Financial independence gives you choices. Now, I’ve made a huge one. One I never thought I’d make.
After dedicating more than 20 years of my life to education, I’m walking away. At least temporarily.
It’s FIOR (financial independence optional retirement) time.
Why I Made The Choice
I’m fortunate to have a career in a profession I love. I care deeply about education and know what I do every day matters. My wife and I both feel connected to our work and the field we’ve chosen. By any measure, I’ve been incredibly successful and fortunate. So, what kind of madman would leave that?
Not long ago, I heard Jim Collins, of Good to Great fame (one of my most gifted books) discuss the question “What would you do if you knew you had 10 years left?”
It’s a good question, because it doesn’t assume the type of immediate death that might cause one to dash around experiencing last minute sensations. It also assumes that you’ve got ten full years left and would still want a purposeful life. It makes for an interesting thought exercise.
Except for me, the answer was so immediately clear that I didn’t need to exercise much thought. I would immediately stop managing people.
All that I said about my work mattering? Absolutely true.
My passion for the profession? 100%
My coworkers and the people I lead? Amazing, dedicated professionals.
Despite all that – I’ve become burnt out on managing others. My impact is blunted and second-hand – filtered through the direct actions of staff.
Other people’s drama instantly becomes mine. Even the best of us have moments of challenge and make mistakes that need to be fixed and supported.
I’m an introvert. I think some of that makes me a good leader. But it takes a lot of energy to do what I know needs to be done to support others. Combine that with more than a decade of averaging 80 hour work weeks and not a single day without some time spent resolving a work issue. The cost is high.
It’s good work. I’m just ready to do something else.
I’m not sure what – and that’s part of the adventure. It’s hard for me to admit that seeking the next thing suddenly seemed more exciting than continuing to work in education leadership.
Thanks to financial independence, I have the power to choose. And I feel so lucky.
What Made It Possible
My wife and I have always embraced the philosophy of FIOR (financial independence optional retirement) over pushing for FIRE (financial independence retire early.) We love our work, and aren’t really racing to financial independence to escape it. But, we want to control our own work lives and choose how we spend our time. Options are important, early may not be.
For the last five years, we’ve worked hard to get our financial lives in order. We set financial goals every year. Unwound our lifestyle inflation and reduced our expenses dramatically. Maxed out our 403b and 457b each year, and invested even more. It’s paid off.
I wrote about how we surprisingly hit basic financial independence last year. Well, in our annual review this year (which I’ll write about next week) we hit our full FI goals. Quarter 4 was good to us. Which really highlights the sad financial disparities in the impact of the pandemic.
We are financially independent, and spent some time talking about our options. The pandemic has had a second impact on our family – my wife has realized how much she really likes her job (when she can do it in person.) In fact, for that ten year question, she said she’d probably teach at least 5 years of it.
Our original plans had us financially independent and potentially both walking away together. Now, we’re FI early and she knows she wants to teach several more years. I have recently realized I want to do something different.
My sense of financial insecurity, and the strong possibility that economic conditions could get ugly soon, would have made me a prime candidate for “one more year” syndrome for financial reasons.
Instead, we’re looking at our financial independence number and one of us wanting to work several more years.
I don’t. At least not at the same job. And it’s possible because of the intentional choices we’ve made over the last five years – at a stage in our careers where our incomes were highest. Understanding our money, growing our careers, and making solid decisions has given us choices.
It’s time to use the power that comes with financial independence.
What Comes Next
In the next few weeks, I’ll publish the details of our end-of-year financial review, and our annual goal setting post. Those will get into the financial details and planning we’re doing to make this choice work.
For now, I’m thinking about all the non-financial aspects. My job in education administration doesn’t lend itself to a short exit ramp. I can’t just abandon my team suddenly, and our best hiring sequences tend to work on the academic year calendar. (Good school principals won’t leave their schools mid-year.)
I take my responsibility to students, staff, and families seriously. We’ve got a pandemic to get through. There are countless decisions about reopening our program and setting ourselves up to undo the damage this horrible year has done to so many. I’m there for all of it.
So, I’ve made this decision today but I’ll continue in my current role until July. It’s the right thing to do. I’m telling you now, but won’t submit my resignation for a bit.
Then, it will be a multi-month hiring process to find and name my replacement. The program I lead will finish the year strong and go into next year well-positioned to continue smoothly.
So, I know the end of this work era is coming, but not yet. I’m good with that. It’s a great job, with great people, and I look forward to finishing strong.
I also look forward to the coming changes and to defining how I spend my time making an impact after July. I can’t wait to share with you what that looks like personally, professionally, and financially.
2021 will be an interesting year.
Brendon @ MoneyFI says
This is incredible. Well done and all the best. No doubt the decision didn’t come lightly but I’m sure you’re in for an adventure with this next stage in your life.
Definitely an agonizing decision, but the right one. Thank you!
So exciting to start a new chapter! It’s great that you’ll have some time to figure out what’s next. Good luck with the rest of the school year and thank you for the challenging work you’re doing.
Thanks so much. And you’re right – exciting indeed. And…strange to end a chapter that is 20 years long.
Dragon Gal says
Congrats! What a big move, and I’m so very excited for you! I imagine this next phase in life will be full of exploration and discovery.
Wishing you all the best this spring semester, and very much looking forward to your updates. Please take care!
Cheers! Dragon Gal
Full of exploration and discovery is exactly what I hope. Thanks – you have been an inspiration for making this move.
Excited for your new journey! I have a feeling you’ll be back in some capacity.
Congratulations! I’m so excited for you!
I know exactly what you mean by being burnt out managing people – I have felt like this for many years now. Managing people and not letting their drama affect me takes so much energy. But unfortunately, I cannot walk away just yet.
Looking forward to reading what’s up next for you 🙂
Can’t wait to read about it when you get there. It might come sooner than you think like it did for us. Here’s hoping!
Adam @ Minafi says
Woohoo! Congrats! I can identify with being burnt out managing people. I know for me that was the part of my job that would drain my energy. I see why so many people actively AVOID management now – even with the higher paychecks. Slow and steady vs fast and unpleasant.
I’m curious to see what you do next! (after a much-needed time to decompress of course).
Thanks, Adam. Honestly, I’m curious to see what I do next. 🙂
Frogdancer Jones says
Oh Ed!!! I’m so excited for you!!! You’ll be 7 months behind me.
I love the idea of the 10 years – thinking that way, especially with covid racing around the place, made me decide to pull the pin instead of succumbing to the ‘One More Year’ syndrome.
This is fantastic news – good on you.
Yes, it was very helpful in focusing on the immediate moment!
Why would you have ever regularly worked 80 hour work weeks? No normal job requires that, no job on earth should ask that of an employee for ten years straight. I had a high pressure, always on call job over a complex where lots of things could blow up or catch on fire with hundreds of employees I was responsible for and most of my peers in similar jobs did work insane hours. But I never came close to 80 hour weeks, in fact I strove for 40 hour ones whenever possible. And I was very successful at it, more so than my peers that spent vastly more of their life wasted on relatively unimportant aspects of the job. I’ve heard people talk about jobs that required ridiculous hours, but generally speaking, the jobs never demanded that, the individual chose that, usually because they lacked balance in their life. That describes most Fortune 500 CEO’s, it should not describe an educator. You definitely needed to get away from that kind of life. Or maybe I’m off base, but 80 hours seems to leave you almost zero time with family, friends or even with yourself to have a life outside of work. I think you are doing the right thing. I retired several years prior to what is normal for corporate officers, who usually have to be dragged away kicking and screaming, and its very nice, even nicer than the job I enjoyed a lot. And I kept working a little on the side, just enough to make the transition less jarring. Now I’m cutting back on that and shifting to all volunteering, which is fun once you don’t need any more money.
Frogdancer Jones says
You clearly didn’t work in education!
I’m like you in that I had a very good work/life balance. But my school principal would EASILY work hours like that.
There are meetings after school hours, school functions, dramas with students that she has to help defuse, parents and their demands, media requests, the endless admin that she doesn’t have to time to finish during the day because people are always wanting to see her about something-or-other… it’s a very demanding job. She lives near the school and when I lived nearby I often used to drive past and see her car there on weekends. She said it was the only time she was able to get uninterrupted blocks of time to get work done.
Anything that happens in that school and community – the buck stops with her.
A job not for the faint-hearted.
Frogdancer captured the 80 hour a week potential well. AND, of course no one should do that for an extended period of time. I don’t regret it because I love the work and community – but I am ready for a break. 🙂
Ok, you obviously know that world better than me. I can even see 60 hours as sustainable, maybe, but 80 can’t be healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I could have worked 80 and still left much undone. There was no end to worthwhile tasks when you are responsible for 700 employees. I just refused to not have a life. I felt the 80/20 rule applied to work, only 20% of what we do is really important. And when I cut out less important things, nobody noticed it cared. In her situation I’d be looking for tasks to delegate or jettison. I was out there on many weekends too, but just as many minutes as necessary, when times were smooth I also left early to make up for long days. There really is no medal of honor for how many hours you work. All that matters is what gets done and the two are not linearly correlated. Great post!
Welcome to education, Steve! 🙂 I’m a teacher, and I wouldn’t EVER want an administration job, no matter what the pay. Right now I have an excellent work/life balance but there’s been some years where I’ve been right up at that 60-80 hours per week myself. Never again.
Really smart of you to factor balance into it. You’ll be happier longer – and we need great people teaching!
Oh wow, congratulations! You have a difficult job and 2020 was a crazy year.
I think a little distance will help a lot. I’m sure your team is very grateful that you’re waiting until the school year is over.
Keep us updated!
Yeah, I could never walk out on them mid-stream. I’d have hated that as a teacher and it’s just not fair to anyone. Glad to finish the year and then we’ll see what happens.
Congratulations on the big move! It’s no small feat to walk away from something you love when it drains you so much. FIOR is an absolute ideal situation to be in, and very happy for you and your family that you were able to reach it and make a decision to better balance out your life and time.
I’m sure the impact you’ve had on education and on those you’ve lead has been tremendous and they will continue to reap the benefit of having worked with you for years after you’ve left the position.
Congratulations and best wishes, Ed!
I appreciate that so much, Lance. Excited to see what comes next.
Financial Mechanic says
Wow! Congratulations on the next step of your adventure. I love the idea of thinking about 10 years. Not a scramble of bucketlist items but rather, time is shorter, how do you make the best of it. It sounds like you have a solid plan made from intentional thinking. I’m inspired!
Exactly as I’m thinking about it – the next step! Glad to inspire you a little bit, because you’ve definitely inspired me with your impressive early progress.
As an educator, I’m sorry to see you go. From reading your work over the last few years, it’s clear that you are in this for all of the right reasons and that you have left a mark on so many of the students and teachers you have worked with.
On a more personal note, I’m thrilled for you. I’m so happy that you have achieved financial independence and have the ability to walk away at this point because it is the right decision for you.
Thanks, Dave! I don’t see myself leaving education entirely. This is the right move..for now.
J. Money says
Congrats on the big move!! Hope it brings you peace!
Thanks so much, J. I’m hoping it brings the right amount of peace and adventure!