happy monday, you guys. this is the start not just of a new week, but a holiday week. and we’re taking the whole. thing. off. it’s our first real week of vacation all year. i know. not good. but hey — better late with the vacation than never, right? we used to be good at using our vacation, but somewhere along the line, we just felt too responsible for too many things, and it got a lot harder to step away. maybe we can still get better about using our vacation time in these last two years…
we talk a lot here about redefining ourselves in early retirement, especially making sure that we consider before we actually leave our jobs how we’ll obtain self worth and fulfillment post-career. but we recently realized that redefining isn’t really the right word to use at all.
we believe that most of us have never truly shaped an intentional life, and instead have defaulted into a lot of the circumstances in our lives, because those strings of little decisions have a way of turning into big decisions that we feel like we never actually made for ourselves. we don’t reach some gate at age 18 or 21 or 25 or 40 or ever where we are asked to proclaim, “here’s who i am and what i want my life to be about.” instead, it’s the mundane, daily decisions that add up to something much bigger than we ever intend. but, for so many of us, we want to opt in to that life we choose affirmatively instead of merely forgetting to opt out of the default choice.
in thinking about the life that we truly want to live, and how we will thrive within that, there’s truly no re. the right word is simply “define.”
our society is built around certain age milestones: graduate from high school around age 18. graduate from college around age 22. get married and/or have kids in your 20s, be a “grown up” in your 30s, etc. but these milestones are artificial creations, and they exclude a lot of people. even for those of us who fit the mold on the milestones, those milestones don’t actually mean much of anything. but they sure feel like they mean something, and what they seem to mean is: if you don’t do certain things by certain ages, you’ve missed your chance. or you’re late. or you’re a failure. and it’s too late to go back and make a different choice.
but that’s simply not true. it’s never too late to define yourself. or if you actually did deliberately define yourself at one point, it’s not too late to change that.
and this isn’t just a pretty thing to assert — it’s absolutely true. those of us on the path to early retirement know this at least a little bit, on some level, since we are willing to give up the thing that defines the vast majority of people — what we do for a paycheck. but it’s a good reminder for everyone. you’re never stuck for real, though you may feel stuck. and it’s never too late to make a different choice about what you want to be when you grow up.
to make sure i never forget this, i have a portrait of julia child on my office wall, and i see it every day when i’m home. julia child is one of my absolute heroes for a number of reasons. her attitude was always so positive and infectious. (if you haven’t read her book, my life in france, i can’t recommend it highly enough. it is truly effervescent.) her mantra was never to apologize for something you cook. she was big and gangly in a world of petite people, and she never apologized for that either. she lived into her 90s despite eating plenty of butter and cream. and, most of all, she didn’t find her calling until she was in her 40s. but when she found it, she poured every drop of passion and hard work she possessed into making her calling a reality. and this was before there was any sort of path for her to follow. sure, others had published cookbooks, but very few americans — especially women! — had graduated from le cordon bleu, and almost no one had had a cooking show on tv. she found a path that was truly her own, and she did it joyfully.
whether you love julia as much as i do doesn’t matter — what matters is that we all learn from her example. she could have had that first life-changing meal of sole meuniere back in france, and done nothing about it. she could have thought, “oh, i’m too old to try something new,” or “why bother following this thread if it won’t lead to a career?” or, in a more period-appropriate way of thinking, “i’m just a housewife. i can’t have my own ambitions.” but if she had any of those thoughts, she didn’t let them stop her. and she almost certainly didn’t know where those thoughts would lead her. she just knew that dining in france had blown her mind, and she wanted to create some of that herself. she started taking cooking lessons, and spent countless hours learning to dice onions and potatoes to uniform perfection, and to roll out an ideal pastry crust. the cookbooks and the cooking show came later. but they started with that germ of an idea, fed by her curiosity and inquisitiveness.
need more examples besides just julia of people who found their calling later in life? my favorite is the painter grandma moses, who never so much as picked up a paintbrush until she was in her 80s, but went on to have a short but spectacular career. laura ingalls wilder didn’t publish little house in the big woods, her first book, until she was 65. and there are plenty of others — elvis costello was a computer programmer, andrea bocelli was a lawyer, nate silver was a management consultant, ken jeong was a practicing doctor, and martha stewart was a mere caterer before she become the lifestyle guru. and let’s not forget how michael jordan decided he wanted to take up baseball in his 30s (okay, maybe not the best example). ;-)
and those are only the famous people. there are undoubtedly countless examples of people who, no matter how far into a career or how advanced in age, dared to ask “what if…?” and then follow that thread with curiosity, an open mind and an open heart.
those are the people we want to emulate. we’re 36 and 39, and we don’t yet know what our callings are. but we know they’re out there, and we want to put ourselves in the best possible position to find them. right now that means saving as fast as we can, so we can free up more time for exploration. and for always, that means staying curious, asking questions and always being open to possibilities. never letting the thought, “that ship has sailed” cross our minds. because we haven’t defined ourselves yet, and we’re in no hurry.
are you one of the lucky few who’s found your calling already? or are you like us, and still trying to figure it out? any great strategies for staying open so you don’t miss it when it pays you a visit? please share in the comments!