One of the most fun parts of FIRE Life is meeting with fun people who pass through town. A couple of years ago, I met Tina. We talked about FIRE, bikes, and ate subs late at night. (I highly recommend the Grape Ape from Cheba Hut). I was supposed to see Tina again last summer on my way to the West Coast, but then COVID happened.
I hadn’t heard from Tina in a while and then an email showed up in which she announced her retirement! Even better, it came with an inspirational post!
What I like most about Tina’s attitude is that she isn’t the type of person to sit back and let the world come to her. She figures out what she wants and goes for it. There is a powerful lesson in this mentality. If you don’t advocate for yourself, the world will often pass you by.
Turning “What If?” Into “Why Not?”
I started my job at a large bank when I was 20 years old, making $10.30 an hour, and it was just that – a job. This was the 6th company I’d worked for since I was 16 and I had no intention of a career or had any idea what I wanted my future to be. For 18 years, I worked my way up and around the company, holding 7 unique roles and promoting to higher levels within all of those roles except for 1 (which was the one where my entire team was displaced within my first year in the role). In those 18 years I filed bankruptcy due to dumb teenager/young adult decisions and being too proud to ask for help before it was too late (year 2), had a child (year 3), got laid off in a company reorg (year 4), got recruited back to my company by the previous 2-up manager who noticed my work ethic during the 30 day working notice we had (year 4), bounced back from bankruptcy thanks to learning from mistakes and bought a house WITHIN MY BUDGET on a $35K salary (year 5), obtained my bachelors degree by completeing 1-2 online classes at a time while balancing full time work and trying to figure out how to be a mom (still trying to figure that one out!) (years 2-6 thanks to the 2 years of college I completed right after high school), connected with a (work) mentor who turned into an incredible (life) mentor and friend (year 6), discovered work I loved in process improvement (year 8), stumbled across my first MMM article (year 9), realized I was in love with one of my best friends, a man I was willing to compromise my control issues for, and got married, gaining two incredible step-kids (year 10), sold my house and became a renter again and have had ZERO regrets or doubts (year 14), networked my ass off for 4 years to finally get the position I was aiming for doing the type of work I loved in the area of the bank I wanted to be in (years 11-15), went through senior leadership changes that took all the creativity and empowerment away from employees and turned us into task completers and box checkers (years 16-18), found myself miserable* day after day after day (years 17-18).
As noted, right about the middle of my career, I started my journey toward financial independence thanks to finding bloggers MMM, 1500days, JLCollins, Mad FIentist…ok, to be real, I became I blogger addict (and all the books mentioned within the blog articles I read); soaking up all the information I could. I probably read more than 20 different blogs for a couple of years, including every single post of at least 5 of those from their origination to current. I did end up regaining my sanity and time, but there were a handful that stuck with me and I continue to look forward to new posts. I also found a love for spreadsheets and playing with numbers and I knew EXACTLY where my enough line was to initiate my plan of exiting corporate work. Ok, another statement short of reality; I actually had 3 different “enough” lines with ranges: a minimum, or FU money as Jim would call it, a cushy lifestyle similar to how I live now, and a luxury lifestyle to build cushion into my cushion, you know, just in case). In 2020, I was within my financial range of quitability and I started throwing dates out.** At the same time, thanks to the changes in my job environment and the company deciding they didn’t want me actually thinking anymore, my job had simplified quite a bit. Yes, I had more meetings, politics, and drama that wasted my time, but actually getting my work done? That happened so much quicker now that the majority of the time I was just checking the box. Plus, I transitioned to working from home 100% of the time thanks to COVID so I was getting paid to check my boxes at work while simultaneously conquering household chores, local errands, staying caught up on my reading, and cooking amazing dinners for my fam. On a day with fewer meetings, I could even skip out for an afternoon bike ride or hit the garage for a midday workout. What kind of crazy lunatic would cut the cord to a sizable paycheck for doing much of what they’d be doing without a job? Sure I had enough money, but a little more would just mitigate future risk, right? And I could just do it until I reeeeeeeeally hated my job or the environment changed and I didn’t have the same flexibility. Enter the What If Monster.
What if my math was wrong? What if I run out of money? What if the economy took a hard crash? Not “what if” but “when if” because it has to be coming…right? What if I get hit by some unexpected expensive medical tragedy? What if I spend more than I anticipate? What if I hate not having a job? What if I get bored? What if what I’ve been saying I’m going to do for so many years turns out to not be as grand as I think? WHAT IF…I was wrong?
To take a small step back, I am well aware that I get bored easily and need to be challenged and inspired to stay engaged in anything I am doing. So, I have also been tracking “to do***” ideas on a separate tab of my financial spreadsheet. Hobbies, volunteer opportunities, part-time jobs, etc. Things I’ve done and want to pursue deeper when more time is available, things I always thought would be fun and want to try, things I wanted to learn more about, things I wanted to support, anything that created a “someday….” thought in my head. In preparation, I started working on this list the last couple of years. I created my own blog and kept it active for a year before deciding I said what I had to say and lost interest. I got a job as a server/bartender, working a couple of evenings a week because I’ve envied Brian Flannagan since my adolescence. Turns out that even though I did this for fun, I actually made pretty good money as well. I voluntarily laid myself off when hours were cut due to COVID and general winter slow down because this was others’ main source of income and I didn’t feel good about taking from that limited pool. I took a backpacking trip with my brother that we had been planning for over 13 years! I started snowboarding thanks to my husband surprising me with a day pass and lessons from an avid snowboarding friend. I also did some things that I never would have thought to put on this list but the opportunity presented itself so why not? I helped make a movie that should be released this year, I manage a portion of the social media marketing for a company my friend owns, I also worked on saying no to things I wasn’t interested in and was doing only based on feeling guilty.
Mr. 1500 note: movie trailer here:
One of these adventures was a 7-day bike tour with a friend and on a rafting portion of it, our guide shared that he worked in Wilderness Therapy. Based on his explanation, I was enamored with the general idea of such a program; I also assumed to do this type of work one either needed to be a licensed therapist or a certified activity guide. Fast forward about a year and the same friend and I were doing a local hiking challenge where I came across a flyer advertising openings for assistant field instructors at a near-local wilderness therapy company, no education or experience necessary. Whhhhaaaaaaattt???? I called the company and gathered some details and immediately added this to my post-retirement list. One day, last fall on a shitty day at work, I was triggered to pull up the company website and dream. I saw that their next training week was in March (2021) which was when-ish I was now thinking maybe I’d actually quit my job so I figured why not. I submitted my application, along with a supporting email explaining my personal love of nature and ensuring them I wasn’t JUST a corporate office bum, with the expectation I’d be waiting weeks or months before hearing anything. Turns out I only saw the future calendar. I received an email response within the day, interviewed the following week, and was invited to attend the next seminar/training week in December which I accepted. I spent a week learning about the clients’ experience, what the instructors are expected to handle, how that ties into the work the therapists do and the adventure fun with the guides. All while camping in the December snow and cold….and I hate being cold. I figured this weather was the best to test myself in. Based on earlier conversations, if chosen after seeing how I handled this week, I would have another interview and with the holiday schedules, I anticipated this would happen mid-January at the earliest. I was offered the job on the Friday at the end of the seminar week and could start immediately. HOLY. SHIT. The finish line was literally now…if I had the courage to grab it. Re-enter the What If Monster. What if I don’t have patience for these kids? I’ve never dreamed of working with kids. What if I don’t have a positive impact? What if I can’t handle the elements? What if I don’t have enough money? What if I hate it and quit? What if I can’t handle it emotionally? What if being away from my husband, daughter, and friends for 2 weeks at a time is too much to handle? WHAT IF…I was wrong.
I have been planning for this. I had worked a very part-time job and made more money than I ever expected while having fun. I had an entire list of go-to activities, not to mention 2 bicycles in my garage and a city full of hiking trails, to combat boredom. I have an amazing support system that has and will lift me up when I fail. I raise my daughter by being the example. It was time to live up to the claims I’d been making for 8 years or quit talking about it.
I can’t actually claim retirement because corporations have a formula for age and years worked and hitting a certain number to “retire.” But I put in my notice to leave the corporate world and retire my nameplate. Technically, I also intentionally went to a new job after only a week of being unemployed. However, I make about 20% of the salary I used to, and I’d also do it for free (or will stop doing it if I find it isn’t fulfilling) so I consider it a transition hobby that requires commitment rather than a job. As an assistant field instructor, I get to spend every 2 weeks living in the outdoors, helping teens overcome struggles while learning wilderness survival skills and also doing all kinds of things like hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, rappelling, snowshoeing, cross country skiing with a certified adventure guide.
Commit to projects that scare the shit out of you and make you deeply uncomfortable.-Mr. 1500
I read this after my first shift in my new job but it resonates because I’m not sure I would have pulled the trigger if I didn’t have something concrete to transition to. The transition away from security is the part that truly scared the shit out of me and made me uncomfortable. The commitment to the new project is what forced me to rise above that. This job requires an exciting yet also uncomfortable time commitment each shift by being off the grid 2 weeks at a time, it requires me to show up when I don’t feel like it so I can’t just push it off on lazy days, it requires patience and a level of understanding I’ve never dealt with so I will continue to grow as a human. I don’t plan on this being long-term. I’d like to experience all seasons which has me aiming for a minimum of 1 year and then reevaluating. This means I will not spend my time in this job planning my next step or working toward the next promotion (there is a surprisingly impressive growth path available though) as I did in the corporate world. Instead, I’ll be ingraining myself into the work and the people, giving time to hone the new skills I am learning, and find the best way I can be of service to the clients and those instructors looking to promote and lead. I’ll stop and take in my surroundings and am already finding a new appreciation for the desert (I’m a mountain girl at heart) and the terrain it offers. While the income will cover my monthly groceries and gas and provide insurance (yes, my FI calculations include the cost of private insurance for when I no longer have it so I’m not reliant on a job that offers it), income will never be a driver of whether or not I continue this job or what my next step is. That was the hardest feeling to let go of and is such a weightless and freeing feeling I wish everyone has the chance to experience.
Mr. 1500 Epilogue
Thank you Tina for this excellent dose of wisdom and inspiration!
This post resonated with me because I remember having a bad case of the “what ifs?” when I quit work. I was terrified of being bored. What I’ve since discovered is that if you have good community, the world has a way of dumping opportunities on you like an avalanche. Some recent examples from my life:
- Let’s go hiking!
- Do you want to start a podcast?
- Want to hang out in Mexico?
- Do you want to start a brewery?
- Let’s help each other put solar panels on our homes!
This is why I know Tina will be happy and successful in retirement. She may not be doing what she thought she’d be doing one year from now, but I’m confident she’ll be happy with her decision to quit the rat race.
Tina, I hope our paths cross this year!
*Was it a good ride? Yeah; I met amazing people, learned so much, and grew more than I ever imagined. And even though in the end I was miserable, I am lucky enough to say that I spent the majority of my career working for a company that I felt good about and recommended to MANY people along the way. I sincerely hope the company finds its way back to that type of reputation.
**I never had a goal to make 6 figures, I didn’t have an advanced degree or a fancy job and I wasn’t interested in sales or management where the larger salaries typically sit; I never even considered it possible to make 6 figures doing the work I wanted to stay in. However, I received a promotion in February of 2020 and realized it would happen that year if I stuck it out. So, at 39 years old, my 2020 W2 broke the 6 digit barrier. It was fun; it represented 18 years of hard work and diligence to reach what seemed an unrealistic number. I imagine it will be like joining the double comma club for net worth which is another thing I am not aiming for because I don’t need that much but based on my savings and spending habits, I anticipate it will happen at some point thanks to compound interest. A minute’s worth of appreciation and then just another figure on my spreadsheet.
***Mr. 1500 note: Keeping a “To do” or idea list to help prepare for retirement is an awesome idea! I created one and since I retired in 2017, the list has tripled in size. Too much stuff, too short a life…
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