Happy (Financial) Independence Day

As a non-American, independence day is not a date that’s burned into my consciousness, beyond being a day I know I won’t be trading because the markets are closed. But it is a day on which I reflect on what independence means to me as a trader.

More decades ago than I care to admit, I was working for ‘the man’. This particular man could be described by many words, none of which are suitable for publication to a family-friendly blog. So despite having a good management-level job with an excellent salary and some extra benefits, and despite enjoying the company of my colleagues, I hated my job with every fibre of my being. It’s quite amazing how much a single person, suitably placed in your life, can make that life a misery. In the evenings after work I went out and drank and partied too much, desperate to clear from my mind the memory of the day. I put off going to bed until later and later, because I didn’t want to wake up and face another day in that place. So when I did wake up, I was usually tired and hung over, which only made things worse. In short, I was desperate to escape.

The problem was I was trapped, or so I thought. I had a mortgage, financial commitments, loans to pay off. I couldn’t just walk away, I needed a safety net. I looked around for other work but my heart wasn’t in it. Because as I was quickly coming to realize, my problem was not just with the man, it was with the whole concept of the man. I’ve always been an independent soul, so answering to someone else has never sat easily with me. Having to turn up at a certain place at a certain time, having to be there all day, having to be told what to do and having to tell others below me what to do…it wasn’t for me. Changing one job for another would not fix the root cause of my dissatisfaction.

First-World Problems

By the way, I’d like to take a brief aside to say that I’m well aware all of this was absolutely a ‘first-world problem’, that I was in a fortunate and privileged position, and that there are literally millions of people in the world far worse off than me, some of whom would have killed to have had the life I wanted to escape from. However, ask anyone with depression and they will tell you the same thing: the fact others are legitimately suffering far more than yourself in no way eases your own unhappiness. Selfish? Maybe, but feeling sorry for others is not only not going to help them, it will only deepen your own malaise. Helping others is a noble aim, but we have to have our own house in order before we can even begin to think of doing good elsewhere.

So I took stock of my situation and looked at it from a different angle. Rather than just searching for a random way out, I started from the beginning and asked myself, If I could design my ideal life, what would it look like?

As I built up my answer to that seemingly simple question, one objective popped up again and again: independence.

Say No To The Voice

I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to set my own hours. I wanted to choose my own place of work. I wanted the independence to wake up on any random morning and say, Screw it, today’s a beach day, and to be able to go find a beach even if I happened to be hundreds of miles from one. That meant not just attaining independence in my work (whatever that turned out to be), but financial independence too.

As I went through this exercise, a little voice in my head kept on and on at me, saying things like, This is ridiculous, you’re imagining a bucolic future that’s unattainable. The only way to live this life is to win the lottery. Everyone would like this kind of life and hardly anyone lives it, so it can’t be possible.

I ignored the voice.

I ignored it because I couldn’t let myself be dragged back into my life of mediocrity working for the man. I had to force myself to believe there was a better way. And anyway, I didn’t want to win the lottery because more often than not that doesn’t end well. Besides, I’m not one to sit around by the pool drinking cocktails all day, I need some work in my work-life balance.

The first thing I did was save as much cash as humanly possible. Even if I didn’t know how I would attain my ideal life, I knew it was going to involve massive change, and change would be easier with a financial safety net. All the post-work partying stopped, I pared back spending to the absolute minimum required to survive, switched out restaurant lunches for home-made sandwiches, sold the car and walked everywhere, and made a ton of other sacrifices I can’t even remember today.

Then I set about researching ways of working independently. And that’s when I discovered trading.

A Better Way

Obviously I was aware of the markets before, but I’d never paid them any proper attention. Stocks and shares were for rich people, not ‘normal’ people like me. Yet the more I looked into the possibility of trading for a living, the more excited I got. Trading was, as far as I could tell, the purest form of making money. Not only did it not involve working for a boss, it didn’t involve working for anyone at all; there were no customers to keep happy, no clients to wine and dine, no unpaid invoices to chase. That set it apart from every other opportunity I had investigated, and I’d examined a lot; I’d even looked into farming chickens (but there are more constraints in any kind of farming than there are in a 9-5 office job). Any money I made from trading would be absolutely and solely as a result of my actions, as would any losses. I would be reliant on nobody, and nobody would be relying on me. I would be 100% responsible for my income. Trading was the most independent of jobs I could find.

With enough money saved up, I told the man to stick his job somewhere the sun would not wish to shine, thus burning my bridges and removing the option to go crawling back as soon as the going got tough. After working out my notice period, I woke up one morning as the owner, manager, employee, caretaker, insurance agent, accountant, and coffee-fetcher of my own life. I gave myself a year to make trading for a living work. That was how long I thought I could eek out my savings before risking losing the house.

The rest, as they say, is history. Quite a lot of history, and I won’t bore you any further with the details. Besides, I’ve talked about my journey before. It was far from plain sailing, I took many wrong turns on the road to success, and I nearly quit on dozens of occasions. Every time I got close to caving in, I closed my eyes and spent five minutes imagining going back to the man and asking if he’d consider removing my old job from his behind and giving it back, however sullied and stinking it had become. It was a great motivator to press on with the markets.

Added Benefits

Did I achieve my goals? That would be a resounding yes, and the reason for another rambling Harvey blog post on today of all days as I reflect again on my independence.

One of the best (and unforeseen) parts of that life change has been helping others reach the same goals, through my books. The letters and emails I receive from readers who tell me that they have quit their day job, or moved to a new country, or added to their financial freedom thanks to day trading are a constant source of pride. I share the joy they express to me because I too know the feeling of waking up and taking a moment to decide, What do I want to do today? instead of that sinking feeling as I face another day of enforced drudgery. I know what it’s like to be able to take my family away on a whim and explore somewhere new. I know the feeling of weightlessness and liberty that comes from being debt-free. Being the master of one’s own destiny, taking 100% responsibility for how you live every hour of your life, being independent, is like being reborn into a different world — the world as it should be. And so on the 4th of July, as on the other 364 days of the year, I am thankful that the markets exist and that we have these incredible opportunities to live as we want to live. Happy independence day.