Head or heart? The age-old question of life…
“Follow your passion” screams one side of the table. “And you will never feel like you work a day in your life”. True perhaps.
But those jobs usually involve compromising on the other things in life you may also want to enjoy. The things that require a higher wage to afford.
“Do the sensible thing” says the head. “Go earn the big bucks whilst you can and enjoy the finer things in life”. Awesome. Except now you are too busy and stressed to have time to enjoy them.
Indeedably may not have had this in mind when setting this month’s Sovereign Quest challenge – but it’s the first thing I thought of when asked to consider what I would do if my current (ex?!) career became unviable.
Plan A...Head Over Heart
I fell into my career by accident. I rarely even thought of it as such to be honest.
A series of non-decisions led me down a certain path and then one day I apparently had a career.
Good at math at school? Great, you should go on to do A-levels. Still no idea what you “want to be when you grow up”? Fine, head on to university and get a maths degree. Yeah, I know you’re not passionate about it but it will open doors for you.
And to be fair, it did. Jobs that required a maths degree back in my day (how old do I sound…🤣) usually meant far less competition. Especially if they were looking to tick the diversity box at the same time.
And so I followed my head and the money. I may have accidentally fallen into the energy trading world but it soon became obvious it paid well. Especially once I made the move to working in London.
It was also interesting work. Challenging. Plenty of different people. Most I enjoyed working with. Some were and still are firm friends. It was, at the end of the day, “good enough”.
I knew people who from early on did have career dreams. Knew what they wanted to be, to do. At times I envied them the simplicity that offered. A clear path. I never had that.
In fact, if anything I had the complete opposite…
The Ever Changing Career
It’s funny – this never actually dawned on me until I finally decided to get ‘an official mentor’ at work. Until that point, I’d had plenty of unofficial ones for sure, something I’d always appreciated.
But I was interested in working outside the trading business and my contacts were limited at that point. So I reached out to pair up with a mentor who’d spent their career anywhere but trading.
It was enlightening. After our first chat he proclaimed – “you are clearly a change junkie”. It had just never crossed my mind.
But you know what, he was right. I thrive on different, on new. I love ambiguity. The grey areas.
Rules for rules sake frustrate me. Coming from finance there were plenty of people who would follow them religiously. Forgetting the whole point of them is simply to inform better decisions.
It’s a little like the FIRE world at times. Arguing about whether a Safe Withdrawal Rate of 3.5% or 3.8% is better whilst missing the bigger picture of mis-using all the assumptions underpinning the whole maths behind it.
Anyway, I digress. The whole point is – my entire career has been one of jumping into a new area. Learning swiftly, getting to grips with what actually matters. Happiest when the answers are as yet unknown and proposing something sensible. Achievable. And then doing it.
So the question behind the challenge of “what would you do if your current career no longer existed” was difficult to envision, let alone worry about. I’d just change again. Adapt.
Turns out it was good practice for life after early retirement too!
But if that hadn’t been my style – what would I have done? If I’d followed my heart instead – where would it have taken me?
Plan B - Heart Before Head?
I’ve written before how leaving for university was difficult for me.
A strong family bond, a boyfriend complete with house and job and a lack of any kind of precedent of doing anything “different” set the stack against it.
But I went. And have never regretted it. Not for the education. I rarely feel I’ve used it. But the value it brought me in following my curiousness has been immense.
So what do I think would have happened if I’d continued in that vein and followed my heart on graduating?
I suspect I would have ended up in the travel industry somewhere. Wanting to explore has long been my driver.
I’m the classic “satisfied switcher”. Still more to explore. At least now I’m vaguely mature enough to recognise when it’s worth simply returning 🤣
But it’s strange. I love travel and will happily obsess about researching it for my own purposes. The hours fly past in that classic lose yourself in the task way.
But I truly believe that as soon as I “had” to do it as a job, I’d lose that feeling
Maybe it’s just me. But losing that ability to freely choose what I want to research. Where I want to go, what I want to do. That kills it for me.
I like to be able to stop when I want to. To change tack. That freedom of deciding what I want to do with my time means a lot to me.
It was also the driver behind the whole FIRE path I’ve since taken.
The path which to me has always been my best answer to heart or head.
Plan C - It's All A Balance!
The FIRE community can often seem a confusing one. There’s a lot of loud voices. Confidently shouting that their way is the only real way to happiness.
First up – the debate over whether it’s better to save or earn more.
There are the fans of saving money, obsessing over every tiny expense. Creating the illusion of control.
Those who proclaim that hustling is the way out. Working several side-streams and the accompanying e-book to tell you all about it.
Others who will swear their investing strategy is the one that will nail it. I had several folk like that in my first job at a bookies as well. Funnily enough their systems never did seem to come through.
Then there’s the whole question of pace. Slow or fast?
Do you try and condense the timeline as much as possible? Hanging on grimly until the day it all becomes worth it? Or spread it out and enjoy the ride?
And let’s not forget the huge debate about what kind of FIRE you want? Fat, semi or skimmed 🤣?
Do you go lean FIRE and eschew all material belongings. Or will you never be happy without that second home on some Caribbean island?
Clearly I’m being dramatic in a probably poor attempt at humour. And there are many great blogs who actually do an awesome job explaining it all. Way better than me.
Regardless, for anyone starting out the amount of decisions has to be bewildering at times.
Making Your Own Way
And so I may jest but in some ways I’m as envious of those confident bloggers as I was of people with those clear passion-led goals I mentioned earlier.
The belief they exude can be compelling. Me, I’m never going to proclaim I know all the answers.
I’m happy to share what’s worked for me so far. And what’s still working now that I have pulled that trigger and retired.
And I honestly don’t think it was ever one single thing. Many different threads in this particular picture.
The one overriding theme has been one of adjusting and balancing
I’ve had times where following my head and earning the big bucks got too much. Cutting back to part-time. Getting a property agent. Adding a few years to the journey.
At other times I’ve consciously stepped up a gear. Pushed the boat out for that promotion or bonus. Camped out in snowy corners whilst building our own home, bone tired weary. Piling the cash into investing and knocking years off.
I’ve splurged on South African safaris and stayed in £10/night AirBnB’s in Thailand.
You get the idea. I’ve never stuck to one FIRE strategy – the same way I never stuck to one career choice.
And for me – that works. That ability to adapt, to rebalance when needed. That’s what made it work. And still does – like when a pandemic hits and all bets are off…
So to the Sovereign Quest challenge, my answer is simple – I’d adapt. I’d cope. I’d find my own way.
And to those looking to FIRE in any way, shape or form?
I’d say exactly the same…