While watching some competitive 5.0 tennis, a top 1% level, I suddenly started to reflect on why the window of opportunity that many of us have is smaller than we think.
From 2015 until 2021, I played at the 5.0 level. I lost 69.3% of my matches, but USTA’s computer algorithm wouldn’t drop me down to 4.5, so there I was, stuck in purgatory.
Today, at 46, I can no longer effectively compete at the 5.0 level. My right shoulder has lost about 15% of its strength and my eyes can’t see the ball as well indoors or at night.
My window of opportunity only lasted for about 13 years, from 2009 – 2021. 2009 is when I began playing USTA tennis given the world was falling apart back then. But for the first six years, I had to get better and finally work my way up to 5.0. And then COVID took away one year of competition.
Let me share some more examples where we have less time than we think.
School Connection Through Coaching
For three years, I coached high school tennis. During this time, I developed a good relationship with the athletic director, who was also the head tennis coach. I figured, if my kids ever needed a friendly connection to get into the school, he would be it.
However, the AD retired in 2023. In eight years, when my boy will be applying to high school, will his recommendation carry any weight? I hope so, but it won’t be the same as if he was the existing AD. I guess he’ll have to get in based on good old fashion merit.
My window of opportunity for leveraging this relationship has closed. But that’s OK, we had good memories of winning Northern California Sectionals twice.
Being A Writer With Fading Eyes
Around 2021, I noticed my eyes started to get really dry after only thirty minutes of looking at my laptop. They sometimes felt like they were bulging out of my eye sockets.
So I went to an optometrist who said I was staring at the screen too long and not blinking enough. One of my tear ducts was clogged and I needed to take breaks every 20 minutes by looking 20 feet away for two minutes. She then suggested I use preservative-free eye drops four times a day and use a hot compress to open up my tear ducts.
After 12 years of writing three-to-four times a week on Financial Samurai and publishing two books, I began to doubt my writing longevity. With my eyes getting so tired so quickly, my productivity will surely fade. As a result, I decided to record more podcasts.
If my eyes go, at least I can still use my voice. And if my voice also goes then hopefully my kids will be old enough and have an interest in continuing Financial Samurai.
For the past 14 years, I thought, “If you can speak forever, you can write forever.” Alas, my window of opportunity to be a writer may only last for 20 years. After 2029, at age 52, I suspect my productivity will go way down.
Having Children Is A Big One
Because I’m a man, I couldn’t fully appreciate the concept of having a biological clock until we started trying for kids. After years of false hope I finally realized we should have had kids earlier.
No matter how much you want to believe having children after age 35, let alone 40, is easy, it isn’t for the majority of couples. Your window of opportunity to find a suitable partner is really only about 17 years after you become an adult.
Even if you meet someone, you’ll probably want to enjoy child-free living for at least two-or-three years after your union. Therefore, your window of opportunity to have children or stay child-free may be shorter than you think.
For those of you who want children and financial freedom, it’s worth spending as much time finding a suitable partner as you do managing your finances. I’ve met many people who regret working so hard their first 15 years after college graduation because as older couples, they could no longer have children.
The Perfect House For The Ideal Time
The perfect house might come along once every five years. But even if the perfect house is for sale, you might not be able to afford it. Even if you can afford it, you might still miss out due to a bidding war.
Let’s say you successfully purchased your dream home. If it took 10 years of saving and investing after your last child was born, your window of opportunity to provide the nicest home possible for your youngest kid will only last eight years before they’re off to college.
Ideally, you buy your dream home the year your first child is born. But the average age of a first-time homebuyer in America is about 36. This means the average 36-year-old is buying a starter home, not a dream home. In addition, if the mother is anywhere close to 36, then getting pregnant and staying pregnant may be more difficult.
This line from Death of A Salesman really hits home, “Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.” By the time some of us make enough money to own the perfect house, we may no longer have anybody else but ourselves to shelter.
Spending Time With Your Kids
For the average parent, 90% of the time they spend with their kids is over by the time the kids turn 19. As a result, it’s best to spend as much time with them as possible while they’re still living at home.
Go on every playdate. Teach them how to ride a bike and swim. Go to every soccer game and recital. Before we know it, our kids will be grown.
You may also think your window of opportunity to spend time with your kids is 18 years, but it is probably shorter. By the time your kids are around 12, they may prefer to spend time more time with their friends instead of you.
But if you’ve just bought your first home with a mortgage at 36 and have a lot more responsibility at work, it may be hard to find the time to spend with your kids. Juggling career and family well is mission impossible.
After a long day’s work it can be difficult to muster up the enthusiasm and energy to play with your kids. All you may want to do is have a beer and veg out in front of the TV.
The Opportunity To Start Your Own Business
When I started Financial Samurai in July 2009, I woke up every morning at 5 am to write until 6:30 am. Then, after a 12-hour day, I’d come home, eat dinner, and often write and respond to comments from 9 pm until midnight.
Working 60 hours a week in banking while spending 25 hours a week on this site on the side for almost three years was untenable. As a result, I engineered my layoff with a severance package in 2012 to free up more time.
In retrospect, I’m glad I started Financial Samurai at age 32 because I still had plenty of energy. Ideally, I would have started at age 29, when I first came up with the idea. However, if I had had a full-time job and two young kids, Financial Samurai would have been unlikely to have ever been born.
Living in San Francisco, I’ve come across countless entrepreneurs who frequently work 70+ hours a week. Their work is all-consuming because the landscape is so competitive and the potential rewards are so high.
Once you hit 40, your desire to work long hours as an entrepreneur tends to drop off. You may begin to prefer working for Big Corp instead because it’s easier to work for someone else than it is yourself. Once the clock hits 5 pm, you can mentally check out. Weekends once again become a time of rest.
Thoughts About Entrepreneurship From Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia
On the Acquired podcast, Huang responded as follows after being asked if he’d start a business again, “If we realized the pain and suffering and how vulnerable you’re going to feel, the challenges that you’re going to endure, the embarrassment and the shame and the list of all the things that go wrong,” he said, “nobody in their right mind would do it.”
The Window To Get Rich
Getting rich requires luck, hard work, and longevity. Sometimes there are lost decades where your investments go nowhere or down, like from 2000 – 2011. If a bear market happens to wipe out 30% of your net worth over five years, you’ll likely have to grind for many more years just to get back to even.
If you decide to go to graduate school, your window to get rich is even smaller. Knowing I couldn’t last in investment banking beyond age 40 was one of the reasons why I got my MBA part-time. Those three years were beyond exhausting.
In a way, I believe the first million is the easiest because you have the most amount of energy and can take the most amount of risk when you’re young. Once you have kids, a mortgage, and older parents to take care of, you have less energy and a lower risk tolerance.
Ideally, you want to get rich young enough so you can enjoy your riches. Getting rich after 65 is like getting a Ferrari after 65. Not as fun or impactful as getting a Ferrari by age 40.
In addition, your interest in getting rich as you age will likely decline because you realize there are more important things in life. After about age 40, you may finally begin to put your physical and mental health ahead of wealth and status.
Today, I no longer swing for the fences with concentrated single-stock investments. I mostly invest in private real estate funds, venture capital funds, and the S&P 500 index. Capital preservation and having appropriate risk exposure are key.
Buying The Dips
One of the reasons to be a long-term investor is that it’s almost impossible to regularly time the market.
For example, there was a window of opportunity to buy the S&P 500 index on October 31, 2023, after a 10% correction from its July 28, 2023 high. However, that window closed in just one month and now the S&P 500 is much higher.
If you are still aggressively building your net worth, you should probably take advantage of stock market corrections and bear markets. Over time, the S&P 500 has proven to build wealth for investors.
Enjoying Old Age Can Be A Very Small Window
Nobody is guaranteed to live until the life expectancy of 73 for men and 79 for women according to the CDC. Your life could end abruptly at any time.
But here’s another sad thought. Health can decline much faster in old age once you get sick. I used to play golf with one of my dad’s friends every time I went back to Honolulu to visit. He was diagnosed with cancer one year and died within 12 months.
When we’re younger, we feel like we’re invincible. We can heal quickly like Wolverine. But when we’re old, getting sick could be fatal.
The last thing you want to do is spend 40 years working at a career, retire, then die soon after. To hedge against not enjoying a wonderful retirement, live it up more today or retire early. You just never know when the end will be.
If you have debt and dependents please get an affordable term life insurance policy. My wife and I got matching 20-year term policies through Policygenius. We felt so much better after we did.
Compete For The Most Amount Of Time
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is thinking we have time. Don’t be fooled. Life speed accelerates as we get older because we have less time remaining.
Hurry up and do the things you want to do, say the things you’ve always wanted to say, and spend more time with friends and loved ones before they go.
If you want to compete for anything, compete for the most amount of time to do what you want. Even billionaires don’t live forever. But if you have more freedom than them, I dare say you are richer.
Looking back, I don’t regret giving up my career and lots of money for having more freedom since 2012. More money wouldn’t have made me happier because my job was miserable.
If you’re thinking about taking things down, I say go for it! You can always go back to work after two or three years if things don’t work out. Just don’t forget to negotiate a severance if you do.
Now I’m cash poor after buying a house, so I’ll have to find a way to earn again. At 46, however, my window of opportunity to get another full-time job is almost closed.
Will fortune shine again on this old man? I don’t know but I will find out.
What are some other examples where you have less time than you think? How do we counteract the loss of time?
Listen and subscribe to The Financial Samurai podcast on Apple or Spotify. I interview experts in their respective fields and discuss some of the most interesting topics on this site. Please share, rate, and review!
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 60,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter and posts via e-mail. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009.