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.
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.