Being financially independent means you’re flexible.
You have options.
And it’s almost impossible to quantify the value of having options in life.
While the value-added nature of flexibility is something I’ve touched on quite a bit over the last couple years, one aspect of flexibility that I haven’t yet written about is how having options creates a breeding ground for authenticity.
This authenticity is possible not just because of having access to a broader array of options, but also because of the contentment in knowing that we chose our best choice.
Plus, the availability of many options operates almost in the background, constantly hovering around in our minds, providing the peace of mind that only many aces in the hole can.
Lastly, a large basket of options gives one courage. It doesn’t take much inner force to move along in a life where there’s very little chance of absolute failure.
We all want to live lives that are authentic. We want to be true to ourselves, in every choice we make.
But this is easier said than done in real life, where choices are made in a world that doesn’t always allow for a lot of options. Be it lack of money, time, or knowledge, options can be frequently in short supply. When you lack options, you lack choices.
Moreover, the lack of choices means one is always wondering about other possible options, leading to a lack of contentment. It’s FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s the “grass is greener” syndrome eating away at someone.
Sometimes you need to have access to all the yards in order to not only choose your favorite plot of grass, but also to know that, after seeing all the other available yards firsthand, you’re content with your choice.
Having many options is a wonderful life position to be in. But what’s underappreciated about options is how they provide truth. Having many options tells you a lot about who you really are. And the more options you have, the more authentic you can/should/will live your life. The more options you have, the more you’ll discover about your true nature.
Who Are You?
Can we ever know who we truly are without having a ton of options on the table?
Would you still commit to a certain daily schedule if we didn’t have to? Would you still show up to a job if you didn’t need the money? Would you still be with your significant other if you could have almost anyone? Would you still live in a particular city if you could live almost anywhere?
A great example of options providing truth is Warren Buffett.
Buffett could do anything, be anyone, buy everything, and go anywhere.
Options are in large part a function of wealth and independence. And so very few people on this planet have more options than him.
Yet he chooses to live in the same house he purchased back in 1958 for less than $32,000. This house, by the way, is in Omaha, Nebraska.
He drives a modest car.
He likes to eat McDonald’s or ice cream for breakfast.
And he still shows up to work every day.
What we have here is the ultimate example of authenticity.
He chooses to live the way he does. He makes choices that are authentic to who he really is. It’s not a situation where more money encouraged him to stray from what he really likes in life. He knows himself deep down inside, and he’s stayed true to his ethos.
It’s something, as my wealth, passive income, and options continue to climb, I enthusiastically strive to emulate.
I have come to believe that a life of authenticity is a life of contentment. And a life of contentment is a life of happiness.
At the same time, though, a life of contentment might only be possible when you know, for sure, that you’re exactly who and where you want to be. And you know this because you have options in the first place.
So it’s a situation where having options – even options you would never actually use – have immense value simply by virtue of existing. The pure existence of options is one of the few things in life that doesn’t have value based on utility/use.
Is A Man Only As Faithful As His Options?
Chris Rock, one of my favorite comedians, once quipped:
A man is basically as faithful as his options.
Now, this is a comedian making a joke. But there might be some truth to this, depending on who you ask. (And Chris Rock did ironically cop to cheating on his wife with multiple women, which seems to be the catalyst behind his divorce.)
It’s an interesting thing for me to think about because – I’m being brutally honest here – my options back in the States in regard to women were never that numerous. I’m no Brad Pitt. Nobody is mistaking me for David Beckham.
Furthermore, my natural introversion, dedication to frugality, minimalist preferences, and adherence to intensely persuing a life so outside the box doesn’t help matters.
And then there’s just the fact that I’m not really personally interested in some of the more common dating/relationship dynamics that currently exist in the US.
But my stock (in investing parlance) has risen in value considerably since relocating to Thailand.
It’s reality – I’m not bragging – to say that my options are far more numerous now, which would allow me to date different women fairly regularly. Being that this is a bit of a new experience for me, I wouldn’t blame myself if I were to take advantage of it.
However, that’s not at all what I’ve done.
I met a really sweet, smart, silly, and sexy woman almost immediately upon relocating to Chiang Mai. And we’ve been dating ever since. She’s shown me around the area. We’ve shared dreams, cultures, ideas, and languages. It’s been so much fun. And it’s much more rewarding for me, personally, than it would be to just date around and make more superficial connections.
I have nothing against the idea of going wild as a single person. Nothing wrong with dating around. Some people thrive in that environment. That’s fantastic. Truly. But it’s not what I want.
However, I feel better than ever about building a relationship precisely because of the options.
Seeing plenty of beautiful women around that could potentially be short-term or long-term mates doesn’t detract from my experience or happiness.
It adds to my happiness.
I feel content because I made my choice in a place where I had many choices.
I’m not settling.
Settling And Contentment
In my view, it’s the feeling – whether perceived or real – that one is settling that leads to a lack of contentment.
Conversely, it’s the active choosing of one’s yard in a neighborhood with many available yards that leads to true contentment. You don’t feel like the grass is greener because you already know what the other yards more or less look like. There’s no constant wondering and yearning when other yards are no longer off limits or not visible.
I could use many examples here to convey this idea and make my point.
There’s the fact that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand has been making me so happy because I actively choose to live here – in a world where I could live in many different places.
I’m not faithful to Chiang Mai because I have to be. I’m faithful to Chiang Mai because I want to be.
There’s a big difference there. But one can only recognize and experience it when they actually have the options.
I don’t show up to the coffee shop multiple times per week, writing away for hours because I have to. I do it because I chose to, because I want to, and because I genuinely enjoy it (even with the existence of many other options).
Likewise, I don’t have to go to the gym six days per week (or as a Twitter follower and fellow blogger put it: curls for girls). I want to go. I’m faithful to the routine, and enjoy myself so much, because it’s a choice I’m actively making.
This all said, I’m neither insinuating nor outright explicitly stating that one can only be faithful (to anything – a partner, job, place, gym, etc.) when they have options. I’m only saying there’s a psychological benefit, in my experience, when one has options and doesn’t feel like they’re settling. And this phenomenon plays out across one’s life.
I’ll also quickly point out that I recently attended a digital nomad/online entrepreneur meetup. And the speaker at this meetup relayed this experience from many years ago, where he encountered an old guy running a dive shop on a beautiful island in Thailand.
Whereas the speaker was positively in love with the island, this old guy was miserable.
It turned out that the old guy was miserable because he had no other option. He was “stuck” on this beautiful island. Maybe he once had options, but he didn’t anymore. He had to stay. And he was miserable in what others might deem to be a paradise.
No matter your situation in life (even if others think it’s fantastic), being stuck will probably make you miserable.
Peace Of Mind
The value of having options extends to giving one almost a constant source of peace of mind.
Let’s say you reach financial independence at an early age, yet you decide to stay at your job.
Do the dynamics at your job change once you’re financially independent? Do you feel that you’re coming from a place of strength when you know you have a huge ace in the hole? Do you worry and stress much less when the economics of the job are no longer a primary concern?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
I quit my day job at 32 years old. I was only about ~50% financially independent back then.
But as I’ve noted before, full financial independence likely isn’t necessary in order to experience many of the benefits that financial independence offers, making a lot of the “early retirement math” more or less moot.
I can tell you this, however: I started to feel different at my job, even before I quit. I started to have this confidence and peace of mind that was so uplifting and beneficial. I no longer feared my boss or clients. I wasn’t scared about losing my job. And so I kind of floated around, almost like a cloud was beneath me.
Of course, even with those benefits, I still strongly disliked the job. And that’s why I ultimately left.
But this peace of mind adds to the contentment, which adds to the happiness. It’s an inner sense of holistic harmony that’s hard to place value on.
This peace of mind is possible with options. You know that there’s very little chance of failure with things when you always have an ace in the hole.
I’ve noted this before, but living as a dividend expat is a great example of this.
I really enjoy living in Chiang Mai.
The relaxed way in which Thais live, the quality of life, the value, and the ease of building relationships (romantic and otherwise) are just a few aspects of my life that has led to a “reverse culture shock” of sorts since arriving. My expectations have been exceeded. And they continue to be exceeded all the time.
But it’s also easy to have peace of mind when I have so many other options.
If I weren’t to enjoy living here, it’s as easy as booking a plane ticket elsewhere. I could go to another country. Or I could go back to the States. It’s not that hard. My worst-case scenario is practically nil.
But I’m not stuck here, unlike that old guy running the dive shop…
Bringing this point back to my budding relationship, it’s another case where peace of mind is wonderful. If this young relationship were to suddenly end, I’d be bummed for sure. But knowing that my options are plentiful, if I had to go down that road, is peace of mind for me. I think the ending of a relationship (or a job, a living situation, or just about anything else in life) is a bit more emotionally catastrophic if you feel like your options are otherwise limited.
Having flexibility in life is incredibly valuable.
But I don’t think many people stop to think about how having options benefits one from the standpoint of living an authentic life of contentment based around thoughtfully choosing their best choice(s). You’re free to be exactly you. You’re free to live a life that’s authentic to who you really are.
Oscar Wilde said it best:
Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.
But it’s not always easy (or even possible) to be yourself if you’re not free to make the choices that best represent who you are. Having a broad array of options rectifies this.
There’s a lot of value in being able to choose at all. There’s peace of mind in having options. When one makes a choice with the free will to peruse many other available options, contentment arrives. And all of this manifests into a holistic sense of harmony that adds so much value, happiness, and quality of life.
So go out and be you. Live your life. But first make sure you have as many options as possible at your disposal.
What do you think? Do options allow us to live an authentic life? Do options allow for contentment?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re looking for more options in your life, check out this great list of resources that I personally used to help me achieve financial and location independence in my 30s.