Earlier this week, I received a phone call from my mom. Most of the time she calls, it’s at a time I should be free, but this call came right in the middle of the work day. Because of my workload, I was unable to answer. Whenever she calls at an obscure time, part of me always fears the worst, who died, got sick, or was in an accident?
Luckily, most of these odd phone calls end up being discussions about weekend plans or some other unexciting family matters. When I drove home I gave her a call, and I found out quickly this was not going to be a light phone call about what we’re going to have for dinner next time I’m in town.
My mom had run into my high school friend/college roommate’s mom. My friend’s mom said they had just received news the day before that my friend’s wife had a brain tumor, she’s only 27.
This news hit me like a ton of bricks. I had gotten to know her really well while she dated my friend, and she was the same age as my wife, so I was stunned to think this could have just as easily been her. I thought, “people in their 20s don’t get brain cancer!” In the days leading up to this, my friend and I were discussing NFL free agency, a heavy topic like this would have never crossed our minds.
The whole ordeal left me troubled and reflecting on the couch. Life is delicate and fragile. Things are good until they’re not. Death, disease, illness, cancer, and all other afflictions are facts of life, no one is immune. So what do we do with this Debbie downer message?
What would the average person think after hearing news like this? Some might think, “life is too short to wait until tomorrow, today is all you can guarantee, so I’m going to live for the here and now.” But this phone call had me going the other direction. That week of work was horrible. Not every week is, but in my life as a financial analyst, we have to forecast spending and expenses every quarter. This week just happened to be one of those weeks. That meant long hours, tight deadlines, and constant frustrating curveballs… like why is my depreciation model forecasting $200M higher than last quarter for an unknown reason… but that’s a story for another day.
What if this would have been my wife during my busy week? How would I have left work this week, of all weeks, when I had so much work to do? At the same time, I realized that my work (even though it is seemingly important work, for a seemingly prestigious Fortune 50 company), was so small, insignificant, and meaningless. This moment of clarity helped me understand that work is just work, and I am much more than my work.
I realized, that rather than just “live for today,” I was more committed than ever to my goal of financial independence. And no, I don’t mean I intend to tighten the budget to the point of Ramen every night, or hold off on travel indefinitely, but rather continue to buckle down and optimize my life to reach FI even faster. That will mean strategically cutting out spending I don’t value, while also looking for ways to earn more. Essentially, grow the gap between earning and spending.
I decided, that even a full life is still too short to mortgage my future for rash decisions today.
Many people might be confused by this. I mean, I just got a first-hand lesson in the frailties of life, why wouldn’t I be more committed to living today? “You can’t take it all with you.” No, you absolutely can’t take it with you, but I’m happy to leave my money and possessions behind, even if I do go out early. I’ll be happy knowing that my wife and future family is taken care of… although I’m sure there are some bucket list items I’d want to cross off as well… queue cage diving with sharks.
So while we never know what the future holds, this experience cemented my vision of financial independence deeper in my mind. If I do go out early, I won’t feel any worse for not spending more today, because I’ll know that I left it all out on the line for the dream I value most, a life on my terms.