Tyler9000's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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Tyler9000
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Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Thu Aug 14, 2014 11:22 pm

It’s hard to believe I signed up for the ERE forums a little over two years ago. That was a defining time for me from both a career and life perspective, and it feels like ages have passed. My wife, a fellow over-stressed mechanical engineer, turned me onto ERE during a period of major career angst for us both, and for a myriad of reasons the timing was right for both of us to make a big change and start decoupling our identities from our careers. Just after I started posting here we took the first big step by leaving Silicon Valley and finding new jobs elsewhere on a purposeful path towards future financial independence and immediate happiness. I’m happy to say it worked well for both, but the delta makes that previous time feel like ancient history.

I’ve learned so much over this time from the contributions of everyone here, but I’ve never felt the need to start a journal of my own because I didn’t think I had much interesting to share. We were already pretty frugal so expenses weren’t a huge concern. I’m very happy with our Permanent Portfolio so investing talk is mostly boring. I could complain about work at times, but that seemed more harmful than productive for me. And I'm naturally a private person so sharing specific numbers and details don't generally appeal to me. As a result, I chose to join in on the many good journals and conversations but mostly keep to myself.

Well I finally think I have something worth sharing. As of today, at the age of 37, we officially hit our FI savings goal! Now we can start earnestly turning our attention from the cubicles of the past towards the open fields ahead.

So I figure that’s as good a reason as I will ever find to start a journal. I don’t know how comfortable I am opening up regularly in a format like this, but it should be an interesting time as we consider unwinding from our current jobs and transitioning into a new life so I imagine I’ll archive a few thoughts here every once and a while. Hopefully others will find as much inspiration in my posts as I find in yours.

5to9
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by 5to9 » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:27 am

Wow congratulations! I think that what happens after saving up the pile of money is a really interesting part of ERE, and hope that we hear from you whatever details you are comfortable with sharing.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Fri Aug 15, 2014 12:50 pm

Thanks, 5to9.

Now that I've had a day to process, I'm finally starting to understand the strange, unexpected feeling I had yesterday.

I've been obsessing about saving for maybe three years now, and my daily ritual has included checking my investment progress in mint, calculating in my head the timing to the next milestone, and thinking about what I can do in the meantime to support our long-term goals. I always imagined that when I reach the big FI milestone, surely I would be filled with excitement and relief.

I discovered yesterday that we finally reached our goal from the passenger seat of a coworker's car, returning from a big client presentation that I had been preparing for months. I felt nothing. Not even a smile. I swear stared at my phone for a minute without thinking anything.

I gave myself a pass because the anxiety from the big presentation needed time to wear off. I went home early, did some yardwork, and rode my bike. Still nothing, except for a knot in my stomach and a cloudy head. The best way I can describe it (which won't make sense unless you've experienced it) is that it felt similar to the lead-up of an anxiety attack but without the dread. My brain was clearly processing something that my active mind simply wasn't in on. I felt numb.

Things started to break for the better once my DW arrived home from work and I shared the good news. We opened a few beers and had a great mini celebration, and to finally be able to share the achievement with someone felt great. Incidentally, that also spurred me to write the lead post above.

Today, I'm much more at ease but with a positively strange sensation of stillness. I'm coming to realize that the obsessive voice in my head from the last three years finally has no more numbers to track or calculations to make. My mind is quiet. I look at our finances and feel a sense of peace -- our savings are sufficient to meet our material needs -- and simply move on to other things. Give me a little time to decompress, and that vision of other things will surely start stimulating me in new, positive ways.

I imagine I may have a similar sensation when I eventually walk away from my current job for the last time.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by mxlr650 » Fri Aug 15, 2014 5:39 pm

tyler9000 wrote:I discovered yesterday that we finally reached our goal from the passenger seat of a coworker's car, returning from a big client presentation that I had been preparing for months. I felt nothing. Not even a smile. I swear stared at my phone for a minute without thinking anything.
When I read you other entry , I wanted to say this exact thing and you already said it in your update. When we paid off our mortgage few years ago by wiring a huge last payment, it felt nothing for a day or two, but slowly we started to enjoy the new-found freedom from ~9years of mortgage life.

Also, one day couple years ago I realized we reached FI (~4% SWR) and again it didn't trigger huge celebration. To some extent I have enjoyed working in the cave so far, but I am at a stage where I am content to walk out having seen most variations in internet technology.

Congrats!! And I look forward to your updates! You can always share percentages if you prefer (which is what I do)

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spoonman
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by spoonman » Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:04 pm

Congrats!

In my humble opinion, I think the reason why you didn't have an explosive reaction to reaching your FI goal is that you have been getting there incrementally, so you've had time to adapt. I can totally relate. If my passive income had gone from, say, 30% of my goal to 100% in a matter of a few days, the rush would have been very intense.

Btw, I'm glad you started a journal. The thing is, we FI-seekers are still a rare species so every journal entry goes a long way in a encouraging others to join the party. Imagine a day when you go to a BBQ and 20% of the people there are FI...it would be awesome.

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Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:33 pm

I'm glad you started a journal too. We need more successful journals even if they arrive at the end. It's motivating.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sat Aug 16, 2014 11:54 pm

Thanks guys! The feedback is encouraging.

I suppose it’s customary to provide a bit of background info for context.

I’m married to a beautiful wife even more frugal than I, and it’s a great benefit to be on the same page financially. While our engineering careers have gone down different tracks (she’s more organized, I’m more creative), our similar backgrounds come in very handy when we discuss work troubles and career goals. We each get it, and know where the other is coming from. We have no children, so our primary concern is each other. Basically, we’re a team and are in this thing together. I admit I’m quite spoiled.

Two years ago, I accepted a job in Austin as part of a conscious plan to leave the frenetic Silicon Valley engineering culture behind and begin a purposeful ERE transition where we could greatly reduce our expenses, position ourselves for future flexibility, and generally take a big step towards a sustainable life. The move immediately dropped our expenses quite a bit to a level which in retrospect averaged out to a 4% SWR, but we wanted at least a year of data to substantiate our spending projections (we’re engineers, after all). The move worked even better than we expected financially, and this week we reached our goal of 3%. So our savings are in great shape.

I’m a big proponent of the Permanent Portfolio. I like to think I reached this point in the most meaningful and durable way possible – after getting lots of short-lived and short-sighted maximization experiments out of my system that eventually led me to an investing philosophy that aligns with my values. Now that I’ve been fully invested for nearly three years through both ups and downs, I feel about as comfortable with our investment plan as one can be without knowing the future. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.

As far as next steps go, we're still discussing options but the current thought is for us to begin a 1-year sabbatical from work by the end of the year. While we are certainly more than happy to roll it over into an indefinite retirement if we choose, I guess we’re approaching it the same way we did when planning a transition move. One year off (and most likely quitting our jobs in the process) is a substantial commitment that not only provides enough time to truly decompress, but also ensures we don’t give in to the temptation to rush back to our comfort zone when a few withdrawal symptoms inevitably kick in. Yet it’s also a positive way to position “taking a break” without prematurely closing doors either externally or even in our own minds. We’re not running away. We’re exploring a previously off-limits trail, and are excited to see where it leads.

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spoonman
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by spoonman » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:06 pm

Thanks for the background story, it's cool that you two see eye-to-eye on many different levels.

I'm glad you're happy with the PP strategy. There are many ways to get what you want out of investing, but it's great to find something that you find agreeable. I think being comfortable with an investment strategy is one of the recipes to ERE success. I was lucky to find DGI back in 2010, I've been in love with it ever since.

If you don't mind me asking, do you guys see yourselves more as Nomads or Homesteaders (or a mixture)? I feel the latter makes ERE easier because you have a home base with tools and other things that allow you to reduce costs. However, I'm not ready to settle down just yet.

thanks!

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:30 pm

spoonman wrote: If you don't mind me asking, do you guys see yourselves more as Nomads or Homesteaders (or a mixture)? I feel the latter makes ERE easier because you have a home base with tools and other things that allow you to reduce costs. However, I'm not ready to settle down just yet.
Good question. It depends on the context.

One could rightfully label me a textbook career nomad. I've worked for eight different full-time employers in my relatively brief career to date, and while I've always stayed in the product development field my projects span a very wide variety of industries. Over time I've learned that my attention span for any given project has a maximum duration of about six months, after which I start to get stir crazy and look for other things. My longest duration jobs have been at engineering consultancies, which is a great setup as it allows me to homestead at one company and let the work adventures come to me.

As part of my work I've also traveled a lot. Frankly, I'm over it. I love a nice unstructured extended road trip with the DW, but I hate flying and living on the road loses its charm quickly so I can't see it becoming our thing full time. And as a ME I do enjoy fixing my own things, working outside, and having the space to call my own.

So in life I consider us adventurous homesteaders -- needing a home base, but willing to move that base periodically to try something new, reduce costs, or adjust to anything life throws at us. We've lived in three cities together so far, and I could see us moving again sometime in the future now that employment is no longer the primary consideration in location. If we can set up life kinda like the work consultancy model -- encouraging the new adventures to come to us -- that could be a nice situation to target.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by spoonman » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:07 pm

Cool. Sounds like you guys understand yourselves well, that's another advantageous thing.

I wouldn't be surprised if Spoongirl and I got tired of travelling after the first year on the road, but right now we don't know how we'll react to it. We'll try to get the wanderlust out of our systems first, then think about settling down somewhere.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:45 pm

spoonman wrote:Cool. Sounds like you guys understand yourselves well, that's another advantageous thing.
Well one of the most important things I feel I've learned over the years is that people change. Never assume your old understanding of yourself (or your spouse) still applies -- push yourself to try new things and always be honest when you feel your opinions are shifting. It's an important part of growth. For all I know, we'll be living out of an RV in a few years and loving it. ;)

I like your plan to travel. We sorta have a fantasy of visiting various cities around the country to look for the next great place to settle down. Wanderlust and settling down aren't necessarily mutually exclusive if they're part of an overall strategy.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Thu Aug 28, 2014 10:27 pm

Tradeoffs

Based on a variety of factors, there are two clear windows for starting a sabbatical by the end of the year. The first would have me free by Halloween; the second by New Year. I was originally leaning towards the latter, but yesterday I learned of some heavy looming November travel and potentially hectic end-of-year project schedules. So I'm considering upping my plan to the Halloween option.

Letting that sink in today, I realized this means I will be giving notice just a month from now. Frankly, I feel pretty apprehensive about the whole thing. I've never been shy about switching jobs and have plenty of experience with those kinds of conversations, so the act doesn't bother me. I think it's a lot different this time because 1) I like my employer and am not leaving for a better one, and 2) the concept of simply not working is so unusual it just feels kinda... well... drastic. I wouldn't say I'm getting cold feet - it's just that when a long-term fantasy starts to merge with reality, there’s a natural emotional friction involved on both fronts. It’s a matter of tradeoffs.

Every decision has a tradeoff, and ERE is no different. While I can list all the great things I'll gain and the negatives I'll be shedding, there are certainly some positives at work that will be lost. Social interaction and creative outlets are some that I have ways to address in other ways, but things like the respect I have among my work peers and accolades I get from clients are tougher to replicate.

So basically, it's an issue of pride. I'm leaving a position of strength for an unknown, and that's a little frightening. Especially since I'm not inclined to loudly advertise our early retirement to others IRL, rediscovering a healthy source of pride (more about inward identity than outward boasting) to scratch that itch outside of my current career path will likely become an important goal for me.

I understand the typical advice to retire to something. Like leaving an old job for a new one, change is so much easier when you have a target in mind. But we're the types that will probably never find that next passion until we first create mental space for it to manifest. And it's the commitment to clearing that space that is a little scary for two experienced planners with a natural drive to maximize success while minimizing risk.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by spoonman » Thu Aug 28, 2014 11:16 pm

It is hard to let go of the camaraderie and respect that you get at work. When you are at a meeting and everyone congratulates you for doing an awesome job it’s difficult to imagine leaving work. The good news is that those things can be had in other settings, the hard part is figuring out the right setting, especially one that isn’t in the 9-5 framework.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:40 am

Thanks for the encouragement, Spoonman. Yes, the trick is finding new forms of feedback. At various times in the past, I've been interested in teaching/assisting in engineering or art classes, so that could be one new opportunity to share my experience with people who can benefit. I'm sure I can think of others if I get creative.

That said, the DW had a really good point last night. We've always been excellent students/workers who have been conditioned from childhood to respond to grades/praise. So the same motivation (always making the teacher/boss/client happy) that makes me successful as a worker to the point where ERE is an option may cause me to struggle as a retiree for a while. Maybe I need to first learn how to provide reward from within. Focusing on that for a while may make me a more grounded person in the long-run.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by jennypenny » Fri Aug 29, 2014 4:17 pm

spoonman wrote:It is hard to let go of the camaraderie and respect that you get at work. When you are at a meeting and everyone congratulates you for doing an awesome job it’s difficult to imagine leaving work. The good news is that those things can be had in other settings, the hard part is figuring out the right setting, especially one that isn’t in the 9-5 framework.
Tyler9000 wrote:That said, the DW had a really good point last night. We've always been excellent students/workers who have been conditioned from childhood to respond to grades/praise. So the same motivation (always making the teacher/boss/client happy) that makes me successful as a worker to the point where ERE is an option may cause me to struggle as a retiree for a while. Maybe I need to first learn how to provide reward from within. Focusing on that for a while may make me a more grounded person in the long-run.
I think it's hard to find that kind of praise outside of structured work. You really need to learn to live without it or find it somewhere else, like in group sports or volunteer work (or your favorite forum ;) ). Personally, I think it's healthier to learn to live without it.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sat Aug 30, 2014 11:51 am

@jennypenny -- Yeah, the more I think about it the more I consider that letting go of my work pride is really the healthier choice. I need to branch out and grow in other ways.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Fri Sep 05, 2014 6:19 pm

Work is Cumulative

Today I went to the dentist for a regular cleaning. While poking around, she asked a familiar question: “Has anyone ever told you that you grind your teeth a lot?” Every dentist for the last ten years has told me that, and I know it’s glaringly obvious. Grinding for me is an involuntary action driven by my subconscious in response to stress, and the tension is also evident in chronic neck pain when it gets particularly bad. When times are good, the tension goes away but the damage is permanent. My teeth are evidence of the cumulative effect of persistent low-level anxiety in my life, much of which is attributable to my career in engineering.*

(*) I honestly don't believe engineering is particularly special when it comes to cumulative work stress. Every career has its downsides. But this is based on my own experience and hopefully some here can relate.

Like worn teeth or a repetitive stress injury, the effect of work on the soul is also cumulative. Working and stressing for long hours to meet a project deadline can be exhilarating when it goes well, but when the endorphins wear off the little bit of yourself that was nicked away in the battle is often irrecoverable. The birthday or holiday you missed while touring a factory in China. The hours of research rendered pointless by a watered-down team decision. The spouse you haven't really spoken to in a week and who finds more companionship in her coworkers than in you. Your reputation when an executive takes credit for product successes and you receive blame for failures.

An individual engineering project requires a lot of sacrifice that you may not even notice at first. The reward of creating something new is a powerful motivator for an engineer. But wash and repeat for a decade, and the cumulative wear will really start to show.

Whenever talking about early retirement online, it’s common for someone to proclaim “I love my job and want to work until I can’t anymore!” As recently as five years ago, that person was me. Even today I sometimes wonder why I want to quit the best job I’ve ever had. But a trip to the dentist was a good reminder that work is cumulative, and if one waits to the breaking point before walking away there’s no guarantee that your previous good life will still be available afterwards. I look forward to living on my own terms with a relaxed jaw and a world of options.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by spoonman » Fri Sep 05, 2014 8:21 pm

This is a beautiful post! I think you have articulated what many of us feel, exceedingly well in my opinion.

Oh, I can very much relate to the persistent, low-level anxiety of the engineering trade. When you have projects that span months (if not several years), it's impossible to relax completely.

There's nothing worse that giving your soul to a project, only to have a stupid company bureaucrat torpedo it. There is more to life than the prestigious, soul-sucking job.

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Tyler9000
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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Sat Sep 06, 2014 3:06 pm

Thanks!

FWIW, I've worked in a lot of different types of companies on both long and short new product development projects. Interestingly, for me the length of the project is usually independent from anxiety levels. In modern corporate culture, perhaps the primary role of project management (other than giving upper management someone to beat up on) is to break down large projects into bite-sized chunks that they can then impose arbitrary deadlines on to maximize your utility as a producer. So whether you're working on a series of small projects or a series of tasks in a larger one, either way you spend most of your career sprinting from deadline to deadline with someone constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you're at least a little stressed about it (otherwise either the deadline can be pulled in or more work can be added).

I have several good stories about that dynamic. Perhaps I'll write about them in a later post.

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Re: Tyler9000's Journal

Post by Tyler9000 » Wed Oct 01, 2014 10:07 pm

I wrote a lengthy post today, and later deleted it to give me more time to think. In a public journal, the words feel like a commitment. I've saved it and perhaps will post it later when I'm ready.

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