marc-transparentThe other day I told an acquaintance about my financial independence plans. He didn’t get it. Called me selfish. ‘It is not all about you’, he said.

I was a taken aback by his bluntness. I tried to argue it was the opposite, but his facial expression clearly revealed he wasn’t willing to listen to my arguments. He had made up his mind. Case closed as far as he was concerned.

I hadn’t expected this. What is it that makes a person respond like that?

  1. Envy?
  2. A bad night?
  3. Lack of knowledge?

I chose the latter. But that brings me to another point: It seems more and more people are opinionated about things they understand very little about. Politics, global warming, the economy. You name it. They’re entrenched. Not because they have a deep understanding, but because they read a headline on their smartphone on a bus. That’s all it takes to have an ‘informed’ opinion. Not having an opinion – for the simple reason that you feel you do not understand the matter thoroughly enough – is apparently a sign of weakness.

Okay, I will stop my rant here. But it does relate to being called selfish just because I seek financial independence. It reveals a spectacular lack of insight.

Selfishness

Let’s see what Wikipedia says about selfishness.

Selfishness is being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one’s own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others

So, the person who called me selfish must have concluded that financial independence is only for my own advantage, pleasure and welfare and that I don’t care about others.

That’s a bold accusation to make.

There are two main states. Seeking financial independence and being financially independent. I am not quite sure what my acquaintance was thinking of when throwing the word selfish at me. Probably nothing.

financial-independence-selfish

Seeking

When you seek financial independence like me, you need to save money. A lot. Every month. Year in, year out. Money that could have been used for other purposes. I could have spent it on experiences. Donated it to charity. Absolutely. Is this why my acquaintance called me selfish? Let’s explore this a bit.

There is no doubt that money can be used for many good purposes. Personally I could help an entire impoverished neighborhood somewhere in the world. So yeah, pretty selfish if you look at it like that.

But let’s face it, (almost) everyone in our rich western society could do that. We could all donate more. Just trade your expensive car for a cheaper one and live in a more modest home. And do you really need that many clothes? The expensive perfume? The latest smartphone? A foreign trip twice a year?

I am not saying this to defend my own ‘selfishness’. I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy.

Sticking to helping people for a moment, it is not about the money (most of us have it – some more than others obviously), but about whether or not you have a sincere desire to help people, to make a difference in their lives.

I won’t deny money is important, but it is not your most important asset. It can ease your conscience when you donate (and it helps, I am not arguing you should stop), but the most important asset you have is your time. For many however, donating time is way more difficult than donating money. We are already trading our time for a salary. We’re busy with family and maintaining our friendships. There’s a game on tonight and by the way we’re watching 7 seasons of a fantastic show on Netflix. I understand. Our agenda’s are full.

Seeking financial independence is not about the money either. Money is not the goal. It’s the means. The means to take back time. Time to do what? You can read about this in my post about the things I would do when I am financially independent.

If you have so much time, I think it is fair to give some of it away. It doesn’t require a state of FIRE to start doing that obviously, but once you’re financially independent and quit your job, you can consider giving more.

Be a volunteer. Give something or someone a bit of your time. You will not change the world. But you might change someone.

There is something else I believe in and that is ‘if you don’t fill your gas tank, you can’t carry passengers’.

Ultimately, you need to be happy with what you are doing. If that’s working in a full time 9-5 job until you’re 67, then that’s great. But if you are not happy and consumed by your own unhappiness, how will you be able to give?

Being

Being financially independent is the state that I am aiming for. For reasons already mentioned above. Is that being selfish?

Am I selfish because I do no longer trade my time and labor for a paycheck? But instead have oceans of time to focus on what makes me and people I care about happy?

I think not.

Freedom

Financial independence is about freedom for me. But what exactly is freedom?

If you ask different people, you get different answers. Think about the following for a moment:

  • A person in a wheelchair
  • A person in an abusive relationship
  • A prostitute
  • A person who is persecuted for his/her religious convictions
  • An alcoholic
  • A woman who is discriminated against because of her sex (on a side note, a personal finance blogger who identifies strongly with the feminist cause is MsZiYou)
  • A person with a good job, but stressed and close to a burnout
  • A unemployed person, who has been searching for a job for ages

Ask them about freedom and they will all tell you something different. For some freedom has to do with politics or religion. Others will tell you they want to be free from being controlled or enslaved. Or they mention their addiction, their financial worries or stress at work. Some people would say freedom is getting a job. Or going to school.

When we say we want to be free, we usually refer to something concrete. Some perceived or real constraint, restriction or obstacle that we experience in our lives. If we don’t see many obstacles, we tend to talk about the freedom to freely choose and to do whatever we desire.

Concepts of freedom

There are two concepts of freedom. Freedom from (also called negative freedom) and freedom to (also called positive freedom).

  • Negative freedom is freedom from external intervention that prevents you from doing what you want.
  • Positive freedom is the freedom to control and direct your own life. Positive freedom allows you to consciously make your own choices and create your own purpose.

Using these two freedom concepts, my journey to financial independence can be described as follows:

  • I want to be free from having my days controlled by my employer and by our customer’s needs. I want to be free from rigid schedules, business plans and deadlines.
  • I am free to seek financial independence, which I feel is right for me.

It’s that simple.

When I get there I will have oceans of time. Time to focus on myself, invest in people and relationships. To give some of it away to people who need help.

I will have more than a few years of dignity. Not just for my own advantage, pleasure and welfare. Also for the advantage, pleasure and welfare of others.

Selfish?

If you’re interested in how other financial independence bloggers think about early retirement and how they plan to use their time, I can recommend reading FIREThe9To5’s post about finding fulfillment.

What about you?

What are your thoughts about financial independence and selfishness?

6 thoughts on “Is (Seeking) Financial Independence A Synonym For Being Selfish?

  1. My first thought would be that your acquaintance was jealous or envious – I think that kind of emotion will bring out the kind of response he came out with.

    In certain cases, where loved ones might be involved, aiming for FIRE could be considered selfish, if the needs of said loved ones are ignored while you pursue FIRE. But this isn’t usually the case (not from the blogs I’ve read anyway) – the families/other halves are usually on board, otherwise it doesn’t work.

    At my current place of work, I’ve only loosely mentioned retiring early to one person and not mentioned FI at all so I don’t have to explain it! Best to treat it like ‘Fight Club’ ie don’t talk about it, unless that other person is on board too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Weenie! Yeah the more I think about it, the more I believe it is jealousy/envy.

      It would indeed be selfish to ignore the needs of loved ones (there would be something seriously wrong if I did). Loved ones definitely need to be ‘on board (approve or join)… only then it makes sense.

      I’ll be more quiet about my FI plans from now on. I like your ‘Fight Club’ analogy 😉

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  2. I’m 48 and worked part time 10 years before fully retiring a year ago. I totally get it. I struggle with feelings of selfishness when I’ve had such an easy life and now have so much freedom. I’m consoled by the knowledge that I’m not using a lot of resources or hurting anyone but I often feel that I could be doing more to help others. I approached retirement slowly and with great awareness and I knew this would be a challenge.
    Just be prepared to have this experience. It’s definitely a part of the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting Rob. I totally understand what you mean. To be honest, I think many people think they could be doing more to help others. I haven’t retired yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t help people. I don’t have to change the world, but I may be able to affect someone else’s life. Even if it is just a bit, it would be enough. But indeed, once I have all the time in the world, this feeling (to do something useful, help people) will probably grow.

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  3. I appreciate the spirit of the article, but it could have been more complete if you had gotten your friend to explain his position rather than speculating as to what he meant by his statement. My response would be different to a claim of selfishness by taking more wealth out of the economy than most others, vs., say, selfishness by the unfairness of being able to retire while so many others still have to toil away for decades. In the latter case, I would argue that by leaving the workforce early, you’re freeing up that spot for others to enter a good career field.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Dan. You are right that my article is speculative regarding the exact position of my acquaintance and what he means with calling me selfish. It is not a direct response to him (I analyse one particular explanation). Maybe I will ask him next time we meet (and write another post about it).

      There are other reasons why people may think it is selfish to seek financial independence. Taking wealth out of the economy and retiring while others have to keep working – as you mentioned – are two of them. The latter is rooted in envy I would argue. The former is interesting and related to consumerism and whether consuming less, saving/investing instead and retiring early is a selfish act as it affects the economy. That’s a good topic for another post!

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