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Putting Happiness First


dragon

Like the dragon’s from Game of Thrones, we soared menacingly yet graciously through the night sky. To my left was my best mate, flapping his wings and roaring. Below us was a busy Ibiza beach. I was breathing fire.

We’d both been drinking for hours and had recently taken some drugs. Taking this into consideration, it’s pretty ironic that I was about to have the conversation that set my life back on track. Because at that time I was a fucking mess.

‘Are you ok bud, you’re not yourself lately…’, asked my mate.

‘Nah I’m grand’, I replied. Or something manly like that.

‘You aren’t, and you haven’t been for a while. What’s up?’

I was more honest than usual in my intoxicated state, so I went on to open up about how the soul was being slowly ripped out of me with each day I went into work. At that time, I was working as a consultant in the banking industry. Not only was the work depressing, the boss was a complete arsehole. It was chipping away at me, and it was causing relationship issues with my close friends and family. I took my frustrations out on those closest to me.

I felt depressed. I spent Monday to Friday dreading every morning. When I was in the office I mostly had a headache. So at the weekends, to forget it all I drank. This had the additional benefit of relieving me of most of my income, along with my dignity. Then Sunday night would come around, and the depression started again. It was a never ending cycle of misery, and at the time I was too weak, immature and naïve to take control of it.

Now some might say these are first world problems. Yes I had a job. Yes I was being paid well. But all things are relative to your own personal situation, and when you’re spending an extremely large proportion of your waking existence doing something that depresses you, no amount of money can cure it. Trust me.

 

The first step

So by the end of the conversation, my mate had convinced me that the best thing I could do for myself is to pack it in and try something new. In the moment, and in those surroundings and circumstances, it sounded like an easy thing to do! But different story when I arrived home and back to reality.

Long story short, we had a few more chats about my situation, then I took a week or so to process and reaffirm the decision I’d made on that fateful night in Ibiza. Then one evening after work, I composed an email and pulled the trigger. Literally the moment I hit send, a weight lifted from my shoulders, and a tightness released from my chest. I didn’t know where money was going to come from after this. There was a nervousness to it all, but I knew I’d made the right choice.

Fast forward three years and life couldn’t have taken much more of a 180. Dream job, dream girlfriend, healthy, and very, very happy!

Funnily enough, my mate went on to have similar conversations with some of our other friends, and he has since quit his own job to become a full time life coach, specialising in career change!

There’s some lessons I’ve learned from this situation which have helped me with some issues I’ve faced early on in my FI journey. I’ve also noted how the savings I’m making now would put a whole new perspective on the situation should I find myself in a similar place again.

 

Put happiness before money
I’d spent the guts of 5 years working in a job and industry I didn’t like or feel comfortable in. I knew within the first 6 months that it wasn’t for me, but it took me 4 1/2 more years to do something about it. Why?

1. The money was good
2. Didn’t want to let down parents who’d made serious sacrifices to pay for my college education

But sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, and as it turns out:

1. I was burning every penny on a lifestyle that made me miserable
2. My parents were worried about me, and ultimately just wanted to see me happy. But even if that wasn’t the case, you need to do what’s right for you, you need to do what makes you happy.

Now I’m not suggesting that unless you love your job you should quit tomorrow morning. But unless your time to retirement is very short, for reasons of mental and physical health you should absolutely start putting a plan in place to find one. Dreading every new day is no way to live.

Neither am I suggesting that you need to turn your career path upside down and try something totally unrelated to your current job. Not unless you wish to do so. In my case for instance, a change of industry did the trick. I entered the company I currently work for in a very similar role to the one I was leaving in the bank. But I moved into an industry that was heavily correlated to my favourite hobby. The entry was all I needed and a few years in I’m now on my third role for this company.

Quitting my old job was the best thing I ever did. It brought about so many positive changes by virtue of putting me into an uncertain position. It took me out of an environment which sapped my happiness, and forced me to seek out a better one.

I acknowledge that I was in a fortunate situation in that I had no long term debts or commitments (like a mortgage or kids). But where there’s a will there’s a way, and anyone who relates to the work situation I was in needs to seek out help. There are professional life coaches who specialise in career change, I would suggest making finding one and booking an appointment  your number one priority. It will be the most valuable investment you make.

 

Savings gives you options
I never again want to feel stuck in a job that makes me so unhappy. All the other problems in my life stemmed from the unhappiness created by the job I was in. Once I fixed that issue, everything else started to fall into place.

However, although I’m in the dream job now, I’m acutely aware that I might not always be in such a privileged position.

For example, the company I work for has recently been through a merger where well over half of our department was made redundant. I was lucky enough to keep my job, but I might not be so lucky in future. A new boss could turn a positive and happy working environment on its head. The office could be relocated forcing me to leave. Any number of factors could lead to me landing back in an unhappy working environment.

Reaching FI would obviously remedy any of these situations, FU money and all that. But just by saving for FI, I’ll be equipped with a pot that can buy me time. I wouldn’t NEED to settle on the first offer. I’d have a stash that I could reluctantly dip into whilst seeking out the next opportunity. I wouldn’t need a pay check to put food on the table.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of people I work with, on very good salaries, who still live pay check to pay check. And only this week the BBC reported that millions in Britain have less than £100 in savings.

 

Put happiness before your savings rate
Putting happiness before my savings rate was something I struggled with this when I started out, and still do to a certain extent. My goal was all about the 50%+ savings rate. Why? Because some website told me that if I save 50%, then I’d be retired in 17 years.

True as that may be, if you’re miserable for those 17 years then it’s hardly worth the time saved. I live in London, so rent isn’t cheap, and buying is out of the question for now. In order to hit 50%, I could pretty much buy groceries and pay bills and there wouldn’t be much left in change, which meant some things that made me happy needed to be sacrificed.

For instance, on a Sunday we’d usually have brunch in a local café which would cost around £20. This obviously had to go!

But when it did, I realised that the hour or two we spent there was less about the food and drink, and more about the time we spent together. It was a rare occasion in an otherwise busy week where we could both relax, in a chilled out environment, enjoying good food and a coffee. We chatted about stuff that we wouldn’t normally do in the evenings during a working week. We took our time, read the papers or a book in each other’s company, conversed with locals. The value of this is worth far more to me than £20, but I was missing out on it so I could retire a few weeks earlier!

The key is to identify the spending that makes you happy, and to not beat yourself up for it.

On the other side of that coin is the spending on things that don’t make you happy, or in most cases, provide temporary happiness. You know what I’m talking about, the car’s, the clothes, the newest thing Apple is trying to flog. Jesus that iphone 7 is some scam!

I noticed something curious when I started to ditch all that stuff. First off, I became even happier. Which was probably because I replaced the time I used to spend chasing / buying / using / worrying about all this stuff with much more fulfilling activities.

Reading, writing, cycling, swimming, (more) weightlifting for example. The knock on effect of the exercise based activities is that I’ve got far more energy and focus, particularly at work, which has boosted my income after a recent promotion! But more about this in a later post…

I’ll leave you with a quote from Warren Buffett:

“There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?”

The Fire Place

3 Comments

  1. Hi TFP,

    Great post and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been through the whole agonising about the savings rate thing in the first couple of years of my FIRE journey and still do to a certain extent. But there’s no point in beating yourself up if you have a bad month as long as you know what you spent your money on made you happy and was a conscious choice.

    Of course I bet all the people spending every last penny of their paychecks would claim all that money they spent makes them happy as well, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent it?! So I guess that’s a tough one.

    It sounds like you’ve had quite the turnaround in life so kudos for that. Your friend sounds like the kind of friend we’d all like to have! Best of luck with it all.

    • Hey theFIREstarter,

      Love your blog, so it’s great to get such a positive comment from you! Thanks for the kind and supportive words.

      Yeah I’m definitely having struggles with some of my spending, even when I know I shouldn’t. Examples would be spending on friends weddings and all that goes with it (travel, accom, gifts, stags, hens, etc…). We’re at the stage in life where we’ve lots of friends tying the knot, so we’re averaging 2-3 per year. Or going out for dinner and drinks with friends instead of hosting at home for dinner and rotating (which isn’t always a popular option) – it’s either suck it up and go out, or I don’t see my friends, so I generally elect to suck it up! I’ll probably put a post together on the subject.

      Thanks again,
      TFP

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