Discipline Equals Freedom

I came across the quote by former Navy Seal, Jocko Willink, and it was one of those quotes I had to repeat multiple times before I could figure it out.  Often times you see or hear words crammed together in a sort of word stew, with no real meaning.  I believe we are conditioned to just that sort of nonsense which is why “discipline equals freedom” caused me to pause. Willink wrote a book with the same title and being a book reader, I will likely add it to my list.

At first blush discipline and freedom live on opposites sides of a continuum. We would rarely put them together.  However, upon further reflection they go together like a hand and glove.

We all want freedom.  We want freedom to do what we want when we want, for however long we want.  In my role as a financial advisor, I have discovered that people crave financial freedom.  Most often when I ask the question of a working client or prospective client, “What is it about retirement that is so appealing?” the answer comes back in some sort of nuanced language around financially being free to do what they want.  The idea of not being accountable to anyone, creating and controlling their own schedule follows right behind.

Of course, you know that I believe financial freedom is a worthy goal (otherwise, what am I doing here)?  But in order to achieve that freedom you will need to earn it.  This often takes a lifetime to fulfill.  You can’t arrive at your late fifties and begin thinking about retirement.  In fact, if you are smart you start working towards this goal in your twenties.  Full disclosure, Joan and I were so buried with life and raising kids in our twenties that retirement was not even in our top twenty things to focus on.  I can’t tell you how many people I have met who waited until their kids left the house to begin thinking about their own retirement.  They truly believe that this is a noble thing, and maybe it is, who am I to judge.  However, if you have ever listened to the instructions before a flight, you will remember the admonition to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.  This notion runs counterintuitively, because it is admirable to help others and put ourselves last, but if you have passed out due to your own lack of oxygen you will be incapable of helping anyone else.

Arriving at retirement prepared for financial freedom requires discipline during the working years.  It is much more fun and rewarding to spend money along the way on lifestyle decisions, vacations, and toys.  This requires no discipline (other than staying current on all of the debt you accrued to achieve this lifestyle).  On the other hand, it requires discipline to make sacrificial contributions to your retirement plan when the cash flow otherwise would provide for happiness in the moment.  It takes discipline to systematically eliminate debt, paying off all creditors, including the bank who holds your mortgage.  Exercising that discipline covers the admission fee for retirement.

I must also share that we often meet with prospective clients who kept their head down, made contributions, paid down debt and they come to us with their retirement account statements and their benefit package from work and wonder if they did enough.  It is impressive the way they remained disciplined and arrived at retirement, dare I say, overprepared. We have to convince them that they are only working because they love their job, work is optional for them.  I confess, that it is on days like these, when we are delivering the good news that I am the happiest in my profession.  They are financially free, and it wasn’t just handed to them, or something they earned by hitting a certain age and feel they deserve to retire.  Sorry, but if you didn’t put in the work, you can’t enjoy the freedom.

So, in fact discipline does equal freedom.  The earlier we start with that discipline the easier the lift.  This is one of the reasons writing my book was so important.  I am passionate about helping young people discover their own path to figuring out their financial future.  I am encouraged by the vast number of them who are on the right track, and I am confident that it will make all the difference for them.