Being featured in USA Today back in 2013 was a proud accomplishment for me.
Not only did it place relevance on what I was doing, but it also gave me a larger platform to reach and inspire more people than I ever could on my own.
And it’s an opportunity that I’ll always be grateful for.
I was just 30 years old when the article came out, really only a couple years into my journey.
But I knew then what I still know now: I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of my long-term goals. I knew financial independence was an inevitability. And I was 100% confident that I was going to be able to retire by the time I turned 40.
However, there are some things I know now that I didn’t know then.
Recently turning 35 years old, which has become sort of an inflection point in my life, was the perfect time to reflect on some life and money lessons I’ve picked up on along the way.
I also think this is a great time to reflect back on that mainstream media feature.
This is a particularly salient moment to look back on it, as the physical article (in newspaper form) had a neat caption (you can see it above) that accompanied my picture: Leaving the 9-to-5 by age 35?
(I advised the article’s author that my goal was to retire by 40. But other people featured in the article were aiming for a far more aggressive time frame, so I kind of got swept up in that.)
Well, I’m now 35 years old. And it turns out that I actually left the 9-to-5 three years ago, at age 32. So I beat this prediction (which wasn’t even mine) by a full three years, which is something I didn’t plan on. I am really glad I did so, though, as I’ve now realized that the money is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.
That said, the article noted that I figured I could bank more than $400,000 by the time I turned 35. And based on that passive income that kind of asset base could throw off, I figured I could make it.
Just to clear that up, I didn’t actually want to put a figure like that down on paper. I advised Matt Krantz that I think of my wealth in terms time and freedom, which is distilled down into passive income, not the size of my portfolio (because the former fluctuates much less than the latter, and it’s the former that actually dictates my ability to pay my bills).
However, I was pressed to put a number down. I advised him that if everything went just right, and if I was able to make more and save more, and if the market absolutely killed it over the next five years, I could probably see my portfolio hit $400,000 (it was around $100k at the time I said this).
We see that the portfolio is actually sitting at $335,000. So I fell short of that (uncomfortably aggressive) target.
But I was only counting on the growing dividend income my portfolio would generate for me. I didn’t factor in other passive income, like my best-selling book.
Moreover, I stopped aggressively saving and investing some time ago. There’ll be a time in the near future when I give away more than I invest, moving myself closer to full-time philanthropy.
So if I would have stayed on at the car dealership, sticking to the proposed idea of leaving at 35, my portfolio would be well over $400,000 by now. I was on pace to make more than $60,000 in 2014, before I quit. Even figuring on no increase in income over the remaining three years (unlikely), I would have saved and invested at least $100,000 more than I have over the last three years. Factoring in raises and investment gains, the portfolio would likely be over $500,000 by now.
All in all, I was fairly myopic at 30. A little naive, even. While I knew what I was capable of, I still sold myself short. And I was guilty of concentrating too much on the money. I didn’t see that the money was just the beginning, not the end. Of course, I was only 30. So it’s not a surprise that I didn’t see everything. Likewise, I’m sure I’ll one day look back at the 35-year-old version of me (the one that exists today) and laugh at my naivety.
I also didn’t think I’d continue to work as much as I do now. I’m probably just as productive now as I was back when I was working at the dealership.
I’m on pace to write more than 30 articles this month. I manage a large investment portfolio. I’m directly working with people in order to help them reach their own long-term financial goals. I’m studying to become a personal trainer, which offers me the chance to help people reach their long-term physical goals. I’m working on multiple projects in any given day. And I’m becoming a better version of myself through this empire of awesomeness.
And I think that’s really the main takeaway here.
At 30, I only saw the opportunity to retire by 40.
At 35, I see the opportunity to do so much more now that I’m freed from having to exchange my time for money in a disadvantageous manner.
I now realize that a job is much different from work. And having to do something is much different from wanting to do something.
As a consequence, the early retirement math is largely moot.
Furthermore, “early retirement”, as a more traditional concept, probably doesn’t actually exist in real life, as realizing one’s potential as a human being through purposeful work that adds value to one’s life and the world at large is the only sensible outcome of becoming financially independent.
What do you think? Any lessons you’ve picked up on over the last five years? Do you think of the you of five years ago as myopic or naive? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.