When I was a precocious kid in primary school I wanted to be rich. I was going to have a million dollars by the time I was 30. There was never a question of “if”, it was a given.
So I did.
It was somewhat disappointing to realise that I was not magically happier or more fulfilled once I chalked up my arbitary magic number. There was no medal or trophy awarded, no fireworks, no tickertape parade. In fact it took some time before even I noticed it had happened.
However I did realise that even with this net worth I still wasn’t “rich”. It wasn’t enough to a big enough number to never need worry about money again. It wasn’t enough to purchase everything my heart desired… in fact it would soon be gone entirely if I ventured too far down that particular direction of travel.
After reflecting on things for a while it dawned on me that what I had been chasing wasn’t an arbitrary bank balance, but rather control over how I spent my time. “Rich” people could jet off on holidays when they felt like it, attend their kid’s Christmas concerts and school sports days, outsource the stuff they didn’t enjoy, and pursue passion/ego projects just because that floated their boat.
Then I realised that for the most part I could already do that, it wasn’t a question of money so much as one of prioritisation and opportunity cost.
At the time I had never heard of the concepts of Financial Independence, and Early Retirement was something only lottery winners, trust fund/will beneficiaries, or people who married well could entertain.
I started to make some changes, small to begin with but larger over time. I started choosing my clients based on how interesting the problem they had to solve was rather than how big the margin on the job was. I got better at taking time off. Eventually I semi-retired. I was happier. I (mostly) enjoyed what I did for a living more. My family seemed to like me more (or to quote them I was less of a grumpy bastard).
The most interesting thing was, despite all that, by the time I turned 40 all my living costs were covered by free cash flow thrown off by investments. My net worth had more than doubled. I was working during the cold/wet winter months on fascinating client problems I picked based on interest, and taking the remainder of the year off.
The “existential” part was learning that money is just a tool, and wealth is measured in time. That said I am grateful I had the money part of the equation sorted before I figured that out!