A few days ago, I came to the realisation that this article would be my 50th since establishing Hustle Escape in December 2018. As I reflected on this milestone, I decided to go back through the archives to my first entry.
I had intended for my first article to be an explanation of the raison d’être for Hustle Escape, clearly articulating why it was I wanted to be financially independent and why it was I felt compelled to blog about it.
The truth is, it doesn’t really cut the mustard. While I touched on both these things, I didn’t get to the heart of the matter. My 50th article feels like an opportune moment to put that right.
Call it what you will – my whys of FI, my quit factors – this is why I’ll give up a successful corporate career for good when I’m 35 – no ifs, no buts.
We know the drill. That’s the problem.
Perhaps it starts with university. But as you’ve got the degree – and the student debt to go with it – the deserved job follows. Then there’s studying on the job, developing real-world skills. Then the promotions and the new batch of graduates behind you.
Now you’re earning more and you’re sick of paying somebody else’s mortgage. Soon you get the debt you always wanted. But now you have the debt you always wanted, you realise you don’t have the job you always wanted. But as you have the debt you always wanted, you conclude it doesn’t matter what job you always wanted.
So you get on with it. Soon life follows its course. You get engaged. Expensive ring. You get married. Expensive wedding. You join financial forces. Someone to be relied upon.
A few years pass and you buy a bigger house. Bigger mortgage, space for the children you’re about to have. Kids arrive, busier life. Now you’re managing a team – at home and at work. Someone to be relied upon.
The kids get older, you get older. The pressure at work rises, the money with it. Routine becomes all-absorbing. It’s not the job you always wanted but it supports your family. The family needs the money, you need the money. Someone to be relied upon.
So you dig in. You cast the things you wanted to be doing to one side because the life you’ve created feels as though it compels you to do so. You graft through to retirement, convinced this is the only way to support the consequences of all the decisions that preceded it.
There is nothing wrong with the life course I’ve described. In fact, there is much to be admired in following a conventional course to provide for our families. But we should not indefinitely postpone our dreams, nor should we feel like prisoners to our past choices.
While it’s a little hyperbolic, you get the point I’m trying to illustrate. When our history influences our decisions in the present with such force and predictability, economists call this ‘path dependence’. Because we have the student debt, we work to pay it off. Because we’ve secured the promotion, we get the deserved mortgage. Because we must provide for the families we’ve established, we plug away and climb the corporate ladder.
These are all sensible responses to past decisions/efforts and current circumstances. Our efforts deserve rewards.
But they are also choices predicated on availability. Because this is the proven path of “success”, we take it as the most secure, efficient and effective one, even if that’s not necessarily the case.
One of my principal reasons for ending my successful corporate career at 35 is to take a different path. Not because the traditional path is without merit, but because life is too short to compromise on the scenery. A path-dependent mindset can postpone the pursuit of dreams until it’s too late – and I’m only around once.
Routines in darkness
Then there is the routine. I’ve done it for 8 years now and it goes something like this:
- Our alarms wake us before nature.
- We leave and commute to work in darkness.
- We sit on our backsides staring into an artificial light.
- We leave work in darkness.
- We arrive home too tired for anything else.
Alas, in the modern world, this is how most salaries are earned. During the winter, that star in the sky that keeps us all alive is as elusive as quicksilver.
But a lack of sun is just the start. The routine itself is entirely sub-optimal. Knowledge work would be better suited to batches of 4 or 5 hours of intense productive work, done in an environment where we avoid the perils of endless open-office distractions and notifications. These are the periods of intense focus which Cal Newport calls Deep Work (UK, US) in his book of the same name.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know deep work has been an important focus of mine over the last year. Our environments of excess information and abundant distraction are eroding productivity. And productivity is so often the sauce that brings us greater purpose.
One of my key reasons for quitting when I’m 35 is to restore this sense of daily productivity and purpose, shaping a routine that gives me 4-5 hours of optimal work and then time for sunlight and leisure.
Trading off the good stuff
Mind bogglingly, it took me 6 years of sitting on my backside staring into an artificial light for 10 hours per day to realise that this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the next 40. Things crystallised when I started to think pragmatically about what really mattered: the things that brought me health and happiness.
But, of course, taking the majority of our days up in an office means we have to continuously compromise on these things.
If I write for an hour tonight, I won’t have time for the gym. If I go to the gym, I won’t have time to read for an hour. If I read for an hour, I’ll have to cancel that social engagement. If I go to that social engagement, I’ll have to cut back on tonight’s sleep.
Naturally, we trade off the good stuff because we need money to live.
A huge part of securing my financial independence is about ending these trade-offs. I want to stop trading off the things that bring me health and happiness because I spend the majority of my days doing things that don’t.
But it isn’t just a question of time. My corporate career is creativity-stifling. Even when I occasionally have the time to pursue creative ventures, my job has exhausted my creative reserves.
This blog is a case in point. The reason I consistently publish on a weekend is not just a question of time, but because I spend my workweek devoid of creative ideas.
Thankfully, it’s not permanent. Weekends, breaks and vacations can recharge creative reserves.
But this raises an important point. If we need to take breaks from our jobs to restore our sense of creativity and purpose, and not just to rest, then as sure as night follows day, we are dedicating our lives to the wrong jobs.
So putting my corporate career behind me at 35 will leave me with creative space. I’m confident my mind will be sharper, and I can pursue the ventures that interest me: creating interesting content, studying and researching, travelling.
I’ll be able to do this while developing a routine that works for me. Balancing chunks of deep work and deep play, I’ll keep my creativity simmering at the levels I only currently experience outside of corporate work hours. And I’ll make space to travel extensively, drawing inspiration from around the world.
The deathbed test
Finally, there is a fear of that moment. When I reach the end of my life and come to assess what went right and wrong, I know with complete confidence that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I continued in a creativity-sapping corporate career during my prime years.
I believe I would coldly assess that decision on my deathbed as wasted potential. In short, continuing beyond 35 would fail my deathbed test.
While many of my other whys may require financial independence – reshaping my routine, pursuing creative ventures, ending the trade-offs – the deathbed test is why I’ll quit my successful career at 35, financially independent or not. I simply couldn’t face the idea of confronting the wisdom of the dying me not having taken the risk along the way.
The risk, you see, is exciting. The risk will bring unforgettable memories, for better or worse. Memories aren’t forged behind a computer screen, doing someone else’s paper pushing for 9 hours a day. Memories are built when we experience the highs and lows, the different and unusual, the new and old.
Why whys matter
Truth be told, I’ve read many such articles from FIRE bloggers from all over the world, and one question consistently pokes away: what is the point? Do we need a list of reasons why?
After all, everybody should be pursuing financial independence because it gives us, well, independence (the clue’s in the name).
But there is, of course, an important point: motivation.
These are the points that motivate me to achieve financial independence. That matters because although this isn’t going to be a sacrificial journey, there will be moments when I have to take difficult choices. My whys of FI will help to support and motivate those choices.
When the moment of handing in my notice arrives, it will not be easy, especially if I’m doing so while taking a considerable cut in income. Nor will the transition be straightforward. The camaraderie of work will need to be replaced with something else. As the year of truth (2025) gets closer, I’ll develop specific plans to ensure it doesn’t feel like a leap into the dark.
Meanwhile, as doubts rage, I’ll remind myself that there are different paths and more optimal routines. As fear of missing out takes grip, I’ll remind myself of the creative ventures I’d miss out on if I continued with the status quo. And as I contemplate reversing the decision, I’ll remind myself that the dying me will have harsh words to say about it.