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Which Road?

Mike Zaccardi

I RECENTLY LEFT my fulltime position at an energy trading company. I had a good run and enjoyed the job. It was mainly the people, both my coworkers and our clients.

I also liked the business travel. It broke up the daily routine and put faces to names, plus there were the awesome ribeye steak dinners with clients. Speaking at conferences was fun, too.

But things evolve. To quote Rocky, “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.” After studying to become a Chartered Financial Analyst, I began teaching and writing about finance. At work, I enjoyed helping colleagues with retirement planning and consulting on weather issues. I even have a “chief meteorologist” jacket from the company to prove it.

So now what? I’m financially independent, passionate about investments and financial planning, love to write and present, and can devour steak. How to blend those? Hmmm. It’s a tough one.

I’m considering various career paths. I could keep the foot on the gas, slow it down, really slow it down or pursue something new. The paradox of choice rears its ugly head. Here are a few possibilities I’m contemplating during my ample free time:

  • Keep grinding. I can likely land a solid finance job with a good salary that’ll challenge me. With this option, stress would be higher and it might limit my social life. One hurdle: I haven’t directly worked in investments and financial planning. The learning curve could be steep.
  • Slow down. I could also take a run-of-the-mill finance job with a lower salary and more anonymity. Maybe this option would allow me to continue pursuing my passion for writing and teaching. Boredom is a risk with this option. I might end up spending too much time on Twitter.
  • All-in on writing and teaching. Many might ask, “Why not just ditch the nine-to-five lifestyle and do what you’re passionate about?” Good point. I could make a fine living focusing on my side gigs. Maybe I will. But there are downsides: Money would be a lot less, I’d probably have too much free time and I’m not a big fan of working alone from home.
  • A life of service. I know the chief financial officer at my church. I’m sure it would be fulfilling to spend a hefty amount of time there, while still putting my finance skills to work. On top of that, there would be social benefits. But there wouldn’t be much money involved. Also, I’m 33 years old. I have a lot left in the tank. Serving fulltime might be a better choice in 10 years.
  • Something weird. I’ve joked on Twitter about pursuing another passion that’s important to me—the Brazilian steakhouse. I could become a “gaucho,” one of the individuals who cuts meat tableside for patrons. The big risk here: The position could be hazardous to my waistline and arteries.
  • Back to energy. Who knows? Maybe I’ll do another stint in energy if the right role arose. I truly enjoy opining on the important risks for public power market participants to consider. Behavioral economics, weather, trends in ESG (environmental, social, governance) investing: All of these things I know a ton about and are crucial to the business.

Many folks would love to be in my situation. So many interesting possibilities. It isn’t easy, though. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. I lean toward one of the above options one day, then another the next day. Studies show stress increases as options increase. Our brain has to work harder and use more energy to figure out the best decision. Other behavioral biases also come into play: regret aversion, loss aversion, thinking in certainties rather than probabilities.

Why should you care? We all face situations like this at one time or another. Weighing the pros and cons, while thinking more broadly about what’s important to you, are no small task. The financial planners out there might suggest my next step would be to read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or perhaps answer George Kinder’s three questions. Another good tip I’ve received: Simply write down a few possible paths.

I’m open to suggestions from people with more life experience than me. Which road should I travel? Some good advice could change my life. No pressure.

Mike Zaccardi is an adjunct finance instructor at the University of North Florida, as well as an investment writer for financial advisors and investment firms. He’s a Chartered Financial Analyst and Chartered Market Technician, and has passed the coursework for the Certified Financial Planner program. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeZaccardi, connect with him via LinkedIn, email him at MikeCZaccardi@gmail.com and check out his earlier articles.

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Mr Moderate
Mr Moderate
5 months ago

First off, Congratulations on FI. Time is the most important gift we are given. Take a sabbatical. I’m on a 7-12 month sabbatical after working in a stressful job for 40 years. My new “career” started the day after I retired, spending 2 hrs daily in self-Bible study, 90 minutes in transcendental meditation, 60 minutes aerobics, and 40 minutes for stretching and core work. This is my time given to take my health back.

Pray FIRST for guidance. The Holy Spirit is waiting to guide you to your next career. It may be a little of all 3 possibilities you mentioned. You may volunteer at the church a few hours a week to help seniors with taxes who can’t afford an accountant and can’t do it themselves.. You may decide to be a “gaucho” for a day a week. Perhaps you could connect with an organization that is trying to install green energy into homes for the financially-disadvantaged. Try some things, step out of the boat and see what feels rewarding. If it is not enjoyable, stop and try something else. Giving your talents you were given to someone in need is rewarding on many levels. Do small things with great love.Then you can look back on your life and say you made a difference in the lives of others. It’s a wonderful life.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Moderate

Great advice – and that is an impressive mental & spiritual health regime. Awesome stuff! Yes, I think part of my future needs to be devoted to service in some form to continue to find purpose after being FI.

Guest
Guest
5 months ago

I think you’d get bored quickly in a Fidelity 401(k) role. I’m impressed with your CFA perseverance as I know how difficult and time consuming that is. Perhaps consider a relationship manager at an RIA firm where you could work with clients, do presentations for prospects and write the firm’s monthly or quarterly newsletter. I suspect the learning curve would not be as steep as you think. Anyway, you’re fortunate at 33 to have the field of options so open.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Guest

Thanks!

Walter Abbott
Walter Abbott
5 months ago

You already teach finance at a university, so extending that to secondary school (high school) might be a logical step. Some school districts are finally adopting financial planning to their curricula, and school principals would jump at the opportunity to use someone with your experience.

To me, that type of education is at least as important as any other high school subject. Few people pass a single day in their lives without thinking about money.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Walter Abbott

Interesting idea! Thanks

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
5 months ago

Congratulations Mike. In the years leading up to me retiring from my engineering career I took and passed the CFP and RICP programs. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but even if the only benefit was my education and applying it to our retirement, it was worth it. I looked at starting a new career in financial planning, but wasn’t sure I wanted to start at the bottom at 59. Then some interesting and lucrative consulting gigs came about in engineering, so I went that route. I also have volunteered in AARP’s TaxAide program. Working with elderly and lower income folks on their taxes is humbling, and a great incentive to focus on your own finances. It also feels great to help people. One frustration is we are not allowed to provide financial advice. There are many folks out there who could use some basic FP advice that would make a material difference in their lives. I haven’t found that outlet yet, but it is something I will continue to pursue.

My suggestion is to stay open to opportunities, don’t necessarily jump at the first one, keep exploring. I think this article is a great start – you’ve initiated a conversation with people of similar interests. With your CFA and experience, maybe take a look at the niches Michael Kitces and Wade Pfau have carved out in the FP world.

You have lots of ability, and lots of years left to make a super positive impact on the world. I wish you luck and look forward to reading about your journey.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Thank you so much. Great perspective!

Langston Holland
Langston Holland
5 months ago

I was in a similar position at your age and had a lawyer friend who echoed much of what you’re hearing – how nice it must be. I largely disagreed and instead envied him and others who had far fewer choices. I wasn’t so much concerned about a major screwup, but about not trusting myself to remain fully applied to the gift of life absent such boundaries.

I had a huge ace in the hole that knew me better than I knew myself and she provided the guidance I needed and was my greatest cheerleader throughout six fulfilling careers. My wife of 10 years at that point was obviously fully vested in the outcomes and when she got behind what looked to friends and family like another mid-life crisis, I had the confidence I needed to go forward.

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. — Daniel H. Burnham, architect, planner of cities, 1912.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago

Great perspective! Maybe finding that special gal is another good goal for me. “It’s not good for man to be alone” as scripture says. The paradox of choice is real!

Steve Spinella
Steve Spinella
5 months ago

When I was your age I was also at a crossroads. I still had to choose. I comforted myself by remembering that there was a time when I could have done these other things, but I freely chose the path I did pursue. Since I went for less money and more passion, less stability and more uncertainty, and less security and more loss, I have had many opportunities to remember that I did choose. It’s been a comfort!

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Spinella

Good stuff. Thanks, Steve!

R Quinn
R Quinn
5 months ago

Being financially independent it appears a paying job is not a priority. I’d opt for a combination of writing, teaching and speaking in an effort to raise the financial literacy of average people of all ages. What people know about managing money, spending, living within their means and investing borders on non existent.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Thanks! I definitely have an interest in helping those who would not otherwise get good advice. A 401k rep with a company like Fidelity or Empower seems interesting – lower salary, but helping plan participants.

medhat
medhat
5 months ago

Your ability to have choices in large part stems from the financial independence. To crib a famous author, I would simply suggest that you take the Marie Kondo route and search for what “sparks joy”. The only caveat I would add to that is that in my personal observation I think that’s easier said than done. For some it’s difficult to identify and separate one’s own personal goals and fulfillments from what family and/or society reward, and I think many would agree that some of that “wisdom” comes with age, when people have a chance to “look back” and wish they had pursued a course more aligned with impact than with personal reward. Good luck with the decision, and it doesn’t have to be binary, this or that. It can be a mixed option.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  medhat

Great insights. Thanks!

David Baese
David Baese
5 months ago

You’re in a good place. I’d like to hear how you got there. What other “good places” do you want to get to?

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  David Baese

My next piece will talk about that. Stay tuned. Yeah, on paper I am in a great place, but it’s weird because it doesn’t ‘feel’ that way. Finding purpose and being social is so important. Combine those factors with working in area about which I am passionate and feel smart in would be the best fit. The quest continues!

OUTinMinnesota
OUTinMinnesota
5 months ago

You’re already blogging about finance, Mike. You’re already writing & teaching about it too. So, it looks like you’re already realizing self-actualization in those areas.

From this blog posting, you seem to be realizing that service to others might also be foundational to who you are – and to the legacy of your life. If I’m wrong about that, I apologize.

If I’m right about it though, then I’m simply going to remind you about the post-presidency legacy of service by Jimmy Carter. Not everyone within the Habitat for Humanity organization swings a hammer, do they?

My first post-retirement volunteer gig was unsatisfactory. I ended it quickly because I disliked going and the role didn’t allow me to use my skills. TRY AGAIN.

My second gig was incredibly satisfying. The satisfaction was high because the role made use of T-shaped skills…. the intersection of a hobby I enjoy and its intersection with teaching that gives me self-actualization.

I haven’t found a post-retirement gig (yet) that incentivizes travel. If you solve that one, let me know 🙂

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  OUTinMinnesota

Great stuff. And you ARE right! I have found the activities & tasks I am good at and get fulfillment when I see others benefitting from them. But the social piece with peers (not students) seems to be ever more important. That’s where a 9-5 job could actually help fill me needs. Of course, I don’t want the dumb stress and nonsense that comes with some 9-5 jobs.

Wei Ledoux
Wei Ledoux
5 months ago

My goal now is to be able to leave my software engineer career with my health unscathed and undented. The next half of life should start with good health. I’m on last job of career and reluctant to add more gas. Still goal driven, just different goal now.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Wei Ledoux

I hear ya. Thanks for your perspective.

Ben
Ben
5 months ago

Here is my advice. You are 33 years old. Assuming you spent 4 years getting a college degree after graduating from high school, you have been in the workforce for what, 10-11 years? Your post makes it sound like you’ve seen and done everything there is to do in your chosen profession. I don’t know your personal circumstances but would be surprised if that really is the case given the relatively short amount of time you have been at it. Kudos to you for having reached FI, but in your case I am guessing that means you are now rich enough to do nothing, but not enough to ANYTHING. That in itself can be a bit of a prison.

I strongly recommend you keep grinding or something close to it, at least until you’re 40. Assuming you are in reasonably good health, you can expect to live another ~50 years. You wanna switch employers or industries, go for it. But at your age it is way too early to switch into the slow lane of life (or something like it) now.

At the very least, keep building your financial fortress so that you will have even more freedom to take advantage of opportunities and follow your desires in the future. And by “future” I’m not talking about when you are 35 but rather when you are 45, 55, and 65.

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
5 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Thanks!

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