Today is the 10-year anniversary of the day I quit my job.
More accurately, it’s the 10-year anniversary of my last day of employment. Exactly 10 years ago today, on April 4, 2008, I finished my final day as a salaried employee.
I have never been employed by someone else since.
The notion that 10 years have passed since that fateful day sounds crazy. Ten years isn’t that long. It’s one-third of a 30-year mortgage.
But volumes have filled the cavernous space between April 4, 2008 and April 4, 2018.
When I quit, I didn’t have any concept of financial independence. I had no intention of staying out of the workforce permanently. I assumed I’d quit for two years, enjoy a mini-retirement, and then find a job again.
I didn’t realize that once I had a taste of unemployment, the thought of returning to office life seemed unbearable.
Here’s the backstory:
When I was in college, I wanted to study abroad. But those programs were prohibitively expensive — $15,000 for a single semester. Ouch.
I pondered my options and realized I didn’t want to study — I just wanted to travel abroad. It would be cheaper to graduate, work for a few years, save money, and then travel.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I graduated in 2005, worked an unpaid internship for a summer, and worked a poorly-paid internship in the fall (earning $200 per week for 16 hours/week). By winter, I’d parlayed those internships into a job offer.
I accepted a full-time position as an entry-level newspaper reporter. I wrote for a newspaper with a circulation of 40,000. (To put that in perspective, this blog has 51,000 email subscribers.) My starting salary was $21,000.
I lived four blocks from the office, walked to work, and ate free samples at the grocery store on the days I forgot to pack lunch.
My final day at work was April 4, 2008. At the time I quit, I earned a salary of $31,000. That’s the maximum I’ve earned as an employee. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $36,000 in today’s dollars.
Yet despite the pay, I was terrified of quitting. Newspapers were in decline; many aspiring journalists considered me lucky to have a job, any job. Besides, it was early 2008. The U.S. was on the cusp of the Great Recession; millions of people were losing their jobs. Voluntarily quitting at a time like that sounded preposterous.
My friends warned me that I was committing career suicide. They said I’d never find a job again.
In hindsight, they were right.
During my stint at the newspaper, I lived on my salary and freelanced on the evenings and weekends. I saved 100 percent of my freelance income, all of which I stashed into a travel fund. I amassed $25,000, which averages to a savings rate of around $800 per month.
(Note: I was an intern though summer/fall 2005; I started collecting my baller $21,000/year salary in winter 2005. That means my actual salaried time at the newspaper was roughly 28-30 months. Those were the months in which I freelanced for my world travel fund. I also sold my car before the trip, which accounts for $3,000 of the total. I also sold my one and only piece of furniture, my mattress, which brought in another $120. I got that mattress for free, so I was particularly proud of that infinite return-on-investment.)
That’s the position that I found myself in, exactly 10 years ago on this day.
I had no idea that “financial independence” existed. I had no concept of “passive income” or “rental investments” or “exercise” or “flossing.” I didn’t intend for unemployment to become a permanent state of being.
I just knew that I needed to get out, away from the florescent lights and lukewarm office coffee. And I trusted that I’d figure out everything else along the way.
I’d like to share an old journal entry that I wrote on this day, 10 years ago:
April 4, 2008:
I quit my job, moved out of my apartment and have a 10-week ticket to Europe
Well, the headline says it all. In the course of the last four days, I’ve quit a job I’ve held for three years (today is my last day at work), moved out of my apartment, and prepared for a 10-week bicycle tour through Spain with one of my best friends.
My checklist is nearly complete. Buy a digital camera, check. Donate, sell or store my belongings, check. Create a training manual for the guy who’ll replace me at work, check. Download Spanish lessons onto my ipod, check. (Thanks Will!)
Now I’m sitting at an empty desk, 4:30 on a Friday, knowing that the next step is to box my bike and board a plane. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what routes we’ll ride, where we’ll stay, how we’ll afford to eat in a land where sandwiches cost 5 euro. But I do know this much: I can’t wait to see Kim’s face at a baggage carousel in Madrid.
I posted this photo with it, which illuminates my poor judgment; apparently I thought wearing pigtails as a 24-year-old was a good idea.
In case you’re wondering, the 10-week bicycle tour turned into “a couple miserable weeks before Kim’s bike got stolen and we hopped a bus from Malaga to Madrid.”
Our plans to travel Spain turned into a more nomadic jaunt through Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria and Germany, almost-never paying for a single night of accomodation in that 10-week timespan. We camped a lot, and couchsurfed, and once slept in an abandoned shack. Here’s what that looks like:
And then we flew back home, I picked up Will and my friend Laurel, and the three of us flew to Cairo on a one-way ticket. We spent six weeks in Egypt and Israel. Then came Nepal and India. Then Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t come back to the U.S. for nearly two years.
And THAT’S when my journey into passive income / rental investments / financial independence began.
Now, here we are. Ten years since my last day of work. Eight years since my return to the U.S. and my decision to stay unemployed forever. And roughly seven years since I used my freelance income to buy my first rental property, which led to the second, then the third, fourth, fifth … and ultimately, to enough passive income that I don’t have to worry about my basic needs anymore.
Wow. So all of this has happened in the past decade.
And the catalyst that started everything was quitting my job.
Ten years ago.