Coming next week: Our quarterly financial update, and our take on dollar cost averaging. Fun!
Last night, while Mr. ONL and I were talking about what we should write about in today’s post, he said something interesting:
I think if you just look across all of our posts, you’d get an overly rosy portrait of our lives. We kinda make it sound like we have our act together in every way possible, and like we’re out adventuring all the time, yet somehow still earning big paychecks.
— Mr. ONL
That comment hit me hard. I’ve made it one of our tenets from the beginning to keep things as real as possible, to share our struggles and insecurities, our doubts and fears, our stresses and frustrations.
But I also think it’s important to keep things positive, to encourage our community, and to express the gratitude that we feel. We feel beyond lucky about how many things in our lives have lined up to even make us eligible to plan for early retirement — it wouldn’t be right to complain about things, especially given the science on how complaining rewires your brain. I’d also just read a thoughtful post called Travel Bloggers Are Lying to You by Like Riding a Bicycle that was all about how curated and deceptive a picture of life many bloggers share. I’ve always been determined not to do that here.
Of course when he said that, I started doing a mental tally. “But I make no secret about how much I have to travel for work. And we wrote about how we don’t always agree about money. And how we overpay taxes because I’m stupidly afraid of the IRS. And how we worry that we’re squandering our potential. And that maybe we were too optimistic about our goals for the year…” And then I stopped myself.
Because I realized: It’s not that we’re being dishonest. It’s just that there’s something inherently reductive about sharing ourselves online, even in a long-form blog, just as there is something inherently reductive in our own memories and the narratives we tell ourselves about our lives. Just because we aren’t posting super posed, ultra-filtered, socality-style Instagram portraits doesn’t mean we’re sharing the full picture.
The Bias Toward Subtracting the Mundane
Even the best real lives are filled mostly with forgettable, mundane moments. Those are the things that largely dictate the vibe of a day (did we hit snooze too many times and start out the day in a bad mood?), or how we’re feeling generally (have too many meetings at work been making us feel like we can’t get caught up?), but they’re also the things that we forget quickly, the things that no readers need to hear about. You guys do not need a play-by-play of all my trips through TSA security, or a rundown of how much of our days we spend listening to conference call hold music.
This is the reality for almost everyone:
But when we subtract everything mundane, which is the natural filtering that happens with our memories, what’s left is the stuff on the ends of the spectrum — the really good and the really bad. Because we have made the conscious decision to try to focus on the good stuff — for example, by not complaining about work anymore — and because we think of our lives as generally semi-charmed, with not a lot of bad stuff happening to us (knock on wood), what comes out here is bound to look much more rosy than our real lives.
This is how our memories filter things, and what we tend to blog about:
And given that most of us live lives that are at least two-thirds mundane, anyone presenting a life online that’s more like two-thirds good and great is bound to sound like they’ve got it all figured out.
We Do Not Have It All Figured Out
Our lives have just as many mundane and frustrating moments as everyone else’s, and we expect that we’ll still have plenty of those moments even after we retire early next year. That is one of our great lessons of adulthood:
Life is never awesome all the time, no matter what.
But more than the mundane stuff, we make mistakes like everyone does. Mr. ONL forgot to pay his credit card bill this week, which is going to cost us a late fee and some finance charges in an already expensive month (though he will call and try to get a one-time exception). I was late renewing the registration for one of our cars, which means we can’t drive it past Thursday, until whenever the DMV gets around to sending us our 2017 sticker. We toss out food that we’ve let spoil far more often than we’re okay with.
And on the stuff that’s actually fun to think about, if we shared all the boring details, here’s some of what you’d know:
- We’ve only skied about 15 days this year, which is super low for skiers who live in a ski town. Most of those days were just a few hours, with the crowds on the weekends.
- The photos we feature on the blog are not all coming from new adventures happening in real time. You’re seeing an assortment of photos compiled over more than a decade of being together, though we try to emphasize more recent outings.
- We spend as much time on the couch as everyone else, sometimes more when work is especially stressful and we just need to turn our brains off.
- Because we work from home, sometimes we go days without so much as setting foot outside. Even though we have trails a five minute walk from our front door.
And on the money stuff:
- Besides having blown through too much money at one point in our lives, and having had credit card debt in our 20s, we’ve also made some bad investments, bought both of our cars brand new, and made a slew of other financially questionable decisions, like splurging on a high-end dishwasher.
- We’re still not immune to impulse buys or frivolous purchases.
- We disagree on spending priorities relatively often.
Finding the Authentic Balance
I think we’ll always struggle with how to tell the story of our journey authentically, but without all the unnecessary stuff that doesn’t add anything. Does knowing all that stuff we just shared make our story more interesting, or less? Does it make us more relatable, or just more dull?
Like the great Hitchcock quote:
Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.
— Alred Hitchcock
Those dull bits add up to the bulk of our lives, but they don’t always make for good reading or good photography. And — more importantly — they’re frankly not what we want to look back and remember from this season of our lives. We want to document the ends of the spectrum, the stuff worth remembering, good and bad.
But when we cut the middle of the spectrum out completely, we’re also painting a portrait that’s not complete or honest. I’ve always loved the title of Jack Kornfield’s book After the Ecstacy, the Laundry, about how even if you achieve total peace and something akin to enlightenment, there’s still the laundry to attend to. We can never escape the mundane, and we’ll be happier the sooner we accept that fact. But we never intend to blog about doing laundry, unless we find some incredible lifehack that no one else has discovered, to do it faster and with no environmental impact. (Don’t hold your breath for that one.) :-)
What’s Your Take?
As usual, we’d love to hear your wisdom on this. How do you think about your own life in retrospect? Are there details of our journey that you would find interesting, that we have glossed over or discarded? Who out there do you think is doing this especially well, keeping things real while not getting bogged down in the boring, mundane stuff? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
And if you like pretty nature pictures that aren’t overly posed, staged or filtered, we’d love if you’d follow us on Instagram. :-)