The run up to Financial Independence (part 1)

By Slow Dad - May 21, 2017

Let me tell you about the time I ran out onto Wembley Stadium, nearly died, and found myself on the road to Financial Independence.
This week marks the first anniversary of the date I conceded to myself that I was actually Financially Independent. I was going to write a post reflecting on how that year lived up to my expectations, what changed, what didn't, and where things go from here.

But first I thought I would set the scene a little, by telling the story behind what motivated me to learn about Financial Independence in the first place.

Let me tell you about the time I ran out onto Wembley Stadium

In March 2016 I ran (then jogged, then shuffled... my kids called me "Slow Dad" for a reason!) a half marathon, taking 15 minutes off my personal best time over the distance.

The chances of achieving a good time began auspiciously. By the time my echelon eventually made it to the starting line the announcer informed us that the race leaders had already reached the half way point and were travelling at world record pace! That was certainly inspiring.

What he didn’t tell us was that the course second half of the course was mostly uphill!

The race organisers had planned a dramatic finish to the race, with runners emerging onto the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium.

As they entered the stadium each runner’s name was projected up on the giant scoreboard, while a small but enthusiastic crowd very generously cheered the exhausted runners home over the final hundred metres around the outside of the pitch.

I must admit it was a very cool feeling to see my name up on the same scoreboard where sporting giants likes Usain Bolt, Jonah Lomu, Lionel Messi, and even Michael Schumacher have all worked their magic.

The hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium

I’d managed to out stubborn that bastard chimping saboteur voice in my head that was telling me I was too tired, too sore, and way too smart to continue pushing myself beyond my now exhausted (and thoroughly undercooked) reserves of stamina.

I had told myself not to be soft, that if I was going to bother doing something I should do it right, and that only failures fail while if I were determined enough I would succeed.

Turns out I was wrong.

After a half marathon, nothing beats a relaxing holiday

The next day I flew out on holidays, enjoying a fun day at the super fun Wild Wadi waterpark in Dubai before visiting with friends and family for a great couple of weeks in Australia.

Wild Wadi water park. Image credit: Sarah Ackerman

On my return to London I was jet lagged, dreading the prospect of returning to the client site I was working at, and generally feeling quite flat. I put all that down to the traditional post-holiday re-entry problems, slapped myself upside the head for being soft, and valiantly soldiered on to work.

Turns out I was wrong again.

It is all good fun until somebody ends up in hospital

A couple of days later I had been admitted to hospital.

A few days after that the mystery that ailed me hadn’t responded to any of the treatments the doctors had tried, and they had exhausted all but one treatment option.

A friendly yet very worried grey bearded senior doctor had a very confronting conversation with me, telling me that I’d likely be dead within 48 hours if this final “treatment of last resort” failed to cure me.

Dead within 48 hours.

Either way, being the “nuclear” option, the side effects of the drug were likely to be almost as bad as what I was fighting.

The doctor certainly wasn’t wrong about that!

Sometimes in life there aren’t any good options, and all you can do is choose the least bad one.

Fortunately the treatment worked, and I lived to tell the tale. Yay for me!

Swiss cheese, systemic failure, and aligned stars

About six weeks later I returned to the hospital for a final check up, and to hopefully get the all clear.

As best I can understand, what the doctors concluded was I’d pushed myself way too hard when running the race, and flattened my batteries. While I was splashing about at the Dubai water park an uncommon yet opportunistic bug native to that part of the world took advantage of my rundown state and stowed away inside my body. It made itself at home over the next couple of weeks, before seizing the opportunity when I was next run down (the jet lag resulting from the 21 hour return trip from Australia) to stage coup d'état.

My doctors hadn’t seen the bug before. They hadn’t even heard of the bug before. The bug apparently wasn’t one they screen for routinely because it just doesn’t occur in this part of the world, and unlike an episode of House M.D, in the real world hospitals have to weigh up cost of testing and treatment versus the probability of them finding something. Unsurprisingly therefore, there was no standard treatment for it.

The grey beard doctor told me I was very fortunate, and that the only reason I remained alive was because of a “Swiss Cheese” series of unlikely events coinciding to make it so.

Reason's "Swiss Cheese" model
Reason's "Swiss Cheese" model. 
I must confess I had to go and look up what he meant. Apparently when investigating catastrophic failures such as airline crashes or nuclear power plant meltdowns, some big brained researchers named James Reason and Dante Orlandella worked out that often times there wasn’t a single fault that was responsible, but rather a series of otherwise unrelated failures that cumulatively caused a systemic failure.

They likened this to a stack of holey Swiss Cheese slices. For the end result to have occurred a failure (represented by a hole) in each system (represented by a cheese slice) must line up with failures in the other systems (other holes in other slices), effectively resembling a contiguous hole from top to bottom through the stack of cheese slices.

Anyway in my case the layers of Swiss Cheese were that the “treatment of last resort” was only an option because it was suggested by the former university roommate of the grey beard doctor...

Who 40+ years previously had happened to spend a few months in the Middle East, and while there had one time observed somebody else being treated for what looked like the same bug...

And I had only gotten to see the grey beard doctor because he was doing rounds for the first time in 20+ years while all the junior doctors had gone on strike during the week I was in hospital...

Finally speaking of doctors, I had only gone to see one at all because my wife nagged me into getting checked out after the first signs of trouble.

Moral of the story?

It could be seen as confirmation of my long held suspicion that exercise is actually bad for you!

An actuary I once worked with had a theory that your heart was only good for a certain number of beats, and fitness fanatics use theirs up faster than couch potatoes. Personally I don’t put much faith in his theory.

My wife is convinced that the moral was that she is always right and I should always listen to her. Personally I don’t put much faith in that theory either!

No, personally I think it was a much needed kick up the backside to take stock and reassess my life, my choices, and my priorities.

So what?

While a bit overly dramatic for my tastes, these experiences gave me a wake up call. Next time I will talk about how it motivated me towards achieving Financial Independence.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing the story. Talk about good luck! Looking forward to the second part.