Ah, One-More-Year Syndrome. If I had to name one “disease” that afflicts almost every coaching client I’ve ever worked with, this is the one.
The FI blueprint is simple: Learn about FI, pick a goal, make a plan, save and invest, rinse and repeat – until you reach your target. And then all that’s left to do is to pull the trigger, ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. Well, unfortunately, it’s usually not that simple.
Whether your goal is full financial independence (with the option to retire early), semi-retirement, or simply reaching a point where you can downshift a little and have more time for the things you love – one day, you will reach “your number”.
Time to pop the champagne and “pull the trigger”, right?
But then a little voice pops up in your head. “Maybe I’ll just stick around one more year…” followed by an excellent and rational-sounding reason like…
“… to build a bigger cash cushion.”
“… to save for the next car upgrade/bathroom renovation/holiday/braces for the kids…”
” … to bank another bonus.”
“… just in case the market tanks.”
“… while I figure out my next steps.”
“… to see what inflation does in these uncertain times.”
Sounds reasonable. OMY always does. That’s what makes it a thief in the night.
In this article, we’ll explore what exactly One-More-Year Syndrome is, what causes it and – most importantly – steps you can take to prevent, manage and overcome it.
What Is One-More-Year Syndrome?
One-More-Year Syndrome (aka OMY) is the compulsion to stay in a job you are not passionate about and continue working “just one more year” after you have reached your financial goals and are not dependent on the income from your job anymore.
One-More-Year Syndrome is extremely common in the FIRE community, and it is safe to say that almost everyone experiences it to some extent when the time to “pull the trigger” approaches.
While One-More-Year Syndrome appears to be more severe in people who want to FIRE (fully retire and live off their portfolio), even people wanting to downshift and semi-retire, move to a lower-paying job or even just take an extended mini-retirement can suffer from OMY.
As we’ll explore below, the roots of One-More-Year Syndrome are psychological, not financial.
The danger of OMY isn’t working one more year. The danger is that one year often turns into two years, then five years…
Symptoms of One-More-Year Syndrome
On the surface, OMY often mimics legitimate reasons to continue working for a while (and there definitely are good and sensible reasons in some instances!).
However, there are some tell-tale signs that you might be dealing with One-More-Year Syndrome:
- You have reached your financial goals and have healthy buffers in place but can’t seem to be able to take the plunge.
- Thoughts about “leaving money on the table” or giving up your big salary have crept into your mind lately.
- You suddenly just don’t feel ready to make a change.
- The thought of stopping to save and/or withdrawing funds from your nest egg feels uncomfortable.
- New important savings goals suddenly pop up (see list in the introduction of this article).
- The job you could not wait to leave for the past few years suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
- You start comparing yourself to your coworkers/neighbours/friends and think about all the things you won’t be able to buy once you leave your job.
- You second-guess your numbers and question whether you actually have enough.
- You think that maybe you should just keep going and not rock the boat.
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you may be dealing with One-More-Year Syndrome.
Causes of One-More-Year Syndrome
The exact combination of reasons why someone may experience OMY is, of course, individual. However, there are a few main causes of One-More-Year Syndrome, and I bet you can relate to at least one of them if you suspect you might be suffering from or susceptible to OMY.
1. You have not found your “Enough”.
This is a big one. In The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel says “the hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving.” To me, this is one of the most important quotes in the entire book.
The truth is that if you don’t find your Enough, you’ll never be ready to downshift and be happy with your life.
In the context of financial independence, “Enough” is the amount of money you need to live a happy, fulfilling life that aligns with your why of FI.
However, “Enough” is about more than just money – it’s about contentment. Getting to “Enough” often means making a mental shift. This is often a big realisation for my coaching clients. Many have more than enough on paper but have yet to make the mental shift towards contentment. Once that happens, everything tends to fall into place.
If you know you have “hit your number” but continue second-guessing yourself and moving the goalpost, not having found your “Enough” might be one of the reasons you are experiencing One-More-Year Syndrome. This issue is also closely tied to what I call the “finish line fallacy“.
2. You have a scarcity mindset.
Having a scarcity mindset is a bit like being in financial freedom prison, just that you are not really in prison because it’s all in your head.
This one is often a tough nut to crack. Reaching your financial goals requires an accumulation mentality and a certain degree of delayed gratification. But when we take things too far, we get stuck on the accumulation treadmill and struggle to get off.
If you are far from broke but can’t seem to spend your money on the things that add value to your life or bring you joy, you likely have a scarcity mindset. Being obsessed with your spreadsheet, your monthly spending, and your investment returns is another sign.
You may be scared of running out of money once you work less, and the thought of actually withdrawing funds from your nest egg sends shivers down your spine.
When you have a scarcity mindset, earning more and saving more will always appear to be the best option, so switching from accumulation to consolidation or even decumulation is difficult.
3. You don’t have a plan.
If you do not know what you want your post-FI life to look like, it can be difficult to leap into the unknown.
Life planning is even more important than financial planning when it comes to FI, in my opinion. Ideally, your life plan should be guided by your Why of FI. That way, downshifting and giving up full-time work will be the logical next step instead of a scary leap of faith when the time comes.
From my work with coaching clients, I know that this is often not what happens. Many of us get so absorbed in our careers and financial ambitions that there is no time or energy left to plan the future.
But without a vision for the future, it’s all too easy to just stick around for “one more year”…
4. Your identity is tied to your work
This one goes hand-in-hand with number 3. It will be hard to step away if you don’t know who you are outside of your career. This is particularly common in prestigious professions but can also affect anyone who has been very career-focused for a very long time.
5. You are scared of failure and the unknown
You may not love your current lifestyle, but there are certainly psychological benefits that come with “not rocking the boat”: Comfort. Predictability. Structure in your daily life. A steady paycheck. Busyness and distraction. No need to think about the future.
What if leaving your old life behind is a mistake that you end up regretting? What if you fail? Would it maybe be better and safer to keep your head down and soldier on? Plus, who in their right mind would walk away while things are going ok?
Sounds familiar? I think everyone can relate to this fear of failure and the unknown to some extent. It’s normal. But it’s also a trap.
Risks Associated with One-More-Year Syndrome
Just working another year sounds pretty harmless. And if it’s done for the right reasons, it is.
But true One-More-Year Syndrome is sneaky. As described above, the roots of OMY lie in fear and uncertainty. And just working another year can act as a security blanket that soothes us and lets us forget about the uncomfortable sides of change for a little while.
Chances are that the underlying issues won’t have gone away a year from now. You might still be trapped in your scarcity mindset, still not sure what you want the future to look like, and there will undoubtedly be dozens of smart-sounding reasons why now is not the time to make a change.
And so it continues, year after year. In this sense, OMY itself can be seen as a symptom of the underlying causes described above.
No one ever says, “I’ll just work ten more years”. That would be crazy. But you’d be surprised to know how many people end up saying, “I’ll just work one more year” five or ten times.
And that’s the real risk here – wasting your time, energy and potential to live a life you are not happy with. You’ll also likely end up overaccumulating wealth, which has a massive opportunity cost.
No one knows how much longer they have left on this planet. The biggest risk is not running out of money – it’s running out of time.
Complications of One-More-Year Syndrome
I mentioned above that OMY can mimic 100% legitimate reasons to delay downshifting for a little while.
This can lead to some unexpected complications. Let me explain.
Say, for instance, you don’t feel financially ready to leave your full-time job and semi-retire, you have some major life changes coming up (like having another baby, for example), and you also don’t have a plan for your life after you leave your career.
You experience all the symptoms I listed above and assume you just have a bad case of OMY. You force yourself to take the leap and nosedive.
Turns out, you were not fully financially prepared. Life suddenly gets more expensive. Plus, you start feeling bored and unfulfilled because you are not sure what you are meant to do with all of this free time.
After a while, you decide it’s best to just find another job. Semi-retirement wasn’t really that great, anyway.
The truth is that you didn’t suffer from OMY. You were simply not ready to take the plunge.
Telling symptoms of OMY apart from a lack of readiness can be tricky (and many people have blind spots in this area!). But it’s important.
I strongly believe it’s important to be ready – financially and mentally – before downshifting. If you leave your full-time career without addressing some of the root causes of OMY, you will likely just end up with another job after a few months, starting the cycle all over again. It’s also important to confirm that the vision you created for your post-FI life is still what you really want. Some people get to their financial goal and realise that their job is now much better (because it’s optional) and that they don’t actually want to give it up. That’s completely different from OMY and something to be aware of.
How to Prevent, Manage and Overcome One-More-Year Syndrome
The good news is that just by being aware of it, OMY can be managed at every stage of your FI journey. Here are my recommendations for those in the earlier stages of their path to FI and those who are near or at the finish line:
If you are in the earlier stages of the journey:
Prevention is always better than a cure. You are lucky because you can take active steps to prevent OMY from becoming a significant problem when you approach “your number”.
To you, OMY might seem like a nice problem to have because FI probably feels really far away right now. But don’t underestimate its destructive power.
Here are some simple steps you can take along the way:
- Find your true Why of FI and develop a vision of your post-FI life. Revisit it often and make changes as you see fit.
- Learn more about yourself, what you really value, what you are good at and the role you want work to play in your life once money is no object.
- Define your “Enough” – financially and lifestyle-wise. What kind of life would make you happy? How will you keep the goalpost from moving?
- Practice intentional spending and move towards an abundance mindset. Life is about much more than spreadsheets and accumulating wealth.
- Take a holistic approach. Explore alternative pathways to FI that allow you to downshift gradually over time.
- Look out for OMY. Get familiar with the signs and symptoms so you can stop it in its tracks early.
If you want to follow a step-by-step process to design a path to FI that aligns with your goals, you may be interested in the Find Your FI course. It is designed to help you define your Why of FI, find your “Enough” (I find these two elements so important I dedicated a whole module to each), and build a great life along the journey to the finish line.
If you are near or already at the FI finish line:
It’s like with most problems in life – acknowledging is the first step. One-More-Year syndrome mimics rational concerns, which can make it hard to recognise. In my experience, many people who are close or at the finish line have an OMY blind spot. Realising and admitting that you experience OMY is a great starting point to finding a resolution.
Dealing with One-More-Your Syndrome is usually a process that takes time. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Think about the massive opportunity cost of OMY. What are you missing out on by continuing to accumulate wealth you likely won’t ever need?
- Consider your mortality. This can help put things in perspective. Remember, tomorrow is not guaranteed (and neither is your health).
- Confirm what “Enough” really means to you – in monetary and emotional terms.
- Consider easing into a slower lifestyle. I often use a “baby step process” with clients where they take micro-actions that build up to substantial change over time.
- If you don’t feel ready to retire but want to try something new, have a look at this list of 26 alternatives to Early Retirement.
- If you haven’t yet, consider options like a mini-retirement or semi-retirement.
- Check your mindset. Is your scarcity mentality holding you back?
If you feel you would benefit from extra support, honest feedback and accountability while you navigate your transition to a more balanced lifestyle, feel free to reach out to me. You can find out more about my 1:1 coaching offering here.
To a certain extent, One-More-Year Syndrome is a normal and expected part of transitioning out of the accumulation phase. This transition (whether to semi-retirement, a mini-retirement or full-retirement) requires us to unlearn many of the skills that got us to the comfortable financial position we are in.
One-More-Year Syndrome looks different for everyone, but I hope this article helped you identify the most common signs and symptoms.
Prevention is vital when it comes to avoiding One-More-Year Syndrome. If you are, however, already at the end of your FI journey and experiencing OMY, there are steps you can take to overcome it. Just be aware that this process usually takes time and requires you to work on your mindset.
Remember, the danger of One-More-Year Syndrome isn’t working one more year. The real danger is that one more year can quickly turn into many more – one year at a time.
Do you experience One-More-Year Syndrome? If so, what strategies are you using to overcome it? If you are in the earlier stages of the journey, what are you doing to prevent it?