One of the sad realizations I've had post-vaccination is that my life won't really change. Although my family has some financial security and no bosses to report to, I'm not sure we will truly be free unless our loved ones are also free.
The first thing I did after getting my second shot was try to plan a trip to Honolulu to see my parents. I haven't seen them in 15 months and they are in their 70s. I know I will miss them when they are gone.
Yet, when I proposed the idea to visit two weeks after my second shot, my parents were hesitant. To them, it felt too soon, despite being fully vaccinated themselves.
“What about the variants?” my mother asked.
Although I was bummed, I completely understood her hesitancy. It's hard to change our precautionary behavior after more than 15 months of being so careful. For many, the lockdowns have been traumatizing. It will take time to return to normal.
Therefore, despite having the freedom to fly there before the summer rush, I will stay here in San Francisco with my family like someone with no time off. I was originally planning to go alone for 5-8 days to catch up and reset the clock. But now a video chat will have to suffice.
Can You Truly Be Free If Those Around You Aren't?
The one thing I'm proud of during this entire pandemic is not letting the virus negatively affect our lifestyle too much. This is the upside of my life not changing much post-vaccination. It never got too bad in the first place.
Yes, it sucked to miss out on many social interactions with friends. It was also disappointing we could no longer take our children to the science museum and other indoor attractions. But we made the best of it as an F U to the pandemic.
For exercise, I still played softball and tennis three times a week given they are outdoor activities. In terms of finances, I decided to use the lockdowns to make more money from home. And in terms of parenting, we pulled our son from preschool, saving us $1,950/month in the process. Not having constantly sick children from preschool has been a blessing. But more importantly, we ended up spending at least 35 hours more a week with him.
Now that the pandemic is winding down in America, like so many of you, I want to live life to the maximum. I'm tired of working so much online. I want to be free again! But can we?
Unless we turn into monks, forsaking all people and worldly possessions, I don't think it's possible. Let me share some examples, big and small, that highlight my point.
1) Few people to hit with late morning or early afternoon.
My ideal schedule from Monday – Friday is as follows:
6:00 am – 8:20 am – Freshen up, write, and read
8:20 am – 10:10 am – Play with the kids
10:30 am – 12 noon – Play tennis, exercise
12:20 pm – 1:30 pm – Shower, bring food home and eat with the family.
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm – Nap like a boss
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm – Catch up with online stuff
3:30 pm – 8 pm – Play with the kids, eat, and do whatever
The problem is, it's very difficult to find people to play tennis with at 10:30 am on a weekday. My closest friends are still all working regular jobs. So I end up playing with this other friend, who is 64 years old and not a very good player. We get along great, but it kind of gets boring playing with the same person over and over again.
Given I'm often unable to find someone to hit with during the late morning, I end up working more just like my other friends. When they ask to hit after 5 pm, sometimes I oblige if I haven't played in a while. However, the courts are often booked at 5 pm or later. Further, the time slot makes it tight for me to help put my daughter to bed.
Ironically, my best shot at finding people to play with during the day was during a pandemic. With more companies asking their employees to return to work, finding an equally matched player will now be close to impossible.
2) An early retiree with a working spouse.
One of the interesting things about the FIRE movement is that there are more men retiring early than women. And some of these men also have working wives who provide income and subsidized healthcare. I hope the trend of more female breadwinners continues.
Sadly, some of these men still feel embarrassed when saying they are stay-at-home dads, which is why they say they are retired instead. But I encourage all men who no longer have day jobs to embrace their fatherhood to the maximum. Be proud we can be full-time fathers! It is the greatest blessing!
However, the reality is that unless you have enough passive income to cover your family's entire living expenses, it's very hard for both spouses to be retired. This is why, especially if they have children, there are so few such households. When only one spouse can be free of work, the working spouse might resent this fact.
I needed my wife to work for almost three years before she could join me in early retirement. When I left in 2012, I was definitely not 100% sure I was making the right move. With all the uncertainty, I certainly didn't feel truly free. Therefore, I told her to keep working until I felt more certain we could both be jobless. When she turned 35, she negotiated a severance package as well.
Life became so much better when both of us became free from work. We were able to travel all around the world together for a couple years before we had our first child. We did little things like go to a matinee or take a road trip up to Napa whenever we wished.
Having someone to enjoy life with is better than trying to enjoy life alone or while your loved one is working. But due to age differences, career desires, and different risk tolerances, it's hard to perfectly match up your freedom timing.
3) Juggling parenting and work
Let's be frank. A person's overall freedom gets sucked away once they have children. The more you cherish your freedom, the more you should be wary about having kids. Once you have kids, it is the freedom to spend as much (or as little) time with your children as you wish that may be your next ultimate desire.
My wife and I decided to wait until we were considered geriatric (35+) to have kids. The upside is that we both have more freedom to be parents. The downside is that we won't be a part of our children's lives as long as if we had them earlier. Hopefully the extra time we spend with our children each day equals things out.
One thing I have wondered about is why parents divorce before their kids legally become adults. I can guess the many reasons, but I'm not sure. In an ideal situation, parents stick together and are full of love. In a less ideal situation, parents do their best to get along in front of their kid until after their kid leaves home.
But life happens and I make no judgement about why divorces occur. Juggling parenting and work is hard! Sometimes the reality of life after kids significantly mismatch our expectations. Does the tremendous loss of freedom by one or both parents have something to do with breakups? After all, we tend to break up in order to be free from a suboptimal situation.
As a partner, to prevent tension, you may want to ensure your partner is free from a job they dislike before having kids. Otherwise, your guilt of not providing enough may become debilitating. To combat your guilt, you will likely try and step up your childcare duties. However, if your freedom gets depleted too much, you might end up bitter as well.
Unless both parents are free to choose how they spend their time, one parent will never truly be free. Be careful with too much imbalance.
The Great Reset
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset our lifestyles. If absolute freedom is unattainable for now, at least we can make minor improvements.
We all have a good idea of what we like and dislike about the pandemic. As we return to normalcy, it's worth looking back to our pre-pandemic days to find things we disliked and discard them. Make a list!
Here are a couple things I will discard to improve my life:
- Never taking on a big home remodeling project again. As an old dad, my time is too precious and the city is too slow (or corrupt). It's been six months since I applied for a remodeling permit and it still hasn't been approved. WTF. If I ever buy another physical property, I will pay up for a fully remodeled place.
- Won't consider full-time preschool for our daughter until Pre-K age 4 (2023 not 2022). In retrospect, sending our boy to preschool at age 2.5 was too young. Age 3.5 – 4, or one year before kindergarten, seems like the ideal age for learning and socializing in a school setting. We want to cherish as much time with her as possible.
- All the clutter we've accumulated since 2020. With many donation centers closed, we haven't been able to give away as many things as we've liked. We usually give away 15 bags worth of things every year. And we don't want to throw away perfectly good toys and clothes other families will use.
Make Everybody Around You Free
In order to truly be free, you must emancipate all your friends and loved ones. If you can't, then you might have to find a new community of like-minded people. And if you can't find a community of free people, then you will likely always be chained to society's traditional ways.
Retiring before you are eligible for Social Security might not be as fun as you imagine. If you live in a big city like New York or San Francisco, it may be impossible to feel free because everybody is always hustling like crazy. This is one of the reasons why I want to move to Hawaii. The only people I can find to hang out with during the day in San Francisco are traditional retirees 20+ years my senior or trust funders with fake jobs.
Although getting crowded out during the weekday when using public facilities is not ideal, I sincerely hope this pandemic spurs more people to be free from work. Either that or design lifestyles that are much more flexible.
Just beware that even if you are as free as a traditional retiree with a pension, you still might be on mental lockdown.
I hope to see my parents again sometime soon. And if you haven't seen your parents in a while, I hope the same for you.
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Readers, are you truly free if the people you care about are not? What are other examples where not having sufficient people around you to interact with has hurt your desired lifestyle? How can we encourage more people to better design their lifestyles?
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