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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Myopic

Can you please post this for me? It is a 95th birthday card, for my best friend since primary school. We have known one another for nearly 90 years!

My elderly neighbour beamed in the early morning sunlight, as she teetered precariously on her walking stick. I couldn’t help but grin along with her. The odds of them both living that long, let alone remaining friends throughout, must be astronomical.

She is an inspiring lady. Worked for 50 years, until mandatory retirement saw her put out to pasture. Her husband died shortly afterwards, leaving her financially secure but alone. Craving social interaction, and not feeling “old”, she had started a catering business when aged almost 70. A business she successfully ran for nearly two decades, until a stroke finally slowed her down.

After agreeing to play postman, I gave her a slice of cake and escorted her home. If you have made it to 95 then you can eat whatever you want for breakfast. Even chocolate cake!

On my return, I was greeted by matching death stares from my younger son and the lockdown kitten.

The boy was indignant I had given away the cake he had been eyeing off for his morning snack.

The perpetually hungry cat was simply aggrieved that I had fed someone other than him.

Why does she deserve cake? She just sits around all day watching tv and waiting for her carer to visit.

While his observation of how the elderly neighbour spent her time was factually correct, it didn’t do her justice. Evidence that our observations are influenced by our perceptions and life experiences.

I pointed out that I had baked the cake, not him. That it was good to share. That he was being selfish.

Finally, I told him that everyone has a fascinating story, if we only take the time to get to know them a little and listen. His sullen expression gave way to incredulity and then amazement as I briefly recounted what I knew of the elderly neighbour’s life story and her heartwarming life long friendship.

The story concluded with the observation that the elderly neighbour would love to be able to do more than sit around watching television, but her 95-year-old body was no longer up to the task.

The boy was mollified. The cat nonplussed. Both would have to learn to live with disappointment.

Open for business

A few weeks later, schools had finally reopened and physical classes resumed. Predictably, my younger son was already angling for days off and pining for the school holidays. As we headed out the door for drop off, he put on a hopeful expression and asked:

Why can’t I be like you? Hang out at home all day. Not have to go to school or work?

I felt a familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. The sneaking suspicion that as children we subconsciously absorb and seek to emulate many of the behaviours we observe in our parents. Whether we understand them or not.

He had never witnessed my 100+ hour work weeks.

The indentured servitude in pursuit of a work visa.

Overnight software releases and data migrations.

Weekends grinding to claw back budget overruns or deadline slippages.

The relentless on-call support disrupting family time and derailing social lives.

Working hard, back in the day, so that I wouldn’t have to work hard in the here and now.

But that sits firmly in the “what have you done” basket? Past tense.

Not the forward-looking “what do you do?”. Present tense. Observable today.

As with his observation of the elderly neighbour, he was factually correct, yet didn’t tell the full story.

Pandemic restrictions meant I was indeed home much of the day. Homeschooling while working full time had proved attritional during the first lockdown. Learning from the experience, the second time around I had consciously chosen to try and do one thing well rather than both badly.

I opened my mouth to explain how it really was. Paused. Goldfished. Then just sighed.

With school having returned, there was no longer a need for me to stay home and play teacher.

Would the escape from lockdown be permanent this time around?

Or would it offer yet another short-lived false hope?

The press is full of patriotic fervour about the impressive vaccine rollout. Yet several nearby countries have returned to lockdown, after experiencing a fourth pandemic wave. Meanwhile, a recent business confidence survey reported that more than half of firms anticipated another UK lockdown in the autumn.

Life is uncertain. We can choose to live in fear of the unknown, or just get on with it.

As I pulled the front door closed, I glimpsed movement in the shadows at the top of the stairs. My lady wife’s eyes flashed victoriously, before she stomped back to her eyrie for another day of video calls and shouting.

My younger son may have given voice to the question, but there was little doubt where the words had originated. Having a contentedly unemployed husband was inconvenient. It didn’t fit the narrative of successful upwardly mobile family that had been sold to the social circle of Joneses that my lady wife chooses to run with.

Partial Impressions

After drop off, I didn’t fancy returning home. Instead, I wandered aimlessly along the river, enjoying the glorious spring sunshine and retracing the route of a long-forgotten marathon. Something I wouldn’t have been able to do on a typical working day!

I thought back to a time years ago, when my then toddler-aged younger son had returned home from nursery proudly clutching a hand made Father’s Day present. Abstract art. Vibrant. Colourful. I had made suitably impressed noises before realising there was also writing on his masterpiece.

Beneath the rainbow-coloured explosion of paint and glitter, a printed stencil contained the beginnings of sentences, which one of the nursery teachers had completed with my younger son’s responses.

  • My Dad does this at his job…playing on his computer”.
  • My Dad is really good at…playing on his computer”.
  • For fun, my Dad likes…playing on his computer”.
  • My Dad doesn’t like…when I spill my milk and break his computer”.
  • One thing my Dad has taught me is…I hate computers”.

It had been confronting. Like a sucker-punch to the solar plexus from the schoolyard bully. I felt seen.

My son didn’t understand what he was observing. Yet his summary wasn’t entirely wrong either.   

My job had involved torturing computers, often while working from home.

Outside of work? I had been completing a university degree. Again on a computer.

The daily administrivia? Bookkeeping. Paying bills. Reading the news. All on a computer.

In his mind’s eye, that was how he pictured me. The brutal unfiltered honesty of a young child.

Forgetting about the time we spent before and after school each day having Nerf gun battles or building Lego. Reading stories at bedtime. Weekends spent riding bikes and visiting playgrounds. Holidays at the beach. All the fun stuff.

Also tuning out the daily grind. Chores. Cooking. Grocery shopping. Helping with homework. Laundry.

None had made the same impression as “Dad playing on his computer”.

Fortunately, those hectic time-poor days of my being tethered to a computer are long behind us both.

Today his updated mental image is of a happier, less stressed, more contented Dad who doesn’t appear to do much at all. Playing. Reading. Walking. Writing. Sometimes still using his old computer.

Not dissimilar to his impression of the elderly neighbour, whiling away her days in front of the television. Every day seemingly like a lazy school holiday, time free from obligations and demands.

It wasn’t just my younger son who forms these partial impressions. We all do. My childhood mental image of my father was of him forever building DIY projects in his shed, or working on his farm.

It was only years later than I figured out those were his happy places. Where he would go to escape his family and the demands of everyday life. Much like my long walks or writing stories.

Financial Imperative

Financial Independence is the point at which our decision making is freed from the financial imperative. Prior to that point, our decisions are often driven by need rather than personal preference.

Working to pay the bills.

Working hard to get ahead. To earn more. To convey an image of success.

Working in a role that commands the largest pay packet, rather than stimulates our interests most.

Working in a profession selected for employment opportunities and job security, instead of the warm fuzzy feelings of achievement or helping others.

Not everyone follows this decision making path of course. However, it will be familiar to many who have successfully achieved financial independence, particularly those who did so at an early age.

Once we can afford to separate our decision making from the need to make money, it opens up a world of opportunities we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have previously considered.

How many of the things that you do for money today would you continue to do for free? Once the financial imperative is removed from the equation, this is a lens through which your time investment decisions can be viewed.

The answers can be unsettling!

Once they can safely afford to, some folks choose to “follow their passions”.

Change professions into something more fulfilling or rewarding.

Volunteer.

Others may choose to indulge their wanderlust,

To pursue their hobbies more seriously than time or money previously allowed.

Perhaps prioritise their families, or invest time strengthening social relationships and community ties.

To the individual, these life changes likely make perfect prioritisation sense.

Finding their happy.

Seeking contentment.

Maximising the enjoyment derived from their scarce precious time.

To the outside world however, these choices take the person “off script”. Their decisions not making sense to those who still view the world through a lens dominated by the financial imperative.

Their observations are like those of my younger son. Factually correct. Yet not doing the subject justice due to a lack of understanding or by failing to tell the whole story.

Akin to portraying my inspiring elderly neighbour as a mere couch potato.

Myopic

This aspect of achieving financial independence is seldom discussed, yet not uncommon.

Someone who has won the game and beaten the rat race faces being perceived as a layabout or a wastrel, should they choose to adopt a lifestyle that is socially acceptable only for students, pension age retirees, and the idle rich.

Which isn’t to say that we should rest on our laurels or trade on past glories. Financial Independence is merely a milestone on our journey, not the ultimate destination. We celebrate. Quietly pat ourselves on the back for an achievement nobody else can see. Then look forward and ask ourselves “what’s next?”.

If we don’t, then an observation like those made by my younger son might begin to tell the whole story!


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18 Comments

  1. Mr. Fate 21 March 2021

    An excellent article. Someone once said the general reaction by others when they learn another if FI is either incredulity or resentment. I’ve found that to be somewhat true and sometimes be a mixture of both. I can understand a misperception of living a lackadaisical lifestyle, but, for me, it’s been a lot of continued hard work and effort to “find my happy and make the most and best out of what little scarce, precious time” I have left.

    Knowing, definitively, that I will never be able to experience, do, and see everything I would like, even having stopped working at an early, age, makes me even more inspired and motivated to go out and enjoy life!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 March 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Mr Fate. Awesome to hear you have found an approach that is working for you.

      The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that the expectation was about making a productive contribution. We understand studying. We understand working (for money or as a volunteer). We understand that holidays are just a temporary break from one or the other of those.

      To a lesser extent, we understand creating in the artistic sense. This one tends to be perceived as more of an indulgence, tolerated but often looked down upon.

      What does not compute however, is an able bodied person not doing any of the above. Career breaks. Gap years. Sabbaticals. Early retirement.

      There is the financial imperative aspect of “how can they afford to make that choice?“. There is also the productivity question about how a piece of expensive “machinery” that has been subject to vast investments over its useful lifetime, can now just be sitting idle or underutilised. Something about this makes people sad and uncomfortable, a bit like a shuttered shopping mall or abandoned mine. A constant reminder of waste or squandered opportunity or untapped potential.

      Finally, there is the age old human trait of envy.

      Of course one of the cool things about being a grown up is being able to choose whether and how much we care about the perspectives and feelings of others! Wherever we land on that spectrum, it is always a useful exercise to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and attempt to understand how and why they see the world the way they do.

  2. David Andrews 22 March 2021

    “she stomped back to her eyrie for another day of video calls and shouting.”

    That sounds awfully like my domestic situation too. We are currently “discussing” child care provisions for the impending Easter holidays. She’s a contractor (paid twice as much as me) so not terribly keen on taking time off whilst I’m a permie so have paid leave and other benefits. The separation of finances makes resolving such issues a potentially fiery proposition.

    Should I retire rather early I also worry about the example it may set my young son. However, I’m already trying to ensure he knows about the work I previously had to put in to get to our presently comfortable position He knows that some creativity in the financial arena can yield beneficial results.

    I’m more than happy not to fit the idea of “successful upwardly mobile family” if that description involves additional stress to get the leased Tesla on the drive and an ever increasing number of shiny gadgets. I’ll cheerfully continue with my older stuff, jeans and hoodies.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 March 2021 — Post author

      Good luck with that David, I hope you can find a mutually satisfactory solution.

      In our case, my lady wife’s default position was the kids get sent to breakfast club, after school care, and school holiday programs. They would suck it up, learn that if you don’t work you don’t eat, so therefore work is the most important thing. She is one of those hard working old school permies who always seem to have a glut of annual leave left over at year end.

      If I wanted anything different, then that was on me. To organise. Manage. Pay for. Cover when unavailable.

      Like your partner, I earned a lot more. Like your partner, if I didn’t work then I didn’t get paid.

      The difference was that I actually wanted to spend time with my kids. I figured that the window when they would want to spend time with me was finite, and I should be nice to them because one day they would be choosing my nursing home!

      So for more than a decade I paid for after school nannies, and covered when they were unavailable or unreliable. Where possible (and it worked most of the time) I took on client engagements that allowed me to drop the kids at school at normal time, rather than dragging them out of bed at stupid o’clock to send them to breakfast club. School holidays were covered by a mixture of the nannies, myself, and rarely my lady wife.

      It has been far from a perfect arrangement, and after taxes and rent has easily been my largest financial outgoing. But it has been worth it.

      Now my eldest son is old enough to look after his younger brother, though their school holidays don’t always coincide. In a couple of years, the younger one will be old enough to make his own way home from school. So the window for having to juggle child care arrangements is soon closing, and since the last nanny finished up during the first lockdown, I haven’t bothered hiring a replacement.

      One thing I will observe is this arrangement complicates the “what comes next” question somewhat, as I’m free do anything in the world… providing I am standing outside the school gates at 15:00 every day!

      • David Larkinson 22 March 2021

        Thanks for your response. We’ve had wraparound care since the boy started school and he likes his child minder and the other children she looks after. Covid has made holiday cover a lot more tricky as holiday clubs aren’t available.

        I’m also acutely aware that the boy will not be little forever and in the not too distant future he’ll want to spend time on other activities and people apart from me. Whilst he is still little I endeavour to spend as much time as possible being an integral part of his daily victories and stumbles. This has necessitated specific employment choices and financial compromises but I’m none that bother me too much.

        Domestic equality can be tricky to achieve. I generally pick my battles ever more carefully … it also helps to have a spare / emergency house .. just in case.

  3. ryangibsonclever 22 March 2021

    Another excellent post as usual.

    I am always curious of the long-term plan for you and your family. Will there be alignment between you and your Wife? Are you (personally) merely in London for the kids and when they fly the nest what will come?

    I wonder if it will all come together for you…

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 March 2021 — Post author

      That’s an astute question Ryan, though a loaded one.

      My elder son wants to go to university abroad. Roughly four years to go before we test whether that is a dream or a plan.

      My younger son wants to live in Australia right now, in a big house with a big yard, while both his grandmothers are still alive and his cousins are young enough to play with.

      My lady wife wants to live in central London forever, work until she is in her nineties, and be carried out of the office in a box. She gets very cross each time one of her friends packs their bags and moves away in search of quality of life, once their careers top out or their kids leave home.

      The couple of times we have tried living elsewhere she was miserable, had her suitcase packed by the door from day one, and sabotaged things until we returned. Being too old and not earning enough to qualify for the necessary visas on her own complicated things somewhat back then, problems that have subsequently been solved with a British passport.

      So while the future is alway uncertain, the direction of travel is reasonably clear.

      That said, my own parents didn’t like each other much while I was growing up, but appeared to become friends once us kids moved away and they both retired. My father used to complain that, apart from holidays, they crossed like ships in the night but didn’t spend much time together. I suspect this was by design. I asked my mother about it once, after my father died, she just shrugged and said neither of them had wanted to grow old alone.

  4. weenie 22 March 2021

    I love @Mr Fate’s comment of “living a lackadaisical lifestyle” because I think that’s the lifestyle that I will ‘seem’ to be living by my peers!

    If I were to pick a point in my adult life when I felt completely happy and free, it would be when I was a second year student at university and I guess that’s the sort of happiness and freedom I would want again, only I’d have more than a student budget to spend!

    One of my friends said to me when I told her I planned to retire early, “I would be bored sh*tless if I retired early – you’ll be alright though cos you like dossing!”

    Interesting that she saw my hobbies and interests as ‘dossing’.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 March 2021 — Post author

      Thanks weenie.

      Living carefree like a student, but with the creature comforts I’ve grown accustomed to would be my ideal. I loved backpacking back in the day, but I think I’m too old and spoiled now to put up with all the snoring and farting and drunken disturbances and thievery that slumming it in a hostel dorm once entailed!

      That “I’d be bored” comment is one I’ve heard several times also. I think a surprising number of people rely on the enforced structure and socialisation that a job provides. The idea of having to direct their own energies and find their own stimulations could be a scary thing indeed.

      Maybe that is why so many old age pensioners end up whiling away their days at the local Wetherspoons? That and the £5 cardboard burger and beer lunch special!

  5. Fire And Wide 22 March 2021

    Perception is so interesting.

    As apparently seen through your wife’s eyes, your son could see you as ‘wasting’ your time, freely choosing to not work. Not contributing..

    Through another lens, he could see you as choosing to value your time differently. Valuing time with him over more commercially-driven aims.

    I honestly think it depends on how you feel about it yourself more than you would expect. You know you’ve put in the work to be able to make this choice. You don’t need a shiny badge saying “I worked hard for this, honest guv”. Confidence in your choices go a long way.

    On the bright side – at least he has two parents setting entirely different examples and illustrating first-hand different choices. He’ll figure out which path suits him best.

    But it’s a great point about how we only see what’s in front of us. Not the past. Not the real story.

    I remember having to help out at a party my parents were throwing for the neighbours. A sulky teenager handing round the sausage rolls.

    I got talking to the elderly couple who lived a few doors down. I’d assumed everyone had lived like my parents. My jaw dropped as they told me about living overseas in various exotic locations before returning to settle down in their old age.

    Lesson learned – always take the time to ask questions & listen. It’s stuck with me, especially when travelling. Have met so many interesting people that way!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 March 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Fire and Wide.

      I figure that as parents we raise our kids to pay attention, think for themselves, and know right from wrong. Beyond that, we can only trust them to apply those skills as best they can. They have been exposed to a variety of approaches, which one(s) they choose to incorporate into the way they lead their own lives will be interesting to watch.

      My lady wife certainly believes that I am “wasting” my time, or more precisely my earnings potential! Each to their own. “Make hay while the sun shines” is a cliché for a reason.

      That is a great story about the elderly couple. I had a similar experience once, grabbing a coffee with an old guy sitting by himself at a wedding. He turned out to be a zillionaire who owned a life insurance company. You never would have know it based on how he dressed or interacted with people, it challenged my perceptions of what living “rich” was like.

  6. Malcolm 23 March 2021

    We “ran on the rails “as much as possible because we thought that was the best way ie married young-23- managed to stay together
    Both were professionally qualified-then moved to the country (vet+teacher) -had 3 kids by 27-while young and fit!
    She took 10 years “off “to raise kids then went back full time
    Very busy times-three kids under 5-you will never work harder
    Lived frugally-small house-saved hard
    All kids away by 50
    Fired at 57
    Travelled the world a lot before grandkids appeared (8)
    My kids did things the same way -parental example?-so not too much input needed from us except for one major crisis ( a post partum psychosis) where because retired could put in 6 months care and all was resolved successfully
    One aspect of F1 not often mentioned-is that you do have time to do some heavy lifting if required
    Now in middle 70s -vaccinated -ready to go again!
    Lucky?
    xxd09

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 24 March 2021 — Post author

      That sounds like a life well lived to me, Malcolm.

      I definitely agree about the value of Financial Independence to help with the heavy lifting when “life happens” events occur. I was able to take a few months out to help with the palliative caring for my father, hardest “job” I’ve had but it meant he got his wish of staying in his own home rather than dying in an anonymous hospital bed.

  7. Q-FI 5 April 2021

    It can be humbling to get a glimpse of the world through a child’s honest eyes. Although I don’t have children, I’ve also had moments like those that can be revealing with kids.

    We share the same view on people – “everyone has a fascinating story, if we only take the time to get to know them a little and listen.” So many people forget this. If you just listen, you would hear we all have more in common than not, even though it tends to be human nature to prey upon the differences like rabid fiends.

    Even though I’m still a ways away from FI, I’ve found myself visiting the topics you discuss more and more – not sure if it’s a natural curious mulling or more subconscious preparation. But you’re right, it’s just not talked about that much. Maybe because it’s not the “sexy” part of FI, but I enjoy these more remote topics you have a knack for exploring.

    Btw… is that the lockdown kitten in the photo? Haha.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 6 April 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Q-FI.

      Once we’ve got the basics covered and largely on autopilot, time gets freed up to wander into the long grass and explore more esoteric topics. Or to blob on the couch binge watching Netflix and munching on Doritos, whichever is your thing!

      For me, writing helps “do the thinking” in a structured way about whatever random idea happens to be rattling around inside my head. Understanding why something is happening? What happens next? Whether it is something I need devote any further attention to?

      The more I do so, the more I realise it was never about the money, I was just too busy making ends meet to take the time to think it through.

      I better understand those who are content to lead simple lives. Those who didn’t feel compelled to seek out the bright lights of the big city or try and conquer the world. Now I can’t help wondering if they weren’t the smarter ones all along?

      Btw… is that the lockdown kitten in the photo?

      Lol, no. The lockdown kitten would have eaten the sunglasses rather than worn them.

  8. John Smith 6 April 2021

    “I better understand those who are content to lead simple lives.”

    Yes, indeed! I like also this

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