The literature is largely silent on what you should do once you attain financial independence(FI). Plenty has been written about building wealth and how much is needed to reach FI and how much you can safely withdraw each year in retirement.
Plenty of debate has also revolved around paying off the mortgage — any debt for that matter — versus plowing the excess payments into investments that pretend to offer a return greater than the interest rate on your debt. While investments can provide outsized returns, the return isn’t guaranteed; the interest on the debt is.
As much as we preach about eliminating debt as part of a smart wealth building program designed for FI, there are some benefits to having certain kinds of debt. Risks are always present, but the advantage may be worth the risk. Buying a home without debt ever would mean most people would never have a chance at home ownership. And you can forget about income properties if you can’t use leverage to start your real estate empire unless you inherited from a rich uncle.
A mortgage (all debt) does have one powerful advantage most people overlook. Debt is the #1 motivator when it comes to getting people to sacrifice time with family and friends. Debt motivates you to work harder than you ever would if debt demands were not hanging over your head.
So if debt is so caustic to financial success a prime goal should be to remove debt from your life except for only the rarest of cases. But then what?
If you pay off your debt and build a sizable nest egg, a primary motivation to keep producing declines! How will the economic engine of progress ever survive? (I’m being facetious here.)
People will take a second, or even third, job just to pay for prior sins, plus interest. Families are destroyed; health ruined; children neglected, just to make good on your obligations. You did give your word and you’re a person of your word.
And then you had a come to Jesus moment. Maybe you read a blog or had a serious talk with a councilor or your accountant. Debt became enemy #1. And then the debt finally disappeared and cash kept accumulating in your investment accounts until money was no longer a reason to work; money is only a tool now.
A once powerful motivator in your life is gone. You either took an early retirement, did the traveling thing you always wanted to or started a side gig from a childhood dream. And it didn’t take long before you asked: Is this all their is? Is there no more?
Travel became dreary as it was nothing more than a replacement for the old job. Life on the road isn’t what you hoped it would be. Travel is wonderful in modest gulps, but inhaling the elixir sends it down the wrong pipe and you end up coughing it back out.
Early retirement left you with long days and nothing to do. The fellowship from the work environment is gone and you miss it.
The side gig fills some of the gaps, but still something is missing.
Finding the Meaning of Life and Motivation
While debt can be a thorn in your backside motivating you to action, it is a cruel taskmaster at best. Better the drudgery of excess travel, days of boredom or a side hustle that doesn’t completely fill the gaps of emptiness. Debt can do more than motivate; it can destroy. Best to keep the debt where it belongs; in the past.
A mixture of options can improve the attitude. Some travel is a great thing. Time off to read, think, reflect and enjoy family time is important and something to cling tenaciously to. And side hustles can be a lot of fun so why give that up.
If you really think about it, traveling, more free time and side gigs are not the problem! The problem was created by debt and you’re still suffering the consequences even when it’s gone.
For the first time in your life you can do something truly meaningful. In the past you were so focused on paying the bills you never learned how to make a real difference in the world that juiced you to the max. You were too busy helping Wells Fargo meet analysts expectations for the quarter.
The travel, family and free time and side gigs are good things to have and do. But too much of a good thing is bad. (Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But can you imagine me connected to the hip of Mrs. Accountant? I’d have a rolling pin beside the puss by the second day! There is such a thing as too close.)
So now we need to add meaning back into our lives; something that makes us excited to get out of bed and charge into the day.
Before I share what I consider the best motivational tool any FI individual can have, let me share a few other ways to bring viva! back into your life:
- Plan: You may have heard retired people saying their more busy once they retired than when they worked. It’s true! I see it all the time. And it was because they had a plan. They planned retirement before they got there: the travel ventures, entertainment choices, how much family time and with whom, how much time to dedicate to a hobby. If you plan you will find more than enough meaningful stuff (a purely technical term, I might add) to fill your day; more than enough to motivate you to get out bed exited daily. Too many people think they will retire and do one thing like travel or golf. That ends up the new job and drudgery. Variety is the magic potion.
- Turn your side hustle into a real business: A side gig can occupy a portion of time each week. Depending on the depth of your side gig determines the time and enjoyment involved. However, a side hustle doesn’t contain the drive necessary to really push. (You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.) If you really enjoy your side hustle, consider going all-in. A full-blown business takes work, but if the work is pleasurable it becomes a powerful motivator. A business provides much more to a community than a mere side gig. Not only will you provide more valuable goods and services for your community, you might even create jobs. Best of all, when you run your own business you are the captain. You can make real changes; solve real problems perplexing society.
- Challenge yourself: Of course travel and side gigs have challenges, but I’m talking about something more. Using travel as an example: you can take a tour or strike out on your own. Striking out on your own have various levels. Consider an extended stay in a country, learning their language and culture on a deep level. Since many reading this blog are younger, consider mountain climbing or similar challenging tasks. It takes time and dedication to learn serious climbing. It could take years or decades to reach a level on competence. (You will not climb El Capitan in Yosemite the first week. Not if you want to live long enough to get your motivation back, at least.) Striving for excellence in a large goal will have you jumping out of bed each morning early to meet the day.
- Set personal goals: This pertains to what was said above. Business is filled with goals; planning is a form of goal-setting; undertaking (remember we used mountain climbing as an example so the pun was intended) a massive challenge (learning a new skill to a level above mere competence) will bring motivation back into you life. Not all goals need to be grandiose. If your life is consumed by one all-encompassing goal it can cost you in other areas of life. Notice I said “personal” goals. Goals must include family and friends and should include many short, easily attainable goals. Business and rock climbing are major goals. That isn’t what I’m talking about in this point. Numerous smaller goals of things you think you’ll enjoy is what I’m suggesting. It’s all about enjoying the process and feeling motivated and alive each day.
- Take on a large project: Turning a side hustle into a full-fledged business is a “large” project. What I’m suggesting in this point is a bit different. The large project I’m suggesting straddles the business and personal world. For example: get a college degree in a field that interests you (history might be a poor degree choice, but now you have the time and money to really dig in). Now is the time to write that novel you always promised yourself you would write. Maybe start a blog and share your adventure from subsistence to abundance.
The whole idea of these ideas is to give you one big thing to do with your life with multiple smaller goals to keep you active and motivated. Any of these endeavors will fill a good portion of your day and provide motivation to keep moving forward.
The key is to choose something important, that makes a difference in the lives of others. Hedonism will only take you so far. When you do something that benefits others your life is filled with meaning and purpose. That is the birthplace of motivation.
And that brings us to the last and most powerful way to gain motivation, meaning and purpose in life when you’ve reached the safety of financial security.
The Meaning of Life is to Give
I work with numerous wealthy individuals in my practice. What I see in private I also see in the news: wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving large chunks of their net worth to charity.
It goes beyond mere financial donations. Peter Lynch, the great mutual fund manager at Fidelity Investments’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, volunteers his time and experience to charitable organizations. Bill Gates not only donated a massive chunk of his wealth; he started and funded the foundation he runs, changing the world for the better. Gates’s experience allows him to make a serious difference.
You also have skills and experiences many organizations can use. There is no greater satisfaction or satisfying job than to work with people of a common cause doing good.
Listen, we hear all the bloggers bragging about their exotic travel and early retirement bragging. After a while the selfies get old. It must be depressing to spend so much time in self-aggrandizement.
We can do better! Let’s use the 5 points above to illustrate what I’m suggesting:
- Plan your giving: Each gives what each has. Maybe you have loads of money so you spend time reviewing the best organizations to fund. Maybe you’re good at helping raise money for organizations. (You’ll be in higher than demand than you can imagine if you are.) Maybe you love working with your hands. Perhaps Habitat for Humanity could use someone with excellent construction skills. You have limited time and resources so you need a plan on how to give wisely.
- Experience: People tend to enjoy what they are good at. Familiarity bias is something we can use to our advantage. I work with a non-profit connected to Goodwill helping people with serious money and/or tax problems. It’s what I’m good at; it’s what I enjoy, so it is where I can do the most good. Take an inventory of the skills and experiences you have and match it with the things you most enjoy doing. Satisfaction of a job well done and demand for your skill sets will leave you massively motivated, satisfied and enjoying every day to the max.
- It ain’t easy, but it sure is darn fun: Life is most enjoyable when challenged. Charitable organizations are designed to deal with challenges. The work can be hard at times, even frustrating, as you try to achieve goals that make the world a better place. Working with like-minded people is one of the most pleasurable things you can do.
- Pace yourself: Don’t turn your good nature into drudgery. Set limits (read: goals). You can’t solve all the ills plaguing our world alone. The nice thing about FI is you can pace yourself. One day of challenges at a time instead of overwhelm is just the ticket to living the good life post-debt.
- Service: Serving your community is a large project by definition. Remember, you can help more than one organization. But don’t spread yourself too thin. The goal is motivation.
People are happiest when they give. (Read that again.) Giving is the meaning of life.
You spent a lifetime fighting to retire debt obligations. Now that you buried the debt-demons and built a mighty financial fortune, it’s time to find a reason to live another day.
There are so many things you can do to feel alive each morning.
I get up early; I always have. I’m excited about life. Deep down I kept a mortgage around way to long, knowing it was a powerful tool to motivate me. (You can check the links at the beginning of this post to read more about my mortgage/wealth adventures.)
Debt is a stupid way to stay motivated.
I knew once I retired my mortgage a serious motivation pillar would be removed from my life. My net worth is well above the FI threshold.
No more than the mortgage was gone and I noticed the loss of drive to set more appointments or even write so much on this blog. The nice thing about FI is you no longer have to do anything anymore; it is also the greatest problem.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a life filled with excitement and adventure; you can live each day knowing there are people who really need you.
Find what motivates you. Sit down and really think about it. Write your thoughts out.
The world will be a better place if you do.
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