I Need a Career Break! (Pursuing FIRE is Dangerous to my Health)

This post is going to be more stream of consciousness post than anything, so hang in there with me.

I've hit a point where I want a...no - no - no...I NEED a career break! I'm 47 years old, I've been grinding in the tech industry since 1997 and I'm absolutely burnt out to a crisp! My original goal of continuing the grind until 2026 feels unattainable, and actually dangerous to my health at this point. Does that sound extreme? Well someone I used to work with just died of a heart attack at 51. I know of 2 others who have suffered strokes the last 6 months. My own blood pressure has been elevated as of late, and I'm about 30 pounds overweight at this point. My stress levels are high right now as well. I'm basically a statistic waiting to happen.

I want to hear the wakeup call FROM others vs. be the wakeup call FOR others!

I'm out.

So what does this actually look like? I have no fucking idea yet. But here's what I "think" I know.

  1. I'm going to hang in there until March 2023. Why until then? Well I earn a few more stock grants between now and then, as well as a couple of bonus payouts. This is also when my next performance review is, so this removes the stress of the review itself (and will thus reduce the pressure of my day to day as I will not worry as much about corporate politics). This will also give us enough time to properly plan for what this will actually look like.

  2. I will stay away from the workforce until the end of 2023. I will take this time to decompress, focus on my health, focus on my family, to let my brain settle and rewire a bit. I'm not going to spend time in the early phase of this break worrying about "what's next", I'll figure that out the closer I get to the end of 2023. If the stars align I'll figure out what I want to do next and have something lined up to start January of 2024.

  3. We must cut our spending! To be honest, our spending is out of control. I use YNAB to track our spending, but only to capture what was actually spent - not for managing any sort of future spending as it is designed. Without these controls we spend without regard. I hate to say that as I pride myself on being financially savvy, but spending controls is an area where I've failed. I hesitated to share how bad it's gotten but I want to own up to it - over the last 12 months we've spent over a quarter million dollars. Backing out what we spent on our mortgage, taxes and insurance, we still spent $200,000. Needless to say, we've got room to cut.

  4. The other side of the "we must cut our spending" is the "we must save hardcore" over the next 7 months! Every penny we can save needs to be put into a bucket to cover our expenses during this break. I need to work through where we will actually accumulate this money, but I'm not going to do those mental gymnastics today. That's for a later day.

  5. I'm thankful I have investments in music royalties and real estate! The cashflow from these will help keep some of our bills paid. We should net over $2,000 per month from these investments. That's enough to cover at least a portion of our expenses! Of course it may only be enough to cover the next item on the list.

  6. Health insurance will cost us. I plan on utilizing COBRA to keep the insurance we currently have going through the duration of my career break. Yes this means we'll be paying more out of pocket than what we currently pay, but that's just part of the deal (at least here in the United States).

Some questions I have, with at least the first crack at answers

How will we cover our living expenses during this time?

Well it'll be a combination of:

  • How much we can save between now and March 2023

  • Cash flow from Music Royalties

  • Cash flow from Rental Properties

  • May need to pull a bit from some of our stock investments, although they are earmarked for other purposes (retirement, college tuition for kids).

  • My MusicRoyaltyInvest.com blog, podcast, forthcoming book. Although that is not generating much revenue currently, if I have time to focus on it maybe it will generate a few dollars here and there. But I will not be going full steam ahead to try to turn these into businesses, remember the goal here is to decompress!

  • My wife is open to the idea of picking up a small part time job someplace to help as well. Luckily she's supportive of this overall plan, said she wants to keep me around :).

If there's a gap between all of the above and what we need, I trust that we will figure it out in the moment. Or maybe we will solve for it between now and March 2023. The goal isn't to have EVERYTHING outlined today, hell that'd put too much stress on me which is the anti-goal here. If anything, capture what we know and identify what we don't.

What about college for the kids?

This is non-negotiable. We committed to the kids that their college will be paid for (state school, in-state tuition amount) and will not back away from that. Luckily between 529s & our Betterment account we have a large portion covered already. But there will be a gap that'll need to be shored up once I go back to work in 2024. Honestly the cashflow from our rental properties and music royalties should be more than enough to bridge this gap at that point.

What about other major expenses?

My daughter turns 16 in December and we will be providing her with her first car (it's the same thing we did with our oldest), so that will be an expense. There are always maintenance expenses with cars and houses as well...but if we use YNAB correctly, we can earmark money for those before they are needed. That being said, money much like life, is only predictable to a point. The rest you must trust yourself to solve in the moment of need.

What about our future plans for FIRE?

I honestly have no idea how this will impact them. But this is something that we must find peace with, as the alternative of grinding the next 4 years away is not worth it. Who knows we may still have enough to FIRE in 2026, I'm not giving up on that idea. But chances are good we will not. But then again maybe we have enough to still move to a lower cost of living area while I'm still working. Bottom line - there will be options. But I'm not going to kill myself to reach FIRE in 2026.

What about selling our house (which is much bigger than we need) and finding something smaller?

This is definitely something that is on the table, although the housing market is pretty rocky these days. But maybe we could sell our home and move into something smaller, paying cash for the bulk of it with the equity from our home. Most likely this would be something we'd look at early 2023. Of course we could also sell our house and rent something as buying would only make sense if we planned on being in this area for many more years (which as of today is not the plan). So maybe cashing out of this house, renting a place until my youngest graduates high school in 2026 is the way to go. We have options.

What about my future career?

I've busted my ass in the tech industry to end up where I'm at now (I'm a manager of managers at a top tier tech company). But guess what? I don't give a shit anymore. I did it, I achieved a major goal but I don't care. I have NO desire to climb higher, to grind this out. I'm 100% content in the next stop in my career being much lower paying than now...I just want it to be something that I'm passionate about, and not something that I'm grinding at just for the high pay. So yes, I'm sacrificing a high paying career for this. Better than sacrificing my health and my life.

Let's put a bow on this.

In closing I'm at a point where I cannot ignore the signs any longer. I obviously do not blame my commitment to FIRE for this, but in order to take the healthy path forward for myself (and my family) I must release my FIRE goals a bit. And honestly if that means I live a happier & healthier life now - isn't that really the point after all?

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