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{ in·deed·a·bly }

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

Passing phase

It’s just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.

How many times do we hear that thought expressed throughout our lives?

The observer providing some perspective on something seemingly important in the moment, but transient in the scheme of things. Easy to say. Hard to hear. But no less true for that.

Some are physical. Toddlers with enormous heads. Kids experiencing a growth spurt, all elbows and knees. Hormonal teenagers, moody and perpetually horny. Middle-aged folks vainly attempting to hold back the tide of time and the inevitabilities of age.

Some are behavioural. Eating dirt. Drawing on the walls. Wetting the bed. Never sleeping, then later sleeping endlessly. Shyness. The fear of public speaking.

Some are educational. Students discovering credit cards. Impatient investors becoming easy marks for crypto evangelists. New retirees living like lottery winners as they burn through their pension lump sums.

Some are disturbing. Bullies. Rebellious teenagers. The creepy kid who immolates ants or turns flies into “walks”.

Many of these phases are mostly harmless.

Things we will look back on in future years with an eye roll or a facepalm.

The clothes.

The haircuts.

The music.

Becoming a goth. Driving a sports car purchased on finance. Experimenting with drugs. Finding religion or joining a cult. Believing we were destined for greatness, ruling the world or making a difference.

One thing all these passing phases have in common is they seem important at the time, but swiftly fade into irrelevance once we outgrow them.

Making the grade

I remember taking my driving test as a teenager. I failed!

Not just by a little bit, where the examiner calmly tallies up infractions recorded on their clipboard at the end of the test, from the relative safety of the car park.

No, my failure left the unfortunate examiner confronting their mortality and questioning their choice of vocation. White knuckled. Sweaty. Face drained of colour. Another car had run a red light, resulting in some evasive action (mine), a need for clean underpants (his), and an unnecessary use of the handbrake (his) that proved to be more dangerous than any of the events that preceded it.

I was dismayed to have failed, as I had been driving cars and trucks on a farm since the age I could first see through the steering wheel. Long before my legs were long enough to reach the peddles.

The hardest part had been admitting to my father that I had failed. He gave me a bollocking. Correctly observing that good drivers are always on the lookout for idiots in other cars doing stupid things, yet rarely do they feel the need to perform handbrake turns through the middle of busy intersections.

Then he surprised me by laughing out loud, recounting his own driving test experience back in the day. Driving a farm truck, alone and unlicensed, to the police station in the nearest town. Being told by the bored duty sergeant to go drive around the block a couple of times while he completed the paperwork. Driving home again, this time alone and legally licensed.

Times had changed.

He suggested I take some professional driving lessons. Polish my technique. Unlearn some bad habits. I may already possess the skills, but I still needed to pass the test.

I remember finding the driving lessons demanding and stressful. The implacably calm instructor’s constant chiding. Having to do everything by the book. Convinced I already knew it all. Yet demonstrably failing over and over again.

Time slowed down.

Frustration set in.

Would this nightmare never end?

A few weeks after failing the first time, I retook my driving test. Same examiner. Same route. Different outcome.

Receiving my license immediately banished all those doubts, fears, and stresses. A seemingly immense hurdle before I cleared it, became a minor speed bump when viewed in the rearview mirror.

All-consuming at the time, to the extent I couldn’t think about anything else.

Something I have barely thought of at all in the many years since.

A mere passing phase.

Many of our goals in life follow this familiar pattern.

As children, we can’t wait to grow up.

As teenagers, we are impatient to become adults. Legally able to drink. Have sex. Smoke. Obtain credit.

Much like exams at school. Each apparently important in the moment. Paving the way towards unlocking entry to the next level of education or employment. Yet instantly losing most of their meaning and value the moment that admission is granted.

When was the last time anyone showed even the remotest interest in the marks you achieved in Year 9 Science class? Or cared what grade you obtained in Accounting for Engineers during second-year university?

Once you have a university degree, your school grades no longer matter.

Once you have a job, your university marks don’t matter either.

And so the pattern goes. Each preceding step a mere rung on the ladder. Important at the time. Necessary to advance. Yet their individual importance is a passing phase that we swiftly outgrow.

Invest Your Way to Financial Freedom

Recently I was reading Ben Carlson and Robin Powell’s book, Invest Your Way to Financial Freedom. It contained a collection of easy to read lessons, targeted at young people at the beginning of their financial journeys. Bringing to life a handful of Warren Buffett’s timeless principles using anecdotes and worked examples.

The book was well-written. The sort of thing I wished someone had given to me as a teenager to avoid some of those expensive and painful “learning by doing” financial mistakes that many of us make early on.

With that thought in mind, I gave the book to my elder son to read. He devoured it in two sessions, pausing midway through to ask questions about some assumed knowledge that was a little beyond his current experience level.

It was fascinating to watch as a series of lightbulb moments occurred while he was reading. Lessons new. Lessons listened to previously but not heard until now. Hopefully, he will take them on board and incorporate some of them into how he approaches his own financial future.

After he finished, we had a chat about what he had learned and what he agreed or disagreed with.

As we spoke about concepts like Financial Independence, I had an epiphany.

Like many such realisations, it was revelatory in the moment. Blindingly obvious in hindsight.

The desire for financial independence is a passing phase. Important only until achieved.

Transient.

Fleeting.

Something many will experience and most outgrow.

Many of the things my son was focussing on were things I remembered worrying about once, long ago.

Yet most of them were things I no longer gave much thought to. Goals achieved. Challenges conquered.

A reflection of the relative positions we each occupied on our individual financial journeys.

Passing phase

That led me to consider how I would distil that journey down into some simple to follow instructions. After a moment my inner saboteur chuckled, as my list largely mirrored that contained in the book.

Save early and often, worrying only about the things within my control.

Decision making is hard. Apathy is easy. Win by aligning apathy with outcomes via automation and repetition.

Set and forget, focus my attentions elsewhere while my perpetual money-making machine quietly chugs along in the background.

Which probably goes some way towards explaining why financial independence is such a boring topic to write about. Just like driving lessons and high school grades, it swiftly fades into irrelevance once the path towards it is understood and the outcome looks relatively assured.

Little more than a passing phase. One most of us soon grow out of.

It also raises some troubling questions about the relative importance of the things I currently focus on. Happiness. Contentment. Enjoyment. Building and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships.

My line of reasoning would suggest that these too represent mere rungs on a ladder.

Minor speed bumps and potholes marking life’s journey.

Yet more little steps towards a destination unknown.

Which, once seen, is an idea that can’t be unseen.

Not unlike the memory of that handbrake turn through a busy intersection many years ago!


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11 Comments

  1. Steveark 11 September 2021

    You have disproved your conclusion that writing about personal finance is boring. This post is so elegant and engaging, it felt like a poem it was so lovely to read.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 September 2021 — Post author

      That’s very kind of you Steveark, when you put it like that I’m happy to be proved wrong.

      Personal Finance is an interesting and broad topic, Financial Independence is a narrow and somewhat shallow niche within that. The interesting writers talk about what they’ll do with that independence, rather than just focussing on the mechanics of making it possible.

  2. Donna 11 September 2021

    I think that FI is a hugely exciting destination, albeit getting there can be a lonely long journey. Friends living in large homes with sizeable mortgages pitying you in your 30s when you still choose to keep your housing costs small and envying you in your 40s when you live in a similar home to theirs with no debts and no financial worries.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 12 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Donna.

      I think Financial Independence is an enabler, not so much a destination.

      Once that feeling superior over friends that bought too much house too soon fades, both you and they are simply living in nice houses. Their families got to enjoy the extra space and comfort for a decade longer, yours have a larger bank balance and lower living costs.

      Neither is necessarily better or worse, just a different prioritisation order to achieving similar outcomes.

      The real question is what you choose to do with all that hard won time you have succeeded in buying back? Perhaps change careers, do more of the things that make you happy, or lead a slower pace of life. Or perhaps continue with the status quo, content with the knowledge that you now have a luxury of choice they can’t yet afford, even if you choose not to exercise it.

      It is a nice problem to have, but one that nicely illustrates that financial independence is only the beginning.

  3. The Bludger 11 September 2021

    “The desire for financial independence is a passing phase. Important only until achieved.”

    Agreed, then there is the next and perhaps the most difficult challenge how to stay financially independent and make the best use of it. How to handle the decline in time, health and wealth is something I’m thinking about of late. Even to the point I’m starting to question the possibility of financial independence as a concept.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 12 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Bludger.

      Financial Independence as a concept certainly exists. The point where a person is sustainably able to replace their earned income with asset sales/passive income without reducing their quality of life.

      As to the rest of those big questions, I concluded that time catches up with us all whether we worry about it or not. So given none of us know how long we’ll have, all we can do is try and enjoy whatever time we have. Surrounding ourselves with company we enjoy. Doing more of the things that make us happy, and less of the things that don’t. Enjoying today, while being mindful that statistically speaking our money may need to last another 50/60/70 years.

      Life is always going to throw us curve balls. Health scares. Children or elderly parents who need help. Redundancy or changing demand for our skills and experience. All we can do is roll with the punches, adapt our plans, and carry on.

  4. FI-FireFighter 12 September 2021

    Another good one🙂, I’m having similar conversations with my son and giving him books to read, I now have another one to share with him👍. Its interesting to get their take on things, my lad is a tad older than yours, he has a part time job and is at Uni. I love getting his perspective on things and hearing his ideas. Having just reached FI at 53, he sees the freedom it has given me from my previous heavy workload/commitment and he is keen to be in a similar situation.
    I think his journey may be tougher but at least he is getting the education and knowledge at a much younger age than I became aware of it!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 13 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks FI-FireFighter.

      I think your son’s age is a good one to be thinking and learning about this stuff.

      I remember when I switched to my preferred semi-retired seasonal working pattern. Gone was the very busy Dad who was stressed and grumpy much of the time. He was replaced by relaxed fun Dad who had time to play or talk or just hang out. My boys both loved the change, though after a bit of time they came to forget what had become before and start to believe the current arrangement was “normal“. This created some challenges around trying to instil a work ethic or teach the value of money, as what they observed was money appeared to grow on trees while working hard (or not) was no more than a lifestyle choice.

      At various times I explained that the present was only possibly because of the hard work and planning done in the past. The elder boy eventually began to understand this once he was a teenager, the younger one still doesn’t.

      In some ways I wonder whether our early Financial Independence might not sabotage our kids in some ways, imprinting a perception of normality upon them that, while possible, its replication is both not immediate and statistically speaking not likely. Setting the bar high in a way that potentially leads to a lifetime (or significant chunk of one at least) of disappointment due to inflated expectations.

      Some of this we can manage with education and mentoring. But the rest they will have to figure out for themselves, “the grass is always greener” is part of human nature.

  5. FI-FireFighter 13 September 2021

    Very good points. I have said ( once or twice 😉) to both my children that I joined the Army at 16 and have been in full time employment until 53. I am fortunate but only because I put myself in this position. They both get it, but at the same time can be somewhat impatient. I think that is largely down to the on demand nature of things now.
    But having to wait for birthdays or Christmas or even saving up themselves for ‘shiny things’ seems to have served them well 😉.
    In the end we can only do what we can do, the rest will be up to them.

  6. Q-FI 23 September 2021

    Good one Indeedably.

    Like usual, I agree. FI is fleeting… “a passing phase.” Progressed in stages, played out in phases, an ephemeral obsession when out of reach, yet entirely forgotten when achieved.

    Relatively boring except for those trying to sell you something.

    I enjoyed the childhood stories. Seems like you never lived a dull moment. Something I can relate to! Ha!

    And you grew up on a farm? Very interesting indeed (see what I did there).

    Great stuff as always bud.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 23 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Q-FI.

      Life is full of dull moments, but the exciting ones make for better stories!

      And you grew up on a farm?

      I grew up in a small city, but we spent many weekends on a farm just outside my father’s home town.

What say you?

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