the process

The Journey Is the Destination // Planning for Early Retirement Is the Joy In Itself

we hope you guys all had a great weekend. it’s been snowing like crazy here, and i had some flight delays that basically ate up my saturday, so there was no skiing for me in the end, though mr. onl had a pretty sweet powder day saturday. wop wop for me, wohoo for him. but we’re now just one week away from two weeks of vacation and holidays and snow and wonderfulness. super exciting. you too, maybe minus the snow?

as i’m writing this, i’m sitting at the window of a boeing 737, currently cruising at 36,000 feet. outside my window, a long way down, is a patchwork of farm fields in iowa. (i know all of this because the in-flight wifi provides a helpful map that geography geeks like me love.) in just the space that i can see through my window, there are thousand of fields in view, thousands of farms, thousands of families. those farms feed many more people, meaning that in just a glance, i see what becomes the sustenance for millions of people.


it’s the same thing i feel when i let grains of sand trickle through my fingers, or stare out at the vast ocean, or look up at the night sky, especially in the mountains where it’s nice and dark, and we can see the milky way. it’s a reminder of how small i am, in the best possible way.

feeling small helps put things in perspective. feeling small is a reminder that today is the most important day of all, and that tomorrow is never a guarantee. feeling small is a reminder that a lot of the little things that stress me out just don’t matter.

many of us who are on the path to early retirement can relate to the feeling of getting so focused on the future — this magical, perfect, supposedly better than real future where we have no stress and never have to deal with work drama — that it’s easy to miss out on what’s happening right in front of us. or of getting so caught up in our own little plans that we miss the big picture.

looking out the window at 36,000 feet, where i have literally zero control over what happens to me next, and nothing i can see is within my sphere of influence (except maybe the armrest next to me, depending on how much i feel like playing that passive aggressive game with my neighbor), it’s all a good reminder that the universe doesn’t care whether we succeed or fail on our journey to reach early retirement. the earth isn’t going to throw us a party when we hit the number in our savings account that we deem sufficient. (though we will throw ourselves a party, rest assured!)

we all know this, but it bears repeating: we’re guaranteed nothing. to use that tired old line, we could get hit by a bus tomorrow. the economy could tank, and our investments could become worthless. this sounds like a bummer, but stay with us — we view this as a super positive reminder, a reminder that the journey to early retirement is itself the destination.

of course we hope to reach our goal in two years or so of quitting our jobs for good, or we’d certainly embrace a bit more of a yolo approach to spending now, but that early retirement still may never happen. we have control over certain pieces of it, but not everything. so we’re doing our best to view this process of planning and saving for early retirement as a wonderful thing all in itself, and we think our lives will be better for having done this, even if early retirement never happens for us. there are a whole bunch of benefits we’ve gained, but here are just a few:

  • proving to ourselves that we can set a bold, audacious goal
  • feeling the thrill of accomplishment as we hit milestone after milestone
  • knowing that it’s never too late to change course in life
  • saving a lot more than we would have saved otherwise, which is a good thing no matter what
  • forming more positive habits around money, and being more intentional generally
  • starting this blog as a creative outlet and chronicle of the journey
  • and, of course, connecting with all of you!

whatever journey you’re on, we encourage you to avoid that urge to focus solely on what comes next, and to find the joy and celebration in what’s happening now, today, right in front of you. how is your life better for having started on your journey? what have you proved to yourself? what positive habits have you taken on? what joy have you gotten?

ultimately, we think the journey is worth it, and we’re so glad we’ve gone down this path. how about you?

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Categories: the process

49 replies »

  1. We are not as close to opting out of work as you, but we very much believe in enjoying the journey and spending time and money in ways you value along the way. It would be a tragedy to arrive at a “finish line” like early retirement having neglected people, causes, or hobbies you love along the way.

    • So true, Kalie! In addition to not neglecting people, causes and hobbies, it’s just as bad to neglect your health — that’s what we often feel is happening with all the travel and long work hours. But we’re always striving to be better. :-)

  2. I will admit that in the past, I’ve been too caught up in “getting to retirement” as fast as humanly possible, and that was actually the source of me feeling depressed a few times over the course of the year because I wasn’t yet there – pay no attention to the fact that I SHOULD be retired by the time that I’m 35, in about a year. Pay no attention to the fact that my wife and I are planning perhaps the biggest lifestyle change that I could possibly think of.

    I actually got depressed for a few moments this year because I wasn’t yet there.

    It’s the instant gratification part of us human beings. When we want things, we want them NOW. In fact, it’s this phenomenon that has given rise to easy credit in this country. People want things before they can afford them, and credit provides people a way to buy-before-they-have.

    But you’re absolutely, positively right – the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination. In fact, I would argue that without the journey, the destination wouldn’t be half as sweet because we would not feel that sense of accomplishment at the end. If we immediately jump from our current position to meeting our goals *without experiencing the journey*, then we sell ourselves short of that feeling of “Yes, I finally did it” once we get to the end of the tunnel.

    Courtney and I talk a lot about being mindful of our current lives and “living in the now”. It really is so very important to the journey and keeping sane, even when you want to experience the goal immediately. The goal will come. We will be successful. We ALL will be successful. But the sweeter that we make the journey, the greater the sense of accomplishment that we’ll feel at the end.

    After all, we have a finite amount of time on this earth. Might as well make it as fun and exciting as possible!

    • Dude, we can SO relate to that depressed feeling. As you said, I think it’s totally normal, BUT, it also spoils the journey, and makes it harder to keep things in perspective: what we’re both doing is crazy awesome, is totally out of the norm, and will make us feel amazing for life. But we get it!

      I’m glad you guys are enjoying the journey now, though, and I especially love your point about the journey itself making reaching the goal that much sweeter. Completely true!

    • We had a convo about this recently. I asked Garrett if he could get to FI today, would he do it? And he said no because he wouldn’t be able to appreciate the journey it took to get there. It took me by surprise! But why? I don’t know. I’m working harder to appreciate the now at least as much as the later!

  3. I always have those moments when I sit on the beach! Planning is important of course, but so is living in the present. Hard to reconcile those two things sometimes. I’m already planning my retirement date (or my not work for someone else date) and that’s fine, as long as I try enjoy the journey right now.

  4. I’ve been working on a very similar post because so often we get caught up in the “ugh… we aren’t doing this fast enough… our numbers aren’t where we want them to be.” But the journey is the point. We don’t want to look back and hate any part of our lives. Even if it means more freedom in the future. We need to balance joy and freedom now with completely losing control over our goals. Thanks for the inspiration and the reminder.

    • Look forward to reading your post — please don’t let this post stop you! I’m sure you have tons of great stuff to contribute. I think it’s probably another post for us, but we spend so much time lamenting what it’s like being in the “fast lane” — it’s great for fast saving, but not great for everything else. Still, just as we’re determined not to complain about work anymore, we’re also resolved not to view this period of our lives as something we have to get through or survive. We want to thrive now as well! It doesn’t surprise me at all to know that you’re of a similar mindset. :-)

      • We’ve made several big decisions based on this mindset, as you know. Our path is slower, but our jobs are slower and we actually enjoy them. These are our “Experimentation” years to figure out what we actually want to pursue in our downtime. Because, luckily, we still have some!

      • I think the path you guys are on is fantastic, and I hope you never feel bad about it — everything is a trade-off, and being on a faster path comes with some major costs in other parts of life. It sounds like you guys have a great balance and get to enjoy time together as a family, which is what’s most important anyway!

  5. Quite a thought-provoking post. My goals for the future are in a constant battle with my desire to enjoy the now. I am not happy with my occupation, but need the income to get out of debt and finance our dreams. I’m trying my best to achieve as much balance as possible between hustling for the future, and taking time to live in the present.

    • That’s great! The tension itself is a sign that you’re focused on the “now.” It’s easy to be entirely future-focused, but your gut is sending you the right signals. :-)

  6. “knowing that it’s never too late to change course in life” – even more powerful is understanding that there is no path in the first place. We’re all meandering and the meandering is part of the fun. Life isn’t a treasure map with a dotted line and an X at the end. :)

    • Haha — So true, Jim! The path itself is yet another artificial perception. In any case, it’s nice to know you can scrap the plan and start over at any point! :-)

  7. Taking pleasure in the process is one of my mantras. Many, many aspects of our retirement didn’t turn out as we’d planned, but that certainly didn’t make the planning any less enjoyable or worthwhile. Sometimes things work out better than you expected, and sometimes they don’t. We’ve adjusted just about everything in our retirement, from where we live to renting versus owning to the vehicles we drive. Actually living on a fixed income is very different from what we thought it would be, and I’m not certain even knowing what we know now would have made that much of a difference. It just comes down to blooming where you’re planted. Working and planning and dreaming of retirement? Enjoy it! Actually retired and it’s not exactly as you planned? Make adjustments so you can stay retired, or get a job or start a business or cut expenses or whatever. Life is full of surprises. There’s no reason to get depressed thinking you haven’t done enough, or saved enough, or planned enough. Just planning at all, and just saving at all, puts you way ahead of most people. Embrace the process and know that, in the end, you will probably be better off and happier than you can even imagine. I know we are, and we’ve changed nearly everything we had planned! Every single day that we spend not trading our precious time for someone else’s profits is amazing, everything else is the frosting on the cake.

    • I love hearing more and more about how you guys are adapting. It’s so interesting to know that your plans went out the window! The journey aside, that is a great reminder — planning is great, but adaptability is more important. And gosh, if we truly can be “happier than you can even imagine,” then we’re in for a pretty blissful existence. :-)

  8. Being in this journey to our lifestyle change has changed me a LOT. I’m more mindful of spending, I don’t tie my happiness with buying things anymore, and keeping writing about it in our blog keeps me focused on the goal. It went from this crazy, unconventional, oddball idea to something that has shape and form now and feels more like an old friend than a scary “it’ll never happen” concept. Especially charting progress and tracking money and the like, has gotten us more comfortable with enacting this lifestyle change we’re looking for sooner than later. The faster path is fine, but not sustainable, and we’re just about ready to exit this freeway sooner than later.

    Will we have to still work some where? Probably. Will it be for a lot less money? Most definitely! Will we ultimately be happier even though we’re not in the fast lane and saving oodles of money? For sure, most definitely!

    Without being mindful of all this, and having our goal we see out in front of us, just reminds us that we’re in control. Sure if we did things sooner than planned it might be more bumpy, but it’s nice to have the option, just the same! It’s even nicer knowing that we’re fine taking the bumps if we go that route and knowing we can adapt.

    • We got gas last night that was under $3 a gallon (That is CHEAP in the mountains!), and we thought of you guys. Hope you can hang onto those jobs at least until you’re vested!

      So true that the faster path is not sustainable — we’re feeling that in a big way right now. I like that you guys are thinking you’ll work after your FFLC… I think we’ve been so stuck in thinking that we have to retire for good, and never need additional income again, that it’s put more pressure on the whole plan. But, like you, we take big comfort knowing we can adapt to the bumps! :-)

      • Under $3 is good for gas! Here it’s down to $1.69…. Yipe! Since we realized we will have some side income, omg talk about moving up the timeline fairly significantly. It introduces all kinds of other talks, but we’re still here until I’m vested – June 2017 or we get laid off. :) Either way, it’s exciting!

      • Exciting indeed! And it’s great you keep figuring out ways to move up your timeline or at least give yourselves options. Still keeping fingers crossed for you guys!

  9. Great stuff. We all need to enjoy the journey along the way. We don’t just “magically” get happy once we reach financial freedom. We need to learn to be happy now, and enjoy doing things right now, rather than waiting till that magical day.

  10. I’m with you on this… we’re still around 9 years away from financial freedom, but with each passing day, the focus is there and it seems to get more and more exciting. I’ve almost made it into a game to make small changes (never mind the big ones!) to help the day come even faster – and as silly as it sounds, I love the chase of it!

    Most people will just continue in the rat race and never take the small steps to just get out of that race and find the path the financial freedom. To be honest, it drives me nuts, but you can’t change everyone. It’s great to have people in this community that can relate to where you’re heading and can share in the excitement with you.


    — Jim

    • I think it’s good in our case that we didn’t *really* have a plan until just a few years ago, since we think *for us*, it would be hard to enjoy the journey for a decade or more. Maybe it just feels like a different kind of journey, then? More of a marathon, less of a sprint. Anyway, we completely admire folks like you who can keep that focus AND enjoy the journey for that long, so keep up the awesome work!

  11. I just had this reminder of Horton (from ‘Horton Hears a Who’) where he states: “A person is a person no matter how small.” Perspective is everything, and I feel all those feels staring at the vast night sky, the ever-expanding rolling ocean, standing a top a summit looking into the valley below. To get to those points, it takes a journey – and the journey is amazing. What I never realized before is how feasible new accomplishments, goals, feats come with the journey of intentionality and focus. When supporting & connecting with others, you recognize the journey becomes even more feasible to have accountability, recognition, gratitude. I am so thrilled to have gone down this path because I never would have imagined what avenues of positivity would stem from the journey. :)

    • What a lovely perspective, as always! Love Horton (though I’m definitely a Lorax person at heart). ;-) And so true — I think we’re all alike in this community in being so floored by the level of positivity. We’re beyond grateful for it all!

  12. I love everything about this post. It reminds me of something I read about how planning a vacation has the same mental effect on people as the vacation itself.

    I always tease my husband about what he could possibly talk about once we’re FI, now that he won’t be obsessing over retirement. For us, the journey has bonded us, gotten us into hilarious situations, and meant more to our lives than we could have imagined. I actually worry sometimes that we won’t feel like we have a purpose once we become FI! :-O

    Another excellent post that resonated with me :-)

    • Thanks, Veronica! I definitely believe that truism about vacations — the joy seems to go :::poof!::: as soon as you set foot back at work afterward. That’s so funny that your husband talks so much about FI — mine barely talks about it! Maybe they can get together and split the difference. :-) So cool that your journey has been a great bonding experience, and given you funny memories! Keep building those up! And I’m sure your new purpose in life will reveal itself once you hit your goal, if not sooner, like my recent revelation that I want to be an author. That truly just came out of nowhere! So I bet you’ll know your answer sooner than you think. :-)

  13. I so admire the fact that you are not delaying life to focus on the FI. I did. There was a lot of “we’ll do that when we retire”. I can’t regret it too much, because I am FIRE-d. (Never even knew the term before I met you-all on line.) This past year I have been learning to enjoy the journey of each day. Learning what living is all about, and not just working, eating and sleeping every day. And luckily because I did the FIRE, I am young enough (I hope) to learn a new way of living. Keep up living each day to its fullest.

    • We’re with you on “FIRE” being a new term (and it’s still not my favorite, but it’s so heavily used that I fall into using it as an easy shortcut!). We’re certainly not perfect on this stuff, and there IS plenty we put off until we can retire, especially on the travel front, but we’re trying hard to appreciate the good stuff now, and to recognize the ways that our life is better for having embarked on this journey to begin with, even if we never reach the destination we’re aiming for. I love reading your perspective on how your retirement is unfolding, and how you’re rethinking your life. I definitely believe you’ll shape something that suits your interests and fills you up. :-)

  14. My thoughts are not very coherent this week (believe it or not, even having defended, I’m still not done — my students still need to take their final exam, plus I have to revise some papers, blah blah). I started to write a philosophical semi-sequitur to this post, but it wasn’t really making a lot of sense, so instead I’ll just sum it up by saying that I think this post is really smart and makes me also think about *memories* of good times — like not just finding the joy and celebration in the present moment, but remembering and validating the joy and celebration in past good memories even when you know that they were followed by less-joyful times. It makes more sense in my head.

    Also, check out this New Yorker cartoon that I happened to see the other day:

    • Good luck getting through the home stretch. And congrats again for defending!!

      I understand that you aren’t feeling super articulate, having just poured a tremendous amount of brainpower into a super significant and rare life milestone, but I completely get what you’re saying, and YES, that is an important piece of it that I hadn’t thought about for this. The idea of being able to look back on the journey with joy is why we started this blog, because it’s so easy to forget what it was like getting to some milestone once you’ve surpassed it, which is not the same but related to what you’re saying. Something about recording the events makes us appreciate them more than if we just sat at home and complained about work. :-) Which is why this blog isn’t about “here’s how you do this early retirement thing and this other thing” but is more our chronicle, with lessons learned sprinkled in. But back to your memories point, I completely agree, and think we have an active role to play in shaping those memories. I can think of significant events in my life where I’ve consciously thought, “This is good stuff, and I want to remember it clearly,” and I have focused on committing it to memory in detail. And even though time still fades those memories, I know I remember the events better than if I had just stayed present but not focused on the memory part. Okay, maybe I didn’t riff exactly on what you meant, but your comment brought up a lot for me! :-)

      Love that New Yorker cartoon — reminds me of our dogs, who are tiny, but don’t seem to understand this fact. Our littlest one thinks he’s the biggest dog in the neighborhood. So it’s all about perspective, as always. :-)

  15. Great perspective! We actually had a loooong talk while we took an all day hike on Sunday (no powder days here, 68 degrees in mid-Dec is insane for us). We took the opportunity to drop Little EE at the grandparents and really be able to talk about what we’re going to do on our homestretch until ER which is only 18 months away for me and two years for Mrs.EE. We discussed what we want to do over that time, trips and adventures we want to take on and things we want to do with little EE. We also reflected on our journey up to this point.

    Our conversation gave perspective of just how fortunate we are to be where we are today. I normally dread Mondays, but actually had a great day at work with this different perspective on things and reading this post really drove that all home. Thanks!

    • Aw man, you guys need winter! We have it in a big way — thank goodness! I’m not sure I know — why does Mrs EE plan to work 6 months longer than you? I’m sure there’s a good reason!

      It’s so great you guys took the time both for the long hike and for the long talk, and got to really do some future visioning — we’re hoping to have a check-in like that next week when we’re off work. Of course I’m curious to know what’s on your adventure list. :-) But I’m super glad you took time to reflect on where you’ve been, too, since that’s the part that’s easy to skip, but can be so powerful. And your great Monday is proof of that!

      • Our different timelines are complicated b/c of a variety of logistics including taxes, health insurance, vesting, vacation time etc that when factored in together we think this will make sense. I suppose I could end up working until her date also if the market tanked and I felt I could load up on more securities at bargain prices but I’m pretty committed to our date (and I realize this is a stupid reason but it has motivated me for a while) b/c I always wanted to “retire” by 40 and I’ll turn 41 in May. Ha ha!

        Our big adventures for the year include our first west ski trip since little EE was born, some tropical adventure with the three of us or a big family beach vacation and then an annual trip to New England w/ my parents that will include a one day Presidential Traverse (over the past 2 years we’ve done the Adirondaks Great Range Traverse and Devil’s path in the Catskills so “need” to do this to finish the trifecta.) That will burn up Mrs. vacation time but with working part-time, every weekend is a long one for her and I’ll still have about 3.5 weeks beyond that so we’ll be doing a lot of other local stuff. Seeing all that written out makes me realize that this time is going to fly by!

        Enjoy your time off and enjoy the holidays!

  16. Thanks for this post. Reading the comments you have it clearly hit a nerve with everyone that is saving for the future and we are no exception. When we decided to save hard for an earlier retirement we talked about ensuring that we enjoy and be grateful for each day and spend time soaking in experiences and we try and do just that. However, I find as our retirement date gets closer (15 months to go) I have anxiety attacks that something will go wrong, as it is no longer something abstract and it is so close. I had a real wobble recently and I found it really helpful to think about how this journey that we are on is better for having a clear destination and path. I just need to stay calm and hang in there.

    • Hi — thanks for commenting! I definitely agree with you that the right thing to do is to stay calm and hang in there, though if the thought of having no safety net in retirement is causing anxiety, it’s great to focus on the safety net, too. Are there other backup plans or contingencies you can work into your early retirement plan? Regardless, it’s great you guys are being intentional about enjoying each day. Keep it up!