In 1977, I got my first job. It was at Pete’s Deli. I was 16 and got paid $2.30 an hour.
But look at me now. A mere 39 years later, and I’ve reached my last day of mandatory work. To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr., “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty I am free at last.”
Achieving financial independence at age 55 isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. No Mr. Money Mustache am I. But in 15 years (2002-2016), Mrs. Groovy and I went from having a few thousand dollars in savings to having over 30 times our annual living expenses in savings. Granted, this achievement was partly due to luck. We sold our Long Island condo at the height of an epic real estate boom (2006) and walked away with a quarter of a million dollars. But just because we happened upon a boatload of money didn’t mean we were set for life. Just ask the legion of professional athletes who have found themselves completely broke within three years after retirement. It takes work, discipline, and a great deal of thought to make anything grow—especially money. And Mrs. Groovy and I are proud of the fact that we became excellent stewards of our good fortune.
Now before I get to the point of this post, I want to offer some advice to those still working, especially if they’re young. And it’s not the advice you normally find on a site dedicated to personal finance. You know, spend less than you earn, invest in low-cost index funds—yada, yada, yada. No, my advice concerns your soul, not your quest for financial independence. Here it is.
That’s it. Go to work and do your job well.
I wasted the first 20 years of my working career. And it wasn’t because I washed dishes, cleaned bathrooms, made popcorn, mixed concrete, and did mundane office work. It’s because I did those jobs half-assed.
It wasn’t until the last 19 years of my working career that I strove to do my best. And an interesting thing happened. I decided to up my game because I thought it would advance my career. And it did. But it also provided something equally gratifying: RESPECT.
I discovered this unintended consequence of earnestness one day while cutting grass for my municipal employer. A car stopped by me and my lawnmower, and its occupant rolled down the window. I went over to the car and braced myself for another diatribe from a disgruntled taxpayer. But the lady in the car came not to vilify but to praise. She said she saw me picking up litter and cutting grass every week and the neighborhood never looked so good. And she just wanted to thank me for all my hard work.
Awesome! In one small way, I made the life of another human being better. It was one of my proudest moments in my career as a public servant.
There were many more such moments to come as I pushed toward this fateful day—my last day of gainful employment. And I won’t bore you with the details. But suffice it to say I never got tired of this kind of validation. It made all the BS associated with work worth it.
Regardless of what you do for a living, you have a choice. You can be a blessing to your customers, coworkers, and bosses. Or you can be a model of mediocrity, doing just enough not to get fired. I’ve done both. And believe me, the former is much more rewarding.
My Artistic Interpretation of Financial Independence
Okay, let’s get to the point of this post. Let’s have some fun. In honor of my liberty, I wanted to do two things. First, I wanted to draw a picture that not only captured the fortitude and spirit one needs to achieve financial independence but also captured the glory of finally owning one’s time and never having to work again. To accomplish this, I decided to fuse a classic American painting with the classic personal finance concept of F-you money. And below is my creation. I call it FI Gothic (short for Financial Independence Gothic). And in case you’re wondering, the models used for this drawing were none other than Mrs. Groovy and me.
And the Winner Is?
The second thing I wanted to do in honor of my liberty was pick a retirement theme song. Why? I don’t know. I just figured if our President can walk into a room with a theme song, so can I.
So thanks to all the groovy people who voted on this website and in our Twitter poll, Mrs. Groovy and I now have a retirement theme song. And from this point on, whenever we make an appearance, whether that’s walking on stage to address the FinCon faithful or walking into someone’s backyard to wolf down some barbecue, the following song will be played (at least in our heads, anyway).
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. I promised an epic post to celebrate my last day of mandatory work. Did I pull it off? Or was this post kind of lame? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I have plenty of time to cry in my pillow now.