Considering we're all working towards financial independence one might automatically assume that all of our problems will be solved if we had all of the money we ever wanted.
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start
Imagine if we could just somehow input the Konami code and then select an option to give ourselves infinite money. Would that mean that we had won the "game of life"?
Somehow, I don't think so.
While wealth might be measured mostly in things that can be spent: money, time, motivation - Fulfilment of life, is not.
It doesn't take a lot of time to find examples of people who had or have a lot of money, yet found themselves somewhat feeling a little lost in life. Almost as though their existence had no real meaning, as if they had no purpose.
They might have had the big house and the flashy cars, they might have had a lot of friends around them, they could eat and drink whatever they wanted, and they might have even had all the time in the world.
Yet deep down inside there's a feeling of emptiness.
The easiest cases are to look up people who have successfully reached FIRE only to eventually come out of retirement, usually within a few years. Perhaps they didn't have all of the luxuries as described above, but my impression is that the underlying reason that they came out of retirement isn't down to needing more money.
The true reason, in my opinion, is that they eventually lost their purpose - and without purpose there is only an overwhelming gap that yearns to be filled.
A Video Game Analogy
If you play video games have you noticed that it is often the most fun and engaging when you are new to playing. Have you thought about why this is the case?
It's because your character or avatar is at its weakest.
When your character is weak you have to build it up by gaining levels, unlocking new skills, and collecting better armour or weapons. As the game progresses, you encounter tougher enemies and that gives you a continued purpose to keep playing and to make your character even stronger.
All of the fun is in this process and while you might think about how powerful your character will eventually become, you never actually go backwards in a game to fight the original enemies that gave you trouble at the start.
The reason for this is because they're no longer a challenge for you and you'd rather spend your time progressing forward instead, since this is the purpose of the game.
Even in simpler games like Candy Crush - since not everyone is going to be a Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft fan - you wouldn't really go back to do the earliest levels. You'd find them too easy and as frustrating as the latest level might be, you can't deny there's a part of you that actually enjoys the challenge.
Now, let's imagine playing a game with cheat codes enabled.
The best example I can think of is Grand Theft Auto where there is a cheat that gives you any weapon you want, infinite ammunition, infinite lives, and infinite money. There's even a cheat that gives you any car you want, even the rare ones.
While it's quite amusing to run around in the game with all of the power and being invulnerable to damage, shooting at enemies (or police) and trying to get a massive army chasing after you, it doesn't take long for the fun to wear off.
Do you know what happens after the fun wears off?
You guessed it - you turn off all the cheats, make your character weaker and continue to play the game as normal. It's actually more fun to complete the challenges that the game presents in order to make progress towards the goal, and it is more fulfilling to explore the game in order to find that rare car instead of making it appear in front of you.
At the end of a game your character is at its strongest and can quite easily overcome any challenge that the game might throw at it. This is also the moment where you stop playing ever again, even if you could go back through the lower-level areas of the game.
The reason you stop playing isn't really because you've completed the game, it is because there are no more challenges to conquer and no more progress to be made. The game only becomes fun again if you were to start afresh, on a higher difficulty, where your character is once again weak and vulnerable.
A Sport Analogy
We can also find examples in the world of sport - from the perspective of a spectator and the perspective of a player.
When watching a game of rugby there are a couple of factors that make a win more fulfilling: You support the team that wins, your team was playing against a strong rival, there was something at stake such as league points or progression in a tournament, and you didn't know the match result beforehand.
If you're a Wales supporter you might watch a match between South Africa and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, but chances are you'd be more interested in Wales against England in the Six Nations.
Even though South Africa against New Zealand is likely to be a thrilling game there's no real purpose to the game for you as a Wales supporter. It doesn't matter which of these teams win because they're not playing in the same competition as Wales, and it's going to have absolutely no effect on your own team's standing or progress in the Six Nations.
There's no arguing that it'll be a good game to watch as a rugby fan, but even if you pick a particular team to support for that match, and they win, there's not going to be any real fulfilment from it.
When it's Wales against England there is a purpose from the perspective of a Welsh supporter. Their team is going up against an old and bitter rival (this always gets the emotions going), they'll be competing for points in a big competition, and a win will put them closer to the Six Nations trophy while a loss takes them further away from it.
There is a purpose to the game and that's what makes watching the game, and especially winning, fulfilling. Regardless of if you're watching live from the stadium or on the television, you're completely drawn in and feel the thrill and excitement of every run, every kick, and every try.
Now imagine this - you have a cheat code to guarantee that your team will win the game and competition. Would you do it?
My guess is that you probably wouldn't - and if you did, would wish you hadn't.
It would be similar to watching a replay of a match where you already knew your team won. There might only be 30 seconds left on the clock and your team is pushing for that final try to come from 6 points behind, but since you already know your team is going to win you're not going to get that same feeling of fulfilment.
You know that any moment now your team is going to score, and will convert the try. It just isn't as exciting and the purpose of watching the game has ultimately been lost.
Perhaps initially you'll be happy that the cheat code allows your team to win every match they play but after a while you'll probably just switch the cheats off. Winning every match forever sounds amazing - but what's the purpose of watching if you already know what's going to happen at the end?
If you're a sports player, casual or professional, the very same concept can be applied. You don't even need cheat codes to make yourself the ultimate player, just play against an opponent who is much weaker than you.
It can be in a team game like football, or a solo game like badminton - the most enjoyable games where you become the most engrossed and actually achieve your highest levels of performance are the ones where your opponents are of a similar or slightly better skill level.
The purpose of the game carries meaning because you know that the result isn't guaranteed, and there is fulfilment from when you overcome your opponent to win.
But when you play against an opponent that is clearly nowhere near your skill level you don't feel the same amount of motivation or drive, and you might start doing things like playing with your weaker arm or foot, or trying strange techniques that you'd never attempt in a really competitive match.
All of this is simply yourself trying to make the game a bit more difficult for yourself, because knowing you're already going to win without a challenge is ultimately boring.
Playing at your best against a much weaker opponent serves no real purpose, and winning gives you no real fulfilment.
Back to the Money
Switching off the cheat codes in a video game, forgoing the chance to guarantee a win in a rugby match, and finding ways to give a weaker opponent a handicap are all indications of the same thing - fulfilment cannot be achieved if there wasn't a challenge.
So let's think about what that would mean if you had infinite money in real life.
You would be able to buy all the houses you wanted, any car, go to any place, and eat any food. You'd be able to buy all the luxury clothing and accessories, have the latest technology gadgets, and party like a rock star without any concern on how much you were spending.
Whatever you wanted, you could have it so long as it could be bought with money.
While it is, of course, extremely attractive to think about having the amount of riches to buy such luxuries there eventually comes a question once you've had your fill - what next?
The question isn't about what next new thing needs to be bought with your infinite money, as the transaction itself isn't a problem. The question is about what is the next thing you could buy that could give you some feeling of achievement that would lead to fulfilment.
Would buying a new luxury mansion on a beautiful island be something that could fill the gap?
What about buying a massive super yacht?
Or perhaps you could buy Manchester United, one of the most expensive football clubs in the world?
Whatever it is you end up buying you will eventually find yourself back with the same dilemma - "what next?"
Using the money cheat code, just like using cheat codes in a video game to make your character all-powerful, or in a game of sport to guarantee a win for your team, ultimately doesn't bring fulfilment - because there was no challenge in acquiring the thing you bought, and therefore it lacks any true meaning or purpose.
And when you finally realise you can not buy fulfilment you'll start to look for it in places or in things where money holds no advantage.
Ultimately what that means is that infinite money wasn't what you needed and that there is no need for a money cheat code.
Fulfilment Requires Purpose
Let's bring our examples back down to earth a little and think about all the people who have reached financial independence and retired early. Find any early retiree and ask them why they went back to work, and you'll probably get an answer along the lines of: "I had too much free time and didn't know what else to do".
These people arguably have all the money they need since they've reach FIRE - so it isn't due to a lack of money that they've come out of retirement - it is due to a lack of purpose. When they end up going back to work it's because they were looking for a sense of fulfilment from having a goal that they could make progress towards.
The reason why working towards financial independence is so fulfilling is because it's something that gives us a sense of achievement whenever we see ourselves make progress and hit milestones.
Even if we haven't become financially independent we still feel good about it whenever we see our own wealth grow beyond certain levels. Despite the purpose being financially motivated, it is still a purpose.
But once we reach financial independence, all of that progress stops.
Finding a stronger weapon in a video game is pointless if your character is already all powerful; Recruiting the world's best player to your rugby team is pointless if your team is guaranteed to win anyway; earning another penny is pointless once you're financially independent.
The original purpose, once achieved, can no longer be a source of fulfilment and the gap that's left behind will eventually need to be replaced.
The lesson I intent to impart from all of these examples, and strange talk about using cheat codes, is that you should enjoy your process of working towards financial independence and not be too concerned about the final destination itself.
Why do I want to share this lesson? Because I myself need to be reminded of it from time to time.
Every so often I will become overwhelmed with frustration, impatience, and even anxiety whenever I see that I still have more work to do before I reach my financial independence target - and I see a lot of people out there have the same reactions too.
We all simply wish we could fast track to the end and be done with it all; put our feet up and never do another day of work every again - or so we imagine.
The way I bring myself back around is by reminding myself of the progress I've made and also of the bigger picture, of why I'm working towards financial independence in the first place. Money, at the end of the day, is just a tool for my personal purpose in life.
When I refocus my view in this manner I regain my love for the process and the journey, and this is what gives me the fulfilment required to keep me motivated on moving myself forward.
Don't feel rushed or disheartened whenever you feel like you haven't reached your goals yet - and don't worry if you're still trying to figure out your purpose - because what that means is that you still have something to work towards, still have challenges to overcome, and still have room to grow.
And that is where true fulfilment comes from.
Hey - just one final word before wrapping up - Do you ever feel that sense of anxiety whenever you find yourself with free time? This happens to me a lot, being a workaholic and everything. Allowing yourself some down time is just as important as anything else and I found a nice article by A Dime Saved that describes this situation very well.