Death, Thanksgiving, and Financial Independence
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
Sometimes, life, or in this case, death, steps up and smacks you right in the mouth, and yells, “HEY, LOOK UP, THERE’S A MESSAGE YOU NEED TO LEARN HERE!” And you have no choice but to pause and, if you’re lucky, reflect and gain some wisdom.
Thanksgiving, 2018 was one of those days for me. I woke up to a text message telling me that one of my oldest and best friends had died. He was 35. There was no warning.
I met Jay when I was 16. From the first day I met him, I knew I wanted to be friends with him. I was drawn to him in a way I have seldom been drawn to anyone else in my life. He was well-read and cynical. He had a dark, morbid sense of humor and was deeply insightful about the weaknesses of humanity. And to me, he was always kind. He kept every secret, and would drop everything as soon as I came into town as my adult career took me all around the globe. When the world seemed too absurd or awful, Jay was always there to help me understand it and laugh. I loved Jay as much as I’ve ever loved anyone.
He wasn’t perfect. He had his demons and drank too much and smoked like a chimney. The darkness that drove his self-destructive habits often drove people away. My biggest regret for him is that this brilliant, insightful person never got to live up to his potential. He dropped out of college after one semester and was, for most of his life, a pizza delivery driver. If he had dreams, I never really saw him reach for one. He was a great writer, but never tried to finish a piece or get anything published. The world is a poorer place for the stories he never got to tell.
When he died, he was living with and taking care of his elderly parents, who were both basically bed-ridden with various health issues. He took care of them when his siblings abandoned them. He had a generous soul.
And at 35, while getting ready for work, he collapsed and died, probably of an aneurysm. And aneurysms are funny things. They can randomly strike anyone at any time. Was it because of his drinking and smoking? Was it genetic? I don’t think we will ever really know, even as my natural human need for cause and effect and completion hunger for some “why” to all this. The universe is a random, often terrible place.
To find out about his death on Thanksgiving, a day to feel gratitude for all you have, seemed awful and appropriate at the same time. My life is significantly poorer for Jay’s loss. Friends like him come along a handful of times in a lifetime, and I can count on one hand the number of friends I’ve had who have had such a vaunted place in my heart.
But it also made me grateful. Grateful that I knew him, that I got 19 years of friendship, that who I am is always going to be partly from my friendship with him. Grateful that I am still alive, that the hand of death passed close and did not stop on me. Grateful that I’ve been able to reach out and seize so many of my own dreams, and that I will continue to do so.
It also reinforced the idea that we need to enjoy the journey, because no destination is assured. All we have is the journey, really.
This, to me, hits at one of the hearts of the conflict many people feel about the FI path and journey. Many people feel that they have to deprive themselves of happiness now so that they have enough to enjoy the future once they’re FI. They can’t buy the thing now, because they need that money stored up as income producing assets. In this equation, buying things equals happiness, so if you can’t buy the thing, you’re less happy now, and you've traded that happiness for an uncertain future.
After all, you could die well before you hit FI, then all your “deprivation” would be for nothing. If the value in your life comes from your material possessions, and the experiences you purchase, this is a very real fear and strong reason not to go along with FI.
But to me, the FI journey isn't about deprivation. It's not about just buying less stuff so that I'm miserable now, only to have a miserly future (and present). I actually think there's a lot of joy in the journey, and if you're going to be successful at pursuing Financial Independence, you need to find joy in the process, the everyday frugality of it. You need to see and realize value from the path, not the destination.
For me, every day that I’m under my spending targets, I get a little boost of joy. My high savings rate gives me so many more options and less stress than if I was living paycheck to paycheck. I am really excited about saving up for a rental property and learning all I can about Real Estate so that I can be successful in a new area of life, making me a better educated and more well-rounded person. I love that a life not driven by buying new stuff is far more environmentally sustainable, and probably the only way our planet will remain habitable for human life. I enjoy the extra time I have that I don’t have to spend shopping for new possessions or fixing old ones. I love the lack of attachment I have for material goods that allows me to more easily pack up my life and move to a new country for a new opportunity, as I’ve done six times already. I love that I don’t need a high salary job, because my needs are low, so I can be a teacher and help kids every day and hopefully make the next generation better than my own. I love the people I've met who are on the FI journey as well, because they're generally fascinating and accomplished and generous. I love that I can help others reach their financial goals because I've educated myself enough that I can bring real value in solving their problems.
All of those are reasons I love the path to FI, and not one of them is really about the goal. I could die today, and not think of my life as a series of wasted purchasing opportunities. I can be proud of how I live.
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