Envisioning Life Without Work

Financial independence and early retirement are growing in popularity, but you don’t have to browse the comments sections of Forbes or Yahoo Finance long to find plenty of skeptics.

The FIRE critics represent many viewpoints. There are the well-intentioned risk-averse types, hesitant about the viability of supposedly “safe” withdrawal rates in today’s high-valuation environment. There are the traditional big-spender consumers, indignant about the viability of a low-spending lifestyle. And, of course, there are the ornery disbelievers, eager to pick apart the details of success stories and tell us all why it can’t be done.

But of all the negative reactions to early retirement, there’s one that I find to be just plain sad:

“Retire early? I don’t know what I would do with all that time without my job. I would be bored.”

I’ll give you a pass if you’re one of the lucky few whose job is your passion – that elusive “true calling” that gnaws at you any time you’re away. If you can’t imagine doing something else because you’re in love with what you do every day, great! Never retire from that.

But if you’re like most people, you probably aren’t jumping out of bed at 5 AM every day thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to start sitting in meetings and re-sizing text boxes in PowerPoint again!”

If the only thing separating you from boredom is a career you don’t really love, how dull are you?

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Our Frugality is a Sham

Our last companion had just left Budapest, and we were finally traveling solo again. “We need to be more frugal with our food and dining expenses,” Daniel and I agreed.

Rather than go out for another restaurant meal, we walked to a nearby grocery store and shopped for dinner. At the deli, I chose a colorful package filled with a variety of cured meats. We grabbed a piece of brie – that delicious soft cow’s milk cheese – imported from France. “This one looks interesting,” we said, also adding a Slovakian sheep’s milk cheese to the basket. Finally, we picked up a loaf of fresh-baked bread, large enough for dinner and several meals more.

Total price of this gourmet meal for two: 1,200 Hungarian forint. About $4 US.

“Frugal,” right? What’s that for a couple wealthy Americans like us – a few minutes’ wage?

"Roughing it"

“Roughing it”

Joe Veix’s humorous New Yorker article “Why I Quit My Job to Travel the World” caught my attention last month. “I couldn’t bear being chained to my desk in a stuffy office any longer,” Veix’s character writes, “so I decided to quit and travel the world, bringing only my passport, a small backpack, and my enormous trust fund.”

The short essay is full of comedic gold, from quips about minimalism (“You don’t need to own a lot of ‘stuff’ to be happy, especially when you can buy whatever you later realize that you need with your massive inheritance”) to the trappings of modern life (“All those bleary-eyed suckers packed into the subway… wasting their whole lives to afford useless things like ‘rent’ and ‘health insurance’ and ‘student-loan payments.’”)

Ha ha – oh, the privileged lives of the 1%.

But are we really that much different?

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When Did My Friends Get So Expensive?

Back in May, as part of our road trip around the western U.S., Daniel and I spent five nights in San Francisco visiting friends and exploring the city. Many of our best friends live in the Bay Area, and we were excited to catch up with them in person.

Two of our good friends are a couple – one a director for a prominent tech company, the other an account manager for a financial services firm – and I suggested that we meet up one night.

“Dinner somewhere?” our friend texted.

“Definitely!” I replied. “We’re unemployed, so something on the more affordable side would be preferred.”

“How about this place? Very good, moderate price.”

“Sounds great,” I replied, not having looked up the restaurant.

From the back seat of our UberPool toward the Financial District, I searched for the menu on the restaurant’s web site.

“Oh, jeez,” I told Daniel, “this place has a Michelin star!”

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Color and Contrast in Turkey

We must have still been riding the Metro from Ataturk Airport when the first shots were fired.

Daniel and I, along with our two friends, had just flown back into Istanbul after a wonderful four-night trip to Turkey’s southern and western coasts. During our first week in the city, we had completely avoided public transportation – a half-hearted attempt at mitigating the risk of terrorism by staying out of high-risk areas. With that in mind, I had wanted to get into the city center via privately operated bus – which happens to board directly in front of the international terminal, where all the violence took place just a few minutes later. Instead, we elected at the last minute to take the train.

The Metro ride was calm and uneventful. A young woman wearing a niqab sat next to me, and I exchanged silly faces with the toddler on her lap. An older man read a paperback novel. The European tourist across from me played on her iPhone.

We didn’t find out about the attack until an hour or two later. We were eating dinner and enjoying sweeping views of the city at a rooftop café in the Galata neighborhood – a perfect ending to a fantastic two-week trip across Turkey. One of our friends answered a phone call from home. I couldn’t hear anything the caller said, but I knew within seconds that something awful had happened.

Cappadocia-12

Hot air balloons at sunrise in Göreme, Cappadocia

Before our visit, I had heard Turkey described as a “land of contrasts.” The description is apt. It’s where east meets west, with Istanbul straddling the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia. It’s a nation with a 98% Muslim population, yet a mostly secular government. It’s a modern country – but with a multi-thousand-year history of empires and dynasties. It’s an ally of democratic western nations, yet also a place where Twitter and Facebook were blocked for hours after this week’s terrorist attack to reduce the opportunity for government criticism.

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Shootings, Bombings, and Our Trip to Turkey

I’ve been struggling for words for days and still hardly know where to begin. Last Sunday morning’s news absolutely crushed me. Forty-nine innocent people, peacefully enjoying their lives, murdered. Many more injured. Thousands of loved ones’ lives changed forever. That sinking feeling of “it could have been us.”

They flew the pride flag at half-staff on top of the Space Needle that afternoon. I cried when I saw it.

If you’ve never been to a gay club, here’s what it looks like: You go out with friends. You pay five or ten dollars to get in, rolling your eyes at the idea of spending money for the privilege of buying overpriced drinks. You buy a couple of them anyway. You dance to some Top 40 song – fun and catchy, in spite of the hackneyed lyrics. You talk with your friends. You laugh.  At the end of the night, you go home, chug a glass of water, and still wake up with a bit of a headache.

Whoever you are, whatever your orientation or your presentation, you feel safe. I’m hardly a big partier – the kind of person who never imagined myself enjoying a nightclub – and yet there’s still a feeling of sanctuary there. For many queer people, it’s one of the few places we can be completely comfortable as ourselves.

I haven’t been able to take my mind off it all week. It’s the collision of so many awful trends in the world right now. Mass shootings. Homophobia. Islamophobia. Hate.

At the same time, in a strange way, it made me feel validated in our decision to travel to Turkey. If you’ve been following along, you know we hemmed and hawed about whether we wanted to visit in light of the current unrest and threat of terrorism. Though we were both originally leaning toward shortening our trip in some way, we ultimately decided to continue as planned.

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