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I recently wrote a post titled Don’t Wait Until F.I. to Answer the Question “How should I spend my time?”, in which I argued that you should start spending your free time doing activities you love long before you’re financially independent.
The premise of that post was simple. Most people wait until F.I. to ask themselves “How should I spend my time?”, but you should ask yourself that question today, whether or not you’re financially independent. The answer to that question will likely lead you to start doing things you love in your free time now. That makes the journey to F.I. so much more enjoyable.
I received a thoughtful comment from reader Caribbean dreaming in response to that post:
Here’s my in-depth response to that comment.
Why It May Feel Like You Have No Passion
Most people reading this have a traditional 9-5 job.
This 9-5 work format was made popular during the Industrial Revolution, when most work involved physical labor in group settings.
It was important that everyone worked the same hours at the same location each day. It was more efficient to build cars, widgets, and products when everyone could work together on an assembly line. It also made it easy for owners to track productivity.
Fast forward nearly two hundred years. Our society still adheres to the 9-5 format. The problem is that most of us don’t have jobs that require physical labor. We have machines and robots for that.
Most jobs nowadays require mental labor.
We solve challenging problems with our minds. We think through business deals, write code, create spreadsheets, prepare presentations, and make products primarily with our brains and our keyboards, not with our hands.
This mental work doesn’t align well with a 9-5 format. On a given day, most people can do productive deep work for a maximum of 3-4 hours. Extending this work to a 8-9 hour shift is unnatural and draining.
Walk through your office (if you work in one) during the last hour of the day and you’ll find most people either scrolling through their phones or talking with others. Humans aren’t meant to be mentally strained for 8-9 hours per day. It’s exhausting.
Even if you enjoy your job, this work schedule is time consuming. It takes willpower to work on a passion project, exercise, and be productive outside of traditional work hours.
This is why most people spend time outside of work relaxing, watching Netflix, and lounging around the house. This is also why you might feel like you don’t have a “passion” or engaging hobby outside of your day job.
I think we all have a passion, but the traditional 9-5 work format steals so much time and energy that we don’t feel like pursuing our passion. In some cases, if we adhere to the 9-5 for long enough, it’s possible to forget what passions we ever had.
Where to Look for Your Passion
If you’re still thinking “No Zach, I just don’t have a passion. I don’t think I ever have.”, I have three places for you to look.
1. Think about what you did as a kid in your free time.
It would be nice if we could all take a paid year off work to explore our interests and look for our passion. This way we could find out what we really love doing with our free time without thinking about how to pay the bills.
Fortunately, most of us have already had this experience. It was our childhood.
Think about how you spent your time as a kid. During recess did you prefer to go outside and play? Or did you stay inside to play games and build Lego towers?
Were you a bookworm? Did you love being in nature? Were you a movie fanatic? Did you build things? Did you make music? Play sports? Write stories?
I spent some time going through this thought exercise myself. It actually helped me rekindle several old interests.
As a kid, I played basketball every single day. I would spend hours out in the driveway shooting hoops. I also loved spending time in my room writing short stories on an old typewriter. During recess I would beg to stay inside just so I could draw pictures.
I still have the same interests that I did as a child. I’m learning to embrace them again and it’s a wonderful experience. Instead of shooting hoops by myself, I play in pickup games. Instead of writing short stories, I write blog posts. Instead of drawing pictures on paper, I make data visualizations online.
Different forms of expression. Same childhood joy.
2. Think about what career you wanted to pursue in high school.
As a high school student, I planned to pursue architecture in college. It was only after I realized this was a brutally competitive field with few job prospects that I switched to statistics – a far more niche and lucrative field. I still enjoyed statistics, but in a world where money didn’t exist I would have pursued architecture.
This is insightful for me to remember. Architects love designing, creating, and building something from scratch. I truly do love all those things. That’s why I built an entire educational website from scratch a few years ago. It’s why I started this blog. I love creating something from nothing.
What profession did you dream of pursuing in high school? That could be a useful hint in identifying your passion.
3. Think about what you naturally gravitate towards in your free time.
When I discovered the Mad Fientist Podcast, I listened to every episode available in less than a week. I was enthralled. I did the same thing with The Minimalist’s Podcast. I’m currently doing the same with The Investor Field Guide Podcast.
This helped me realize wow, I absolutely love anything that has to do with personal finance, minimalism, and investing.
This helped fuel my motivation to start my own blog. I thought, I love listening to self-help podcasts and reading personal finance articles, so I might as well spend some time myself writing about these topics.
What do you find yourself gravitating towards in your free time? What piques your interest? What makes you curious? Your natural curiosity will lead you towards your passion.
It’s Difficult to Imagine a Different Lifestyle
One of the most common gut reactions people have to the concept of financial independence is “Why would I pursue that? I have no idea what I would spend all my free time doing.”
The reason we struggle to imagine a life with so much free time is because most of us have never experienced that type of freedom.
From birth to age 18, you had your parents and teachers tell you what to do and how to spend your time.
For most people, college professors act as their guide from age 18 – 23.
Following graduation, most of us have a boss for the next 40 years to tell us how to spend our time.
Having complete freedom over our time is a foreign concept to us.
This is why freedom is so scary.
I personally haven’t achieved financial independence, but I have listened to podcasts and read plenty of articles from people who have. Nearly all of them say something along the lines of “I don’t know how I ever had time for a 9-5 job.”
They say this because they find ways to occupy their time that actually bring joy. They spend more time with family, more time pursuing interests they haven’t explored since childhood, and more time volunteering.
Most people have been trapped in the routine, monotonous day job lifestyle for so long that they can’t imagine spending their time in a different way.
I would argue that you could easily find ways to occupy your day. Your 9-5 job would be replaced by your own projects and hobbies. You would have more time to spend in nature, with family, and with friends. Your natural childhood curiosities and interests would start to spring back to life, reminding you of how you used to love spending time.
The worst case scenario would be if you achieve financial independence and find out that you hate having complete control of your time and actually need the structure of a traditional job. Guess what? If that happens, you can simply get another 9-5.
Passion Builds with Mastery
As humans, we tend to love the things we’re good at. This is why job satisfaction typically increases with age. The older you get, the more experience you gain, and the more you inch towards mastery. Passion builds with mastery.
If you feel like you haven’t found your passion and you’re scared that you might not have one, it’s likely because you haven’t spent enough time honing your skills.
You might enjoy writing, drawing, making music, or building things, but you might not be any good at it. Financial independence offers an opportunity to pursue mastery in that field you enjoy so much. Best of all, you get to set your own hours.
Feel like working on that side project early in the morning? Go for it. Do you work better at night? That’s fine too. Want to put in 80 hours this week? You have that freedom.
I have a hypothesis that work is far more enjoyable when you have complete control over it.
So, should you pursue financial independence if you don’t have a passion outside of your day job?
My answer is a resounding yes.
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