Ah, you’ve discovered financial independence! Or, something is driving you to retire early. What’s next? Budgeting, net worth targets, deciding on magical investments, right?
Slow down. To really get this right, and have the best chance at success, you need to start with why.
I’ve written before about my love of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. The concept is important to both my personal and professional growth. I’ve found it to be central to change management in organizations and critical for individuals looking to change themselves.
Do you know yours?
Financial independence isn’t an easy path. I don’t mean it’s complex – it really isn’t. But it does require you to learn, resist or change existing habits, and choose between sometimes competing priorities. Depending on how you and your family currently relate to money, it could mean some VERY hard choices. Those moments are easier to navigate if you have a strong why.
If you’re like me, and many others, you may be here now because you hate your job. That may be your initial why. It was mine. But, over time that changed. After that shift, I realized simply running away from something would have doomed me to failure.
My why evolved. Now, I understand how much more likely it makes achieving my goal. It’s also helped my quality of life. My partner’s commitment to pursuing financial independence is much stronger as a result of building our collective why.
Creating Your Why
So, let’s dive right in. Give it a try. Grab a piece of paper, or use whatever electronic device you prefer and answer this question:
Why do you want to reach financial independence?
Write something down. Really, if you didn’t try it – stop reading right now and do it. I’ll wait.
If you’ve written something – Welcome back. Is this your answer?
That’s okay. But…take a few deep breaths, I’m concerned about you. That’s a lot of stress on the word out.
Getting out of a job, or early retirement in general, is a fine starting point. It will absolutely carry you through the initial planning. If that’s as deep as you can, or want to get, right now – no problem. I think you’ll find it helpful to stick with me a bit longer, though.
Take another look at the sentence you created. Even if it’s not exactly like the one above, I bet we can improve it a bit. (Note: For a deep dive, read Sinek’s follow-up Find Your Why. There is a lot of information in the book, and at StartWithWhy.com if you want to learn even more.)
You don’t necessarily need to go that deep into your why immediately. It’s likely that your why will shift over time, so getting started is the point. Even so, it’s to your advantage to understand as much as possible now. Here is a quick overview and a frame courtesy of Sinek:
A Framework (If you want one)
Your “why” should be:
- Simple and clear
- Focused on how you’ll contribute to others
- Expressed in affirmative language that resonates with you
I want out of this job ASAP!!! Is definitely simple and clear. It may resonate with you. But, it’s not actionable, focused on contribution, or affirmative. We can do better.
The suggested format is:
“To (insert contribution) SO THAT (impact of contribution.)
So, we could make that original statement a bit better just by using this frame. It becomes:
I want to get out of this job, ASAP so that ________________.”
It gets us a bit closer to something usable. Not exactly contributing anything yet, though. I can’t add a contribution here for you, but if you want to continue down this road, feel free.
You can choose to use the frame or not. Thinking about it in those terms is helpful to me in the early phase. Sometimes it works and captures it all. My why for this website, for example, can be expressed this way:
“TO support educators in reaching financial independence SO THAT those who give time and energy to our kids can pursue their purpose without financial stress.”
In most cases, I find distilling your why down to a single sentence is too limiting. It can feel like creating a slogan, or require a statement so broad that you lose important context. Financial independence can require you to understand and adjust a number of factors, including time frame, current spending, target income, and future needs. To make the best choices, I need a more complex understanding of what I want to achieve.
Let’s come at it from another direction. Assume you’ve reached Financial Independence. (Yay you!) Now – what will you do with your time? Write a few things down.
You’ve reached financial independence. How will you spend your days?
Was that hard? I know it was the first time I did it. If you’re really burned out, it may include a lot of doing nothing or tropical travel. Consider though – would you really be happy waking up every day and preparing to sit around? Go back to your list, see if there is anything you might add or delete.
Now take those thoughts and look for patterns. Would you go to work anyway? Do you see a lot about travel? Working in a different type of job? Training for a sport? Reading more romance novels? Whatever it is, those are things you’re running towards, not away from. They can be the base of your why.
Repeat that step a few times to really tighten up your understanding of potential future FI you. What an amazing person you will be!
Now, try the first question again:
Why do you want to reach financial independence?
How does it look?
I share mine, not to influence you, but as an example:
I want to reach financial independence toEFI’s current WHY
choosewhere I spend time and energy without money being a factor. I will explore more, stress less, and be more optimistic. This will allow me to create, contribute, and focus on those things that have the highest benefit.
This doesn’t fit the frame at all, and is far from perfect. But it resonates and keeps me motivated. It captures my desire to travel without feeling the need to just decompress from work, my need to contribute time and energy to charitable action, and the fact that I will continue to be heavily involved in education. It is my why. Yours will be different.
I recently saw another version of why on Twitter. Four Pillar Freedom captured a change over time. It’s simple and clear and probably resonates with many. Apologies for those offended by profanity – I’m not and didn’t want to ignore the authentic voice.
Are you satisfied with your why?
Look again at the why you’ve created so far. Are you satisfied with it? If not, keep tweaking. Try adding a sentence, or deleting a few words. Change the order a bit. If it feels like something is missing – then it is. Focus on capturing your key drivers.
Don’t obsess over it for too long trying to get the perfect wording. You can keep adjusting it over time as you get farther on the path, and we all know how wordsmithing kills momentum. (Have you ever tried to work a mission statement in a staff meeting? Ugh.)
Now, test your why with this simple scenario:
You are suddenly contacted by a long lost great aunt. She has decided to distribute her money to heirs while she’s alive so she can enjoy their response. She gives you two choices:
- You can take a $10,000 vacation to anywhere in the world, but it has to be done in the next three months.
- She will use $10,000 to pay off a debt or place it in any investment of your choice.
I’m not proposing there is a correct answer for everyone. But, does
Most importantly, your why has to resonate with you. I mean, really hit you and give you drive toward a goal. If it does that, you can stop working. Then, share it in the comments – I’d love to see and feature reader whys.
You’ve completed the first important step. As we move through all of the steps to reaching financial independence, your why will be critical. It will help you make spending choices, set your targets with clarity, and make those hard decisions necessary to persist. Well done!