A couple FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) friends and I were having some beers the other night when we got to discussing what were the things that most helped us achieve financial independence at a relatively early age. Here were some of the responses:
- Saving aggressively
- Investing in stocks and real estate
- Earning side income
- Taking risks in our careers
- Working ungodly long hours
- Relocating to areas with huge job growth despite the higher cost of living
- Leveraging the internet
- Starting a business
All of these things helped me leave the rat race early as well. But the #1 thing that drove me, which nobody mentioned, was FEAR. More specifically, the fear of failure. Let me share some examples to explain what I mean. Then perhaps you can share your own in the comments section below.
Fear As The Greatest Motivator
My parents told me at an early age that academics was the main way to a better life because I wasn’t going to become a professional tennis player. They instilled in me a fear that if I was a C-student, I’d only be able to live a C-or-worse lifestyle.
Not only did I fear living a mediocre lifestyle as an adult, I also feared disappointing my parents. I was always getting into trouble as a kid, and each time I did, I saw the shame in their eyes. I finally stopped being a degenerate once I went to college.
Throughout my childhood, my parents worked long hours. I especially felt bad for my mother who didn’t particularly enjoy the foreign service work she did. Foreign service work was my father’s dream, not my mother’s.
I remember visiting her one day at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur as a surprise. I didn’t quite understand what she did, only that she worked in the cultural attaché department. She was always so chipper at work, and her colleagues always sang her praises. It felt like a wonderland to roam around the halls of what seemed like a fortress at the time.
When I arrived, she was tidying up the magazines on the coffee table. Instead of working in her own office, my mom worked in the reception area outside of her bosses big office. Oh, I got it now. Maybe foreign service work isn’t so great after all. I was 12 years old.
She told me how she had sacrificed her dream of becoming a biologist by foregoing a graduate scholarship from Duke University to marry my father. She still had what most would call a great adventure. But I knew deep down she will always wonder what could have been. If my mother was going to give up her professional dreams for her children, I damn well wasn’t going to disappoint her!
Working in the financial services industry since 1999 always made me paranoid about losing my job. The industry is highly cyclical, which means during down cycles, there are always multiple rounds of layoffs. Without a job, I would feel like a failure. And without a steady paycheck, I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgages on time.
The fear of being one of the thousands of people let go during the dotcom bust and the housing crisis led me to work extra long hours in order to add as much value as possible to my firm. Whenever I felt miserable working at 11pm to catch my Asia-based colleagues after getting in before 6am, I always reminded myself of friends who were blown out. Then I’d just gut it through one day at at time.
It wasn’t until I started listening to the lifestyles of other people working in other industries did I realize how abnormal was it to always be in fear of losing your job. But it was this perpetual fear that made me save 50% – 80% of my paycheck every year, figure out the best way to invest my money, and create outlets to one day have the option to escape from the corporate world. If I was comfortable at work, I’d ironically still be working.
I enjoy blogging. I really do. Every morning feels like Christmas because it’s always so fun to read what other people have to say.
However, there’s really no good reason to continue publishing 3X a week anymore. Today’s posts reach 100X as many people as they once did eight long years ago. But because I publicly made a commitment to write 3X a week for 10 years in a row, however, I fear being labeled as weak or a failure if I don’t follow through.
You guys don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to just pass out at midnight, but forced myself to write a new article until 2:30am just so I could meet my publishing objective. I have this fear of letting you down, especially those of you who may be going through a difficult time financially. I remember how soothing it was to read and interact with other folks during the financial crisis.
For the longest time, I’ve sent the message to never fail due to a lack of effort because hard work requires no skill. Therefore, if I stop working hard, then I’m just another hypocrite who doesn’t follow his own advice. July 1, 2019 can’t come soon enough so I can relax a little more!
Believe it or not, as a minority, it’s a little harder to get ahead when there is hardly anybody who looks like you in leadership positions. For example, I worked in Asian equities and for half my career, all my bosses and bosses bosses were white.
When I lived in various Asian countries growing up, I was the majority. Everything felt normal. But when I arrived in Virginia as a high school freshman, the contrasting reality of being a minority instead of a majority became clearly apparent. Overnight it seemed I had to address stereotypes, listen to racial slurs, and endure various forms of discrimination that I had never encountered while living in Taiwan, Malaysia, or Japan. You learn to just suck it up after a while and move forward.
I feared being pigeon holed as a Asian guy who was only good at math and science. Therefore, I worked extra hard on my athletics and went to a liberal arts school to become a more well-rounded person. I wasn’t going to let my minority status keep me from achieving the lifestyle I wanted. But growing up, I feared society would never let me be who I really wanted to become.
Ever since I lived in Malaysia as a 11-13 year old, I’ve been hyper aware of the haves and the have-nots. To see some of my friends live so poorly really wigged me out as a kid. I often questioned why life was so unfair for so many people. As a result, I made a promise never to take any job or financial opportunity for granted. I wanted my kids to grow up being able to study and play rather than being forced to work to help support the family.
After you’ve achieved your retirement number, will you continue to work as hard? For most folks, I think they may decide to take things down a notch. For me, however, I’ve made it a priority to press on, as if I am always starting from scratch.
Growing up seeing poverty on a daily basis makes one afraid of one day losing everything. You’re always wondering when your luck will run out. And the longer you go without any unfortunate events, the more you brace yourself for cataclysmic disaster.
At age 40, despite already having sufficient money and a family, the reason why I haven’t let myself go is not due to pride or vanity, but because I fear health problems and and an early death. I know way too many people who have come down with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and diabetes due to poor diet and obesity.
My obese friend told me that because he doesn’t fear an early death and has no family depending on him, he’s happy to eat whatever he wants. He enjoys food more than he enjoys the chance at a healthier life. “If I die early, so be it! I’m not going to deny myself my greatest pleasure just for the unknown chance of living until 90.”
I know people who are vegans or who aggressively count calories. Wow how they restrict their lifestyles for health. Ironically, those in the worst shape seem to have the most courage to live the good life without caring what anybody else thinks.
As a parent, the #1 fear I have is not being able to live long enough to see my son grow up to be a happy, independent man. Therefore, I am on a mission to fit into my
32″ 33″ inch jeans for the next 25 years.
Harness Your Fears For A Better Life
As time passes, I’ve been able to be less afraid. Academics, work, and societal fears are behind me now. The fear of not being a good blogger is also fading since I’m 8 years into a 10 year commitment. I probably won’t fall into poverty due to the financial buffers I’ve created for my financial buffers. However, this doesn’t stop me from trying to earn more since my fear of poverty is so deep-rooted.
My greatest fear now is not being a good enough father. I pray I will have the patience to teach him how to always think of others first. I hope I have the kindness to be encouraging, and never critical. One day, maybe my son will tell me he couldn’t have asked for a better dad. But before that day comes, I must earn his love.
Don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, use fear as motivation to do better. The fear in our heads is often greater than reality. I’ve found this to be true time and time again.
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