From Here, Things Look So Very Close

Every Summer, over 20,000 Boy Scouts trek for 11 days through the 220 square miles of Philmont Scout Ranch. It is the penultimate camping and high adventure experience for young men in the Boy Scout program. I’ve been there three times, my dad, something like 20, and my younger brother (all Eagle Scouts, us three) worked there for five summers—so he’s probably been on over 100 treks.

There are dozens of itineraries (called treks) to choose from. Many of them, and all three of mine, include a final night camping at the base of the 9,000 foot Tooth of Time (pictured above), which is Philmont’s most iconic landmark. Scouts wake early on their final day of hiking, summit the Tooth, and hike down into base camp to complete the journey.

From the top of the Tooth, base camp seems so deceptively close in the valley below. While taking pictures with your crew and relaxing on Tooth’s peak, base camp sits only two or two-and-a-half miles as the crow flies—all downhill. It’s not unreasonable to think a solid 45-minute hike will bring you home. But, of course it’s not that easy. A thousand switchbacks carve a path down the ridge, and 2-mile stroll turns into a five mile grueler fully exposed under the New Mexico sun. This is with a 60 lb. pack and is coming after 100 miles and ten days of similar hiking; so, it’s no cakewalk. It drags on, and on, and on. Often times, you duck behind the ridge and can no longer see base camp. Sometimes, base camp seems farther away than when you had started. It’s a test of patience that, when eventually over, only adds to the sense of accomplishment. However, it’s hard to convince yourself of that when you’re still in the thick.

My (and many other’s) journey to financial independence is of a similar toil. After compiling August’s financial reports (releasing tomorrow), it feels a bit like running in place, a bit like going backward, and a bit like I’m hiking down to Philmont base camp from the Tooth. From a month-to-month perspective, I (and probably many of you), fail to see the progress that is truly occurring. My passive income builds each month by a couple percent, my core expenses move ever lower (despite some outlying car repair bills), and my net worth just fluctuates with the market, but is in a certain upward trend. However, as with any work of compounding, the “stick” in the hockey stick chart lasts a long time, and the “blade” in the hockey stick sort of happens all at once. Like in this chart of world population:

World Population Chart

My passive income from interest and dividends, which now sits at $819/month, is somewhere like the world’s population in the year 1500. For the next couple hundred years (or few years, for passive income), I’m going to have to be content with monthly increases of income in the $10-$30 range. Then, if all goes to plan, sometime around 2019 or 2020, an inflection point will be hit, and compounding will start to become noticeable, fast and unstoppable.

However, I need motivation today, to remind myself of the financial independence that is certain to occur tomorrow. So, with a little inspiration from Jason at Islands of Investing, I recently came across a letter that my 35-year-old self wrote to me from the year 2020. It reads as follows:

Dear Present Day Eric,

I wanted to drop you a note because I sensed that you needed a little inspiration, a little advice, and a slight kick in the ass, as your journey is still just beginning.

First, a big “thank you” for creating this awesome life for me. As planned, we retired earlier this year and are now living the good life in sunny Florida. We decided to homeschool the eldest Baby29, as it is more conducive to our independent lifestyles and…well, hell, we both knew that you or Wife29 weren’t going to take a conventional path for this whole child-raising thing.

Retirement is glorious. It’s like you won a crooked lottery and now your days are spent as you damn well please. Most days involve a hike and bike with the kids, some fancy home cooking, a good movie, or some bit of free culture. You are signed up for a couple semesters of culinary school, the early workings are doing fine on your documentary about swimming the English Channel, and your first book is being published later this year. And Retire29, yep, it’s still going strong, now with over 100,000 subscribers. Nicely done!

Your investments are just killing it. The markets have had a lot of ups and downs, but your passive income built higher month after month, and now it’s an unstoppable force. Even as you withdraw your dividends every month, enough is still left over to continue growing the pile. It’s true; partial stakes of ownership in great American companies, over time, yield tremendous returns.

Family life is great. You can be a father full time—no more Facetiming the kids while at the office. You can help out around the house. Wife29’s life-coaching side hustle keeps her professionally fulfilled, and the homeschooling is keeping you sharp, as well. Oh, and good call on getting that CPA a few years ago. Now, every tax season you help dozens of folks keep a little bit more of their hard-earned income out of Uncle Sam’s wasteful hands. It keeps you on the ball and throws a little extra money onto the pile.

It is amazing to think how you ever had a job in the first place. Your days are so full of reading, writing, travel, teaching, physical fitness, tinkering around the house, tending to the garden, and a few slices of relaxation. How or why you ever could fit in an eight-hour workday and two-hour commute on top of all that is bananas. So glad that’s over. It’s far easier now to travel slow, visit family and friends, go get groceries on Tuesday mornings, and not having nightmares about getting fired or losing your security clearance.

Freedom is great, but don’t lose sight for the few years ahead of you. Life is a journey, and each of your next few years is just as valuable as a year today. Continue living life outside of a routine. I know its difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some months will be tough (that never changes), but life always tends to get better. Keep up the good work, and one day, trust me, you’ll get here.

For now, though, the sun is shining bright. Time to go outside!

–Future Eric


Thanks to Future Eric for that. And thank you for reading Retire29. Do you need some inspiration on your own path toward your goal? Maybe let your future self write you a letter. It helps. Honest.

Yours Truly,

–Present Day Eric


    • Claudia,
      Congrats on your side hustle success, I’ll have to read more about what that is. So happy that you will write a ‘Dear Present Self’ letter—it really helped me put things in perspective.


  1. Great post Eric. I am trying to understand how much total dividends I currently receive from all my investments at least in Taxable accounts so I can figure out if I can retire solely on dividends.

    Should I look at Total Ordinary Dividends (Box 1a) or Qualified Dividends (Box 1b) or some other information on the brokerage statements?

  2. Ah, I’m an Eagle Scout too. The trip to Philmont was fantastic. Those last few miles were brutal. Such a tease.

    The letter is a great idea. It’s crazy to look at where I was 5 years ago and how far ahead I am now. And I’m in a different state, new job, much higher NW, and one kid (another on the way). The long term brings us perspective but it’s built up of a lot of little steps.
    Chris @ Flipping A Dollar recently posted…Ask the Readers: Do You Require Immediate Payment?My Profile

    • Chris,
      Awesome on seeing a fellow Eagle in the FI blogosphere! Yes, I had to reset my horizons and stop looking month-to-month. Unfortunately, that’s when everybody does their net worth updates and passive income reports, etc., so that’s a barometer that is so popular.

      I’m thinking about going to quarterly updates next year…


  3. Thanks for the article Eric. I like the future letter to yourself. Great idea. Our future selves definitely owe us present selves big time. It’s a wonderful journey we are on, however a difficult one as it’s not the road often travelled. Let’s keep up the challenge and conquer our goals bud.
    I wish you and your family continued health and wealth.
    Let’s do it up.
    Cheers bud.
    Dividend Hustler recently posted…August 2015 Dividend Income Report.My Profile

  4. I love this – I wrote recently about how there is a lot of research showing that the more you know/have a vision of your future self, the more likely you are to do things that will benefit them instead of pushing off things hoping they have it more together than you presently do. A letter from your future self documenting what you hope to have obtained is a great way of doing this!

    I’m an Eagle Scout as well and I have to say, none of my expeditions were anything like that! Maybe because I’m from flat Wisconsin 🙂
    Thias @It Pays Dividends recently posted…4 Things I Wish I Would Have Done in CollegeMy Profile

  5. Nice Letter!!! While the past few weeks have been short term discouraging… I have been praying and hoping for a big pull pack in the market.. After all we all know that is the best way to make money in the long term… Cheers to 5 years down the road!!

    • Tim,
      Finally getting around to replying. Yes, the pullback–even though deep down we know it’s good for us–is always tough to handle. Looking forward to 5 years, as well!


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