Wednesday, November 29, 2023

When do you give up your dreams for pleasure?


Collectively as a movement, we are getting better at the nuts and bolts of retirement planning. We are getting close to being able to balance our spending needs with maintaining a sustainable portfolio. But most of the folks in the movement have not mastered the fine art of living in retirement. Many are unprepared to decouple their personal identities from work. Others still live in fear of running out of money to spend.

As such, Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-Reum is another good book to read for folks at the tail-end of the FIRE journey. It gently talks about the mental processes of South Koreans who choose an alternative lifestyle against conventional measurements of success and shares some of the internal struggles of folks who drop out of mainstream life. 

I encourage readers to enjoy this book by supporting the author and its Singaporean translator. Instead, I will talk about one philosophical question raised by the book:

When should we give our dreams for pleasure?

The concept of a dream in this case is a little different from what we understand conventionally what it means. A dream is something you may long for to fit into what society deems a success. So in this case, for a South Korean, perhaps a dream is to become a senior manager of a chaebol. When a person is pursuing a dream, he is trying to achieve a long-term kind of satisfaction, but every conscious moment is a struggle through hard work, stress, anxiety, and pain. 

From a Korean perspective, the pursuit of a dream comes with sacrifice.

As opposed to a dream, pleasure is closer to conventionally what we think it is. Moments of pleasure signify the feeling of happiness and blissful contentment.

I was a corporate drone chasing my dreams of climbing up the rungs of a multinational when I was in my 20s, but after rounds of getting outsourced and doing outsourcing in the IT field, I realised that life-long employment is a pipe dream, and not everyone makes the director of a company. My dreams shifted to attaining financial independence through dividends investing. But after starting to live on dividend payouts at age 32, I carried working and meeting other conventional family milestones until I was 39 when I finally met my Waterloo in the public sector. 

This was a stage in my life when I was the most smug and confused. I spent 4 years studying law because I wanted an option to remain relevant in society. Law is, after all, the discipline chosen by the recently departed Charlie Munger, it is also the best thing to study if you have no idea what you want to do in life. I will never regret law school because every case is a latticework of models. But fate intervened when we sold out eight investment seminars during my days as a law student. After finding actual legal practice training worse than public sector work, I finally threw myself into investment training which I remain today.

The truth is, even post-financial independence, and having no idea what my dream is today, I was still struggling to stay relevant when I attempted to start legal practice early this year on top of my investment training business. This time, disaster struck. Not only was I unable to find clients for my legal work ( hard even for senior associates), but my hyperactive thyroid made a comeback. Luckily, I was able to salvage my legal training by taking some gigs in adult education this year for a small allowance. 

Until I read this book, I was not even aware that it's ok to give up a person's dream for pleasure. If you can live on your dividends and can work a little to reduce your rate of expenses to less than 3% of your overall investment portfolio, I know from my simulations that you can even enjoy spending more in your later years, while data from academics show that household expenses begin to drop when the head of the family reaches 50 years of age. 

What does giving up your dreams for pleasure like? In my naivete, I thought it was to start drawing down your assets to travel around the world. But many forms of FIRE do not have much money catered for travel - I have 5 pax in my family so every trip will be very expensive. 

I think what the book has done for me to generate some viable alternatives that will not break the bank. 

In this book, there is a story of a graduate who did well in university and has chosen to become a barista for the bookshop. He has a very fixed schedule in life, doing yoga, choosing coffee beans, and then serving coffee in the bookshop in the afternoon before retreating back to his apartment for rest and contemplation. His mother is distraught that he does not have a real job, but he takes coffee making to a whole new level, much like the concept of a shokunin or craftsman in Japan. 

Maybe being a master craftsman like those you find in Japan can be a pleasure. I definitely will not be able to monetise my Monte Carlo programs that simulate retirement portfolios and gradually improve them every time I see another research paper, it's just a way to add gravitas to this blog when I say that someone is underspending or even incorrect from a rational point of view. 

I think by now, you would have realised that I've not really gone beyond a paragraph or two on the book I was attempting to review, but it is obvious that this book has been extremely consequential in my life at the moment. 

Hope that some readers will attempt to read this and engage with me on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    I adopt such approach through full-time employment. I make it a point to change job once a few years. This allows me to have different perspectives.