Sunday, 24 May 2015

I could flip the bird and "retire" now, but...

(This is going to be a long post. I did think quite a bit over whether I should actually do a post on this, given this essentially is a first world problem, but I figured articulation of my thoughts might prove helpful to myself and it might be useful to folks who are embarking on the FIRE path in realising some of the challenges and downsides FIRE might yield.

Oh yes by the way it's my blog (like it's my life). So please hit "back" if a whimper of disgust has arisen in your soul. I don't really care. Or do I care by writing this disclaimer up top? Hmm... nah...)

Ever since I started out my FIRE journey back in the summer of 2008 with my first peanuts paying corporate gig, it has always been a life long dream to be able to flip the bird to the "Man", ride away into the sunset on my harley davidson, all guns a blazing, never to return to corporate town and the shit it stands for.

Before I got educated on the nuances and strategies required to sustain an FIRE path, my initial target for my FU stash was set at S$500k. Somehow that became S$1.0m along the way, then S$1.5m, and at this current point in my life, it's contemplated to be S$2.5 - 3.0m. Large does of pure dumb luck, coupled with some discipline, loads of hard work, sleepless nights, and a persistence to drudge along the path less taken has resulted in a decent stash of S$1.3m before I turn 30 years of age, which comprises of pure liquid investable assets without any form of leverage. 

In case you think I'm some trust fund kid, when I started out in the corporate world, I only had less than S$7k from pocket money, savings through scholarships and liquidation of a life insurance policy that my parents had bought for me when I was much younger. That being said I'm extremely thankful to my parents for paying off my tuition fees in college, which I estimate at S$35k in total, and for providing me with a base to work on.  

S$1.3m - certainly a result that the 14 year old version of me would have never thought of being possible in my wildest dreams when I was just mucking around in secondary school chasing skirts and pulling hokey pokey BS around town, and a form of catharsis that the 24 year old version would feel as a result of putting faith in my abilities and choices over the last couple of years, which were somewhat fearful to make in hindsight. 

Using the results of the trinity studies and from other pieces of analyses, a typical 4% p.a. withdrawal rate would result in c.S$52k of passive income a year, which means c. S$4k of free cashflow a month. Technically I could call it quits now, but I realise the further I go along this path, the nearer I get to the end result of my FU figure, the more uneasy I feel. And this comes as a surprise to me, as I would have thought that I would feel much better as I progress towards achieving my goals. 

I spent some time ruminating about why I would have felt this way. And I also spent time trying to draw some form of vicarious experiences through other FIRE websites and forums (special thanks to LivingAFI for providing some guidance on this through his piece on his experience with a therapist). And I kind of figured that my uneasiness revolved around the below themes:
  • Focus (Goal vs Progress approach): I've spent the last 7 years totally focused on a goal. Delaying gratification, pushing ahead and against the consensus view. Now that some of it has come to fruition, I'm going through a phase where I feel a loss of drive to progress, as if the carrot does not taste that sweet after all. Similar to the law of diminishing marginal returns, or how one would feel where after chasing a chick for 6 months and realising hey I've placed the girl on the pedestal. It wasn't that good after all. Or maybe delaying gratification and saving money have been providing the endorphin rush and now that there should be less emphasis on saving and instead experiencing life for what it has to offer, I feel lost.
  • Identity: Although being a banker ain't fun at times, I've managed to tough things out and ride the waves (though I do admit that there were some monster waves that I thought would cause my demise) in a proficient enough manner that I have become good at what I do, ranking at the top of my class since I've started out. Trust me, for most things, if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and mindfully to it, you'll eventually become good at it too. But undoubtedly, you'll find yourself drawing a form of your identity to it. Honestly, I started off in this world with a huge chip off my shoulder, wanting to prove myself that I could excel in this role even though I thought it sucked balls, but I think I've actually grown to enjoy some aspects of this, such as the analysis involved and decision making process. In some senses, it has become a parasitic relationship where I need to find a replacement outlet for throwing myself into if I do leave. I thought of living in a different part of the world for 6 months at a time, experiencing different cultures and pushing through several hardcore physical endurance goals such as the four desserts ultra marathon series, but somehow I do feel like I'm tethering on the edge, the edge of either lifting off or engines down.
  • Worries: Anxiety over whether my lifestyle is going to blow through my free cashflow. Anxiety over whether my portfolio is built to last for the next 50 years. Anxiety whether I'm adequately covered from an insurance perspective. Anxiety whether I'll be able to take care of my parents in the future. Anxiety over what I'll eventually be doing. Anxiety over whether I'll be able to contribute any value to the immediate society next time. Anxiety over whether I'll just be sitting on my ass watching TV serials 24/7. Anxiety whether I'll degenerate mentally and whether I'll lose my drive and focus that has kept me well heeled since graduating junior college. Anxiety over being anxious about the above. Perhaps it's easier to be a lemming and follow the herd instead of branching out. That way, you could blame someone when you turn 60 and realise your life has been a "template" and you've wasted it.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): If I leave the finance industry, there's going to be little chance to turn back. Am I doing myself a disservice when my path to being a senior banker is pretty clearly laid out. In 3 - 5 more years, I'll be able to make "Executive Director". Am I letting my parents down by choosing to FIRE? Am I wasting the first 22 plus years of my life getting educated and then beating the capitalist game in less than 8 years? Am I missing out on the finer things in life by leaving now? What if my stash runs out? This is as good as it gets for a middle class boy made good, why would I want to leave the gravy train? 
I never did think much about these issues when I first started out. It was all guns a blazing and a head first endeavour into the great challenge with much relish, but it's obvious that these are pertinent issues and probably needs more analysis and experimentation with over the next couple of years as I move towards FIRE.

What do you want to make out of your life? My honest answer is I have yet to find out. 


  1. if u really have that much passive income, then you already have financial freedom and you should focus on what you really wanna do in life


    1. Thanks for your note, Felix. That option is very attractive to me, even though I have no idea what I would like to do with my life. Sometimes a man becomes institutionalised, and when he gets releases from prison he might hanker after a move back behind bars.

      Now I'm not saying that I'm that man, but I think having some form of a plan post work is important, and the ability to execute that plan needs to be tested. Thus the next few years are critical for experimentation.

  2. if you are financially secure, then there is no harm in accumulating more at a slower pace to pursue interests or take a break. its amazing to be financially secure, why stop?

    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I find that as I age I become more concerned on mortality and what it is like to explore different facets of life and what it has to offer.

      Coupled with my naturally extreme and polarising attitudes, where I either push myself to the limit or stay in bed, it makes for a tough choice.

      One idea I had was to hit the kill button once I had accumulated a certain net worth, and then try out different things, but you can see where I have gotten to with the above...

  3. hi,

    first of all i want to say congratulations for reaching your goals. you must have had the talent and worked really hard to get where you are today.

    i hope you have first celebrated that you have reached your goal. if not please go and celebrate first haha.

    in any case the problem you have is a good one but from my own experience it is also a difficult one as i felt lonely (as not many people will understand you), guilty about not feeling happy (even though you have so much) and also very empty inside (other than FINANCIAL independence what have i achieved? nothing?).

    to be honest i havent really found my answer and my advice to you will be not to be focussed on finding the answer else you will end up repeating the goal vs process problem.

    for me slowly, i began to get a little more in touch with myself. e.g. what makes me happy, keeps my engaged, gives me a sense of purpose, etc. these things may not be the same for you but i would really encourage you to take some time away to get to know yourself. for me i ended up realising i felt really really happy and satisfied when i could make a positive difference in the lives of the people i love. even if i did not really have a dream of my own i felt happy building a safe and secure environment (in various aspects) and providing the support they needed to achieve what they wanted.

    today i am still finding my way. but enjoying the journey a lot more a a lot less concerned about the destination.

    wish you all the best! (:

    1. Hi Mr Smith. Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comments. I find it very insightful and I am definitely taking them onboard.

      I used to be more goal oriented, but I guess I have mellowed over the past couple of years. One aspect which I do feel I enjoy doing is mentoring and teaching, perhaps it is similar to yourself, wanting to make a positive impact.

      That's something I'm definitely exploring on the side. Keep in touch!

    2. thats great! im happy you got something out of that. i have enjoyed reading your blog and can relate to many of the issues that you bring up.

      will keep in touch!

  4. Wow ! I think what you have done is really awesome...

    What I really envy about you is that you seem to really enjoy your vocation, so don't let your FI affect your feelings about your job.

    I think instead of thinking about just flipping the bird, you start going through a personal exercise to determine what your true priorities are. Take a nice, long, two week holiday to Hokkaido and find out whether you can really let your hair down. Get reacquainted with some friends from your old Uni days just to catch up.

    And finally, your career would not lose much momentum if you go back to school just to re-examine your personal priorities.

    And you really seem like a CEO or COO material for a start-up.

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for dropping by and leaving a note. You're certainly too kind. The only CEO or COO duties I'm capable of performing are that of RB35 Pte. Even that sometimes is hard to keep in check.

      Thanks for your suggestions. I'm certainly trying to implement some suggestions, including trying out new activities and seeing what sticks. The next few years will revolve around the themes of openess and experimentation.

      Like minded individuals in my age group are far and few in between, though I am fortunate enough to have a couple of real time friends who are or have already achieved financial independence, and who serve as mentors and beacons of inspiration. So am thankful and counting my blessings, yet am in a paradoxical situation of determining the next steps.

      Though I have learned that struggling leads to progress, in most cases, so am hopeful that things will work out eventually.

      I'm impressed by your decision to head back to law school. It must take not only a truly instrincially motivated individual, but also a courageous one to choose to set out on that journey. Salut!

  5. Hey dude

    I identify with a lotta issues you've raised here, but I have found that flipping off The Man equals to not just beating the system, but also abandoning the system. I am glad to see you have a mature clarity and mindfulness to stop and review your progress. What you do now is a choice you're solely responsible for, and THAT is really extremely empowering.

    1. Thanks for dropping by. Post 2 months of contemplation, I have decided to adopt a more growth oriented mindset that's focused on the process instead of the end goal. That way, I'll get to enjoy the ride and yet develop various faculties and character aspects instead of just waiting for time to pass.

      I hope all is well with you ladykiller.

  6. i'm quite interested to know how you amassed such large amount of wealth in such short period? IB pay is so..oo good.