You Will Never Truly Be Free Unless Your Loved Ones Are Also Free

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.

Dad or mom guilt by the working parent is real. The constant battle between career or family is a tough one to manage. But we make the best of our circumstances and accept the tradeoffs.

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.

Related: Retiring Early With Kids Is Almost Impossible

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.

Related posts involving financial independence:

If You Love Your Spouse, You'd Make Them Financially Independent From You

FIRE Confessionals Part II: A Bull Market Phenomenon

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?

Sign up for my free newsletter for my nuanced insights on life, investing, real estate, the economy and more. I am so looking forward to re-retiring by the end of 2022!

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35 thoughts on “You Will Never Truly Be Free Unless Your Loved Ones Are Also Free”

  1. Sorry to hear your parents have asked you to wait. I recently visited my parents (they are 85 and 86) and it was nice to see them. They have both been vaccinated; before that my mother had thought it better to not visit or to get a PCR test first; I had read about too many people who had negative tests only to test positive a day or two later so I waited much like you are now.

    Personally I truly only feel safe around those that have actually have had covid. I live in Mexico and here all indoor businesses still require masks and frequently even take your temperature. I was not comfortable in the US where many stores no longer even require masks. As of May 1st the CDC has stopped reporting breakthrough infections unless they result in hospitalization and/or death. I believe they should have continued to report all symptomatic infections, as well as determining the variant responsible in order to maintain accurate efficacy rates. I should add that I drove from Mexico to avoid flying where there is zero social distancing. For some reason the federal government has determined that those traveling by land pose no risk to anyone since they only require a negative PCR for those arriving by air. I was asked no health related questions at the border.

  2. Sam-

    Love your blog and this one was right on, too… tough one with your parents. Hope you get to see them soon!

    As a pilot, I have a weird enough schedule that I’m used to having time off mid-week… back in the day when you could still volunteer at the kids’ schools, it was awesome. Now they don’t want parents around.

    Looking forward to the day when I can pick and choose the trips I want to fly and not be tethered to someone else’s schedule. That being said, I’m going to be out in Napa next week if you want to kill some time looking through the Barbie jet! I think you should write a post on private aviation and why it’s not just a luxury to many high net worth owners. Love to give you some stories/ideas from the industry. Maybe over a vino or two in Napa?


  3. Sam, You need to take up golf again. There are tons of golfers in every city. I am bummed that I have a hard time getting my partners (orthopedic surgeons) to take a day off to play in charity golf tournaments that occur infrequently. Golfers are always looking to find others to play with.

    1. I should. It does take five hours though at a public course and cost 60 or $70 even with the residence card.

      Nine holes or up to 12 holes is probably ideal. But then you start thinking you want to get your moneys worth.

  4. Quite confident I can keep myself busy in retirement doing things that are nothing like work.

    But I hear you about who to hang out with. A few years away yet for me and I’m starting to sound my best friends on when they are calling it quits. Be more fun if I can count on them not being chained to an office, even remotely.

  5. Move to a ski town. I drop off my little at preschool and many of the other parents are dressed to go ski or mountain bike after drop off. Somedays it feels like we’re the only working parents, but in reality, I think so many people have elected to have children later after they have already established themselves, and they now work remotely and not a ton of hours anymore.

    1. I was thinking of that by moving to Tahoe. But we really like the food, amenities, friends, and diversity of SF. We’ll definitely be visiting Tahoe more as our kids grow up.

  6. Heh, my wife is still working after I retired early for 9 years. Life has been great for us. She enjoys working and doesn’t have any big projects planned after retirement. It worked very well for us. Next year, she’ll take a year off to see if she likes not working.

    For us, I think it’s okay to spend time apart. I went to see my parent in Thailand for 6 weeks by myself. Life went on without too many problems at home. Now, I think I’ll spend a lot more time in Thailand every year. My parent needs help. Mrs. RB40 can spend more time with her parents too. I don’t mind spending 2-3 months apart every year.

  7. Nice post. I recently “retired” at 49 years old. Enjoying my time focused on both personal development and physical health goals.

    I’m pretty fortunate in that my 2 best friends are in similar stages of life and are retired as well. They’re both living in other cities, but we’ve got long camping trips and other travel trips planned that I’m looking forward to. Also helps that my spouse and teenage children are all in the house so plenty of conversations and activities to do during the day; hiking, walking, playing corn hole, shooting hoops, etc.

    Sam, my parents live in Honolulu and we’ve made 3 trips over the past 18 months to visit them despite Covid risks. We weighed the risks and took necessary precautions; multiple Covid tests beforehand, quarantined for 10 days once we got to Hawaii, double-masking with face shields on the airplane, etc. Despite my parents objecting to us visiting them, once we told them we were coming, regardless of what they say, they were joyous! And now that we’re all vaccinated, we’ll be making another trip in the next month or so.

    Life is too short. Be smart, reduce all risk possible, BUT when it comes to visiting family, we’re willing to roll the dice and not look back even if something bad were to happen. But that’s just our perspective, and we respect that everyone’s thoughts may be vastly different on this matter.

    Best to you.

    1. Great to hear you’ve seen your parents three times during Covid! Part of me felt bad going the first 12 months because I didn’t want to potentially contribute to the spread, besides the fact that there was contamination risk for myself.

      But now, I’m ready to go. But if the other side is not ready to go, I tend to always differ as I don’t like forcing my way on anybody.

      Maybe in July I’ll go. It’ll be mango season hooray!

  8. My inlaws live two minutes from us and went into complete lockdown when the pandemic started. They basically said we wouldn’t see them in person again until there was a vaccine. They recently got their shots (and we got ours’ too) and we had them over for Mother’s Day. It’s crazy to think how the pandemic has separated families – that is time we can’t ever get back!

  9. One of the big themes of this post is that people are social animals. Socializing is deeply linked to happiness and when you throw things in like a pandemic or early retirement it they can cut you off from that feeling of being connected.

    As for the divorce fears you need to keep connecting with your spouse throughout life. One of the biggest reasons for divorce is two people growing in opposite directions.

  10. Very on point post. Perhaps the hardest part about finding friends who are free is that it gets harder and harder to make friends as you get older. You get more discerning, people get weighed down by responsibilities (aging parents, kids, etc.) and forced socializing with other parents for the benefit of the kids.

    So if you haven’t found a set early in life who have FIRE’d or have flexible schedules, it is harder to find new playmates because you acutely feel the rhythm of corporate M-F work time tables.

    Funny, I remember one major difference between NY and SF was that in NY, there were neighbors, people you see on the street who kept interesting hours. A lot of my friends were creatives, and you don’t feel strange walking around middle of the weekday not “working.” There’s a universe of models, photographers, trust fund types, authors, film directors, artists, interior designers etc who are all interconnected. People who went out Monday and Tuesday nights and avoided the weekends because of the “B&T” crowd. But in SF you feel this “corporate” rhythm more acutely, and I’m sure it’s even more so in cities with less diversity of industry.

    As for “trust fund types” with fake jobs, that sounds kind of harsh. Given your advocacy of “stealth wealth” who in their right mind would say that were living off a trust fund and not say they are “consulting” or “investing?” Can’t say that you’re retired, it would sound pretentious. I can see how someone with your work ethic and values who works so hard might not have much in common, so I get why you avoid these folks.

    1. Here’s hoping I meet a community of cool new parents from preschool.

      I think you’ll be amazed at how many fake jobs there are from those who have rich parents. The jobs are a front to make it seem like they are working. I should write a post about the phenomena. I don’t think people realize it. It’s fascinating.

    2. Canadian Reader

      I agree with it being hard to label your occupation as an early retiree. We are not trust fund beneficiaries, yet it’s difficult to answer the job question when meeting new friends. I want to give a fake answer just to keep the conversation from getting awkward, and sometimes I do. But I also know what Sam is talking about when it comes to fake cover jobs.
      Hopefully we can meet some other similar parents when our kids go to preschool!

  11. Sam, I am sorry to hear about your predicament…Have you read Total Freedom by Krishnamurti? It is good starting point for liberation your mind. It is hard to believe that J Krishnamurti was spreading this message in the 1940s! It seems that we, as the society, have regressed since then.

    1. Thanks. I think the predicament will work its way through in time.

      Although, with new cases in Taiwan after 1.5 years of almost nothing, maybe it’s just going to be a cycle and folks have to decide to live life like normal again.

      What’s the summary of the book?

  12. We retired. Husband got bored and needs structure. Went to work for small city ( university) town) law firm in Texas.Three minutes by car to work or he can walk.Much less stress; more vacation time, more social life. I continued as domestic goddess with children doing the volunteer thing and keeping the books, managing the investments, writing. Then, my sisters and I inherited the family ranch, my parents moved in after Hurricane Harvey( and they are disabled)… not retired the least bit now. Pandemic taught my husband he could do mediations, hearings, arbitrations by Zoom and/ or phone AND online or in-person from anywhere… retirement gig for him coming up! Meanwhile, pay raise coming up because daughter graduates UT Law next week and has biglaw job in Houston. Better for her than us! Let the character building begin!

  13. Sam, I’m curious on your retrospective in sending your boy to daycare early (2.5 years). Was it primarily due to the sickness picked up from school?

    We are 2 working parent in NYC and had sent our son to daycare since he was 6 months old. Looking back, that age was way too early as he got sick a lot. The pros is that my son can easily adapt to daycare settings and play with other children. This helped a lot when we switched daycare.

    Every child and parent are different so I don’t think there’s one correct way, just sharing experience.

    1. It was for preschool. At age 2 1/2, it didn’t seem like he was getting the maximum benefit. Also, as two stay at home parents, we provide so much individual care in comparison and he loves it. He is learning so much and has really enjoyed his time at home. Even though it’s been A lot of work, we will never regret all the time we have spent with him. We will cherish it.

      For example, San Francisco renovated 10 playgrounds over the past 12 months. I brought him to 8 of them and I plan to take him to a couple more. It’s been really fun bonding with him. And yes, every child is different and every family has different circumstances.

      The time goes by too fast.

      1. Agreed. We have two kids just like you Sam. 8 year old grew up in daycares since 11 months old and 3 year old was forced to stay home due to pandemic. We are seeing how much she can learn even if we put little effort into her growth. She is also learning to garden, cook, identify nature elements(flower names etc, birds ) and much more. We want to keep her home till atleast 4.5 or pre-k age. Even with that, I’d prefer that she goes for a few hours vs the whole day like my son did.

        great reading as usual!

        1. A silver lining to the pandemic! The one on one attention really is great. And there’s still plenty of time at this age to learn how to socialize with other kids.

          We just go to various playgrounds around the city so he can get some exposure. I’m sure it will be fine.

  14. Would love to play tennis with you Sam…I used to have a great schedule working weekends in the hospital, gave me Tues-Thurs off! I’m below your level, but get to learn so much playing up…I’m maybe 4.0-4.5 I guess.

    Anyway, I will admit my frustration that I missed out on getting my housing situation squared away, particularly living in a higher coast coastal town just over the border in Oregon. Had a housing deal go south on me when I tried to build, and worst of all – I tired doing business with friends, and not only lost the deal, but lost the friends too. What a bummer.

    I am closing in on finishing up student loans after 27 yrs of schooling and watching my net worth coming up over 600k, having nearly doubled since the pandemic. I feel so behind…and fear that housing given 30/3/30 rule is simply out of my reach for now. I keep telling myself to keep saving as much as possible, but my salary was also cut almost 10% on furlough. Happy to still have a job, but I am really feeling the crunch these days…and inflation and the exuberance of those who would shoot for the moon on those prices for their un-refurbished homes blows my mind. I will only buy a home if it is move in ready, and have rarely seen that in this little beach town (Brookings, OR – check it out, its interesting, good weather, but very isolated).

    Anyway – long time follower and budding samurai…best to you and your family Sam.


    PS: Did I run into you and your wife and boy in Buenos Aires a few years ago (that place had the best burger I ever ate in my life…)…

    1. Be proud your net worth has doubled since the pandemic! $600K is nothing to sneeze at!

      Further, nobody can take your education away from you, so be proud of your doctorate degree as well.

      Thanks for reading all these years.

  15. The retirement life can be lonely. Theres a reason why billionaires keep working even though they don’t need money. One reason is paranoia but another reason is they prob can’t find a lot of people to hang out with them because they’re all so busy working or have a family to raise.

    If everyone can early retire, that’ll be the good life.

  16. Spot on as usual. Even though I’ve taken the plunge into early retirement, one hard aspect is that the rest of society is off doing what they do.

    I can’t unteach those around me how to stop their grinding ways. At least not anytime soon.

    I do think you are right that moving to a more like minded community/location is the way to go. Cheers to eventually getting to Hawaii and seeing your parents again.

    1. Thanks. What I am going a little bit more frustrated about is that I’ve been jobless since 2012. Yes, it’s still hard to craft the ideal lifestyle. But I’ll keep trying.

      Further, my hands are full with two kids now. So there’s not much time anyway. Do you have kiddos?

  17. FS, your life has been dialed in for quite some time now, so it is unsurprising that you have not let the virus impact your lifestyle. Insightful post, thanks for letting us peek into your world. One comment stood out to me, as I have found this to be a similar issue…

    “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.”

    …it is tough to find contemporaries who share interests, and I’ve learned that there is not a limitless supply of potential friends/friendly acquaintances/club members, etc. People with free time convenient for me, and compatible interests, are tough to come by. Like you, my life is dialed in. But I also have found the virus limitations have kept me from family that are vulnerable. I’m spending a lot of time in solo pursuits, and have found several ‘tribes’ online which a enjoyable and add value. It would be interesting to know if anyone has found a particular life-hack for this common issue, and wants to share.

    Meanwhile, continued success and hope you see your folks very soon!

    1. Thanks old friend. Great to hear your solo pursuits are doing it for you.

      Maybe I really should take up golf again. Seriously, haven’t thought about golf in a while after being so hooked on it before.

      Perhaps joining an online mastermind group would be helpful too.

  18. Good points. I know what you mean about having different schedules than friends. I stopped hanging out with some friends because their schedules could never sync up with mine.

    I thought my parents would come visit me a lot more once they retired too but so often they were too busy. Something would always come up. Oh well. At least we keep in touch over text, Skype, phone, and emails

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