What I Learned Thinking I Was Going to Die

Wanderer
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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
Wanderer
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Photo via Good Free Photos

A few weeks ago, FIRECracker wrote about a potential health scare involving me, and I thought I’d give you all an update on what’s going on.

This whole thing started, as most bad things start, at a bar. A buddy of mine met up with us, and he’s been in and out of hospitals lately due to complications following an accident. He’s recovering nicely, but the point is he’s had a lot of doctors poking at him lately, and one of the conditions they tested him on was a thing called Marfan’s Syndrome. This is a genetic condition (though it can occur randomly) that affects the connective tissue, and he got tested for it because he exhibited some of the physical characteristics of people who have this disease. He didn’t end up having it, but he noticed I had some of the physical characteristics as well, so he suggested I get checked out.

The next day I looked up what this disease was and what those “physical characteristics” were, and to my alarm it sounded EXACTLY like me. Those physical characteristics, by the way, are:

  1. Flexible joints (I’ve always been flexible)
  2. Flat feet (Check)
  3. Scoliosis (I have this, but so minor it doesn’t cause any symptoms. But still, I have it.)
  4. Bad eyesight (I’m legally blind without contacts)
  5. Stretch marks not related to weight-loss/gain (Check)
  6. Various arm-span ratios, finger-to-wrist ratios, etc. that I all hit.

Etc. Etc. You get the picture. I had like 9/10 of the warning signs. And because the end result of this disease is “sudden aorta rupture around age 40 that you can’t do anything about,” I was like “Well, THAT’S not good.”

However, what happened after that was something I think that everyone should go through at least once in their lifetime.

A health scare has this ability to crystallize your values and bring to the surface what’s really important. After all, if you thought you only had 5 more years to live, would that corner office you’re gunning for really matter? What about that bigger house? What about that new car?

None of that shit would matter if you’re not around to enjoy it. So why would you waste any more of your now-limited time pursuing those things?

You wouldn’t. You would quit your hateful job and live the life you truly want, whatever that is. No point in delaying your dreams any further, right?

And you would probably spend more time with your family. You would reach out and rebuild your relationships. You would find a way to give back to a world that’s been pretty damned great to you this entire time if you think about it.

In short, you would do things differently.

I went through all that introspection in about 10 minutes after FIRECracker made the first doctor’s appointment to get tested. And when I did, something strange happened.

Rather than a torrential downpour of panic that usually happens in these situations, a strange sense of peace washed over me.

Because by becoming Financially Independent, I was already living my dreams.

Neither of us have to work hateful jobs anymore. I get to travel, I get to do whatever I want every day. I spend lots of time with my family. FIRECracker & I spend 24/7 with each other. We regularly get together with friends whenever we’re back home, and we’re constantly making new ones through this blog and the FI community.

And you know what? Every day we wake up and try to give back. We both volunteer for a non-profit and we write this blog. Millennial-Revolution is, after all, our attempt to give back and help as many people retire and live their dreams as possible.

So what would I change? What would I do differently?

Absolutely nothing.

And that, I think, is when you know you’ve made it.

If you find out you might be dying and you kinda look back at your life and go “Yeah, OK. I’m happy with what I’ve done.”

I realized that if I was going to die, I wouldn’t be all that bummed out about it. The thought of dying didn’t stress me out.

Death didn’t scare me.

Awwww c’mon! Not even a little? Photo by 1ur1 @ Wikipedia

That’s a strange thing, isn’t it? Death scares everyone. From the most powerful emperor to the lowliest peasant, fearing the Reaper was supposed to unite everyone. Entire religions have formed around this basic, primal fear. And yet, I didn’t feel it.

And that’s when I realized the true value of Financial Independence.

We often talk about Early Retirement as an escape. Escape your hateful job. Flip off your idiot boss. All that stuff.

And don’t get me wrong, all that is true. But it’s only scratching the surface.

Financial Independence and Early Retirement frees you from worrying about your basic human needs. Food, shelter, warmth, all that good stuff is now paid for, in perpetuity, by your portfolio. So obviously, you no longer need to spend any of your day pursuing those needs.

And because these basic needs are taken care of, your true self is free to come out.

FIRECracker wrote before about what people most regret as they lay on their deathbed, and I think I can sum them up like this:

What you regret on your deathbed is living someone else’s life and not your own.

And this “someone else’s life” can be imposed on you by parents, by society, by culture. And it can be imposed on you by the simple fact that you still depend on your job to fill your basic needs.

But I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you actually start living your life YOUR way, it feels like an endless fountain of Time. That weird phenomenon where the years fly by, you wake up one day, and you’re 55 with grey hair doesn’t happen anymore. When you live life YOUR way, time doesn’t contract. If anything, it dilates. A day spent as yourself feels like a year, and a year feels like a lifetime.

I often think we’ve been writing this blog for years, and that we’ve been retired forever. But when I look at the timestamps, this blog has been up for only 8 months! And we’ve only been retired 2 years!

And in that short amount of time, I stopped being scared of Death.

By the way, it looks like I don’t actually have Marfan’s Syndrome. We found a cardiologist who’s familiar with the disease, and he did an electro-cardiogram and concluded everything looked normal. We’re going to do some follow up test to be 100% sure, but for now it looks like we’re A-OK.

But the strange thing about this entire experience is that even if the test came back and I DID have it, I would have still been A-OK.

So I encourage everyone reading to pretend like they’re dying. Seriously, lay in your bed tonight and pretend you got some inconclusive-yet-kinda-scary news that you may only have a few more years to live.

Do you have any regrets? Are you doing things that don’t make sense anymore?

Would you do things differently?

If not, great! You seem to be exactly where you want to be and I am incredibly happy for you.

But if you would do things differently, start making changes NOW. You don’t know how much time you have left to live life YOUR way. None of us do.

But on the plus side, now that I know I’m likely to be around for a while longer, we here at Millennial-Revolution will be here to help you get there.

After all, that’s how we live our lives. OUR way.

80 thoughts on “What I Learned Thinking I Was Going to Die”

  1. Great to hear about your good news.

    I notice a similar thing between FI and people leaving a job to start their own business – rather than many who just talk about it, they’ve actually made the leap and are unlikely to return.

    With many companies having layoffs and likely more in the future, living life your way is actually the sensible choice.

    People with an old school mindset might think a job was the preferred route, but many don’t get enjoyment from what they are doing. Putting themselves through misery but with no actual security – one of the reasons they are actually doing it!

  2. Oh good. Glad your not going to suddenly drop dead!

    There’s a couple things I’d still like to do, but I could also die feeling pretty good about my life … mostly because of the time I’ve spent being FI.

    Finally getting to do the things I really want to do is a pretty empowering thing.

  3. Glad to hear you dont have it Wanderer. I totally understand what the feeling is. I was the unfortunate bearer of news yesterday that I have a small tumour from my MRI scan, and understand all the things that go through your mind when you face trauma. You feel isolated and its like everyone around you seems so happy and normal. you go through several different psychological states. I’m so happy you guys posted this article today, it has been really relevant and helpful for me!

    1. Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that, and I sincerely hope things work out for you. But to comment on your experience, it IS weird, isn’t it?

      I think the most annoying part is how everyone around you starts treating you differently. “Oh, you’ll be fine. Everything will be OK.” Yeah, hey, fuck off. Why don’t I decide if everything will be OK?

      Or my favourite, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Oh, really? You’re SURE? I didn’t know you recently graduated to become GOD.

      They mean well. I call them “well-meaning peace-injectors.” They are trying to make you feel better, but they can’t. If you were happy with your life before, you’ll be happy with you life after a diagnosis. And if you weren’t happy before, it just makes it worse. You have to make your own Peace.

  4. Glad to hear everything is ok. That must be a pretty amazing feeling to have a life of no regrets. I’ve made big strides in this area over the past year which coincides with the time I first heard of FIRE. Even though I’m not quite living the life I want to, I’m very close and well on my way there.

  5. What wonderful news! Your post was thoughtful and needed….take it from someone on the other end of the life spectrum. When my husband died unexpectedly one of my first thoughts was gratitude that we had been able to reinvent and spend five years together in powerful, loving intimacy in Costa Rica. We achieved FI before anyone was talking about it. I am reinventing alone back into immediacy and joy. Glad to be inspired by your great community!

      1. You are living in reinvention, adventure, laughter and immediacy. And teaching your generation exactly how to do it without squandering decades. It seems to me to be a great service…..would love to meet all of you at one of the Chatauquas this year. But my reinvention is calling from Ajijic, Mexico. Maybe I can hang at next year’s Wild Rumpus with you and MMM and JLCollins!

  6. Great news Wanderer, I will pray the follow up tests are all negative as well. 😊 You are really having me push hard to stay at home as long as possible and maybe forever with miracle baby, who I wanted since I was ten. Hateful job and a nice db pension……more the with miraclebaby…….she is winning by far!

    1. Hey, don’t think that our nomadic thing is the key to all happiness. You find a way to do what makes you happy, for as many days of your life as you can. That’s all. That’s the meaning of life.

  7. As others have said, I’m very happy to hear that your tests came back negative. And I’m even happier to hear that you’re living life the way you would, even with the prospect of few years left. That’s pretty impressive.

  8. You mean echo cardiogram, right?

    An electro cardiogram (ecg, or ekg), is not able to tell if a person has a connective tissue disorder.

    An echo cardiogram, on the other hand, can measure various things on your heart, including the aortic root, which is the main indicator if there is a cardiac issue or not, relative to this condition.

  9. Great news (so far)! Although I was looking forward to you kicking Marfan’s Syndrome squarely in the teeth and telling it to go screw off. Looks like that won’t be necessary after all. And I’m sure Marfan is resting more peacefully not facing that fate.

  10. Very happy to hear everything worked out for a longer retirement. Keep on keeping on!

    This exact type of situation happened to us and really cemented that we were doing the right thing, we’re not quite FI yet. But we’re making massive strides to get there and even are making different choices along the way to help live life to it’s fullest.

  11. Ugh, I’m a hypochondriac so I can’t even look up my symptoms on WebMD without convincing myself I’m dying. But this is a great point. I know for a fact I would change the way I live if I found out I didn’t have much time left. I know I’d quit my job, travel, and spend time with family. And probably sleep a lot, because I want to, dammit. 🙂

    1. Then DO IT!

      Incidentally, stay off WebMD. WebMD is basically a giant medical site trying to convince you that you have cancer. Got the sniffles? Cancer. Joints hurt a little? Cancer.

      They should just rename the site “YOUHAVECANCER.com”

  12. Glad to hear things are fine! It’s interesting how stress affects the body. You were calm and at piece during the testing phase. Had you been working, you probably would have been stressed to the max just trying to take time off work to attend medical appointments. That stress alone could have affected your health negatively in many ways. Just another reason to become FI. It’s really not about the money, it’s about the lifestyle.

    1. Actually, I think that may be a big part of it. After we left, a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated health problems actually fixed themselves. Stress’ effect on your health is weird…

  13. Great news …

    I have been trying to go by that saying ‘live each day as if it’s your last’ . The more I think about this the more I realize that it is not about death but more about feeling grateful for each precious moment of your life [from Firecracker : a life lived being true to yourself, accomplishing your dreams, doing something good for others, spent with the people you love].

  14. Wanderer – that was seriously one of the greatest posts that I have read, and not just on a FIRE blog. Thanks for the complete honesty and insight.

    Keep living the dream my friend.

  15. Awesome realization about living life to the fullest. I’ve been following yall’s blog since pretty much the beginning and loving it. Your styles are sarcastic as hell and at the same time hearty and informative – a ‘realness’ that is hard to come by. I thrive off of the rebelliousness :D. I’m looking forward to my first investment very soon.

    Check out http://www.mrmrsvegan.com/wslf or Mr. and Mrs. Vegan on youtube if you guys have any spare time.

      1. Well then I should explain. I should have led with my opinion rather than a link, but that was me trying to be subtle.

        Your blog, Millennial Revolution is about denouncing home ownership and traditional western work culture, which is awesome as I said in my prior comment. However part of the millennial revolution that is unaddressed in this blog is health. The Western diet is the Unhealthiest diet ON THE PLANET. It is imposed by parents, by society, and by culture. We should not still depend on these factors to determine what we put in our bodies.

        What good is having a lot of money if you die prematurely due to poor diet? This is Millennial Revolution, not ‘Millionaires-Revolution,’ am I right?

        Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. John McDougall all teach us that the traditional western diet is flawed and that it is the leading cause of death in our society. It is filled with fatty animal foods and oils, and carcinogenic processed foods. These food choices are what causes Heart Disease and Stroke, Colon cancer, Diabetes etc. Your post is about health, disease, and dying. Why die if you can prevent it with a healthy diet? All these butterfly false sentiments were convicting me to say what’s real. Just as you have debunked home ownership, I’m asking those in the comments section to question the diet that has been shoved down their throats, almost literally, since birth.

        Mr. and Mrs. Vegan, their website, and YouTube page, are relevant because they are true Revolutionaries. They are a part of the F.I.R.E. movement, whether they know the name or not. The fact that they have taken the worlds Unhealthiest diet and created an accessible, user-friendly guide for eating healthy in the 21st century, and not really straying away from the foods we already know is ground breaking. A true revolution must face all fronts.

        Wealth is a much deeper matter than just money. As JL Collins says in Chapter II in The Simple Path to Wealth, “‘If you could learn to live on rice and beans, you wouldn’t have to cater to the king’.”

        1. If I become vegan, I won’t WANT to live longer.

          I totally agree with the North American diet being insanely unhealthy (we spent a week in Orlando at a conference and at the end our bodies were crying out for a non-deep-fried vegetable of some sort), but veganism isn’t for me. You know, because it makes everything taste like crap.

          You know what DOES work though? Street food in SE Asia. Healthy, cheap, AND delicious. Oh man, I’m salivating just thinking about it. Num num num.

  16. Beautifully written and I’m very glad you’re good to go a few more decades 😉

    Fear of death has always baffled me a bit. Most religions promise a transition to a better place and I would think those believers would be eager for it.

    For non-believers death is just a return to non-existence, the same as before we were born. Disappointing maybe, but hardly scary.

    Now, there are many ways to die that are terrifying, but that is the transition process, not death itself

    As for me, I’d like to live as long as I am healthy enough to enjoy it. Beyond that, death becomes a welcome friend.

    1. The problem with most religions is that they can promise whatever, but at the end of the day you have no idea if any of it’s legit or not. To me, making sure your life here on Earth is happy is the only thing you can control.

      But as for you, you’re the Godfather. You’re not allowed to die. We need you 🙂

  17. Thanks for the update, we were worried about you. We too had a scare at the Wow household. Mr. Wow suffered a severe brain injury after a car meets bicycle accident (he was on the bike), leaving him with zero memory. He didn’t even know who I was, let alone have any recollection of the FI stuff we had been working towards. I also went through a brief period of WTF, but ultimately decided to continue with the path we had discussed, regardless if he remembered it or not. Fortunately, all is well over here and he regained his memory the next day (besides the selective memory he has when I ask him to take out the trash- to which he responds “I have a brain injury” (excuses excuses) . Cheers to both you and him being healthy!

  18. Oh! That’s great news, glad to hear that you’re alright. Always looking forward to seeing more posts from you and firecracker. 🤗🤗🤗

  19. Insightful post. Congrats on the good news. You guys are an adorable couple. It’s refreshing when good things happen to good people. Here’s to many more years of health and prosperity!

  20. First of all, that’s great news! Congratulations! Secondly, great article! It’s so hard to find someone who feels so fulfilled with their life that I’m so happy for you two!

  21. What I worry about from a financial standpoint is not dying early; it is living to be 105 and running out of cash 30 years prior to that. There’s a balance to the entire thing. I definitely enjoy my life now and do the things that are truly meaningful (to me), but I also work to build my pile of investments to be as large as possible while I am still young and physically able to do so.

  22. Glad to hear you’re alright Wanderer! And what an inspiring post! I’m still on the path to FIRE, I hope to achieve it by 30, and hearing about the peace of mind you have realized from it is one more thing to keep me working hard!

  23. Great news Wanderer! Besides, you can’t check out that early. How the hell would you expect FIRECracker to travel the world without her soul mate and wing man???
    Go forth and enjoy your sojourns.
    All the best,
    RB

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