I recently had a debate with a group of friends. We were discussing the merits of pursuing financial independence and, potentially, early retirement, versus maintaining a normal job until old age and never really striving to achieve a high level of individual financial success. I argued that everyone's goal should be to obtain the freedom to control how they live their own life and that the best way to achieve this freedom is to become financially independent. With financial independence comes the ability to dictate what jobs you will or will not do. You are no longer beholden to any employer. Instead, you are empowered with the knowledge that you can maintain your lifestyle even without a job. When you are financially independent, you are free to live life as you choose (within the law of course...).
My friends asserted that not everyone is interested in becoming financially independent or retiring early. They suggested that many people, including themselves, enjoy the work that they do and some simply desire the structure that comes along with being employed. Why should someone attempt to change their way of life if they are content under their current circumstances?
As the debate went back and forth, I eventually realized my point may have been misunderstood. I felt I needed to clarify. I attempted to do so by saying something along the lines of the following:
"I am not implying that it's impossible to be happily employed, I'm saying that it is better to be in a position where that employment is a choice rather than a need. Once someone has accumulated enough savings and investments to reach financial independence, they may very well choose to continue working. The key is to have the freedom to make that choice. Most of us don't enjoy that freedom of choice until we are old and gray. Typically, people need the income from their job(s) to maintain the lifestyle they desire. This doesn't mean they are unhappy. Quite the contrary, they may be very happy in their career. However, I think they would feel even better if they were in a position where maintaining a job was a choice and not a need. They would go into work each day with the knowledge that they are there because they choose to be. They would have no need to fear being fired or laid off by an employer. When they ultimately did decide to retire, whether, at a young age or an old age, they would have the financial resources to live the life of their choosing. In short, they would be free. That is a goal I think we should all pursue."
After this explanation, everyone seemed to come to a closer understanding and we called a truce.
In the process of having this lively discussion amongst friends, I was reminded of an old tale. Not only does it tie into our discussion, in my opinion, it perfectly illustrates how we should approach life as we each seek our own personal version of freedom.
The Fisherman And The Businessman
While on vacation in a quaint South American coastal village, Jeff, a highly successful New York marketing executive, was walking along the beach when he came across a small fishing boat. In the boat, he spotted a multitude of exotic and high-quality fish. There was a single fisherman onboard and so Jeff struck up a conversation.
Jeff: Those are some nice looking fish! How long did it take you to make such a great catch?
Fisherman: Only a couple of hours, I’ve learned all the best spots over the years.
Jeff: You’ve still got plenty of room in your boat, why not stay out a bit longer and catch more?
Fisherman: I catch enough to support my family and I live a busy life. In the morning, I spend time talking with my family while we enjoy breakfast together. I then go out and fish for a couple of hours. After I’ve caught enough fish, I come home to play with my children and have lunch with my wife. Next, I go to the town square to relax and play the guitar with some of my friends. Finally, I return home to eat dinner with my family, read stories to my children as I put them to bed, spend some quality time with my wife, and go to bed, fulfilled and with a smile.
Jeff: I’m a marketing executive and I think I can help you. If you’d spend a little more time fishing, you could use the additional income to buy a bigger boat. You would then be able to catch more fish and bring in even more profit. In a relatively short time, you'd have enough cash to begin growing your business. You could buy more fishing boats and hire fishermen to man them. Your business would continue to expand and eventually, it would be large enough for you to open your own processing plant where you could control the product, production, processing, and distribution!
Fisherman: Hmmm...Then what?
Jeff: Well, then you could relocate your business headquarters to a larger city where it would continue to grow as you expand your customer base.
Fisherman: How long would all this take?
Jeff: No more than 10, maaaybe 15 years.
Fisherman: And then what?
Jeff: At that point, you would be a very wealthy man. You'd be a millionaire in fact.
Fisherman: Wow, a millionaire you say? That's quite a lot of money! What then?
Jeff: What do you mean? You'd be rich!
Fisherman: I mean what would I do once I became rich?
Jeff: Well…you could do whatever you want. For example, you could retire and move to a small village on the coast. Every morning you could spend time talking to your family while enjoying breakfast together. You could go fishing, play with your children, have lunch with your wife, hang out with friends and maybe play some guitar, eat dinner with your family, read stories to your children as you put them to bed, spend quality time with your wife in the evenings, and eventually drift off to sleep with a smile on your face...
The fisherman simply smiled as Jeff began to realize whose life he had just described.
Although I spend quite a bit of time talking (and writing) about money, simply accumulating lots of money has never been my goal. What I am truly seeking is freedom. The freedom to choose my own path in life. The freedom to do the things I want to do, when and how I want to do them. The freedom to spend time with my family and friends as I see fit. The freedom to choose to go to work or not go to work. The freedom to travel the world with my loved ones. The freedom to do a job I enjoy without being concerned about layoffs or budget cuts. The freedom to lay in my bed on a weekday afternoon and contemplate life. The freedom to catch a few fish, hang out with family, play a little guitar, and make a new friend on the beach...Money is merely a tool that can be leveraged to help achieve this freedom, nothing more and nothing less.
Tools To Get You Started
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