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The Journey Home Is Bittersweet

This coming Monday, May 12, I turn 32 years old.
But Monday is a special day for me for another reason altogether. It begins my final week of employment at the car dealership I’ve been working almost non-stop at for more than four years now. And with that comes the great possibility of a permanent sabbatical from this line of work – one I’ve been involved in for the past eight years. Early retirement before I retire early?

Break From Wage Slavery

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve been able to make an above-average salary, even though I haven’t yet graduated college. And while I’ve worked incredibly hard to overcome past mistakes and put myself in the position to where these opportunities were placed in front of me, I’m extremely blessed nonetheless. It’s been the work and the money I’ve earned off of it that has led me to the position I’m in now – one where I have a six-figure portfolio throwing off hundreds of dollars per month in passive dividend income.
It’s all still quite amazing to me.
However, I recently found myself at a fork in the road. And I decided to go straight.
This year has been tumultuous for me. I took a pay cut at work after a new co-worker was brought on in my sales team. Furthermore, the benchmarks I’m expected to exceed on a regular basis were raised fairly significantly. Falling pay and rising benchmarks are obviously disappointing after putting in 50-hour workweeks for years on end, but such is life. When confronted with such situations I find it important to have perspective, but also stay firm on valuing your time.
But these changes have simply exacerbated frustrations I’ve already been harboring. And so it sped along an idea that’s been building over the last year about moving from full-time work at a job I truly don’t enjoy to writing more on a full-time basis, if just to give it a shot for a while to see what happens. Due to this move, I anticipate a more robust lifestyle filled with much less stress, but also much less pay. As such, the journey to financial independence is likely to be slowed significantly; however, the journey will also be much more scenic and enjoyable. And I guess at this point in the road, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. At least for the time being.
However, this post is more than just a rant on work and a declaration of freedom from it. (But that is certainly something I’m in a celebratory mood about!)
This is also about a journey back home.

A Journey Within A Journey

I moved from my home in Michigan down to Florida back in 2009 for a number of reasons. I wanted to start fresh and get my act together. After allowing myself to build a negative net worth and finding myself worth less at 27 years old than I was as a baby, I realized that changes had to be made. I targeted Florida as the location that could surely change my fortunes for a number of reasons:
  • The warm climate would brighten my spirits, literally. I have self-diagnosed myself as suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – which is a severe form of “winter blues”. I felt the sunshine and palm trees could boost my mood and also provide for plenty of free activities outside like world-class beaches, which would make it easy to have fun on the cheap. I also knew it would be easier to get by without a car in a warmer climate. I once tried to get around Michigan without a car during the winter, and believe me it sucked! It turned out I was right on this one as I got around town fine for years by bus, bike, and scooter.
  • The lack of state income taxes was also a big factor. I felt I could keep more of my hard-earned money if I wasn’t sending 4.35% (now 4.25%) of it to the state government. Florida’s tax structure is very attractive for retirees as well because dividend income isn’t taxed either, and this is probably a good reason why you have such a concentrated retiree population down here.
  • And the general economy in Michigan back in 2009 was absolutely horrid. We were at the epicenter of the Great Recession as the U.S. auto manufacturers were crumbling all around us. The dealership I was working at at the time started letting people go, and I was one of them. It was a scary time, and after doing thorough research I felt I could not only land a job in Florida, but also make considerably more money.
And this all worked out better than I could have imagined. I started my journey to financial independence at the beginning of 2010, and have been rolling ever since.
But life has a funny way of poking you every once in a while when a change is due, and just the same as it happened in 2009, it’s happening again.

Family Is Everything

I have three sisters. They’re all younger than me, and we’re all very close to one another. In fact, my whole family is pretty much comprised of my parents (my aunt and uncle) and my sisters. So I have a pretty tight-knit family. And since we went through so much together after being adopted and taken away from a bona fide crack house in the middle of Detroit, there’s a certain bond there.
When I moved away we were all much younger, and time passing has a way of reminding us how much older we’re all getting. Since moving down here my oldest sister bought a house that her and her husband occupy. I’ve only been able to muster one visit there, unfortunately. My other sister has since married and moved into a house of her own. On top of that, she’s pregnant and expecting her first child in August – which will be my first niece! So I’m obviously very excited. And my youngest sister is currently completely renovating a total fixer-upper that her and her boyfriend bought on the cheap just a couple months ago. And there’s also my parents. They’re still relatively young, but they’re also getting older by the day. I don’t want to find myself one day financially independent, but with the realization that I missed out on all of the time when they were able to get around and spend time with me.
In addition to all of this, my best friend has also had two children since I’ve moved away. And it pains me to not really be a part of their lives at all, as I look at them as nephews. I’ve visited Michigan as much as humanly possible in the past five years to spend time with loved ones and my friend, but a week here or a couple days there go by fast.
So there’s a lot of changes happening up north that I’m not really a part of. And as time has passed it seems I’m less and less a part of these family events. Such is life, and I knew that going into all of this. And I’ve had no regrets about it. Up until now.
Although I have no desire to have children of my own, I definitely don’t want to be a distant uncle. And when I found out my little sister was pregnant on Thanksgiving the ol’ gears in my head started churning. And it become apparent to me that if I wanted to continue having no regrets that I needed to consider the possibility that moving back home was the right thing to do.

Moving In Different Directions

Over the course of 2014 it has become more and more clear to me that moving home was really part of a bigger picture for me, as pieces started to fall into place like a puzzle within my life.
Of course, the troubles at work cemented the idea that leaving the stressful life of a full-time-and-then-some service advisor made absolute sense. And the success I’ve gratefully received since the end of last year here on the blog made this idea realistic, and I knew that with more time I could increase my writing output in terms of quality and even quantity. And this is something I’m really looking forward to trying.
However, there’s still the life I have here in Florida. There’s certainly more than just the job. I have a family of my own – of sorts. I met my girlfriend the day after I moved to Sarasota, as I was relaxing by the community pool that was located within the apartment complex we both lived at at the time. It was a chance meeting with a woman much older than myself and we both felt a connection right away. Not long after that we were dating, and we’ve been together ever since. That was almost five years ago!
But life brings about changes, and sometimes these changes push people closer. Other times they push people apart. Now, I wouldn’t say that we’ve grown apart, but I would say we’ve grown in different directions. When I first met my partner I had some ideas in my head about what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure how to set out and do what was necessary. And I was still living a fairly “normal” life at the time. I had a car, lived in a fairly nice apartment, and while I was moving towards frugality, I certainly wasn’t the frugalist you see today that tracks every penny. So you can see I’ve changed quite a bit in the last five years.
I’ll admit this isn’t really fair to her, and she’s been extremely supportive and wonderful about it. And while she shares none of my passion or vision for financial independence, she knows that it’s important to me and applauds my efforts. I’ve made concessions along the way in likewise fashion, and we’ve found common ground in our relationship. But I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that my changes have been weighing on our relationship heavily, and there’s a certain level of guilt and disappointment that resides in my body because of this.
And so we’ve had some discussions over the past month involving all of the changes over the past few years, the changes occurring with my family up in Michigan, my increasing displeasure with work, and my ambitions regarding writing more and becoming even more extreme in my ways. These discussions have led to the revelation that the only thing that makes sense is to move back to Michigan and spend more time with my family. Unfortunately, my partner has a life of her own here in Florida, including a son still in school. So while I can up and move to Michigan, she cannot. And even if she could it would probably be a pretty hard sell.
Where does that leave us? 
I’m not totally sure.

What Is A Successful Relationship?

It should be noted at this point that I don’t view the ultimate barometer of a successful relationship as time spent with one another. While I commend those who spend 30 or 40 wonderful and lovely years with a partner and make it through all of the ups and downs that naturally come with such long-term relationships, I don’t think this is the ultimate form of relationship success.
I think no matter how long you’re with someone, if you learned from each other, loved one another fully and faithfully, laughed together, had fun as often as possible, grew as individuals, supported each other, and found yourself a better person at the end of the relationship than you did at the beginning, then that’s a successful relationship, regardless of the amount of time the relationship lasted. I’ve made my feelings known on this, and my partner agrees. It doesn’t make things any easier, but in the end there’s a level of support and understanding because we love each other.
Will we find ourselves back together again in the future? It’s hard to say, but I remain hopeful. At the same time, I also know that I’m holding my girlfriend back at times. She doesn’t fully believe in the concept of delayed gratification, nor does she dislike her job. She works in an industry she loves, and has no plans to retire early. As such, she often tries to make the most of the todays, and worries less about the tomorrows. We are different people in many ways, but we’ve instead made the most of what we have in common and have had a most wonderful relationship. And I consider myself lucky indeed to be a part of her life.

Excited, But Scared

I won’t lie to you all. I’m honestly a bit frightened about the future. I’m a highly analytical individual, and I tend to think and rethink every situation to the nth degree. My path is changing in such a way that isn’t totally logical, and that scares me. I know without a doubt in my mind that the path I was on would have secured me my financial freedom by the time I was 40, if not sooner. But life throws you curve balls sometimes. The key is to respond appropriately so you can knock that pitch out of the park. And this is my attempt at doing so.
I’ve been completely and wholly committed to my approach, and it feels so strange to me to divert now. It almost seems as if I was on this long highway. And while the trip was tiring and overwhelming at times, I could see the destination. I had the map in front of me, and the progress was clear. I could easily look back at any time and see the miles I had already traveled with great pride.
But now I’m exiting this highway for a completely different road. The destination is the same, but the new path is full of curves and bumps I’m not used to. But where I feel fear and doubt, I also feel a sense of excitement I haven’t felt in a while. My work was becoming unbearable, and going through the motions, while easy and without much effort or thought, dulls my senses. But no more. I am alive now, and I feel more inspired and motivated than ever. Whether or not this choice to leave the familiar for the unknown improves my life remains to be seen. But I’m excited to become the artist that I feel I was meant to be, while also having more time for family, managing investments, living life, exercising, and becoming more efficient and frugal. I’m also looking forward to four seasons once again, although winter is pretty harsh up in Michigan. Overall, I’m energized by the thought of spending more time with family, and seeing if I can still succeed under totally different circumstances.

The Trial Begins In Early June

The first weekend in June is when I undertake the 1,200 mile trip north to Michigan. I’ll be packing only what I can fit in my car, as I own very little other than that. I’ll be moving in with the sister that’s pregnant as she has an extra room and this will allow me to be as close to my new niece as possible. I’ll be paying pretty close to market rate rent, as she lives in a very affordable small town in Michigan where homes can be routinely purchased for $50k or so. The extra rent money will help her out a little and the cheap rent will help me flex my frugal muscles and see exactly what’s possible.
After a few months and the excitement of being back near family wears off we’ll see where things stand. And I promise to update you readers as we go along. I’m leaving things open for myself. While I plan to stay near family for the indefinite future, I’m also not opposed to coming back to Florida, and neither is my girlfriend (at least right now). Florida has a lot to offer, and it’s been a wonderful home to me for the past five years (although the older population can be overwhelming at times). I’ll never forget my time down here, and I’ll probably come back at some point in my life either way. But right now I miss so much of my former home. In the end, life is nothing more than a collection of memories. And every memory I don’t create with my family now is a moment I’ll never have.
After a few months of relaxing and getting my energy levels back to normal after working almost non-stop for the last five years I’m going to take a good look at where I’m at. How much am I earning from my writing? How much am I spending? Am I still on track for financial independence by 40? Being able to earn a living from writing is one thing, but I still want to be able to save and invest just like I do now. So I’ll have to assess my position as I go, and around September or so we’ll see the results start to play out.

Financial Independence Is Still The Name Of The Game

So I hope you all continue to stick with me. I remain committed as ever to financial independence, and if anything you’ll see new levels of frugality from me. Because my income will be reduced dramatically, I’m going to take every expense ever more seriously, and I’m anxious to see just how much I’ve learned over the years.
My ultimate goal of financial independence by 40 years old is still what I’m aiming for. I don’t view blogging for a living as financial independence, because being dependent on income from any source that requires active work in exchange for money, no matter how enjoyable, means you’re not completely free. And while I hope to continue writing long after I can pay my way in life solely via passive income, it’s out of passion and a desire to inspire, not because of the income it may or may not provide.
What do you think? Is this a good move? Think I’m making a mistake? Will I most likely succeed or fail?
This article was written by Dividend Mantra. If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to my feed [RSS]