As part of my imminent move to Japan, I recently had to temporarily move to a different building here in the US. That building happens to be the one I used to work in when I first moved to the US, so in a way it’s bringing some weird memories and a strong feeling of nostalgia (not really good stuff, though, to be honest).
This got me thinking that I don’t really “hate” my job. There was a point in time when I thought I did, but I feel I’m past that.
No, my problem with my job is that I don’t have time in my life for it, right now.
I’m 35, and if you’re on the more pessimistic side of the spectrum, that’s pretty much halfway through the progress bar of converting my body into a pile of dust.
Mid life is the age where you have probably more stuff that happened behind you, than stuff coming ahead of you. It’s the time where people like me start realizing that lots of the possibilities that could happen to us in our life are now closed. All the “what ifs” are now definite “not gonna happen”: “what if I had staid with that girlfriend instead of…”. “What if I become a plane pilot”. “What if I had kids”. I mean, most of these life choices have been made by the time you’re 35~40.
In the list of stuff we accomplished in our life, I’m sure there’s a share of regrets for all of us. So that’s typically the time where people my age start doing stupid crap, because they regret not doing it before. And it’s dangerous, because now they actually make enough money to enable some of this stupid crap. I mean, I picture the stereotypical midlife crisis as a man in his early forties quitting their job, dumping his wife and kids, in favor of a Lamborghini and a much younger companion.
I don’t know, I assume people do lots of crazy stuff once they realize they probably only have one last shot at doing something different. In many cases though, I think it’s already too late for them to experience this new life, and probably the only result is the destruction of families. And of wealth.
In a way, I’m lucky that my own midlife crisis has shaped itself to be a much better alternative: seeking financial independence.
I’ve always perceived my time (when I’m not sleeping) as split between three categories: work time, family time, and personal time.
Discussing with a few friends, I’ve seen that to many of them, “family time” and “personal time” are just the same. To me, there is a fundamental distinction between those. Family time is cool, but, and maybe it’s because I’m an introvert or just egotistic, “personal time”, the time I spend on my own or with my friends, typically without the kids (and often, by that constraint, without my wife), is something I value a lot. Merging family time and personal time was reasonably easy when it was just me and my wife (we’d go out together with friends, etc…). But once we started having kids, “family time” became much more about the kids having fun rather than us. There’s so many playdates and birthday parties a parent can take before we stop pretending this is fun.
Before we had kids, I had lots of personal time, was able to merge it somehow with family time (time with my wife), and also lots of work time. But it was fairly easy to balance the two. We had plenty of “us” time on weekends and in the evenings.
As soon as we had a kid, “family time” started eating up on personal time. Obviously, work time was not shrinking or going anywhere.
When we had the second and third kid, personal time shrunk to something that’s pretty much non existent today. I think this kind of constraint happens to all people around my age, in particular when they have kids. But even when you don’t have kids, I assume by the time you reach 35 or 40, the number of “if I had time” projects have been accumulating to a dangerous level, where you start wishing you had much more personal time.
I think it’s around that time that people start questioning their life choices, and I have to assume that some people will choose that the best way to regain their personal time is to get rid of the family component. The highest rates of divorces happen around ages 40 to 45, it seems. I’m not pretending it’s related, but hey, that could be a reason?
For most people, the “work time” component cannot get out of the picture anyway. So, even if people go through midlife crisis by trying to escape their existing responsibilities, making money (at least to support one’s livelihood) isn’t the one you can easily run away from. So the family component has to give up.
Other people who are maybe more down do Earth will “act like adults” and sacrifice their personal time in favor of the family/kids time. That’s what my wife seems to accept as a fact of life, and that’s what I have reluctantly accepted to do in a temporary way.
In the case of early retirement and financial independence, people do think of the problem from a different perspective: I do not consider my personal time as something that I am ok to get rid of, in favor of work time or family time. As I explained above, to me Personal time and family time are two distinct things, in particular since we now have children. Similarly, I don’t even picture family time as something I would want to or could get rid of. It’s here to stay and is not a variable.
So the only component that can really go away from my life is work time. As I said, I do not have time for work in my life right now. Maybe in the future, when the kids are all grown up, I’ll have time for a job again. But to me it almost feels natural that as a couple is busy raising kids, they’d rather reduce their work time as much as possible, for the upcoming 18 years or so.
And as I reflect on this, I believe I would probably not have been seeking financial independence if we didn’t have kids.