to be happy so I am trying to ditch the grumpitude and develop the gratitude.
Fortunately, I discovered the 1500 Days blog, which has helped advance my study of both gratitude and scatological humor – two things with a direct link to happiness as demonstrated by this scientifical diagram:
Indeed, it was a 1500 Days post on Focus that made me realize that I was neglecting to be grateful to my past self who had taken some bold steps on my behalf that I was now taking for granted. In fact, I came to realize that my past self had given me a significant leg up in my pursuit of FI even before I knew it existed. No, my past self-did not bequeath to me a huge pile of cash – that would’ve been too easy – instead, my past self took some big risks on my behalf related to where I live and where I work. As a result, when I finally got wind of the FIRE movement and decided to pursue financial independence I already had a couple of things working in my favor.
The 1500 days post on focus included a picture of tail lights in traffic taken through a rain-spattered windshield. You remember this one:
That picture took me back to my seven-plus years of a 40-mile round trip car commute to a stressful job that was going nowhere. Looking at that picture, it hit me that I could very easily be back in that traffic now. I probably would be there now if it had not been for my past self who took the bold and risky steps of trying to buy property through a tax foreclosure auction and hiring a career coaching firm to help me get out of that job.
Yep, I could be right back in that traffic, but I’m not. I’m not in that traffic because seventeen years ago, my wife and I were the winning bidders at that auction. And I’m not in that traffic because twelve years ago I decided to invest in myself and got help finding a job that’s 4.5 miles from my house.
So when I finally did catch on to the FIRE movement in August of 2016 I didn’t have to figure my way out of a costly car commute. Buying property in town enabled us to buck the trend of moving further out to buy a bigger house. Since I was already commuting 20 miles one way it would’ve been very easy to rationalize moving another 10 or 15 miles out to keep up with the lifestyle inflation around us. We are certainly not immune to lifestyle inflation, but this was one instance in which we were able to resist it.
Likewise with my job. When we decided to pursue financial independence I didn’t need to try and find a job within biking distance – I already had one.
So Why So Grumpy?
At this point, you might be asking yourself:
What the hell is this guy’s problem?
I’m kind of asking myself the same question. Hell, I live on three acres just outside of downtown Raleigh and have a job I can get to by bike. Why have I been letting the grumps get in the way of gratitude?
What’s happened is that many years have gone by since my past self took those steps on my behalf and in that time I have forgotten all the apprehension, uncertainty and outright fear I went through at the time.
As with so many things in life – good and bad – I have simply become used to the results of the steps my past self took on my behalf. After 10+ years of living on our little mini-farm oasis and being able to bike to work it’s all become completely normal. I’m not dissatisfied with my current state of normal, I just haven’t been thinking of it as anything unusual. You know, ho hum, this is just how it is, doot dee dooty doo, nothing out of the ordinary.
But Hold on a Sec, Stop the Music.
(This is where my past self starts to get a little indignant.)
Dear ungrateful present self:
Um, yeah, the circumstances you now find yourself in – rural setting at home but only 3 miles from downtown and a commute that you can do by bike – those things actually aren’t that normal and they didn’t just happen on their own. I put in a lot of work to make all that happen. Work that at the time did not have a clear pay off. There were no guarantees that any of this would work out. Allow me to remind you of the big risks I took for your sake.
A Day at the Auction
When I think back to the year 2000 and the scene of the tax foreclosure auction I can dip right back into feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability and the sense that we were out of our element. To begin with, the auction didn’t look or feel at all like what I expected. There was no auctioneer – just a county employee running the auction. There was no room with rows of seated bidders holding their numbered bid paddles.
Instead, we were all just standing around in the front lobby of the county courthouse. The county employee didn’t drive the bidding like an auctioneer would, she just said the bidding would start at $12,000 – presumably, the amount of back taxes owed – and then it was up to each bidder to call out their bids until no one took the price any higher.
The group of bidders gathered in the lobby consisted mostly of developer or builder types. Middle-aged men in jeans and work boots but with tucked-in shirts and clipboards in hand. Their Nextel push-to-talk phones chirping away (remember those?). There was also a pleasant-looking younger man there who turned out to be a City of Raleigh employee. And then there was us: a young, wide-eyed couple with the husband on crutches due to a recent knee surgery. We stood out like a pair of sore thumbs and were nervously fidgeting like of a couple of squirrels.
In the end, we were the highest bidder that day at $30,000. The pleasant looking City of Raleigh employee turned out to be our main competition. He and I went back and forth in $1,000 increments until I said, “$30,000” and he pleasantly stopped bidding.
Once the bidding was over I realized that my heart was racing and my palms were damp. My mind see-sawed back and forth between excitement and anxiety over how we were going to pay for this newly purchased land. We certainly didn’t have $30k sitting in the bank.
But my past self figured out a way to do it. And as I write this I remind myself of how grateful I am.
Investing in Myself
In January of 2005, my wife was two months pregnant with our son. During that month I had worked 10 to 12 hour days for 19 days straight as I managed a team finishing up a large project. On my wife’s birthday, I came home, ate dinner with her, and then drove to DC to deliver the project. So it was, “Hi, happy birthday, bye.” That evening was my first inkling that something needed to change.
By the time my son was a year old, the inkling that change was needed had grown into an imperative. I wanted our son to be raised by two parents and I wanted my marriage to continue to grow and thrive throughout our lives together and not be relegated to the back burner behind the demands of my job.
I knew I needed to find a different job, but I continued to let two obstacles stand in my way: 1) I had no job-seeking experience or skills, and 2) I believed that any new job I took would require me to take a pay cut. I thought no other job would ever pay me what I was making at the time.
Obstacle #1 was real. I had essentially fallen into the job I was now trying to leave. I started with the company as a temp and worked my way up to an eventual full-time permanent position. As a result, I had never had to interview, network, or write a tailored resume or cover letter. Obstacle #2 turned out to be psychological B.S. I was using as an excuse for not taking action.
In order to deal with obstacle #1, I took the risky and controversial step of shelling out $5,000 on a career counseling firm. Honestly, it’s rather embarrassing to admit that now. At the time I had a lot of self-doubt around that decision:
What if this doesn’t work? $5,000 is a lot of money and I’m going to feel like a complete fool if it turns out I’ve wasted it. What if I’m their first client who they just have to let go? “Sorry, we can’t spend any more time on you, you sure are a hard one to employ! Maybe you should just stick with your old job?”
But it did work out. I learned job-seeking techniques, I had accountability to my coach, and I developed my interviewing and resume writing skills through a lot of practice. I landed a new job that is much closer to home, has lower stress, and that came with a nice raise. As I said, obstacle #2 was B.S. Don’t let yourself succumb to the idea that you can’t do any better than you’re doing now.
Would I hire a career counseling firm again? Probably not. Once was enough to learn the skills and techniques I needed. And besides, everything I learned in 2006 is now probably on YouTube. But at the time it was the right decision. I made an investment in myself, which Mr. Buffett says is the most important type to make, and over time I’ve seen an excellent ROI.
And so today, I am not sitting in that traffic on my way to and from a dead-end job and I am grateful for that. I’ve become used to my situation, but I’ve reminded myself that it is not typical and it didn’t happen by accident.
Yes, I am still a few years away from reaching FI, and I’m sure there will be periods of impatience along the way, but I am grateful to my past self for taking the action that laid the groundwork for getting to FI faster than I otherwise would have.
As you encounter new opportunity or contemplate taking action to improve your own life, you will no doubt be grappling with feelings of risk that come along with change. It won’t be easy – change can be scary – but remember when you take those risks on your own behalf that your future self will be there to thank you.
Thanks so much for the great post Graying Saver!
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