Where Do I Go From Here?// Starting a New Chapter In Early Retirement
I started Eat the Financial Elephant in May of 2014 to document my family’s journey to financial independence and retiring early (FIRE). It was meant to be a way to hold ourselves accountable while possibly inspiring others on their own journey.
Now that we have reached our original goal, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do next. It is time for a major change in direction.
I would love for all of you who read this blog to join me in the next phase of our journey. Read on to learn a bit about how we got to where we are and where things will go from here.
Personal Growth and Change
Looking back at my early posts, I am amazed at how much we have learned about personal finance, retirement planning, and investing. I am more amazed at how much our goals and perspectives have changed.
Our original plan and goal was to retire as quickly as possible. Along the way, I managed to burn out and drive myself to periods of discontent, unhappiness, and flirtations with depression.
I became overly focused on how great life would be once we hit this future goal of retiring early. I also spent a lot of time looking back in regret, thinking and writing about our massive past financial mistakes. Frequently, I forgot to appreciate the amazing things I already had in my life and the amazing position we were already in.
I am as big an advocate as ever of the ideas of becoming financially literate and achieving financial independence. I continue to work towards obtaining progressively more personal and financial freedom, allowing a life consistent with my values and interests.
At the same time, as I continued to learn and think on a deeper level, my eyes were opened to the challenges of traditional retirement planning. Traditional retirement could add new financial stress that we have never faced.
It also would remove work which adds value and meaning to our lives. The idea of sacrificing today to work towards a traditional retirement stopped making much sense to me.
Could Writing Be My Life’s Focus?
As traditional retirement became a less appealing destination for me, I stopped worrying about the fastest path to get there. Instead, I asked myself a new question. How could I go about building a life that I would never want to retire from?
I began to see that I was developing a passion for writing. I also saw that in addition to being a way to potentially make some money to relieve financial stress, blogging had many ancillary benefits.
Prior to starting this blog, I found the path to FIRE was often a lonely one. This blog has been a means of connecting with some amazing people in the blogging world.
Outside of blogger friends, my wife and I have become part of a mastermind group of similar couples seeking FIRE with young children after the idea was pitched to me by a reader. I connected with other physical therapists with similar goals who found me through the blog.
The blog even opened doors to deeper relationships and better conversations with some members of my own family. It also allowed me to reconnect on a deeper level with old friends from our outdoor community.
I realized that while I value the role of work in my life, I needed a new framework. I have grown tired of the model of trading time for money and being bound to a schedule as required in my career as a physical therapist.
Writing could provide me with opportunities to serve and help people improve their lives, which is what drew me to become a physical therapist. At the same time, being a writer could provide me with much more freedom over when and where I work, and what projects I want to spend my time on.
Knowing My Weaknesses
While I have managed to have some success in my 3+ years as a blogger and 2 years as a freelancer, I realize that I still have much to learn. I also realized that the grass is not always greener on the other side, and this new path would have its own set of challenges.
I have become a much better writer, but I am a work in progress. I thoroughly enjoy the process of writing, but I need to continue to work to develop my craft.
My efforts have been scattered. I have done a poor job at establishing myself as a brand. I still have a relatively small audience and will need to spend substantial time on promotion to develop my writing into a viable business.
I have not yet done anything to monetize the blog. My business background is in growing a physical therapy practice and in lessons from my father from his small photography business.
While I understand some important universal business principles, I also have a lot to unlearn from these models of trading time for money. Building a mostly passive, scalable, online business is a different animal. It will also take work and time.
I am confident that I could overcome these obstacles and build a lifestyle business on my own through hard work and determination. However, I fear that if trying to go it alone I could create as many problems as I would solve.
The realization hit that I could easily trade my 40 hour/week physical therapist job for an even more demanding “retirement job” as a blogger if I am not careful.
I have always believed the saying that good luck is when hard work meets opportunity. As I struggled with what to do next in my life, I had a stroke of good luck this past summer.
This June, I shared my personal story on Doughroller in an article entitled “How I Reached Financial Independence By Age 40”. This article brought me substantial publicity when it was picked up by Business Insider.
While the broad publicity was nice, the article led to a single e-mail which has since changed the trajectory of my journey.
Finding A Mentor
In that Doughroller article, I linked to several people that have been very influential on our journey to FIRE. One of them, Darrow Kirkpatrick, saw the article and reached out to thank me for mentioning him and congratulate me on our success.
Just a day or two before getting this e-mail from Darrow, I read an article he wrote entitled Gone Fishin’. In that post, I sensed someone who was experiencing some of the things I feared about being a one man show trying to create content, promote it, and build a business around it while enjoying a “retired” lifestyle.
I was looking for a mentor, and here before me was a person doing pretty much everything I wanted to do. After having read his work for years, I felt shared values and purpose. I also sensed he was facing a struggle I was trying to avoid.
I had to take a shot. I sent him an e-mail, asking if there was any interest in developing a collaborative relationship.
Since that day in early June, we’ve exchanged countless e-mails, had a few great conversations, and did a test run where I wrote 3 guest posts for his site, Can I Retire Yet?.
With each step in the process, our trust grew and the mutual benefits to each of us became more apparent.
What I Will Be Doing In Retirement
Going forward, I will be devoting my time and interest to growing and developing Can I Retire Yet?. This will be an ongoing collaboration between Darrow and me.
Starting in January, I will write two original articles per month. Darrow will continue to write a monthly article. We will also work together on the business side.
This relationship will free each of us up to do more of what we love while minimizing the things we do not. We will each be able to play to our strengths.
I will get access to a mentor who is doing or has already done everything that I want to do in this next phase of life. I will also have the opportunity to spend most of my time writing, without having to build an audience and business from scratch.
Darrow will get relief from being the sole content producer. I will also be responsible for the lion’s share of marketing and growing the blog.
This will allow him to focus on more in-depth content and original research that he is known for. It will also free up his time for product development and promotion. Keep an eye on his posts for future retirement modeling products.*
I hope that all of you who have chosen to follow me here will choose to follow me over to Can I Retire Yet?. You can do so by subscribing right now.
What I Will Not Be Doing In Retirement
My wife and I started down this path to early retirement looking to become a couple of “dirtbag millionaires” with far more time to seek adventures in the outdoors. I became more committed to the idea of FI after our daughter was born. I desire space in my life for these things that are most important.
One thing that I’ve come to realize, albeit very slowly, is that I can not do everything at once. Part of this is being very intentional about where I spend my time.
Equally important, I need to be just as meticulous about where I will not spend my time. I continue to repeat the mantra I’ve shared with you all, less but better.
So as I begin to use my financial independence to shift the direction of my life to spend more time outdoors, more time with my family, and more time on this new project at Can I Retire Yet?, it means I need to make decisions about what things I will cut out of my life to make room for it all.
This includes taking at least the next year off completely from physical therapy work. In all likelihood, it means retiring as a physical therapist completely.
It means stepping back from freelance writing. This was a fun way to make a little money and increase my exposure as a writer. It also takes a lot of time and has my efforts scattered.
It means waiting to launch any personal coaching services. I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to express interest. This is something that I continue to have great interest in and definitely want to pursue when the time is right. It is not yet that time.
Sadly, it also means I will be stepping away from producing new content here at Eat the Financial Elephant. This blog is the story of my family’s journey to financial independence, and I think there is value in sharing our triumphs and our failures to help others. It will remain here for anyone who wants to read it.
I will continue to write a very brief monthly financial update to share how we are doing and what we are monitoring as we enter this new phase of life. Otherwise, I will be stepping away from Eat the Financial Elephant to devote my full attention to focusing on these things that are most important to me in this next phase of life.
I am tremendously grateful for all of you who have chosen to follow Eat the Financial Elephant, learning from me, with me, and/or giving me encouragement and advice on the way.
I hope each of you will continue to follow along at Can I Retire Yet?.
Until then, I sincerely thank each of you!
Chris Mamula, aka “The Elephant Eater”
*If you’re interested in retirement modeling and own an Android device, contact Darrow about an ongoing test program
Share your thoughts in the comments below, and follow me over to Can I Retire Yet? where we can continue and grow the conversation soon!