Earlier this week I wrote a post titled “Use Money as Fuel to Power Your True Aspirations in Life” in which I argued that money should be used as “fuel” to pursue your true aspirations and goals without being hindered by your finances. I received this thought-provoking comment from Samantha at The Minimalist Creative in response to this post:
Samantha poses a wonderful question:
“Am I really a “creative” if I am unwilling to quit my full-time job to focus on my creative work? If freedom is what we seek, shouldn’t our creative passions be the way?”
I think there’s more than one possible answer to this question, but I’d love to offer my own perspective.
Is Early Retirement the Best Route to Maximum Happiness?
When I first discovered the concept of Early Retirement, I was enthralled.
Work 10 – 15 years, save up enough money to never work again, and retire decades before my peers? I love the sound of that.
But over the past two years I have changed my view slightly. I have graduated college, had the chance to work two different corporate jobs, and moved into my own apartment. The 21 year-old Zach who discovered the FIRE community and loved the idea of early retirement has now had a chance to experience the 9-to-5-pay-your-own-bills life.
And I have to say: the thought of working a traditional 9 – 5 job for another 8 – 12 years in a cubicle just to achieve financial independence is not appealing.
At the same time, I’m not ready to quit my well-paying corporate job tomorrow and start working part-time at a restaurant or elsewhere just so I can have more time to pursue my creative interests.
Solving the Great Dilemma
I believe the people who wrestle the most with the dilemma of quitting a full-time job to pursue a passion are in the age range of 20 – 35. Most of these people have been working full-time for a decade or less, they have a creative interest outside of their day job, and they often find themselves asking the questions:
Am I doing what I’m supposed to in life?
Could I be doing more than this?
Should I quit my job to do what I love full-time?
I can relate because I ask myself these questions constantly. On certain days I even convince myself that I already have enough money in the bank and should quit my day job immediately to pursue my true creative interests.
But there’s a reason I haven’t quit my job yet: I haven’t reached my financial launching point.
Your financial launching point is the point at which you feel you have enough money saved up to quit your day job and launch into your next phase in life.
There are two major communities that offer two opposing views on how to determine your financial launching point.
1. The Early Retirement Community
The Early Retirement Community says your launching point is around 25 times your annual expenses. At that point you’re financially independent and you have enough savings that you never need to work for money again. That’s when you can quit your job and launch into a new lifestyle.
Benefit of this approach: You have so much money that you can spend as much time as you want concentrating on the creative work you truly care about, without worrying about whether or not you can pay the bills with this type of work.
Drawback of this approach: It often takes a decade or more to achieve financial independence.
2. The Self-Help Community
The Self-Help Community (think Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chase Jarvis, etc.), however, advocates that your launching point is today. Don’t delay a day longer, pursue your dreams now, even if it means quitting your full-time job.
Benefit of this approach: You can immediately start honing your craft, building your skill set, and doing work you enjoy.
Drawback of this approach: Financial stress can prevent you from doing your best creative work and can lead to a poor quality of life.
The early retirement approach solves the problem of time and money. Once you have enough savings, you have plenty of free time and money so that you can spend your days doing whatever you want. But this approach offers little direction on how to create a meaningful life. Just because you’re wealthy doesn’t guarantee connection (having a tight social circle), competence (mastering a skill), and autonomy (freedom to spend time how you want), all of which you need to lead a fulfilling life.
On the contrary, the self-help approach solves the problem of self-fulfillment. If you spend each day working on your craft, attempting to build your business, produce meaningful work, you’ll maximize your potential to contribute something significant to the world. But this approach offers no financial guidance. What happens if you don’t earn any income from your creative work during your first year? It’s pretty tough to dive deep into your creative work when you don’t have enough money to pay the monthly rent.
Acknowledging the Elephants
There’s an elephant in the room that few people talk about in the FIRE community. What will you do once you have that pile of money in the bank? You have solved one piece of the puzzle: you have the free time. But have you forgotten what your true interests are in pursuit of a massive bank account? Could you have been doing more enjoyable work during that 10 – 15 period of building your net worth?
On the flip side, there exists the elephant in the room of the self-help community: How on earth can you do your best work, make meaningful art, and run your own business if your having a nagging concern about your finances and you don’t have enough money to support your efforts for more than three months?
I’d like to offer an alternative approach that blends the beliefs of the self-help and early retirement communities. I call it the Launching Point Strategy.
The Launching Point Strategy
This strategy is straightforward but not necessarily easy to implement.
I believe that anyone can make a living doing work they genuinely enjoy, but I think it requires about three years of work to reach this point. This is why I think anyone who has a creative interest they want to pursue should work on it as much as possible outside of their day job for three years straight while maintaining their day job.
I have to be brutally honest here. I think most people underestimate just how long it takes to get to a place where you can make a living from doing something you love. In an earlier post, I explained that I earned a total of $37.50 during my entire first year of blogging. Effort doesn’t always translate to income, especially when you’re just getting started with a creative pursuit.
I think most blogs kick the can in less than a year because the writer either gets bored, is disappointed by their site traffic, or had hopes of earning money from blogging that never came to fruition.
These reasons for quitting extend beyond blogging though. Most people have an idea for a business, a service, a product, or a website and they ambitiously pursue this idea for a few months with no visible success. They might persist for an entire year, but very few people stick with an idea for two years or longer. But for the few who do stick it out, more often than not they’re able to generate at least some income from their idea.
I think three years is the magic number for making a living from your muse and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
In a podcast I listened to recently, Sam from Financial Samurai, one of the most successful personal finance blogs out there, claimed that he would be “shocked” if someone published three blog posts per week for three years and couldn’t make a living from their blog.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, constantly preaches the messages in his YouTube videos that you have to “eat sh*t” for two to three years before you gain leverage to make money from your hobby.
But Three Years Seems So Long…
This number seems daunting to people in their 20’s, but let me attempt to bend your mind here:
For a 24-year old, 3 years represents one eighth of your entire existence on earth. Seems like a lot. But if you’re a 24-year old and you’re reading this, attempt to put yourself in your shoes 10 years from now. Imagine you’re 34. You’ll still feel young and you’ll realize that 24 is actually very young. A three year commitment from age 24-27 wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice at all.
Or consider the reverse. If you’re 24, think about what you were doing at age 18. Imagine if you grinded from 18 – 21 to create a small business that supports you now. Would it have been worth it? Of course, because you’re doing work you want to do on your terms. But if you told your 18 year-old self to dedicate the next three years to building a platform where you can use your creative work to earn money, 18 year-old you would have thought three years was an eternity and probably wouldn’t have made the commitment.
Lack of patience is the death of all ambitious 20-somethings. If you’re young, you can use your creative interests to earn a living, but it will take several years to build up your skills, reputation, and business to a position where you can earn decent money.
In the grand scheme of things, three years is nothing but it does require patience.
How Much Money Do You Need to Quit Your Job?
There’s no specific number in the bank you need to quit your full-time job. Maybe you’re comfortable quitting with $20k in the bank. Maybe your number is more like $200k. Depending on your annual expenses, this number can be flexible.
And maybe it won’t take you three years. Maybe it will take two years. Or four. But the point is: by maintaining your day job you have access to income without feeling pressured to create income from your creative interests. During this time your skills will improve, you’ll probably earn some money from your creative interests, and your savings will continue to grow.
This way, when you do reach your launching point you actually have skills, experience, potential clients, and money in the bank which makes you more likely to succeed and less worried about running out of money.
My Own Path
I’m currently practicing this message that I’m preaching. I have been running this blog for just over a year now and in the past 60 days alone I have made over $1,000 from it. This coming year I plan on continuing to be patient, sticking it out at my 9-5, padding my savings account, growing my blog income, and sprinting towards my own financial launching point.
I haven’t shared this before, but I’m not actually chasing complete financial independence. I can’t say exactly when I’ll reach my financial launching point, but it will likely be in the $100k – $250k range. I hope to achieve this within the next 2-3 years. I want enough money saved up so that I can feel comfortable quitting my full-time job and use my love of writing, blogging, and coding to earn an income online.
Keep in mind, I’m only sharing my perspective from my own unique situation. I don’t have a wife and kids to support. I don’t have any debt to pay off. This makes it pretty easy for me to spend a lot of time working on this blog and coding. It’s also why I’m okay with quitting a full-time job in the future to pursue my creative interests.
I truly believe the people who are winning in life aren’t the ones who have the most commas in their bank account, but rather the ones who get to wake up every single day and do exactly what they want. I don’t think you need complete financial independence to have the ability to live how you want each day. But I also don’t think you need to be in a hurry to quit your day job as fast as possible to have more time for your creative work.
I recommend sticking with your day job for a few years, practicing patience, saving as much money as possible, and honing your craft as much as possible outside of your 9-5. To see how I personally make time to work on my creative interests, check out this post.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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