last week, while on an early morning flight, i flew over a line of cars on a major commuting artery in the city where i was landing. it was barely 6:30 a.m., the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon, and already it was bumper-to-bumper headlights for as far as i could see.
and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
that road full of cars in the early morning led from the suburbs, with their large homes and manicured lawns, to the urban core where the jobs are.
and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
and i wondered: how many of those people, as kids, dreamed that, one day, after slaving away at school for more than a decade, going to college and doing all the right internships, their reward would be this: soul-crushing traffic? that they’d rise before the sun for the privilege? that their quest to live the same way they grew up, or how they wish they’d been able to grow up, would force them to live far from where they work, and would dictate nearly everything about their existence? that this would be their destiny?
and you may ask yourself, “well…how did i get here?”
i realized, then, that i’d started singing the talking heads’ “once in a lifetime” to myself.
letting the days go by. let the water hold me down.
immediately, i felt sadness for the people that each pair of headlights represented. were they really just letting the days go by, leading lives that could never measure up to childhood dreams? suffering through a long commute, maybe also an unfulfilling job and certainly little time for fun, in hopes of what? a promotion, more pay, and the promise retiring at 65, moving to florida, and riding out the rest of their days on a recliner in front of the tv? maybe some of them love their jobs, but they’re stuck in that traffic all the same — is that worth it? for everyone else, is this the life they actually chose, or is this just what happened to them, the life they slouched into? and will they have to keep doing this same commute forever, day in and day out?
same as it ever was. same as it ever was.
what makes people willing to sit in a predawn traffic jam every day? societal expectations, the pressure to keep up appearances, the crushing debt of our consumerist culture, or fears about the future resulting from all of the above? or maybe, just maybe, some among those tired commuters were actually like me, aspiring early retirees in disguise, acting just as beaten down by the daily commute as everyone else, when in fact their heart leaps at the knowledge that they only have so many days left of pretending. after all, here i was, an equally beaten down business traveler, taking the same 5:30 a.m. flight that i take at least once a week. the person sitting next to me would be forgiven for mistaking my tiredness for hopelessness.
under the rocks and stones, there is water underground
our outer rocks and stones hide the truth: that excitement and stoke just below the surface. the thrill we feel when we think about the freedom we’re so very close to achieving, and which runs so counter to everything we were taught as children. one of the very best parts about planning for early retirement is this feeling of shaking the machine. unplugging from the matrix. breaking from society’s expectations.
and you may tell yourself, “this is not my beautiful house”
and you may tell yourself, “this is not my beautiful wife”
we don’t ever want to have that realization, of knowing that our life happened to us, instead of living the life that we created for ourselves. that the house we live in is the one we were supposed to buy, because that’s what one does. that the way we spent our best years was trudging through a career we never wanted because we needed that money to pay the bills for the things we felt like we should have because our friends and neighbors have those things. so, instead, we rattle the cage. we ask if things have to be that way. those of us on this path are doing everything we can to avoid looking back on a life that we ended up in by default, because we never questioned the conventional wisdom, wondering my god! what have i done?!
we want to opt in affirmatively to the life we choose, not default unthinkingly into the life we never opted out of.
once in a lifetime
on life’s big questions — what do we want from life? how do we want to spend our time and our life force? — it’s so easy to punt. to never really ask ourselves the question, never really answer it, and slide into a default life. while it’s never too late to decide to make major change in our lives, some of those changes do get harder over time. certain decisions become impossible to reverse. certain habits become entrenched, and we get used to a certain way of living. the earlier we can ask ourselves those key life questions, and the earlier we can answer them with brutal honesty, the better chance we have of creating lives that match what’s truly important to us, not just what society says we should want.
that morning, as the wheels touched down on the runway, i felt more committed than ever to asking the tough questions, questioning the conventional wisdom, and forging a life that fulfills our dreams. if that means saying goodbye to the beautiful house, so be it. same for the large automobile — we can live without it. (but not the handsome husband — that’s a deal-breaker.) this is our once in a lifetime moment, and we’re seizing it. we hope you’re doing the same.
have you ever found yourself in a time in life and wondered, “how did i get here?” what helped you shake free and realize that there’s another path? how are you crafting the life that you are excited to get out of bed for every day? we’d love to hear your always-inspiring thoughts!