I was reading a book the other day that pointed out something that honestly had not occurred to me as a danger of seeking financial independence: that you can end up being too independent. To which I initially thought: pardon?!?!
Then as I kept reading the author made his point a bit more clear. Seeking financial independence is a fine goal for anyone to do. The danger becomes when you apply the same thinking to everything in your life. When you seek to be independent of everything does the trouble start to come home.
You see you can start to apply the idea of being independent of your job to other parts of your life. For example, why should I buy power from the power company when I can setup my own solar and wind power? Or why should I buy my vegetables from the store when I can grow my own? These types of independence aren’t really a bad idea depending on how much you enjoy the project, the costs versus the benefits (not all power generation systems make economic sense) and how much time you have to work on them.
The trouble can really kick in when you start applying the idea to people and think: I don’t need to be nice to the people I work with since I’m leaving in a few years or perhaps I don’t have to hang out with my friends that spend too much. This is where you start to become too independent.
“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne
It may pain people to recall this but you can’t live without other people. We are social beings and while I’m a strong introvert even I realize that I need other people at times. So that means you can’t just focus blindly at savings money and ignore the social impacts of your choices. By never going out with friends you are social isolating yourself at the cost of a few drinks or a meal out, which really shouldn’t make or break your plan to retire early (because if it is, then your margin is far too thin and you need to go back and increase your spending estimate a bit).
The same idea applies to being a self absorbed egotistical ass to other people just because you are good at saving money and they are not (yes, even I have done this and regretted it). Everyone has their particular gifts and skills so don’t just burn bridges to stroke your ego, you might find out that you being an ass has a much higher price in your life than you realize.
You see your social network also provides a degree of support to your early retirement plan. For example, a friend will typically look after our house when we go on vacation. Or if you need help moving something heavy to the dump a friend with a truck can save you the cost of a rental. You in turn also help your friends with projects like painting a fence, installing a patio or putting up a garage. It’s called social capital and it is just as important to have access to as financial capital and it works on a give and take basis…you help others and they help you. I caution you not to underestimate the value of this…I mean having a friend to call when the world goes to shit on you is nearly priceless at that moment in time.
That same capital even applies outside of your good friends. Think for a minute about work when you have two tasks to do to help two different people: the first one is for a nice guy who helped you out of jam last month and the other is an over demanding prick who is never helpful back…which one do you help first? Sort of obvious, right?
So in your focus to financially independent don’t forget to also grow you social capital as well of your financial. Both will serve you in the long run to getting to a better place in life. Also there is the nice side benefit of feeling better by helping others…especially those you actually know and like.
Have you ever gone too far and become too independent? What was your wake up call and how did you turn it around?