early retirement is, by definition, a very future-focused pursuit. most people saving for retirement aren’t saving enough to feel the pain of what they’re not able to spend, and retirement must feel like some far-off, abstract thing. but when you’re on the early retirement path, that means saving an amount that you feel subtracted from your cash flow. it requires a lot of planning, and thinking, and adjusting, and more planning and thinking, more readjusting, and on and on.
it’s natural to be future-focused, when you’re spending a lot of your mental energy planning for something in the future. and we think it’s okay to think a lot about the future.
the only problem: the future is never guaranteed.
we already know that we may not have a whole lot of good years left, at least for one of us, but we hope we still have more than a few. but we have no idea what the future holds. any of us could die tomorrow. or something terrible could happen that renders us unable to live life to its fullest.
just like the old adage that no one looks back, at the end of their life, and says, “i wish i’d spent more time at the office,” we’re pretty sure no one ever says, “i wish i’d spent more time missing out on the present because i was focused on the future.” (in truth, it’s a long list of things probably no one laments on their death bed, but which too many of us do anyway, like having spent more time obsessing about what our bodies look like, or wishing we were better looking, or holding grudges, or putting others down, or gossiping, or playing video games.)
so even though it’s natural to focus on the future when we’re planning for early retirement, we’re doing our best to stay focused on the present, as well. early retirement is a marathon, not a sprint, after all. we’ve run five marathons between the two of us, and we’ve learned that overtraining is worse than undertraining, leading to burn-out and injuries. living with total focus on the future is the equivalent of overtraining, leading to burn-out in life from not spending some time and money on things that are important to keep us all grounded and sane.
but we don’t want to just be grounded and sane. we want to enjoy our life today, not just tomorrow. and we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that we need ____ to make us happy. (“everything will be perfect once we retire early.”) for us, the goal is to find contentment in the present moment, and realize that we don’t need more than what we have and who we are today.
we aren’t much for inspirational posters, but we do have one hanging in one of our offices, and it says:
the secret to having it all is believing that you already do
and so we’ve adopted that as our mindset. we think that how we think about things is oftentimes more important than what we think. and it’s for sure true with this. just letting yourself entertain the possibility, and being willing to believe, that maybe you do have it all, can have a powerful effect. and indeed, over time, it’s become not just something we believe, but something we know.
we do have it all.
sure, in the future, once we’re no longer working, we’ll have a different version of “it all,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it all today. we literally have everything we need to be healthy, happy and safe. we have people who love us, and people we love. we have each other (our best bad investment!). we have more free time than a lot of people in the world. we have a roof over our head, in a place we love. we have the ability to travel and experience people and places different from ourselves and where we live.
if that’s not having it all, we don’t know what is. and that’s not actually that high of a bar. we could say all of that whether or not we had a big 401(k) balance, or an index fund balance that’s inching closer to an amount that will support us for 20+ years, or a mortgage that’s close to being paid off. that stuff is great, it will help us sleep at night once we quit our jobs, but it’s not necessary. we are pretty sure no one, going back to the deathbed, looks back and says, “i wish i’d blown more money on stuff.”
having it all has nothing to do with things. it has to do with love, time and freedom.
the things that matter don’t cost all that much, in the scheme of things, and we all owe it to ourselves not to lose sight of that. to remind ourselves to notice the beauty around us every day. to enjoy the season of life that we’re in. to make the most of each day. to allow ourselves to be happy and complete, even when we haven’t yet achieved all our goals. to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
do you ever find that you get swept up in focusing on the future? how do you keep yourself grounded and present? share your experiences in the comments!