Saturday, 8 June 2019

Back to powerful FI

6 months after taking the FIRE (financially independent retired early) leap I can confirm that (for now) I’ve reverted back to FI (financially independent) mode.  That’s right, we’ve left Cyprus, are back in the UK and I’m working and/or have a job.  More on that in a minute.

It’s been a long time between posts and a lot has happened so to try and get the story out in a succinct manner I’ll post some questions to myself.  I’ll then likely follow up with more detail in subsequent posts if people are interested.  So here goes...

Did Cyprus not agree with you and Mrs RIT?

We didn’t leave Cyprus because of Cyprus.  In fact quite the opposite.  Cyprus was absolutely brilliant and we saw it at its worst as we were there during one of the wettest / coldest winters on record.

There was so much relatively unspoilt nature with the picture above hopefully being a nice example of linking human occupation with nature.  Just around the corner from there is where turtles actually nest.  It was a walkers / hikers / cyclists paradise.  So much so that I managed to lose 10kg in relatively quick time.

The people and the way of doing things were also incredible.  On various forums I’d heard the term for Cyprus being siga siga which means slowly slowly.  I didn’t find that at all.  What I found was that things were done differently but in a good way.  For example to buy car insurance I went to the insurance company and sat across from the person who was going to sell it to me.  Over a good coffee and with no pressure the forms were duly completed and a quote was generated.  Hands were shaken, the forms were signed and I was done.  All over in about 30 minutes.  Give me that over automated menus that can’t understand me and a call centre if I press the right buttons correctly any day.

We also found the people on the whole very friendly and helpful.  The one challenge we did find was finding like minded people to build friendships with during all those hours that I used to spend in my job.  That is not the fault of Cyprus though, is something I had considered going into FIRE and is something that will always need to be dealt with in any country.

A note of caution for anybody thinking of doing something similar though.  Life was easy, possibly too easy and it would be so easy to slip into an expat / tourist mindset which involves ‘hobbies’ that include alcoholic beverages at 11am on a Tuesday...

If Cyprus was so great why did you leave?

There were two main reasons for me and one for Mrs RIT.  The one that affected both of us was access to valuable time with meaningful family and friends.  When we announced that we were heading to the Med for 6 to 12 months to decompress and decide what we want to be when we grew up there were some real changes to a number of our relationships.  It’s important to note we never said early retirement or threw anything in anyone’s face.  On the one extreme some friends / family were far from supportive with one ‘friend’ saying in a quite hostile tone ‘well enjoy your retirement while I’m working for the next 30 years to pay off my house’ after which the conversation was over and we haven’t heard from them since.  On the other extreme a couple of close friends who’ve we’ve lived a long way from for too many years were incredibly supportive and then opened up about their own journey to embrace minimalism, tread lightly on the planet and maximise the positive sides of the gig economy.  Off the back of that over a few months a very high level long term plan has been hatched which could just make the years ahead most interesting.   Of note some very supportive family also live close to them in a part of the world that is most agreeable but a looong way from the UK.  I just wish that culturally we were able to speak more like we do on the FIRE blogs vs the guarded approach to speaking about money in real life as that plan was only able to be hatched by sharing our respective earnings, spending needs and wealth.

Moving to Cyprus also moved us further from some friends and family but at the same time moved us closer to others.  Despite this and with us having a villa which included plenty of bedrooms, a pool, BBQ and sea views most were too busy to visit but encouraged us to visit them as we had ‘plenty of spare time’.  This left us a little in no man’s land and a regression against what we had in the UK.  Our meaningful (a subset of what we had prior to FIRE) family and friends are still globally disparate so the answer isn’t easy but where we’ve landed is that at some point in the future we will have to pick those that are most meaningful and focus on strengthening those relationships knowing others will weaken.  Life is of course never perfect but is about maximising happiness in my opinion.

The reason that affected me alone was around finding my purpose which would likely include some meaningful work.  I knew this was going to be a challenge going into FIRE as I had a large time hole to fill and so after a few months of decompression I started to use the Ikigai tool (see image) to try and figure it out.  I was trying to find things I was good at, loved and was needed.  I didn’t bring what I could be paid for into the equation.  As part of this the question I couldn’t answer was is the career I left behind, which had been badly clouded by a job getting in the way, actually my purpose.  So after much discussion with Mrs RIT we agreed I’d try and answer that question.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out a way to do this under my terms as a consultant or similar so I’ve therefore joined a much smaller organisation, that is far less corporate, that has some work flexibility which will hopefully enable me to do more work and less job all with a much improved work life balance.

Ikigai
Click to enlarge, Ikigai Source

What’s next?

Unfortunately, possibly meaningful work and a smaller group of meaningful people are a long distance apart.  My responsibility is to therefore answer the critical question ‘does my work bring purpose’ as that will make a big difference to our next steps and the timeline of those.  Like with Cyprus we want to give it a chance so will make no decisions for at least 6 to 12 months.  All I’ll say is that so far having felt the freedom of a free range chicken I currently feel very much like a battery hen.

Would you do it all again?

Absolutely!  It’s been a fantastic if not at times difficult experience.  Decompression, which looking back I don’t think I fully came out of, was particularly brutal.  It has however reinforced something I’ve read on a few forums over the recent months.  When it comes to FIRE it’s the FI bit that is the important bit with the RE being a side show.  The hint is of course in one of the words – FREE.  Free to do what we want, when we want and on our terms.  For now that’s work / a job but tomorrow it could be more global adventure on a timeline that works for us.  This FI lark truly is liberating.

35 comments:

  1. Wow, what a change. What I like about you guys is that you're not afraid to make a change when you think it's necessary. I can definitely see others trying to push living in Cyprus when faced with the same conundrum, especially when having solved the money problem.

    I think finding purpose is much more important than the technical details (i.e. the right SWR) and it's my main concern too. Sometimes I worry that -like in Shawshank Redemption- I will not be able to escape the system that leads me to FI, eventually.

    Best of luck.

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  2. Thank you so much for posting. I was wondering how it turned out for you and I can see the meaningful work thing being a big issue. It's a real concern for me that one can get so institutionalised in the world of work that one loses sight of other ways to achieve life purpose and valued relationships. Of course neither of those things were so hard in childhood, but then something changed. Good luck in whatever direction life takes you next.

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  3. Good post, thanks for the update. FI but not retired is a great place to be (been there myself for many years). Also stayed in UK for various reasons.

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  4. Very interesting. I was wondering whether you'd had second thoughts. I'm 2.5 years into FIRE and can relate. Thinking about going back to part-time contracting (maybe 6 months on, 6 months off) while I figure out where I'm going. Not that I'm complaining. It's nice to have the freedom to choose.

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  5. Haha your missus is very understanding!

    You spent longer deciding which Mediterranean island to move to than you did living on it!

    Maybe you need a life coach? Give the blog who cannot be named a call?

    I've missed your posts so keep them coming, I think they're great!

    Maybe fill us in on the details of the new job? Please tell me it's not full time!

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  6. Thanks for updating us. Leaving a 'high-powered' job, leaving the UK - was there just too much change too soon? My stopping work followed a decade of self-employment, during which I wound things down over time. So I was already used to the idea of not mentally needing or being defined by a job. And I stayed in the UK, because my partner's still earning.

    You still sound positive, and I'm sure everything's going to work out. Keep writing.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your story, that can't have been an easy post to write.

    Sorry to hear Cyprus didn't play out as you might have hoped. You are richer for the experience, having learned more about your own motivations, drivers and relationships. That can only lead to better informed decisions in the future, which is no bad thing.

    Welcome back, and good luck with finding a viable balance back in the workforce. Personal experience has taught me the re-entry challenges can be just as brutal as the decompression was.

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  8. Hey RIT, so glad to hear you are alright. I don't think I'm alone in the community for wondering how you were doing. It's a shame your Cyprus plan hasn't worked out (yet). But it sounds like you are on the journey to discovering what you really want. That probably matters more than anything.

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  9. Great article. I think the question "what will I do all day FOR FIFTY BLOOMING YEARS!" is one we don't spend enough time thinking about. Good to see you address it honestly and also provide a tool that we can use ourselves.

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    1. " Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans." Quote from one of John Lennon's songs.

      If we are honest, where we each are right now is a result of many factors , including chance , good ( or bad ) fortune , luck ( not quite the same as chance ), serendipidty and unexpected opportunity. Just think about your schooling , education , work history , friends and family , hobbies - who can honestly say that all of these were part of a pre-determined plan - or were driven by your own ambition and planning ?

      So why would you expect your next 50 years to be unaffected by all of the above - and solely determined by your plans ? Who are you deluding ?

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  10. Thank you for posting this RIT, personally I find it really impressive the decision you made to try Cyprus and even moreso being able to deal with sunk costs. I think you should be very proud of what you've achieved and your decision making abilities.

    I'll watch with huge interest as you attempt to answer the purpose question, it has been massive for me lately (I don't want to wait until FI to address as that'll be two decades later.) Good luck for it, if I can be of any help, please reach out, unfortunately I've ended up in counselling as I've struggled with it that much

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  11. @RIT - fascinating post and update to your story.
    For me the key thing about FIRE is flexibility and freedom. Whether that freedom is used to retire is relatively secondary. The ability to retire at will (or if required by poor health etc) is what matters. And a large benefit of freedom is the ability to take six months to live in Cyprus / go travelling / write a book / whatever the mood suggests. If you use that freedom to work you have beaten The Man, however hard that may be for others to get their head around. Keep up the good work!

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  12. Hi RIT

    Firstly welcome back - it's good to read that you and your family are ok, I've missed your updates.

    Secondly, your revelation that you've returned to work probably hasn't come as a complete surprise to many who have followed your blog. I hope it won't take long before you no longer feel like a battery hen and you find something which satifies your need to be free. It's great that you have experienced it so you know what it's like, even if the freedom in Cyprus wasn't exactly what you thought it would be.

    I for one thank you for your honesty in documenting this U-turn, it can't have been easy to write.

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  13. Interesting development and thanks for being upfront about the challenges. I am in a somewhat similar position, being 49 and having achieved the numbers needed to maintain the current lifestyle without a wage a couple of years ago. My framework for these issues is defining freedom in terms of my time , being the post finite and limited resource, being controlled by me alone rather than a job ( which always means someone else controls it). So taking another job is effectively ruled out. I kind of redefined my purpose as investing and studying good businesses and that is what keeps me busy these days. It has the added benefit of having a scorecard, enough pressure and skin in the game to keep it edgy and supplies constant change. What it lacks is social intraction and some of the benefits of a corporate setting. So far, on balance I don't see the need for modification to this.

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    1. would you say you've found your purpose in this or you find the notion of chasing some 'work' purpose a fools errand?

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    2. I look at purpose in terms of spending my time on what most interests me - which happens to be business and investing. In traditional employment "purpose" is defined by someone else and I don't really see the point of being financially independent yet having the majority of your time being controlled by someone else - unless this is what you'd rather spend your finite time on. This might be the case for some but to me it kind of defeats the point of having a 7 figure sum in the bank.

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  14. Hi RIT, cool to see your update - I'm glad you got the chance to try out Cyprus, albeit for a winter.

    And I do agree that purpose and people are really important - most people need these to get enjoyment out of life.

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  15. Humm interesting... My objective is to retire in the Philippines in 2-4 years, to be honest I could already.

    But we are living far from family and friends already, and we are doing fine, we've been 9 years in UAE and we loved it with frequent visits to see and from our families and friends.

    Working in IT in my case will do if I want to do some remote working and/or entrepreneurship.

    No problems with drinks at 11am ;-) I don't drink anymore!

    Good luck with your new job! You might realize after some rain and grey clouds that you want to try again!

    It happened to me that I worked here for a couple of years I moved to UK and after a few months I rushed to look for a job here in UAE again.. I live by the beach and have sunny weather all year around! Still working... I need to fix that!

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  16. A brave post indeed. I hope you don't mind me saying that I think many of us saw something like this coming even before you left. The huge level of commitment to your previous job was so clear in your previous posts that it seemed an almost impossible challenge to just 'switch off'.
    That doesn't mean it was the wrong decision on your part though, in fact by doing this you've probably saved yourself an awful lot of angst in the long run by not having to find it out when you're 65 and possibly unable to re-enter the world of work.
    My FIRE path is very different to yours - I'm a lazy git, and so have no problem not working. However, I totally relate to the family/friends visiting aspect coming up short. We had an idea that people would be visiting us on our travels all the time - didn't really happen, people are too busy.
    Aside from being 'captain hindsight' about totally leaving work, what now? That's a lot harder to predict. Could you perhaps do contracting for short term 6 month - 1 year projects, and maybe do some global travelling inbetween? I move around about a month at a time, and that keeps life interesting enough for me whilst being stable too if you can find good places. Also keeps me stimulated by the challenge of building great itineraries/finding accommodation etc. FWIW, i don't think I could cope with being fixed in one place currently, either.

    Hope you can find a good balance, and thanks for this interesting post.

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  17. There's absolutely nothing wrong with returning to the UK, nor to the world of work, if that's what you want to do.
    However, what I don't get is why you had to leave work in order to confirm that you wouldn't be able to occupy yourself with purposeful activities - it was a question you had pondered on here, so I think you knew it would be an issue, in which case you should have developed solutions before jumping.
    Similarly moving away from friends & family - it's something you knew you would struggle with, so why the need to play it out in reality?
    That said, you haven't lost anything by trying out living in a new place - you stated you couldn't continue in your previous job much longer anyway.
    Perhaps you should have gone with smaller incremental steps, rather than such a big jump.

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  18. Hey RIT.

    I was worried you'd given up blogging! Good to see something from you (and welcome back to the UK).

    This speaks to one of the truths I've discovered over the past few years of being in a state of 'not FI but own most of my time anyway': getting 'free' is straightforward (not easy).

    Using your freedom to self-actualise or find meaning/purpose/happiness is very hard. I've almost finished a new post about exactly this.

    I personally believe that 'work' is a necessary component of the meaning/purpose it looks like you're seeking (which one of the reasons I gave up on saving a million quid in the first place).

    I hope the new job works out for you, but if not, how about designing something from scratch which does suit you? I'm sure a man of your writing, planning and graph plotting talents could put together a little micro-business of some sort.

    Beyond that, if you want to meet a bunch of well-educated, open-minded people doing work they love, you could do worse than looking for a project in a co-working space.

    Food for thought perhaps?

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  19. This reads like a saga!
    After months of nothing and all of us thinking you've gone to live happily ever after in Cyprus you put this post out.
    It's a great read and it's really making me think.

    Family and friends they say ground you - keep you in one place.
    If you are lucky enough to have them that is.
    Maybe the secret to FIRE is actually to work a 4 short days a week, generous lunch breaks with nice colleagues and lots of holidays/time off!

    I also can't believe you lost 10kg! That makes your 6 month hiatus worth it alone for the health benefits!
    I always imagined you being slim/healthy.
    My own plans for FIRE would involve losing 10kg too - but 10 is no exaggeration!

    Good to have you back!

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  20. Reminds me of that scene in the Simpsons of Homer crawling back on his hands and knees to beg for his job back. And mr. Burns puts up a sign at his work station saying you will never leave this place!!

    No seriously welcome back to the UK and good luck with the new job. This makes me think for myself phased retirement may be a better option as to lessen the life impact.

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  21. I'm not seeing a problem here. I am also back working at a similar age and pot size. I had a few months off, enjoyed it but wasn't ready to retire permanently.

    As you've noted, the key here is the flexibility you've created. If you work, you simply have more money to use as you choose. You no longer need to add vast amounts to your pot each month.

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  22. I'm pleased to hear you and yours are doing well. I so recognise the family and friends not wanting to visit due to busyness dimension (we live in a part of the UK which has beautiful beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes and forests to explore).

    One thing I've found when settling into a new location is that it can take years to build a network of new friends - particularly as you get older (middle-aged people in your new location will have already curated their friendship networks and may have limited room to add new ones).

    I reached frugal FI a few years back but have remained in work albeit part-time and changed role for a less stressful one. The work was always purposeful and tapped into my passion - I just simply need it to stop killing me and give me room to explore other things.

    The missus is somewhat of a cautionary tale. She hasn't needed to work for around a decade, but is desperate to return to it. She simply cannot find enough things to do during working hours to keep her occupied while her growing circle of friends are still working. I don't think I'd have that problem personally (as my friends includes retirees, part-timers and students) and have a wide range of interests as well as a few needing deep work. But I'm always slightly cautious...

    I suspect pathway to retirement will look more like a slow glide than an abrupt stop.

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    1. May I ask what sort of role you have or had that work has always been purposeful? What is your passion? Was it always the case of it took a long time to uncover it?

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    2. Thanks for the question, Nick. I work for a charity in a creative role that demands regular refreshing of skills & knowledge and is now a very good fit with the things that make me happy and fulfilled. I have been very lucky in my career to have had bosses who have recognised my fairly rare mix of skills, loyalty and mindset so have always had work I've found value in, lots of autonomy and opportunities for mastery. But even so, you can have too much of a good thing - even when, or perhaps especially, working for a cause you believe in.

      Worth saying that none of my roles enabled me to go FI - a side project did.

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  23. Good to see an update. I hope that having a blog and a readership has had no negative influence on your decisions, or any fear of “owning up” to changed plans.

    In my late 40s I’m not yet quite ready for FIRE. Give it another 4 years. But last year I simply stopped working suddenly by choice for almost a whole year. Not as an extended vacation, but an experimental preview of retirement. It was wonderful. I didn’t miss work one bit. I learnt I won’t be bored. Learnt how to have more time to use my brain in enjoyable ways rather than selling brain timeshare to the highest bidder. Learnt I could be a much better person to my wife and offspring. Learnt I wouldn’t bleed savings. Interestingly I unconsciously stopped reading online financial blogs/forums. We are all different with different needs. I feel I beat “The Man” years ago. Badk working for a while now. Realised the other day it’s 6 months since I even logged on to my investment accounts despite having almost a million quid in them. I have no idea if they are up or down or by how much. Hope they haven’t expired them. Looking forward to 2024.

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  24. Good luck for the new phase, RIT! The joy of FI is doing new things and changing your mind, if required.
    I went from 5 day a week working to 3; still doing that until such time as I don't.
    The resentment factor can be high; these people don't see the years of low-key living it took to reach that state (packed lunches, old cars!), and wouldn't have gone that route even if they'd known about it, probably. I'm glad you still have treasured family and friends.
    All the best! - Pendle Witch

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  25. Good to read your update. As someone who tends to conceptualise and think through/planning I have found mini-experiments helpful and it sounds like your Cyprus experience provided you with some valuable feedback. One thing I have found since switching from a senior leadership role to running my own business as a part-time consultant is the sense of freedom that comes with absolute honesty and candidness. I operate in the same overall domain but very much on my terms which gives me a real sense of control. The biggest challenge is living back overseas away from friends and (blood) family....I am closer to my children but somehow need to increase my social circle as my sole male chum here departs for a new role in the UK... Can't have everything!

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  26. The Accumulator15 June 2019 at 15:45

    Good to see you back, RIT. Definitely interested in hearing more about your thoughts on the journey so far and your search for a new balance in life. Experimenting with new experiences is surely what FI is all about, which implies that not everything / anything will work out as planned. Great to hear about the Cypriot way of life. I'd almost forgotten that business can be done that way.

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  27. It is important to have a sense of purpose and work is one of the major ways of supplying that. Retirement (as a fantasy of endless sunsets on the beach), like a nice car, can be something we think we want, only to find, when we acquire it, that it doesn't satisfy.

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  28. I was waiting for this post, although I did think I'd be waiting a little bit longer. Quite clearly to most of us watching, moving somewhere completely new while going straight from a demanding job to zero commitments wasn't going to end well. However, if having an abrupt and complete reset was what you needed in order to resign, then it's ultimately going to be a positive.

    Your story shows the importance of the "inner game" of FIRE (especially the RE). The money part is just mechanical: set up your earning and spending in a certain way, wait the designated period of time, and it happens. Knowing what to do with your independence is a whole lot more complicated.

    It also shows that all the obsessing about withdrawal rates etc. is largely pointless beyond the basics. In almost every case, if you're the kind of person with the discipline to FIRE you're going to end up earning at least some kind of money after leaving employment − or at least could do in a pinch.

    Most people think that their job is stopping them from doing what they want to do. In reality, they don't have a clue what they want to do: the "dream life" they come up with is more like their dream holiday, which wears thin after the first month or two.

    In your case, going back to a less full-on role is probably sensible: it will give you the breathing space to simultaneously work out what you want to do, and maybe even start something on the side. You should have started that years ago really, but presumably your job didn't give you the bandwidth.

    For anyone looking to FIRE in future, I think they should have two targets rather than one before they quit: the financial target, and a −proper− answer to "what do I do next?"

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  29. It's good to hear what happened next, after you achieved FIRE. Ikigai looks to be an interesting way of considering what to do. I'll be interested to hear where your passion, mission and vocation lead you.
    In my case on stopping work in my early 50's I didn't change my location or lifestyle and I didn't (and still haven't) said that I would never go back to work. Seeking challenges or purposes afterwards can be a challenge in itself.

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  30. Nice to see you blogging again.

    I think your need for "purpose" and meaningingful work" really shows how different we all are. By comparison, I've never found my work meaningful, it's just grey and utterly boring. I desire to have no purpose at all. My reasons for not RE are simple: terror that I have not enough money.

    I think your situation is much better. Well done for coming back.

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