Where are you on the journey?
I have heard this question asked so many times in the financial independence community.
I initially interpreted this question to mean financially, where are you, i.e. how many years, days, hours do you anticipate you may need to work before you jack it in forever?
This is of course one aspect of the question. I realised though that there is another dimension to this, as important as the above, and perhaps even more important.
I have realised that that arrival at the destination should involve social as well as financial readiness. As such this post will not involve a numerically heavy analysis of my net worth or my expense breakdown, but rather addresses the softer aspects of readiness for a life beyond the workplace, something which I feel receives insufficient consideration in this community.
The journey to Social Independence – Let’s compare it with the parallel journey to financial independence that we are all on. To get to a state of financial independence we spend less than we earn and invest the difference consistently until that investment generates sufficient cash flow to cover our expenses, and we’re done! Simple! What about the social/personal journey? Are we all consistently investing in our personal lives so that these will blossom to the point where they can support all of our social and emotional needs – social independence?
The people I have met, interacted with, or whose blogs I follow broadly fall into 2 categories. The first category have either a partner and/ or a family and lead personal lives that are rich and full and which should support them when they reach financial independence. Anyone who reads the Millenial Revolution or Go Curry Cracker blogs will know what I am talking about. Closer to home, Mr and Mrs W from What Life Could be would be another example. Wonderful. What about the second category I mentioned?
The second category is represented by the single followers of the movement. Now these guys are in a more challenging position in my view. They did not snag their life partner in college and now find themselves trying to keep up with the Moustachians in terms of achieving as high a savings rate. This group however does not have their life partner at home to keep them entertained while they watch their savings grow. Herein lies the conundrum – investing involves money as we all know (unless we are referring to time investment of course). They want to get to FI as soon as possible. I mean that’s the goal, isn’t it? Blogs and Facebook groups implore them to find a partner who shares their financial goals, and there seems to be an endless parade of suggestions for free or cheap dating ideas. Tricky! How do they balance their goal of achieving FI as soon as possible with their social and emotional needs if they are made to feel a failure if they spend any money!?
I have met some excellent people in this community who have faced just this conundrum. The trend here as far as I can see has been to favour investing financially over investing socially. On the plus side, these guys (and they do tend to be guys) have put their financial goals centre stage and achieved emancipation from the corporate world decades earlier than society expects, but is there a downside risk?
Investing in personal relationships
When you get there, if you have not invested consistently in your personal life, are you setting yourself up for a lifetime of loneliness? Is failing to invest in your personal life while on the path to FI a risky strategy? Is keeping up with the Mustachians is as dangerous as keeping up with the Joneses? I have come to believe that it is.
So what should a single person on the path to FI do to safeguard against reaching the finish line and turning around and realising they have no one to share it with? I believe regular and consistent investment in personal goals is the way to go. Above all, acknowledging to ourselves that THIS WILL COST MONEY!
I can think of a few people whom I know who have very full personal lives. Many interests, a broad circle of friends. These are the type of people who are always doing or planning something interesting. I feel that when or if they reach retirement, these individuals will have very full lives, just as they do today.
This is not accidental. These type of people make time for their friends, make themselves available when friends are going through difficult times, or to help prepare for job interviews or college assignments. Without fail. In summary, they consistently invest in their personal relationships.
My own situation
I went through a situation a number of months ago which caused me to reflect carefully on my own approach. The situation was that, due to a change in holiday plans I ended up being off work and hanging out at home for a period of a couple of weeks where the original plan had been to travel abroad and visit friends. I quickly realised how few friends and how little of a social infrastructure I had around me in the place I call home. Why was that? Well I realised that I did not have much of an infrastructure to begin with. Having spent big chunks of my life living in different parts of the world, I quickly realised that I had very few friends at home – most of my good friends are scattered throughout the world. Of course in my case, this means that the need to invest in this area was even more pressing. So first of all why had I not done so since my return to Ireland a number of years ago?
To use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a framework, when struggling to meet my basic needs for shelter and security, my social needs took a lesser priority. Another related point was the impact which my sense of insecurity over employment and financial matters had on my self-confidence. Just when I needed to be reaching out, I was retreating into myself, and feeling more and more alone. I was just trying to survive. To a certain extent I also did not know where to begin. I found it difficult to build friendships with colleagues who were struggling with their own issues regarding job insecurity. I spent a lot of time both working and socialising with course mates during the time while I was studying for my Masters, but I found that theses friendships turned into a one a year booze up for the first few years after we finished, to nothing at all in more recent years.
To go back to the period I referred to where I ended up on staycation with no idea what to do with myself, I realised I wanted more people around me. Or at least some people. At a very minimum a network sufficient for me to be able to throw out a few WhatsApp messages to organise a lunch or a few drinks! Having experienced that holiday at home made me realise this very clearly. Having visualised my goal clearly, I began to wonder how to approach this, not really having an existing network to leverage off.
The best answer I could come up with (short of harassing people on the street and asking them to be my friends, which I quickly concluded may have had the opposite effect), was to harness the awesome power of the internet. Thank goodness for it. Without it I would genuinely be at a loss! I started rifling through the MeetUp groups happening in my neighbourhood, and even forced myself to sign up to a dating website. I had to start trying to change my attitude too – to becoming more open and sociable like I used to be before life wore me down and made me wary.
So how’s it going? Well, it is a work in progress. Most importantly, the will is there. I realised that I do not want to live a socially small life, either now or once I reach financial independence. I had always been a sociable person. Having now had a couple of years of stability on the work and financial front, (or to put this in a different way – having embraced this movement, and taken control over my financial life), my earlier self-confidence is gradually beginning to return. Technology has been the most powerful enabler, and I genuinely do not know how I would go about this in its absence. I find that when you simply start saying yes to things (nutrition talk at the local credit union? Sure. Opening of an envelope? Well, you get my drift!), and then follow though by actually attending, things get easier in this area.
For example, I joined a walking group, where I met a seasoned property investor whom I realised had an interesting story to tell. My many questions during the walks led me to be invited to another evening specifically for questions and answers on property investing.
I have struggled with my own barriers too, specifically regarding online dating. In fact, I actually had a nightmare about it where I woke up believing I had fallen victim to human trafficking! So, I have learnt to move with what is more comfortable for me personally which is things like the MeetUp up groups. Remember, consistent regular investments, not big bang!
Note to anyone trying to make progress on this path. It is very daunting at first. The key difference to pursuit of financial independence is that in financial independence we depend fully on ourselves, so have a greater sense of control. Financial independence is a worthy but selfish pursuit, which requires a great deal of self-reliance, and is often embraced by individuals who tend to be highly self-reliant not only in terms of their finances but also in personal terms in my opinion.
Just like with financial independence, social independence is greatly assisted by being able to visualise what you want it to look like when you get there. In my case, I would like a fuller social network of people around me here. In addition to my good friends who are in other countries and this online community that I am a part of and value greatly, I want a good network here on the ground.
What I am doing on the personal front is the same thing I am doing on the financial front. Continuing to invest consistently over time, and hoping the result will be a strong network at home as well as abroad and online.
As we are all aware, what gets measured gets managed. I kept my goals in this area quite unstructured, but committed to myself to try to do 1 thing each fortnight (with the execption of times when I am travelling for work or personal reasons)
I would like to emphasise at this point that this is very personal to my situation and in no way is intended to be a manifesto for living! My intention was to address the challenges faced by single people in particular on the path to financial independence, to balance the social needs which most of us have with our commitment to the pursuit of financial independence. I believe we should design our social networks intentionally around our own high level goals, just as we are already doing with our finances. A full social life is not incompatible with the pursuit of financial independence, and most importantly of all, singles in pursuit of FI compare themselves at their peril with their non-single counterparts in the community. Can a plant grow without water? Even a cactus needs some occasionally!