FI - A Larger Perspective

What could be the long-term implications for a society in which more people would work significantly less? Whether that's on a monthly basis or in the case of early retirement on an overall life-long basis. In some aspects, early retirement is similar to part-time work, while in others it differs significantly.

Human development is characterized by efficiency-gains.
What are we going to do with it?
In an ideal scenario, with part-time work, you work only as much as is needed for your immediate needs. You would calculate with retirement at age 65 and save no more than what is necessary to do so.

In the FIRE-scenario you try to compress all your life's work into a shorter timespan and invest your surplus income wisely. Therefore being able to live off of the returns for the rest of your life.

But what are the implications of those individual lifestyle choices if they would be adopted by a significant part of society? Granted, this is not an in-depth analysis of any underlying economic dynamics or market evaluations. To come up with conclusions about the impact of such choices, I believe we have to take a more long-term perspective and look at how our lifestyles are changed by those circumstances.

Environmental impacts:

Individuals who are no longer following paid employment and are spending the majority of their adult life in financial freedom will lower their overall environmental impact. If this is a model to be adopted by a major part of society, it can only be achieved by drastically reducing spending and increasing savings. This will lead to a lower environmental burden, at least in today's fossil-fuel-based economy. Except for the very rich, who could spend their retirement with virtually unrestricted spending, most people would become more stationary and reduce their environmental impact.

Changes in human behavior:

Living in a society that is focused on paid employment and where much of our social status is determined by a career, lots of human energy is focused on maintaining and improving social recognition. Reports of people in early retirement reveal a shift away from the need for social recognition through advancements in one's career paths. This will, in turn, enable people to focus much of their time and energy into more meaningful pursuits.

I predict that we will see a rise of interest in areas like spirituality and personal development. Naturally, as the lower levels of human needs (Maslow's hierarchy) are fulfilled, new levels of wants and needs emerge. And those are typically related to spiritual pursuits as the search for meaning continues beyond the fulfillment of basic survival needs.

Economic implications:

What happens to the economy if a large proportion of people rely on dividends for their income? Instead of pure capitalism, it is actually an option for sustainable economic growth. By not reinvesting all profits into business development and therefore maximum future growth, it is actually sustainable to use part of the profit for dividend payments. Dividend payments mean that shareowners receive the benefits of the efficiencies already achieved by the current system. Instead of rapid, ever-changing growth, the economy would become more focused on producing the necessities of life in the most efficient way. This is required for sustainable dividend yields without compromising the health of the system.

Another change we would see is a shift away from shareholder value to stakeholder value. Companies would focus more on fulfilling their responsibilities for employees, society and shareholders alike, to secure long-term success and sustainable growth. The reasons for this shift are manifold. Concerning early retirement, the most interesting aspect is the shift in perspective. People entering the workforce with the idea of early retirement have a long time horizon for their investments. Intuitively we understand, that we will have to set up long-lasting systems and companies that will cover our needs with less input of human labor if this is to become a model for more people.

In January 2018, Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, declared that to “prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society . . . [and] benefit all of their stakeholders”.

We can see that a change in perspective is happening. The understanding is growing that to maximize long term returns, short term capital gains can not always be maximal too.

The market

For the markets, this will likely show itself as long streaks of bearish and bullish market situations and less volatility over time as people focus more on long term investments. As we come to understand that short-term, above-average capital gains always come from someone else's losses. As a whole, it is impossible to achieve a return greater than the average. For every investor with above-average returns, there is also an investor with lower than average returns. As a society, we have to expect that the average return is what's realistic.

The reality

On the physical level, this means a return to quality over quantity. As corporations are interested in their long-term return, they will make sure that their assets are long-lasting and provide stable quality output for many years.

An interesting way to think about the difference between quality and quantity is in terms of their effects over time. Economic growth based on quantity can be seen as an immediate (short-term / in the present) extension of business to the detriment of competing products or service. Growing businesses based on selling more items or services have other businesses shrink, as there is only so much human activity to go around.

Economic growth based on quality has a different effect. It spreads the gathering of return out over time, which can be much more sustainable. We could even say that this is exactly what we need for the early retirement lifestyle. A simple example would be to see how you would replace your own work. Let's say you have a homestead where you grow vegetables that require daily irrigation. Instead of doing this by hand every day for the rest of your life, you invest a lot of effort upfront to build a high-quality irrigation system that lasts for a lifetime with minimal maintenance work. You would probably be working on that for several weeks. In that time-frame, it is more work than watering the plants directly, but it pays off over time.

The same dynamic is going on on a global scale if we manage to build high-quality products that make life easier.

For our society this means we can benefit from our work for much longer, being the ticket to early retirement.

Why, with all our technology, are we still working so much?

Gains in efficiency were not used to create more freedom and time. What we have done collectively instead is quite interesting. Efficient ways of obtaining our basic needs were not enough. We continuously use the freed up time and surplus human potential to increase our consumption. New inventions made it easier to consume vast amounts of energy and resources in a short amount of time.

Intercontinental business class flights burn up money at a rate of 5$/minute. Something we couldn't do without technology. Instead of getting all of our life's work done in a couple of years or in fewer hours per week, we collectively decided to keep working regular hours and inventing new ways of consumption and distraction.

Luckily, this is an individual decision for the most part, if one is not entirely oblivious to the desires created by the marketing sector. I don't predict that we will reduce our activity overall. Rather we will focus more on the joy and meaning a particular activity brings us. Free individuals tend to ask the question of meaning more often than people solely concerned with covering their survival needs. This translates into a restructuring of our value system and what we pursue as a society. In fact, all artistic and creative endeavors are the result of well allocated freed up human potential. But with the need to derive an income from their art, creators may change their work based on that. With many more early retirees becoming creators of their own, we might see an emergence of new forms of art.

Financial Independence is the logical next step. We have transformed the physical need to cover our basic needs into a virtual need for financial security. We have transformed what we do physically to survive, but it has not freed up our minds to pursue higher goals of personal development. In our minds we still struggle to survive, only the object of desire has changed. The tangible goods, food, water, and shelter have been exchanged with the goal of making money. Financial freedom will open up possibilities of personal transformation we haven't seen before on a large scale.

Valuable Time-Savers - How to actually save time

What follows is a list of ideas I collected over the course of several months, while I was working full time, which occupied 10 hours of my time from Monday to Thursday and 7 hours on Fridays. To achieve goals outside of work, I wanted to come up with strategies to optimize my time.

You may find this list unusual, but I think these are more valuable in the long-run than the usual time-saving tips.

  1. Strategically spend more money on things and services that others can do quickly and better than you. This will also collectively save us time and can be worth the money.
  2. Investments: Buy assets that can generate an income and therefore provide you with the opportunity to work less for money in the future
  3. Combined uses: Think of products that have multiple uses and might even do several tasks at a time or at least make them easier
  4. Minimalism: on the other hand, reducing the number of gadgets and general stuff that you own can free up time. Less need for maintaining them and fewer distractions.
  5. Evaluate your purchases: Before you buy anything, put it on a list for at least 30 days. If you still need it after that time you can go ahead and buy it. This will save you many trips to stores to randomly buy things you barely use. Shopping actually takes time.
  6. Cook for several meals at a time: One of my favorite meals is a pressure cooker bean, grain and vegetable stew. I combine 500gr of dried beans with 500gr of whole grains and at least 1,5kg of veggies. The beans are first soaked overnight and then the rest added before cooking. It takes only 5min to prepare and can easily be made for several days ahead.
  7. Intermittent fasting: only eat two meals a day instead of three. No snacks either. It will save you a good hour each day for eating and preparing food. Just skip your least favorite meal.
  8. Eat mostly nutritionally dense foods. You can eat iceberg lettuce all day without getting much nutrition, but spending a lot of time chewing.
  9. Extend your life: the only true way to actually get more time is by living longer. Improve your chances of living a long life by practicing caloric restriction. It is the only scientifically validated method to extend lifespan across all species tested so far. By doing the above mentioned intermittent fasting regiment you already should be able to lower your calories. If you want to go even further check out my other blog posts on this topic.
  10. Don't do work that doesn't earn you enough money: always strive to do the work that you can get paid the most for. This usually means providing more value to others and doing difficult tasks. That way you become skillful in what you do and improve your earning potential over time. Which means you can save and invest more, leading to early retirement.
  11. Move closer to work: if you have a regular job it means that you commute the path from your home to your workplace 10 times per week. Make it as short and enjoyable as possible. I prefer to live so close to work that I can take the bike and therefore combine my commute with exercise. Plus it saves a lot of money on a car.
  12. Finding hobbies that are combining as many benefits for you as possible. For example, I have a sedentary job so I want to spend a lot of my free time outside and move my body but I also like reading. To combine the two I switched to audiobooks that I can listen to while being out on the bicycle or in the gym.
  13. To save time in the gym, focus on heavy multi-joint exercises. Minimize single-joint exercises if you are not striving to step on a bodybuilding stage. There is good evidence, that single joint-exercises add little muscle growth if the compound exercises are done heavy enough. You can gain most of the benefits from strength training by doing 3-4 full-body workouts per week, hitting each major muscle group with 1-2 heavy exercises for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps. That's a total of 3-4 hours per week of workout-time in the gym. You can even do full-body calisthenics/body-weight workouts outside of the gym at your local park, where you have access to bars.
  14. Buy used whenever possible. Things usually lose a lot of value when their status switches from "New" to "Used". So basically the moment you buy them from the store. Avoid this drop in value by buying most things used. But look for quality items. You want to buy things that last a long time. If you do, you might be able to sell them for a similar price again once you don't need them anymore. You can look at the used gadgets market like an extended storage unit where you can deposit the things you rarely need. Therefore things don't depreciate while they are not being used, someone else can use them and it spares natural resources too, by reducing demand for new items. This will save you time in several ways: less time spend earning the money, to buy the storage space for unused items, buying less often, earning money from selling and not to forget, the time saved caring and thinking about how to maintain all those possessions.
  15. Make a list of activities that you want to have more time for. Whenever you find yourself having some free time, it is good to know what you actually can do to fill this time with, so that it feels like you are having more time for these things. Because we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we seemingly have nothing to do and can't fill the gaps. But using those gaps with worthwhile activities can increase the quality of your day. This does not really save time, but it allows you to fill unexpected gaps with activities that are meaningful to you. Create a list somewhere in your phone with activities you like and sort them from short to long, so you can fill them in those gaps of free time.
  16. Invest money and time into eating a healthy diet. Learn about the benefits of good nutrition and implement a plan. There are many, oftentimes opposing opinions out there, what the healthiest diet is, but they all share some fundamental principals: Cook more meals at home and eat only minimally processed foods. This will save you time because it will spare you many illnesses and doctor visits, especially in the distant future when your body can't handle the abuse of a bad diet anymore and you get sick more easily or even develop a serious illness that might shorten your life.
  17. Choosing hobbies that generate an income. If you are looking for new activities to do in your free time, consider choosing an activity that might generate an income for you. Here it also helps to make a list of activities you already like or imagine you would enjoy and think of ways in which you might be able to generate an income from them. With some creativity, many activities can generate an income if you set it up right. Consider that it will also take a commitment and a certain level of proficiency in the area.
  18. Think globally what will save humanity overall unnecessary work and how can you change your life to contribute to those improvements in efficiency. Do we really need to produce such expensive luxury for the few richest in the world? Who needs Bentleys and Rolls Royce or private jets? Expensive products translate into lots of human work. Let's avoid expensive lifestyles that are not making us happier and instead focus on improving the lives of people who really feel it.

The Real Benefit of FI

When we think of early retirement it sounds like a ticket to never ending holiday, endless self-entertainment and generally increased enjoyment of every moment of our life.
In reality, this is not what it will feel like. After a while you will discover that life feels pretty similar. But with a significant difference nonetheless. In my opinion many people pursue early retirement to get rid of something. To avoid the negative feelings associated with their job. And that is one reason to pursue this goal.

Isn't the grass always greener on the other side of the fence?

But the great opportunity is in the free time that this strategy leads too. If you do everything right, you will gain a significant amount of free time in your day to day life.  Most people with regular 40 hour work-weeks spend actually about 60h a week for work, not even including the scheduled lunch break. Commuting to work and preparing for it takes most people about 2 hours a day. But even more significant is the time and energy cost that work takes out of your life. Many people have to rest and recover from the demands of work, so that not much of their mental energy is left to devote to pursuing other goals. If you take that into account you gain even more time and energy each week to devote towards your own pursuits, whatever those may be.

Even though I am not truly FI yet, I took off extended periods from full-time employment to see what this lifestyle has to offer and whether its worth pursuing. And from those month of being relatively retired, I am confident to have gained some perspective of the benefits it provides.

If you are into personal and spiritual development, pursuing FI as your first major life goal is a good strategy. By not having to worry day to day about your basic survival needs, you lay the foundation to pursue higher stages of development. You may still be young and not see those goals as important. But from the insights of one of the greatest psychologist in history, Abraham Maslow, we know that our values and what we perceive as important changes throughout our life. And those personal and spiritual goals usually become more important later in life. But then, most people who haven`t worked towards FI, don`t have the foundation and freedom to devote time towards these pursuits.

Intelligently planning for your future takes these changes in your personality into account. And FI gives you maximum flexibility to work towards those changing and evolving goals. Instead of being stuck with working to cover your basic needs, because you fell into the trap of spending money on things you don’t need, you gained yourself the freedom to craft the most rewarding life-path.

This freedom has the added benefit of making you feel less stuck. You will experience less frustration because you have an easier time addressing the challenges in your life. You will feel less stuck because you planned ahead. It is intelligent to ask yourself, what you can do now in order to lay the foundation for your future self to be most successful. And then laying out the plan (like achieving FI) to achieve those life-circumstances which promote long-term development and adaptability to your own evolving goals.

So what is the bottom line?

The benefit of FI is not so much in the avoidance of the negative aspects of work, but in the positive changes which you can make in the free time that you gain through the freedom from work. To have the basic needs life covered through passive income from your investments is the foundation to devote the time and effort to pursue higher states of human development. Even though those goals may not be on your radar when you are young, you can act with foresight to work on the freedom to be able to pursue those changing goals in the future.

"This my personal opinion of what the real value of FI is. As this is very individual, take it just as inspiration."

Spiritual Intelligence

Ken Wilber, in his book "Integral Meditation", writes about the different human intelligences. Usually when we speak about intelligence we think that it is a certain character trait which is measurable. The well known intelligence quotient (IQ) is a result of a test that is designed to capture and measure a persons intelligence. At least since the discovery of EQ, emotional intelligence, do we know that intelligence is a wide field.

Thinking we understand the mechanism behind reality takes away wonder and awe.

The research today is pointing towards a very complex landscape when it comes to human intelligence. Even though it might not be the case that we possess multiple intelligences, which are completely independent of one another, we can point to different aspects of intelligence. These aspects might be developed to varying degrees in one individual.

One of these lines of intelligence is our spiritual understanding. Our spiritual intelligence is a measure of how we understand our relation to existence/the universe/god itself. If we have a direct experience of god, a so called awakening experience, we might interpret it in a number of different ways. The way we explain such an experience to us is our spiritual intelligence. Someone with a deep believe in christian mythology will interpret the same experience very differently from someone who has a background in buddhism. The problem with religion is that it has stopped it's evolution on the mythical level of spiritual understanding. This was the common understanding of people 2000 years ago.

A person at an integral stage of development on the other hand will arrive at a pantheistic understanding of the same enlightenment experience. His level of spiritual intelligence could be regarded as much higher than the person on the mystical stage.

The critical insight here is that we have to admit that we have no school in western societies that addresses our spiritual intelligence. Since religion has turned it's back on true spiritual practices that lead to waking up, many people have lost faith in it's efficacy or don't even know it's original purpose anymore. In general that leads to a population of people with very low spiritual intelligence. Most people in western societies have very little chance to ever discover the value of an effective spiritual practice. Some people discover eastern traditions, eventually leading to an awakening. But it is a difficult undertaking because these traditions developed from a very different cultural background.

To effectively develop ones spiritual intelligence requires serious effort, which is why very few people are willing to do it. There is no default mechanism build into society that would advance spiritual development, making it a very personal undertaking.

By the nature of the overall process of human development, and because the different intelligences are at least partly interlinked, our spiritual understanding of the cosmos advances slowly over time. It takes hundreds of years until the insights from physics trickle down into our common understanding. We can see how, one hundred years later, the insights from quantum mechanics, that nothing exists independently of anything else, has not made it into our common understanding. Our perceived reality is still such, that we experience ourselves as an independent entity.

"If you have not been shocked by quantum mechanics, it is impossible that you have understood it." - Niels Bohr

The Final Frontier

In mindfulness meditation we become aware of the concepts that build up our self-identity. What we have formerly identified with and have unconsciously seen as the subject, is slowly turned into an object in awareness.

The Zen-symbol for the oneness of existence.

We dis-identify with the tendencies of our psyche. Through that process we gain freedom from our worldviews, that shape our behavior and determine how we feel about the world. Just by holding these concepts in our awareness, we become clear of their underlying mechanisms and see through the ego-identification that is there.

In that process we come to a point where we have separated from all mental phenomena and recognize them as not-self. This is also called the neti-neti method. Finally we come to a state where we seemingly have nothing to let go of anymore. At that point we continue to ask the question: what remains?

The last identification that remains is that of the Do-er. We think we are directing our attention. We think that we are the source of our thoughts. That we produce our actions.

This is the final frontier which needs to be investigated.
Finally we might discover, that this deepest of all identifications is also illusory.


Time is so essential to our existence, we usually overlook it.

Dogen watching the moon.
Here I will present an interesting viewpoint from Zen-Buddhism. Dogen writes about this in his book Shobogenzo. What follows is my interpretation of it.

Time can be seen as fundamental to reality. Everything can only appear as moments in time. Time is what we observe as the pattern with which the present moment changes.

If everything exist, it exist as moments in time. Infinite possibilities are unfolding as a seamless band of individual moments in conscious experiences. This band we call time.

Interestingly, time itself only exists as a concept. The only real thing about time is the everlasting moment. Time is never experienced outside of now. The concepts of past and future emerge as functions of our minds, always in the now.

Truth is only found now. There are all kinds of different experiences happening in the now. One day there will be enlightenment happening in the now, where the human concept of individuality is seen through and is replaced by more genuine understanding of being. On the other hand, there are many moments, in which the flow of events has no knowledge about it's own nature. This is the ordinary human experience.

Time after enlightenment. After enlightenment, time is seen for what it truly is. The change of events in the moment are still going to occur, but the awareness will always stay in the now. Concepts of future events are recognized as such. Plans can still be made and memories are still useful and nice. But the present moment will no longer appear as a tiny sliver of time, in between the seemingly infinite past and future. Instead it will be the eternal now that it actually is. Time being a property of what happens in it.

There is only being-time. All time occurs as moments of being. Nothing exists outside of it. Time both encapsulates all of existence and does not exist at the same time. This is one of the paradoxes of reality.

Win-Win-Win Decisions - From The Perspective of Spiral Dynamics

When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. - Lao Tzu

We know Win-Win-Situations. When we make a business deal or we buy something, it usually is a Win-Win-Deal. We get what we want and the other party gets what it wants too.

We buy something because it is more efficient for us than if we would have made it ourselves. We benefit from efficient mass production. The company usually offers the product at a price where they make a profit too. A classical Win-Win-Situation.

Industry exhaust
The result of our highest wisdom?

From the theory of Spiral Dynamics we know that, in order to deal with future problems and to be successful in the long-run, we have to consider the third "Win". What is the third "Win"?

In the context of business, the third "Win" emerges when at least the whole industry benefits or better yet, the whole economy. But really, the third Win represents a higher level of consideration. It means we have to take into account a larger picture than the immediate people that are involved in the decision. In the long-term, in order to fulfill this third "Win", we will have to take into account the impact on the largest system we can think of. The ecosystem of the earth that supports our very existence.

No longer can we overlook the negative impacts of egotistical Win-Win decisions of the past. To enable the sustainable long-term success of a company, decision-makers will have to take into account the environment that they unquestionably depend on. If we want to develop a society and an economy that is able to support future generations, taking the biggest view possible is necessary.

Otherwise we will have to attribute our failure to survive to our unwillingness to embrace human-psychosocial development past the point of adolescence where we are still unconsciously living from a state of avoiding basic fears and work to compensate for our lack of safety. Which is, at it's core, caused by our false believe in a separated, illusory ego that needs to be defended at all cost to cover up it's inherent emptiness.

One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.  
- Dogen

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