Freedom To vs Freedom From: what most people get wrong pursuing early retirement

Why making space for your desires is surprisingly difficult - and vital - in the pursuit of financial independence.

written by oz chen

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We’ve all heard the trope of the person who retires early and becomes miserable.

Zapped of purpose and vision once the goal is reached.

But most people what they’ll do if they could retire early, and the answer goes something like…

“I dunno…travel? I just don’t want to work til I’m 65.”

Most people know what they want freedom FROM, but don’t know what they want freedom TO do.

If you’re interested in early retirement, then you’ll find this distinction a massively helpful tool on your journey.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I was never the type of kid who knew.

Astronaut? Nope. Doctor? I fainted watching Saw in high school.
(The only interest I had as a kid was video games and messing around with computers.)

Thus began my “process of elimination” approach to life.

I switched majors not once, not twice, but thrice in college. Started with Economics, then Urban Planning, then Communications, and finally back to Economics. Yes, this worried my Asian mother.

You see this everywhere…

But there’s a hidden cost to this way of being.

Everything that I wanted freedom from existed in the present, and created extra resistance whenever I had to face them.

My detour on the way to financial freedom

My pursuit of financial independence fell squarely in the freedom FROM camp: bad bosses, boring jobs, and long commutes.

The only thing I could produce in terms of what I wanted freedom TO do…was the same, shitty stock answer from the top of this article: “Travel.”

Then, I spent a stint as a digital nomad.

Lo’ and behold…I realized rather quickly that endless travel was not my dream.

I was so glad to have tested out what I think my “retirement” days would be like DECADES before getting there.

What emerged from that period of solo traveling was a newfound desire for connection, creativity and impact.

I also realized that if I didn’t actively create my dream life, then I’ll spend all my leading up to retirement avoiding things.

Now, I want the freedom TO…

  • Pursue creative projects without pressure of financial gain
  • Cultivate community, locally
  • Discover causes I care about and volunteering for them
  • Deep dive into hobbies new and old, like dancing, gardening, and music production
  • Spend days literally doing nothing and reprogramming my mind from a productivity-based culture

That even feels good to type out.

Deep down inside, we all secretly know what we want.

Our desire are just buried under years of stories and conditioning.
And fear.
Fear zaps desire.

Fear shows up up in sneaky ways, like hiding behind generalizations.

“Being free to do whatever I want” was alluring; getting specific about what I actually wanted was more confronting.

If you dare reach for a dream, you’d also risk failure.
It feels more powerful to do the rejecting, than to try and fail.
No more dating toxic people! No more cubicle jobs! No more Zoom calls!

I once heard someone say “Don’t just be anti-war. Be pro-peace.”

Lead with what you want.

Honor your desires

The opposite of fear is love; creation is an act of love.

Your desires matter. Your dreams matter.
You honor them by making space for them.
You make space for your dreams by defining a direction towards what you want.

What you want to avoid also matters, but no one ever got to their destination only looking in the rear view mirror.

If you’re pursuing financial independence, then try out “freedom TO” as a companion and reminder of what really matters to you on the journey.

liked this article? tell your mom, tell your kids


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