I believe that the common way of life of most people in the United States of America is based on a huge misconception. This misconception is something like this:
We have to go to work anyway.
From an early age, we are taught that it is virtually inevitable to work in a (full-time) job all our life. After all, we have to earn our money somehow to make a living – and the earliest age for retirement comes at age 62. The common mantra we hear from early on says “Find a job that you enjoy, you have to do it for 45 years!” Or you hear well meaning advice before your senior year in High School: “Enjoy while you can. You will never have so much free time in your life again! “
We then base all further life decisions on this apparently irrefutable basic assumption, especially our personal spending behavior. A typical curriculum vitae is created: You complete an apprenticeship, learn a vocational job or go to college for 4 years. And then? You leave college with a pile of debt and start looking for a job in which you can earn good money. Well, and because we all have to go to work anyway, you can spend your salary with your hands full, right? We are raised to be consumers and what do we do? We buy as much crap as possible – and a lot of that by adding debt to our personal balance sheet. Disgusting
Unfortunately, the erroneous basic assumption turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you always spend everything you deserve – yes, then you actually have to keep working until you reach retirement age. What is with “deserving” something these days? Do we really deserve this?
I personally think we don’t have to go to work. At least not for this lifestyle anyway. Really, go to work to finance our out of control consumerism? How sick is that?! But what if there is a different way of doing things? What if we keep a lid on consumerism and the less money this new lifestyle needs, the less we have to go to work. It’s as simple as that.
A striking example: Let us assume that you can make ends meet with expenses of $1200 per month. You work as a freelance programmer, web designer or yoga teacher and earn $30 net an hour. Then you would only have to work 5 days a month. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of week #1 – and then you would have the rest of the month off. Or you work in a normal full-time job, but you only need half of your income. Then you could alternately work for 5 years and then put your feet up for 8-10 years.
A while ago I saw an infographic that described how much money one will earn based their education. As a university graduate, I can expect to earn a living of around 2.3 million dollars (according to the infographic). Ok, cool – that is not bad at all! After deducting taxes and social security contributions, around 1.4 million dollars will remain in my pocket. With 40 working years, this corresponds to a monthly net salary of $2,900. Hm, that sounds a lot, but is it?
So the question arises for me: do I need so much money in my life at all? And how much do I really have in my pocket after working for 40 years.? $1,400,000 – it is a lot of money if you have it available in one shot, but spread out across 40 years? What if I change the way I live and actually adjust my cost of living down so that I can get by on much less, but don’t have to work for 40 years?
What really makes for a fulfilling life?
I can probably answer the larger question for myself easily. I am 52 years old, work in IT and make close to $200,000 per year (which includes bonuses and over-time vesting stock options). Where I am in my life right now, I have a ~5-year obligation towards getting my son through High School and then into college. If you are a frequent reader of my blog you know that I am divorced. So, it is just me at that point. What do I need to enjoy my life at that point? Luxury car? No, not really. A house? No, not really. I am a runner – I rather prefer being out in nature on a trail run. In a way, I am envisioning moving into a van or travel trailer and just roam around the country and stay where I have access to a beautiful trail or nature in general. This would reduce the cost of living dramatically for me. So I could easily work much less – about half the time – and free up the other half to travel. Or have a job that allows me to work from remote as long as I have access to a fairly decent Internet connection.
But now the question arises: How do I best divide these two components, work and free, over my available time? Basically, there are two opposite models that represent the two extreme forms of all possibilities, so to speak.
On the one hand, there is a part-time job model. I work fewer hours and have additional free time over a single day: I go to work in the morning, and in the afternoon it is done and I have more time for myself. The other option is the early retirement model, i.e. early retirement through financial independence. I do not work fewer hours every day, but instead, I continue to work full-time, reduce my cost of living as much as possible and increase my savings rate to have a) more money when I retire early and b) are already used to a more frugal lifestyle.
Now, which is the better model? Should I switch to a part-time job? Then I would have less stress, could relax more frequently because of only having a 20-hour week. Or do I continue to work full time for a bit longer than necessary? Age 52 + 9 years puts me into my 60s. That is not a very appealing thought. Maybe there is an additional option that I could pursue?
Honestly, I am at a point in my job where I just want to quit. The stress level is high and my job satisfaction is at an all-time low. The company has changed a lot lately. I am having more frequent confrontations with certain teams due to very different opinions of what should be done. The company carries a lot of technical debt and it is holding us back. I am for a very strong push to make a major leap forward and then fall into a slower pace where we can find the right cadence. Other teams have a very different thought process.
Remember, I work in IT. I have always been at the forefront of technology and used the benefits of new technologies to my and the company’s benefit. Here I am facing a very different mindset. Teams I depend on supplying me with old school technical solutions – which holds my own team back. And I get it – if you would compare this to us all running towards the same goal and we are not aligned – we arrive at different times. My concern is that we will never be able to catch up on the technical debt if we continue to work how we have always worked. If you do things how they were always done, you will get the same results you have always gotten.
I am becoming frustrated because I am failing. My performance goals are tied to my IT roadmap and since I am depending on the other teams to deliver first, I am failing to meet my performance goals.
What are my options? Play nice and be the team player that makes everyone feel good and hand out supporting taps on shoulders for a job well done – while inside I am feeling very different? Or do I move on and try to find a new job – during a pandemic with the highest unemployment rate since the great depression? Both options do not sound appealing.
I am really considering to resign and become an entrepreneur, but I am starting at zero and I would prefer not having to sacrifice my savings that much during a pandemic with an unknown outcome. I have responsibilities taking care of my son who lives with me, I do not think this option is viable unless I can start a business on the side and build up some foundational income first. Going part-time is an option as well once I have some side income built up as well, but it would really depend if I can get a part-time job that pays a similar hourly rate to what I am earning right now.
Rising Stress Levels at Work
My biggest concerns however are the rising levels of stress I am experiencing at work. As mentioned earlier, work has gotten very stressful based on workload and overall work situation. With the company growing so fast, work has gotten more complicated and our legacy issues have not been addressed.
The Plan – Modeling a way to exit my job
So, I cannot just simply leave without having at least some side income built up. I am not saying I need to have replaced my income from work. I am fine with having a certain amount coming in that will allow me to make the jump and only having to use partial savings to be able to pay my bills. Right now I am setting that amount to match up with my current mortgage payment. That means I will have to generate a side income of about $2,000 per month first. Now there are two components to keep in mind. I will use that income to partially boost my savings, but also to accelerate the speed I am earning income at. The increase in savings will give me more time when making the switch as well. So, whatever my burn rate will be – I can last longer before running low on funds.
Building the plan of action
Currently, I am working on mapping out a plan of action. I need to set goals and measure myself against those very closely. The online business will stand on a few legs, but I have to prioritize tasks and what I work on to be successful. Otherwise, I am not focusing enough and spread my efforts thin. That would result in below average results and put the plan into danger.
I have the following components identified and need to cut some from list of tasks or reduce how much time I spend on them.
From the chart you can see that there is currently only one project that is generating some sort of income. It’s almost not worth mentioning in a way, but hear me out. I am running a Youtube channel in German language on a certain topic. I am at almost 2,000 subscribers and I usually publish one video per week. Average views in week #1 are usually around 400-500 and over time grow into the mid-1,000s, with some few videos going into the 10’s of thousands. The channel generates roughly $20-$25 dollars per month.
If I look at it just from a monetary perspective, it is definitely not worth the effort at all. But there are some positive takeaways as well. I use the channel to experiment and to hone my presence on video. These are no pieces of movie art in any way, but maybe that is where it pays to run the channel for just a bit longer. By starting and running that channel I really feel that my confidence being in front of a camera on video in public has grown significantly. I use video at work during all my Microsoft Teams calls even if everyone else is using audio only. It makes a very big difference and being in front of the camera does not bother me a single bit. One really loses that fear of being watched and judged. So, it is great skill to have and it will help me in the long run as I want to supplement other projects with video recordings and either provide online training via video or add a Youtube channel to the mix, too.
I have also built up a fairly decent group of followers that way. These individuals engage in discussions in the comment section for each video. I know why people like certain videos and also that they are interested in hearing my own story. One of my other projects should create some interest for these followers and I will try to convert as many of them as possible and ask them to subscribe to my other channel as well. The German channel has very limited room for growth – a) due to the niche and b) the market is significantly smaller due to the language on top of that. The other, new channel will be in English to take advantage of a larger global market. People in Germany speak English fairly well compared to other countries and so giving this viewership a connection and ask them to subscribe to my new (English) channel will hopefully be of interest to them and then instantly help me to reach enough subscribers on Youtube to monetize the new channel and get larger exposure. It took me two years to get the German Youtube channel to 1,000 subscribers – which are needed to turn on monetization.
Argh, so much stuff to consider, but it really helps me to visualize what I have currently going or what I am working on and to assign a “potential” rating. With that, it is so much easier to prioritize and then build the appropriate plan of action.
And there you have it – a big first step is taken. Some clarity is in place and I will go into more detail in another blog post.