My Journey to Financial Freedom

It was a leisurely weekend of 2014. Three friends sat on the floor enjoying a freshly cooked meal. Each one caressingly picking up a bite and exchanging smiles while savouring a meal of flavourful rice with a tickling curry. No one was in a hurry, it seemed the time had come to a stand still. At least that had always been the case when we met. We were the best of friends with all the time on our hands.

It started casually, one of us put forth a question: “Guys, how early can we retire from our job? If we did, we could have so much leisure time to spend on ourselves and with each other.” The other two, being IT employees, were puzzled by his question as we didn’t see other people in our profession doing so (we didn’t know Swamiji back then).

We finished our lunch and chatted about it for a while. Within an hour, three pairs of eyes were stuck on an excel sheet. We started noting down our monthly income, expenses, investments. Sherlock caps were on and numbers appeared all over the place. So many variables — forecasts of our savings if we work tirelessly for next few years, rate of interest, inflation, yearly salary hikes, estimated age at which we will perish 😉 (the last one being the most important of all the other variables). We needed to know how long our money should last 😂.

We had some perspective about money because one of us was a full-time investor (at least we assumed so). That doesn’t mean we had the luxury of a sizeable initial deposit. To clear all doubts, we were just four years into our jobs after graduation, with no other source of income.

As the infamous Bane from the movie The Dark Knight Rises asserts, ‘It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is our plan’. Well, our plan was to retire and not crash a plane 😉.

Now, we too had an idea and started moving towards it consciously and subconsciously.

Our plan was simple — earn and save maximum, invest the savings wisely to be able to maintain our current lifestyle independent of our salary. And not to miss, enjoying life in the process! Misers we didn’t want to be; free, fulfilled individuals we aspired to become.

This was in Bangalore and we had estimated 15 years to achieve this milestone. We figured out either we had to work hard to get into some
high-paying company or get an onsite position in the same company. Lazy us! We preferred the latter hoping it will accelerate the earning curve. ☺️

By Divine Grace, our wish was fulfilled, and we were able to spend a few years abroad, which helped us immensely. That was when we understood the power of compounding. What we had estimated to achieve in 15 years, seemed possible in just four now! We were about 26 back then. We were living a dream to retire at 30. All were happy and merry.

But how can life be so straight forward? As in any good story, there has to be a little struggle (just being humble, struggles are always too many), a pinch of suffering, a bit of bad decisions and a lot of self-doubt. That’s a story for another time.

I am almost 32 now. During these six years, I had to go through emotional breakdowns, make difficult choices, understand them, drop the retirement plan multiple times, I also gave away a lot of money to eager/fake gurus, restarted from ground zero, tried to evolve spiritually and much more. Everything was shaken to the core except the ever increasing drive towards silence and spirituality, our unwavering friendship and a fond remembrance of the purity of heart and sanity of mind with which we had taken this decision.

These helped me stay the course. Each one of us was struggling with personal woes. Every difficult situation was dealt with renewed energy and we were at it with full vigour. We had our share of learnings along the way.

We didn’t desire a lavish lifestyle nor too bland. But how to know how much was sufficient to quit? The more I thought about the future value of money, more insecurities crept in. Could I rely on an excel sheet — increasing age vs reduced money left in my account? What if I live a couple of years more than the last row of the excel? What if there are more crises like covid-19 in near future?

What if a war strikes and economy takes a toll? Maths, formulae, statistics failed to solve this puzzle. These questions can never be answered. Am I playing a gamble with my life or taking a leap of faith? Honestly, I had no idea.

When we had thought of retiring early , we had also decided to be careful and not lose ourselves in the process. Money will grow eventually if we are wise about our earning, spending and investing habits. But if one becomes restless and desperate in the pursuit of wealth, what happiness can money buy? It will be like Uncle Scrooge swimming all alone in his pool of coins. There were ups and downs and they do exist even now. But with experience, we developed better understanding and greater resilience.

Fast forward to the morning of 17th October, 2020. Everything was set, our plans were panning out quite well. I was financially free. My resignation was ready to be handed over in a couple of weeks and no more work. Sounds exciting, right? It was heavenly!

But, the final blow of destiny was yet to arrive. It was Swamiji’s post, The Ultimate Wealth 😊. I was vacationing after my return from the US when my eyes fell upon this post. By that time, I had already started writing this blog but the conclusion just took a sharp turn in the next four days. Wanna know? Please bear with me a bit more 🙂.

In my quest, I had gained one other thing that mattered the most — my rigidity towards hanging on to early retirement just because I’d made a resolve. How would I face myself if I didn’t keep my own word? I just achieved something at 32 that many people couldn’t imagine until very late in their career. Isn’t it a good thing? Now I can spend much of my day in meditation.

But will I be really content leading such a life? Truth lay just beneath the surface, but I kept ignoring it.

My rigidity blurred my vision completely, and I couldn’t see beyond my firm choices. It never occurred to me that spiritual progress and doing things that I love can go hand in hand. In short, I was ready to sacrifice my job which I was damn good at. This was a living reality for me.

All this while, I thought meditation was spirituality and anything else that doesn’t let me meditate was hampering my spirituality. Even after reading Swamiji’s post, it took me four days to understand this simple thing.

A tiring quest to retire came to an end and I was able to make peace with myself after a long struggle. I may have earned myself financial freedom, but His grace alone has freed me of the conflict that has stuck with me for six long years and I had no clue about it. Only when I dropped the retirement plan, a world of possibilities opened up for me.

This was the first time I embraced my natural self instead of detesting it in pursuit of the idealistic self I fancied. Only then a state of flow was experienced and things started to happen with a greater ease.

To quote Swamiji’s graceful words that kindled my Eureka moment: “If you are getting a kick out of what you do and it’s bringing wealth as a result, you don’t have to stop doing it just because you are getting wealthy. In other words, if you are working for wealth, you’ll be forever working. If, however, you are working on what you care about, you never really work a day in your life.

Our mind is limited and so are our choices. If we keep holding onto these choices, and shut ourselves to other possibilities, how can we experience the grand plan of Nature? Indeed,  mysterious are the ways of Mother Divine.

From financial freedom to early retirement in six hard-earned years and then dropping the plan altogether in just four days… I don’t have an iota of doubt that there is a greater power at play here. All of this was possible by SriHari’s and Swamiji’s grace.

In case, you are curious to know the identities of my partners in crime in this exhilarating journey — one is Kirtee OM, who got so fed up with computers that she started minding other people’s brains (studying Psychology 😉); and the other, Basudev OM, the full-time investor in God and money, who can jump into a pool with his suits on. It took them four long hours to edit my post. So, if you find any errors, you know whom to blame now. Jokes apart, they are the most kind and noble souls.

It has turned out to be a long post indeed. Hope it was worth your time!

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