What Breath of the Wild taught me about my financial independence journey.

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Zelda Breath of the Wild Cover Art

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a critically acclaimed video game for the Nintendo Switch, released March 2017.

It’s just one entry in a long history from the Zelda franchise, but one that’s come to be known for its innovative game mechanics and original ideas.

The game takes the player back to old environments, but with unique storylines, characters and game mechanics that add something fresh for new players while keeping old fans happy.

BOTW is a non-linear open world game. This essentially means the player is free to move about the game world and take on different objectives in whatever order they see fit, rather than this being determined by the game developers and writers.

It’s the pinnacle in open world game design. Very often games are released with the ‘open world’ tag line, but are continually released with immersion breaking sign-posting telling the player where to go, where to find new objectives and characters and which story path to take next (think Assassins Creed or GTA games). There’s nothing wrong with this but it does discourage exploration when everything is already laid out for the player to see from the start.

BOTW does none of this, and as a result, continually reminded me of my FI journey up to the point of posting this.

The game is one long journey of discovery from start to finish with the player discovering new and interesting mechanics, characters and places around every corner. But you need to be prepared to jump into the unknown.

This is how I came see my own FI journey reflected in my BOTW experience…

You’ll never know everything right away

The game begins with you waking up from a 100 year slumber, where you make your way out the cave with nothing but your threadbare clothes and a little tablet you currently have no understanding of.

Exiting the cave, your little character emerges onto The Great Plateau. This is your starting area, a vast expanse stretches out before you. You’re given no hints or direction, but the camera pans to a little figure further down a nearby hill.

From then on, the player is given full control to decide where to go next. Will you pursue the distant figure, climb down the cliff face you’re stood on, or crawl back into the cave too overawed by choice? The choice is entirely the player’s own.

Your soon to be playground, Hyrule, allows for a wealth of options.

As you stand on the precipice of this first game area, the opportunities are laid out ahead. A mysterious dragon-type monster wraps itself around a distant castle.

It’s immediately obvious this isn’t something that’s supposed to be happening, as the colours and music take a darker and moodier tone as the camera zooms in so you can take a better look.

You’re given no immediate direction, but soon some simple text appears on your screen: ‘Kill Gannon’.

How you do this, you have no idea at this point, but all you do know is that, the game has begun.

*

This first opening sequence reminded me a lot of the very start of my FI journey. I knew almost nothing about how to pursue FI, or where to even start or seek advice.

But I could see my end goal and knew what I wanted to achieve. FI manifested itself all around me in my real world in the form of grandparents and friend’s parents who no longer needed to work, and in blogs I’d been reading by people who’d already achieved FI or were well on their way to doing so.

I had no idea how to follow suit initially, but that was exciting. Standing there on the edge of the beginning of my journey where anything was possible and I was hopeful to learn new things about investing, saving and prioritising my life goals opened up a world of possibilities.

I was excited to explore my options and the different methods of achieving my FI goal. There would be a lot of challenges and growing pains, but that distant, barely visible goal was something to strive for.

Expect the unexpected

Once the player traverses through the first act of the game, they’re left to their own devices to explore the world of Hyrule as they see fit.

There are vast lakes and towering mountains; quaint villages and hidden caves buried deep in the ground.

Finding each of these new areas requires stepping off the various dirt tracks and brick paths that are scattered throughout the map. The most fun and interesting areas will not be discovered without straying from these paths and chancing your arm at a new challenge or piece of terrain you haven’t previously attempted.

Hateno Village offers more than just quaint cottages and shops. But you’ll have to explore the world to find it.

Over time the player starts to to learn how to manage their stamina to climb larger mountains and hillsides, and how to avoid the dynamic weather when you suddenly start to become the target of some lightening owing to the metal sword on your back.

But attempting and persevering through these new challenges awards you with meeting new and interesting characters, bringing new opportunities to buy or be awarded new weapons and items.

Every small journey you go on; every new character you meet; every new discovery you make is only made possible by challenging yourself and stepping off the standard path in search for the unexpected.

*

Starting our FI journey means challenging the traditional notions of consumerism and spending everything we have, hanging on to that next pay day.

You need to get over the common thought process of investing as a risky, ‘grey suits’ game, one that you need a lot of money just start.

But you also can’t plan for every eventuality. No matter how fine tuned your FIRE plan is, something will always crop up that’ll alter the path; sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

Just like the mountains that adorn Hyrule, we’ll come across many roadblocks on our journey, it’s how we choose to overcome these obstacles that’ll define where we eventually end up and what we’ll manage to achieve.

Permanently impermanent

Throughout your play-through you’ll need weapons and items to help you defeat enemies and overcome challenges.

Most of the weapons and items you pick up have a shelf-life, and will break if used too much.

Managing your inventory is a challenge on its own, especially after seeing your 20th favourite sword break mid battle.

Every BOTW players worst nightmare mid-battle.

Except for the main weapon which will probably only be obtained by most players during the mid/end-game, you’ll probably not keep the same weapon from beginning to end unless you never use it.

None of these are permanent so it’s important to not have a favourite otherwise you’ll just never end up using it. If you never use it, what was the point in picking it up in the first place?

It’s a tricky psychological balancing act, knowing that this one prized weapon will help you immensely along your journey but will inevitably burst into little yellow shards at some point. And this will happen time and again throughout your play-through. Nothing is permanent.

*

This is also important when considering our investment pot that’ll eventually help people on the path to FI.

You craft and nurture this pot, moulding it and feeding it according to your future needs over multi-decades. But one day, we need to start spending it.

This is another huge psychological trick we need to play on ourselves. We need to go from savers, to spenders.

It’s not easy but it’s necessary, otherwise what was the point in initially starting the journey in the first place?

It’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever and not to attach ourselves too closely to the money that will eventually help us achieve our goals; money is just a tool after all. And much like our impermanent tools in BOTW, we shouldn’t attach ourselves too closely to it for fear of never using it for its intended purpose.

The bare essentials

As I mentioned earlier, when starting the game, the player is given nothing but some basic clothing and your Sheikah Slate that you don’t really know how to use at this point.

You essentially start with nothing and make your way into the great expanse of Hyrule totally vulnerable.

As you progress you’ll accumulate more items and weapons to help you on your journey, but everything you own, and everything you need, is carried on your little character’s back.

There’s no permanent residency, nothing tying you to one place. You’re freed of unnecessary possessions and able to explore without needing to commit to any fixed position.

It’s simple, but it’s effective as it’s all we’ll need to help us navigate the game world.

*

It’s this feeling of simplicity and freeing oneself of unnecessary complications that could easily be adopted by 99% of those pursuing FI.

Human beings are notorious for over-complicating something where a simple answer or method is all that’s needed.

If we’re not aiming to beat the market and just aiming for an average, reasonable return over multi-decades there’s an argument to be had that we don’t really need to do much other than buy one or a few trackers and hold.

Likewise, do we really want the admin of managing multiple credit cards and multiple bank accounts, chasing minor cash back returns and pitiful interest rates? It hardly seems worth it to me.

Complicating things just makes your finances messier and more confusing. It creates more paperwork, requires more unique logins to keep track of, and makes it more difficult to track exactly how far you’ve spread your financial footprint.

Keep it simple, keep it manageable. Adopt a minimalist approach and you won’t go far wrong.

Be like Link. Keep it simple.

Nothing is perfect

Despite the wealth of weapons and items you’ll accumulate along your journey, you’re never going to complete this game without coming unstuck or seeing the ‘Game Over’ screen at least once (unless you’re one of those ‘no damage’ speedrunnersbut that’s just fucking mental!).

You’ll also not understand the game mechanics straight away and how the dynamic weather works; how rain can make climbing extremely difficult and near impossible.

You’ll probably struggle across your first snowy peak with your health slowly dwindling before realising you need to eat spicy food or a spicy pepper infused potion to temporarily warm you up. Or eat a cooling potion or food that cools you down in order to cross the desert.

You’ll never get it right all the time no matter how well equipped you are. But that’s fine.

You’ll fall down a cliff face and lose most of your health; you’ll break all your weapons and leave yourself vulnerable at the worst moments; you’ll lose your horse; you’ll set yourself on fire; you’ll be over-ambitious with your stamina wheel, both when swimming and climbing; you’ll die and get stuck…repeatedly, but you’ll learn.

That’s what you get for using a pot lid. But that’s a lesson learned.

You’ll never have a perfect play-through. You have to accept that and enjoy the process of learning all the game’s mechanics and multitude of environments you’ll need to react to.

*

Like almost everything we try our hands at in life, we will never get our FI journey right first time.

It might be a dumb investment, or an expensive car on finance we shouldn’t really have signed up for.

It doesn’t matter what it is, there’s almost always a way out of something.

Even debt. No matter how large the pile may seem, there are tonnes of professionals and free services out there that can help us right our mistakes and put us back on track.

Learning from these mistakes makes us who we are, and moulds us into the people we’ll become.

Accepting our mistakes is the first step, and realising we aren’t bad people for making them. If everyone who made a mistake was a bad person, then this world has 7.8billion bad people on it.

You’ll never perfect your FI approach. Just do your research, be confident in the decisions you make and don’t make rash decisions if things go wrong in the short-term. It’s the long-term that defines us, and that gives us plenty of time to make mistakes and right the wrongs.

The journey is (almost) everything. Don’t become too blinkered by the end goal

For all the positives of BOTW, the end boss is quite underwhelming.

If you defeat the four Divine Beasts and collect their powers before tackling Calamity Gannon (who we saw at the beginning in the distance while on The Great Plateau), you become incredibly powerful while Gannon’s health is reduced by half from the very start of the fight.

It’s a little too easy if I’m honest and even when scaling the castle he resides in beforehand, you can skip most of the beasties protecting him in the build up.

The very final act – Dark Beast Gannon – sees the player simply circling the boss with infinite arrows, biding your time while you wait for what is essentially an interactive movie to play out.

An underwhelming finale to and underwhelming final act.

For the 60+ hours I sunk into the game up until that point, it’s a little pants.

It didn’t take any enjoyment away from my overall experience but it could have been concluded a little better; especially when so much thought had been put into the beginning and mid-game.

*

It’s quite an apt reminder that we need to enjoy the journey and not become too focused on achieving the end-goal ASAP.

Unless we win the lottery, even some of the highest earners will probably spend at least 50% of their lives striving for financial freedom. If you’re not enjoying at least some of that 50%, that’s big chunk you’re rushing through in order to get to FI slightly quicker.

You need to enjoy the beginning 50% too, especially as none of us ever get any younger.

Yeah you might get to a comfortable point of FI, and even RE, but if you don’t do it within a few years, before you know it you’re an old/er man/woman. You might have less energy, or, god forbid, experience old age before your time.

We need to take enjoyment out of the journey while we can and not just rely on the end-goal to give our life meaning.

I’m not saying get into mountains of debt for useless consumer goods, but we can say “yes” to more things after lockdown. That extra 50 quid in your ISA might give you X amount more in retirement, but it won’t buy you experiences if you’re just going to delay doing anything until X year later.

By the time those years roll round, you may not be in a position to comfortably do what you want to do anyway.

So what did BOTW teach me?

It taught me to exist in the moment.

It taught me not to plan too far ahead.

It taught me the journey is long and unpredictable, but worth every step.

It taught me to appreciate everything around me and not just the money saved or the numbers on a spreadsheet.

It taught me to take joy in the smallest things, and not just rely on the end goal to consider my journey to be a success.

Ultimately, I knew all these things before I started play. But spending those 60+ hours wandering aimlessly across open fields or discovering new caves deep underground to gloriously composed background music, brought a little sense of freedom and life into a year where the only journey I take currently is downstairs to the dining room table.

Because the end goal isn’t worth it if the journey isn’t experienced to its fullest.

Finding that balance and giving some time to the now is where we find what it really means to be free of societal expectations and constraints.

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