The Unspoken Problem With Financial Freedom Few People Acknowledge
Real estate is an incredible wealth building vehicle. You can and should study as much as possible about financing, marketing, property management, maintenance, and finding deals.
But for most of us, these real estate details all point toward a common goal: financial independence.
You want your efforts as an entrepreneur and investor to lead to more autonomy, more freedom, more options, and more living, whatever that means for you.
But lately I’ve realized an unspoken problem in our world of financial independence seekers. This is one of those issues few of us want to acknowledge.
This problem is called the “freedom void.”
What is the Freedom Void?
“With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
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The vision most of us have for financial independence or retirement is a fantasy.
Maybe we get the fantasy from a spectacular blog where a 30-year-old retiree travels nonstop around the globe for the rest of his life. Maybe we got it from a mutual fund commercial with a couple walking blissfully on the beach forevermore. Maybe we got it from our unfulfilled childhood dreams.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of these retirement pursuits. The problem is that deep down we know there is more to financial independence than this simple dream.
Beach vacations and travel will be nice, but then what? We know that just retiring from our current lives is not the answer.
Here are some of the questions we begin to ask ourselves behind the scenes:
- What would I actually do if I had 40-60 free hours per week?
- What would I do while all of my colleagues are at work?
- Will I find the same meaning or fulfillment when I don’t have to work a job?
- What do I really want to do with my life?
- Will I have an identity crisis when I’m asked the #1 question in America: “What do you do?”
- I like my job, so why should I sacrifice so much now for something that might not be as fun or fulfilling?
Freedom is a void because suddenly, maybe for the first time, we are completely and solely responsible for the direction of our lives.
Our parents, our friends, our mentors, and our bosses can no longer tell us which path to take. Being busy can no longer hide the reality of the unknown. We are sailing toward uncharted territory, and that is terrifying.
A little (or a lot) of doubt creeps in. We wonder if financial freedom is really worth all of the hassle, struggle, and sacrifice it takes to get there and to stay there.
This doubt, unless acknowledged and addressed, can delay or completely sabotage our paths to financial independence.
Why We Rationalize the Status Quo
In essence, achieving financial independence is just like any other area of growth we experience. We must get out of our comfort zones and go beyond the status quo before we can really grow and improve.
Here are some common status quo refrains:
- “Frugality and saving money are uncomfortable. Why wait to enjoy life?”
- “I like my job and I work hard. Why work weekends buying real estate? I’m doing fine.”
- “The stock market’s uncertain. Interest rates may go up. Politicians are incompetent. I need to keep working two, three, or maybe five more years just to make sure I have enough socked away.”
Growth in our careers and our financial lives has a special problem. Our jobs and our finances just happen to be central to our sense of security and to our identity.
This is a HUGE comfort zone to overcome.
Thousands of years ago, perhaps we humans felt secure in our ability to hunt or to work the land. The best families of hunters or farmers were seen as the most successful.
Today, our ability to make money is a symbol of security. Today if you want to measure how successful someone is, just find out how much he or she earns in their job. In addition, how we see ourselves is also wrapped up in our job and career.
When someone asks, “What do you do?” how do you normally answer?
- “I AM an engineer.”
- “I AM a physical therapist.”
- “I AM a teacher.”
Not “I teach during the day.”
No. I AM. Our job is our identity.
I say all of this for a simple reason: We must acknowledge and overcome the magnetic pull that keeps us in the status quo before we can grow into a new, healthy phase of our life.
An accurate picture of financial independence must be more compelling and more magnetic than the intense gravity of the now and the normal. If it’s not, you’ll easily rationalize why you are not making more progress toward financial independence.
Moving forward into a place you’ve never been requires self honesty and imagination. The rest of the article will help you to use both.
What’s Next? Just Use Your Imagination.
The main point here is to not allow yourself to be fed ideas about your future unconsciously. If you use mutual fund commercials to imagine your life after financial independence, you’ll limit yourself to hanging out on a beach or visiting cathedrals in Europe for the rest of your life.
I love both of those activities, but the actual possibilities are MUCH more varied and MUCH more compelling. What follows are just a few post-financial independence possibilities to whet your appetite. In the comments section below, I hope you’ll share your own vision for a life after financial independence.
Keep Your Career, But Use Your Leverage
Probably the biggest myth about financial independence or retirement is that you have to quit working. Most people I know who have enough money to retire don’t. And that’s ok.
At least for a little while, it’s probably a good idea to keep working.
Because then you can test out a completely different way of working. This new way is all about leverage. You are working, but you don't have to. That dynamic changes everything.
As an investor, you know that the person in a negotiation who wins is the one who can walk away at any time. As a financially independent person still working a job, you may be able to negotiate better hours, remote work arrangements, more time off, more benefits, more support, etc.
If you’re someone who loves their career in general, the leverage of F-you money, a concept made famous by financial blogger Jlcollins, can help you craft a career that you can still enjoy for years to come.
Test Out Semi-Retirement
While you’re testing your new-found leverage, you might want to consider a life of semi-retirement.
Semi-retirement means you still work, but you have a much more leisurely work schedule. This is often a nice compromise that allows you to contribute and use your professional skills while being able to relax and enjoy your life a little more.
Semi-retirement work arrangements could mean reducing your work days from five to two. It could also mean you work only mornings and take afternoons off. It might mean you find a way to work two seasons of the year and take the other two seasons off.
Anything is possible! Use your imagination here. Remember that the primary benefits of financial independence are autonomy and life options.
You are in control, so create a work schedule that YOU want.
Take a “Passion Job” With Lower (or No) Pay
For some of you, the current job is not a passion. Your soul is calling you to do something else, but the salary and benefits at your old job keep you chained to the status quo.
When you’re financially independent and your personal overhead is covered by investments, you can choose to take a job you love that makes less or no pay.
Some of the most un-glorified and lowest paying jobs make the biggest impact on society. As a parent of young children, stay-at-home moms or dads, teachers, and social workers come to mind as great examples.
But many other high-impact, low-pay careers exist, such as artists, non-profit administrators, peace corp workers, and ministers. It’s a shame that so many people with callings to these professions begrudgingly do something else because it makes more money.
For this reason, financial independence is much more than a selfish pursuit. If you’re called to do one of these important jobs, our society needs your passions and your talents. We need you to get unstuck from simply “making a dying.”
Also keep in mind that if you’re really itching to make a career change, you don’t have to wait to reach full financial independence. If your investments give you 50% of your living expenses, that means you can take a job that makes 50% less and still cover your expenses.
Life is too short to follow unfulfilling paths for decades just because of money. If you have a calling, get your finances in order and go do it!
Take a Mini-Retirement (or Multiple Mini-Retirements)
Rather than perpetually retiring from society, why not break up your life between leisure/exploration and contribution/work?
A mini-retirement is different than a normal vacation. It is as short as a month month or as long as a couple of years where you press pause on your normal life.
The beauty of mini-retirements is that you can test out a certain lifestyle without committing to it for the rest of your life. If you get bored or worn out, you can go back to your prior life or start a completely new path.
I have taken several mini-retirements. The first was a four-month trip where my wife and I began in Spain for six weeks and continued our adventure in South America. We lived with families in order to learn Spanish; we explored floating islands and ancient Maccu Pichu in Peru; we hiked gorgeous, wide-open land in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina; and we soaked up the fun and beauty of Buenos Aires, the home of Tango. Now that we have kids, we’ve done more road trips out West to national parks, relaxing beach trips, and explorations of the coast of Mexico.
Create a Social Business
A social business is one of my favorite possibilities for post-financial independent entrepreneurs and investors. I learned more about the concept several years ago when I read a book called Banker to the Poor by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus from Bangladesh.
Muhammad Yunnus was an economics professor at a university in Bangladesh during an extreme famine in his country. People were literally starving in the streets, and extreme poverty could be seen everywhere. Yunnus decided he had to do something.
After talking to the most hard-hit people, Yunnus realized that the primary challenge for many of the extremely poor (typically women) was lack of capital. They had skills, like weaving bamboo stools, but they had to borrow money at extremely high rates (sometimes 400-500%) from loan sharks or material suppliers. These loans ate up all of their profit margin, which perpetuated a cycle of poverty and starvation.
For a tiny amount of money (sometimes less than $10), Yunnus began loaning these women money at more reasonable rates so that they could support themselves. Fighting an uphill battle with banks and government officials, Yunnus grew this personal project into a micro-lending business whose primary purpose was to help these women out of poverty.
His social business, called the Grameen Bank, has been wildly successful at its primary purpose, elevating the status of its borrowers. Yunnus and the Grameen Bank won a Noble Peace Prize in 2006. Micro-lending has now taken off around the world.
Most interestingly, Grameen Bank was not organized as a non-profit charity. Their structure was a business that sold something (micro-loans, savings accounts, insurance, etc.) at a profit. The profits, however, were not distributed to owners. Instead they were reinvested to grow and support the primary mission of the social business.
When you reach financial independence, you can also choose to start a business that solves social problems. As the sole shareholder and CEO, you can choose to take money out or you can choose to leave all of the money in so that it helps even more people.
Micro-lending to alleviate poverty is just one of many social business possibilities. Wherever there is a social problem, a business dedicated to that problem could be created.
Mohammad Yunnus now travels the world encouraging entrepreneurs and financially independent individuals to use their skills and capital to create social businesses.
If you want to create your own social business, his book Building Social Business is a good place to start.
Financial Independence Is About Personal Growth
In this article I have tried to identify a problem, the freedom void, and then to provide some suggestions for how to fill that void.
Financial independence is a central topic here on BiggerPockets.com and on other financially-oriented education outlets. How to achieve financial independence is important. Rental property acquisitions, financing, and property management are critical.
But more than anything, this journey toward financial independence is about personal growth. Real estate investing is just a vehicle, and you are the driver.
When you create a compelling, honest, and deeply motivating vision of your life post financial independence, you set your GPS coordinates on a clear destination. You also create an endless supply of fuel for your real estate vehicle that allows it to overcome many of the inevitable obstacles.
I wish you all the best on your personal journey toward financial independence.
[ Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers. ]
How do you envision life post financial independence? What do you plan to do? How do you plan to spend your time?
I look forward to reading your comments.