Just over a year ago, Diania did a Slow FI interview and shared how she took time off from work to walk that Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile trek across Spain). At the end of the interview, she dropped but bombshell that she had decided to quit her corporate job. Her intention was to experiment with a year of “fun-employment” to see if she didn’t need to go back to traditional employment.
Now, a year later, I’m excited to welcome Diania back to share what’s happened. I also ask a lot of questions about how her plans and mindset have shifted over the last year.
Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
I identify as a personal finance enthusiast! After discovering the FIRE movement in 2015 through the Mr. Money Mustache blog, I got out of $30k of debt in 11 months. Then, I started saving and investing about 60% of my income.
This opened up a ton of options for me. In 2017, I negotiated a remote working arrangement with my employer and moved from NYC to Cincinnati. That same year I took a 2-month sabbatical to walk the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile trek across Spain). When I got back, I bought a house, adopted a dog, and dreamed up a conference I wanted to produce.
Fast forward to now, I ditched the corporate job (even though I’m not yet financially independent), and I cover my expenses by hosting 2 daily podcasts (which amounts to about 8 hours per week of work). I also produce The EconoMe Conference which is basically a party about money!
2. At the end of your last Slow FI interview, you dropped the news that you had decided to quit your job. So, now you’ve been what you called fun-employed for a year! Tell us about this decision and what it means.
Quitting my job was definitely not part of my plan or anticipated path to FI. I ended up quitting my job on principle when my new boss made it very clear that (as the only female on the team) I was being held to a much higher standard than my male colleagues. He also had no interest in rectifying the fact that despite being one of the highest performers on the team, I was the lowest paid.
I did a lot of soul-searching and consulting with my support system. Through this, I came to realize that even though I was not financially independent, I was already in the financial position to not have to tolerate this kind of treatment. I did advocate for myself to be paid fairly. But, I found out through discussions with other female employees that they had similar issues and the company had no intention to fix them.
I would love to see more people in a financial position to walk away from a bad boss, a toxic work environment, or blatant discrimination. I feel strongly that we don’t need to fight these problems directly. We need to starve these problems. If all the talent were to flee these companies, the problem would solve itself. Case in point: my previous employer went bankrupt.
I always assumed that if I lost my job or quit my job before reaching FI, I would simply need to find another full-time job. However, as I evaluated my finances, I realized that I actually had an incredible opportunity to experiment with self-employment.
At the time, my podcasting income covered about 1/3 of my expenses, and I had many ideas of other ways I could make money. I also had my F-you money to fall back on while I worked to develop other income streams. I decided to give myself one year to figure out how to replace my income with self-employment. And if I couldn’t do it, I would find another job.
Over time, though, I realized that I didn’t need to replace my six-figure income. I just needed to make enough money to cover my expenses. And my expenses were reduced drastically when my midwestern gentleman moved in with me almost a year into my self-employment experiment. I also increased my income with a second podcasting gig. I can now cover my full expenses.
Through the process, I’ve increased my confidence in my ability to earn enough money. For most of my life, I’ve been focused on making more money, but self-employment is showing me that more doesn’t necessarily equal better.
3. How has the decision to pursue self-employment impacted your quality of life?
Quitting my corporate job has enabled me to experiment with self-employment (or what I’m calling “fun-employment”). This has allowed me to be really picky about who I work with, how much I work, and what work I do.
Before quitting my corporate career, I felt a lot of pressure to keep up the appearance of being a hard worker. There was a lot of competition over who answered emails late at night, who put in the most hours, and who appeared to be the most dedicated. Many of my colleagues bragged about how stressed they were and the corporate martyrdom was vomit-inducing. While I certainly had more flexibility while working remotely, I constantly felt guilty that I wasn’t working enough.
Self-employment has not only helped me question my assumptions about how much money I need to earn, but also how many hours I want to work. There are some days that I’m full of energy and I’ll spend 10 hours working on podcast recording and The EconoMe Conference. Then, there are a lot of days where 3 hours feels like a lot.
Being in the driver’s seat of my schedule allows me to ride the waves of my energy more appropriately, and I’m learning how to back off when I’m tired. I’m also much better at blocking out time to take care of myself. I usually have 2-3 hours set aside for exercise (either a long walk or hot yoga) every day. I spend a lot of time cooking and meal prepping for my family.
While I am very attached to my calendar and I time block with intention of how I want my week to unfold, I also completely throw out the plan or rework it based on how I’m feeling that day.
My income decreased by $100k, and yet I saw no change in my lifestyle. While I don’t think frugality is a requirement for financial freedom, I get a lot of peace of mind from keeping my expenses low. My lifestyle only costs me $25k- $30k per year, so that has alleviated a lot of pressure in figuring out how to make self-employment work.
That’s not to say it was easy to adjust to a big decrease in income. I worked really hard to get myself to a 6-figure salary, I was proud of it, and I probably invested too much of my self-worth in how much money I made. A huge drop in income is humbling, and it’s good for me.
4. In your opinion, what contributes most to your happiness and contentment?
This experience has shown me that a solid support system is worth way more than any amount of money. My closest circle of influence coached me for many hours on the decision to quit my job. They patiently sat there with me while I worked through all the emotions.
It helps that these were all growth-minded people who believed in my potential in those dark moments when I couldn’t see it. It’s no mistake that all my closest friends today are people that I’ve met at FI-oriented events. Tapping into this community has drastically improved my path to FI because this community has the most creative, generous, and encouraging people I’ve ever met.
5. How did pursuing self-employment impact your financial goals or timelines?
Many of us track the time it will take us to get to FI, and I was on track to reach it by 40. My main why for FI was full autonomy over my time. This experience has shown me that I actually don’t need to wait until FI to have that.
Self-employment is giving me that freedom. The best part is that my timeline to FI now feels irrelevant because I’m already enjoying the most appealing aspects of a financially independent life.
6. What have you learned about yourself and what you want over the past year?
I’ve learned that an employer is a customer, not an overlord. We give our employers way too much control and power over how we live our lives, and I think we need to be leveraging our financial resources to take our power back.
This realization came full circle for me when I turned down a “dream job” this past fall. It had a great salary of $150k, unlimited PTO, and great benefits. It was with a company I believe in that is doing good in the world, and I was highly qualified for the position.
BUT… the demand for my time would come with massive opportunity costs. It may have affected my ability to host Optimal Finance Daily, which is something that I love. Or, it might have stretched me too thin on other projects like The EconoMe Conference.
I’ve learned that I’m more interested in prioritizing the precious resource of time over the opportunity to make more money that frankly, I don’t really need that much.
Not being tied down with a full-time job allows me the time and energy to explore income streams that are less demanding and more fulfilling. My current experiment with self-employment is going well. I picked up a couple of consulting projects last year. I’m starting to make a tiny bit of ad revenue on my Youtube Channel. The income from podcasting is steady and secure. While The EconoMe Conference is still in the red, it’s projected to make a profit in 2023 (5 years after I started working on it).
7. What enabled you to become self-employed?
I knew I was ready for self-employment after I reached Coast FI status and built a solid F-You Fund (for me, this was 2 years of living expenses in checking, savings, and taxable investments). I also have no debt aside from a small mortgage.
I already had a paying side hustle as the host of Optimal Finance Daily, so I had some reassurance there that I had a least a little bit of income coming in. While I didn’t know it at the time of making this decision, less than a year into self-employment, my midwestern gentleman moved in with me cutting my most significant housing expenses in half.
I also picked up a second podcasting gig that increased my income to where I could fully cover my expenses on just 8 hours of work per week.
8. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
I think I needed to have a mindset shift in order to make the leap. We’re so scared of what could go wrong, but what if things go right?
I agonized over deciding if I was in the financial position to walk away from W2 work. I had reached Coast FI status. I had 2 years of living expenses in my F-You fund as well as a small amount of reliable income from podcasting. But, I was still scared that I didn’t have enough.
Over one year later, I’m pleased to report that I had nothing to fear. My spending ended up being much lower than I budgeted. I had a windfall of a tax return that I didn’t plan for and ended up living off that for over 6 months. I found unanticipated sources of income, my net worth increased by over $86k (thanks to compound interest!), and I was actually able to invest almost $10k from my self-employment income in my HSA and Roth IRA.
I have barely made a dent in the savings that was supposed to fund my 1-year experiment with self-employment. All that to say, this year showed me that I can trust myself and that my savings aren’t my only safety net: I also have valuable skills to fall back on.
9. How will you continue to design your life from here?
I will continue to prioritize full autonomy over my time so that I can ensure an abundance of time for creative and entrepreneurial pursuits. I do believe that work is an important part of well-being, but society wants us to be gluttonous about it.
Here’s an analogy to demonstrate my point: I think we’d all agree that we need to eat, and 3 meals per day is an appropriate amount of food. Well, imagine that society told you that you actually need to eat 6 meals per day and that you needed a boss standing over you to make sure that you force all six meals down your throat. Would the solution to this problem be to not eat at all? No! You can just reduce it to 3 meals per day.
I don’t think not working at all is the solution for most of us. Right-sizing the role work plays in our lives is what we really need. Financial independence allows us to downshift way before the traditional retirement age.
10. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
Many people pursuing financial independence will tolerate a less than optimal work environment in the name of prioritizing their financial goals. But, I would argue that if you’re on this path, you’re more than likely already in the financial position to make some big moves.
If you’re free from consumer debt, have a good cash cushion, and have reached Coast FI status, you’re in a really good position to take some risks and leave a less-than-ideal work environment now.
11. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
At some point, you may need to stop protecting your money, and start allowing your money to protect you.
I responsibly saved an emergency fund in the event of a job loss. If my employer decided to let me go, I wouldn’t hesitate to rely on my savings as I figured out my next move. Why don’t we see hating our jobs or being treated unfairly as an emergency?
A huge benefit to having money is the ability to free ourselves from these kinds of situations, though many of us choose to suffer rather than use our money this way.
Furthermore, I realized that I got a sense of security from having a high income. To stomach the loss of income, I needed to intentionally shift this so that my sense of security is more rooted in my savings, investments, and skill set. These are things much more within my control, and my sense of security now is on more solid ground.
Thank you, Diania, for sharing your story with us! There are so many helpful insights in this interview that I want to underscore.
First, I love how Diania shared about the mindset shifts that she experienced over the past year. She originally started this experiment thinking that she needed to replace her income. Over time, she realized that she simply needed to cover her expenses. She had already reached Coast FI. Since she was enjoying one of the major benefits of FI already – freedom over her time – she’s no longer racing to the FI finish line.
I also really appreciate how Diania discussed agonizing over the decision and feeling like she didn’t have enough. It seems very common to consider the worst things that could happen. In reality, though, things often turn out better than expected. Often, people end up not needing to use the full runway they saved (like Kamran), spending less than expected (like Angela), or generating more income than expected (like Bradley).
Lastly, I want to reinforce a powerful statement that Diania shared in this interview. She said, “At some point, you may need to stop protecting your money, and start allowing your money to protect you.”
If we have a solid F-You Fund, it might be time for us to expand our definition of what constitutes an emergency. Instead of only seeing job loss as a reason to use F-You Money, what if we saw hating our job or being treated unfairly as an equally good reason? How much could that improve our lives?
If you’d like to continue to follow Diania’s journey, you can find her at the:
- Optimal Finance Daily Podcast
- EconoMe Conference, which will take place on March 17th-19th, 2023 in Cincinnati.
I (Jess) will be facilitating a workshop at EconoMe, and I’d love to see you there. To get 10% off your ticket, you can use the code FIONEERS.