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Crafting a Life That Keeps the Stoke High

What is your “why”? What is the dream that motivates you to work relentlessly toward your goals? Today’s post is all about ours, and about crafting a life that fires you up.

Living in a ski town, we’re around a lot of slang that I’m sure sounds silly to those who aren’t used to it.

It’s getting spicy out there, bro. Yeah buddy! Watch out for the death cookies. Send it! It’s just dust on crust. Let’s slarve it up! It’s gaper city out there.

While we giggle to ourselves when we use lots of the slang, some of it we even use now without realizing it. Though we’ll never say “schralp the gnarl” any way but ironically.

My favorite slang is the word “stoke.” We’re all familiar with “being stoked,” an attitude that we try to cultivate all the time, and that comes from stoking a fire, which is a nice fit for our FIRE community. But in ski towns, “the stoke” is also a noun, something you feel, something you feed. Big storm headed our way, promising to dump lots of powder goodies? You can bet the stoke is high. The stoke becomes this palpable thing, almost like a living being, or at least like The Force. The stoke is strong with this one.

And the stoke pretty well sums up our attitude to life and early retirement: we want to craft a life that keeps the stoke high. Not just later, but now.

OurNextLife.com // Crafting a Life That Keeps the Stoke High -- early retirement, adventure, financial independence, intentional living

Defining What We’re Opting In To

It’s easy to think of early retirement as all about the escape. But then what? We don’t want any part of our life to be defined solely by absence, by its lack of something, in our case the lack of work. We want our lives to be defined by presence, to be lived in the affirmative, the ultimate opt-in to what fires us up and makes us launch out of bed in the morning.

To us, that’s the real privilege of early retirement, and it’s why we sock away our paychecks instead of booking round-the-world tickets and packing our bags now. So that we don’t live our lives by accident, by default, or because we let the days drift by without noticing, without really grabbing a hold of them and squeezing out every drop of life.

Don’t Wait

One of the questions we get most often is how to stay patient when FIRE is still a ways off. We’re not perfect at this (see this recent post on how we’re trying hard to quell our impatience), but here’s our very best tip:

Don’t wait for early retirement to start living the life that feeds your stoke. Build that stoke now.

Sure, you’ll have a lot more time to do the things you want to do and to spend with the people you care about once you reach financial freedom. And if you have debt, it may feel like every moment not spent working or hustling is keeping you trapped underneath that debt. But not giving yourself some time to do what feeds your soul steals joy from your life.

Find Balance with Small Stoke and Big Stoke

It’s sort of weird to say we’re not booking a RTW ticket so that we can save longer and then immediately turn around and tell you not to wait for your high-stoke life to begin. But it’s a question of trade-offs. If we follow all of our dreams now, eventually we’ll have to work again, and it will be much harder to do so with a big gap in our resumes. But if we wait just a little longer, and save just a little more, then we can follow our dreams permanently. That feels like a good trade-off to us.

Instead, let yourself dream big about what you want to do once you reach your goals – what we call the big stoke. Our big stoke is our endless winter dream, being able to follow the snow all over the western hemisphere in a small RV for maybe a whole year. Being able to bag every mountain to calls to us. Hiking the long trails like the CDT and PCT. Spending a summer in Alaska with no wifi or 4G. Writing books and making documentaries. Serving nonprofits in our community in a substantial way. But we can put that stuff off a little longer to hit our financial goals.

In the meantime, we’re focusing on the small stoke, the bursts of fun and fulfillment that keep us going, that make the stress and grind of work tolerable. That’s why we’re happy about having just wrapped up a spendy month, with travel all over to see the ballet, Elton John in Vegas and Coachella in the SoCal desert. (And seriously, if you’re a music fan, the recent death of Prince, following on the heels of Bowie, should be a reminder to all of us not to wait. If there’s someone you’ve always wanted to see, don’t assume you can see them later. We’re super bummed that we never got to see either of them.) Sure, that money could have gone into our FIRE fund, but we think it was better spent giving us a ton of joy in the present. Getting out into the world and experiencing things we love all feed the small stoke, which keeps us moving toward the big stoke.

And small stoke doesn’t have to be expensive. It could be taking hikes on the weekend, going out and taking pictures of the hidden corners and alleyways and gardens in your neighborhood, painting a picture, snuggling your kids or your pets, having your own one-person dance party with the windows drawn. Whatever brings you happiness, even in small doses.

Future You Is Still You

That phrase, “future you is still you,” comes courtesy of the very wise Maggie at Northern Expenditure. I think about it all the time. At some point next year, we’ll quit our jobs, and on the day we quit, we’ll go to bed. The next day, we’ll wake up, and we’ll be retired, but we’ll still be the same people. We won’t magically be faster runners, stronger climbers, more disciplined meditators, or less lazy versions of ourselves. We’ll still be us.

So planning a big stoke that requires us to be different people means we’re relegating that stoke to the realm of dreams. And we want our big stoke to be firmly rooted in reality. So we’re making a conscious effort to do two things: 1.) Plan a big stoke that ties into what we already do in real life, and 2.) Making changes now to prepare us for the things we want to do that are outside our comfort zone.

We already love camping and skiing, so planning for ski camping fits our actual selves well. Same for world travel. I’ve got my travel minimalism routine down, and am ready to hit the road at a moment’s notice. And we’re pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone by making an effort to ski more backcountry, instead of taking the easy way up the hill on the chairlift. The ski season’s over now, and so heading into summer, I’m determined to get more comfortable on a mountain bike, which is Mr. ONL’s preferred biking style. (I feel at home on a road bike.) And outside of the sporty stuff, I want to write more in retirement, and so I’m extra focused on keeping up the discipline of two to three posts a week here, as well as beginning to do some workshop writing outside of the blog.

How Do You Keep Your Stoke High?

What’s your big stoke in the future, and your small stoke that keeps you going now? If you’ve been focused on the big stoke only, what are some ways you can build some small stoke into your life, too? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments!

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79 replies »

  1. Ok you’ve taught me a new word … I’m stok’n …. I love your sentiment and I think I’m a bit guilty of using today as an excuse to put these things off, but try to do little stok’n every day like hugging my kids, doing something creative, really listening to someone who appreciates it. Big stok’n will be all this on a bigger scale. My values will be the same now and in the future and I try to live by them every day.

  2. Great reminder and read that as we all work really hard to reach FIRE, making sure we know what life will be like is another story. Having that drive, reason, passion for life and what comes after work is what life is about. I’m stoked!

    • Yay for the stoke! Totally with you — knowing what will fire you up after work is gone is super important, maybe just as important as the saving. But no need to wait for retirement to do those things!

  3. I love this post, I’m trying more and more to be present and realize that a lot of what I’m working towards in FIRE is things I can have today, it just has the job interruption in the middle of the day.

    Things like enjoying the moment, do the things I love to do like blogging, running, and learning, are all things I can still do today and enjoy. There is no need to say “When I’m free then I’ll….” Otherwise I’m going to get my head stuck in the future worse than Marty McFly. Balancing today and tomorrow is taking a bigger and bigger theme in my life.

    Thanks for this post, I’m totally stoked about living today…for today!

    • Haha, no Marty McFly! :-) I love that you’re shifting your focus in life so much to be more present! That’s super awesome. Keep doing those things that bring you happiness today!

  4. We haven’t fully defined our big Stoke, all I know for sure – it does not involve going to a job I don’t love.

    Until we have that defined we try to enjoy our weekends with friends and family. Sitting around a fire by a lake always helps!

    I have been saying this a lot lately, but finding the balance between saving and spending money on things you love is important.

    • I think the Big Stoke doesn’t have to be this mythical creature that’s hard to find. It can just be a lot more of your little stoke. So if sitting around a fire by a lake is what keeps you going, then maybe your big stoke is just a lot more of that! :-D

  5. Great post! It is all about balance at this point. Not going with the crazy expensive plans (ie the RTW trip) but still enjoying what we have and living for today. We’re learning to strike that balance daily and reminding ourselves that it’s OK to book vacations and have travel plans. I love the concept of stoke. Ours for this summer will be getting the four of us (including two small PIES) to the top of our local > 4000 footer mountain. Gotta get those ski legs hiking!

    • YES! It’s definitely okay to book vacations and have travel plans — I’m glad that you guys are doing it! I especially love that you prioritize time in the mountains so much. <3

  6. Great post! I have an upcoming post on how we incorporate parts of our “future self” dreams into our daily lives now. And “snuggling your kids and having one-person dance parties with the windows drawn”–have you been spying on me?

    • Thanks, Kalie! I’m excited to read that post! And haha — snuggling the dogs and having one-person dance parties (sadly for the neighbors, our curtains don’t close all the way!) is how I get through the week. :-)

  7. Love the ski-town language – it’s like a foreign language at times sharing a ski-lift with couple of local teengaers on the first run of the day. All good!

    And whole-heartedly agree on balance.
    “Life is not a dress rehearsal” . Why only practice today for the potential show tomorrow? “The show” is both today AND tomorrow.
    The conflict in our minds of guilt about spending and the need to enjoy today is real. And having it front and center is how we keep the balance in check. Living for today need not be opposed to the joy of tomorrow.
    Regular weekends of hiking in the mountains? Cost – zero. Benefit on health- enormous. Impact on happiness for the family PIE – priceless.
    We intend to see our stoke hitting new highs next winter at Jackson Hole, where the two small pies will get to experience Rendezvous Bowl from the Tram for the first time. Yeah, that should bring a glint to their eyes, won’t it!? I am worried about keeping up with them. They want to take a look at Corbett’s – yikes, now we are in real trouble……
    And the economics of that trip? – So far, four flights covered through travel hacking, we snagged a terrific deal on Mountain Collective that has kids skiing essentially for free for most of the week and we will get our accommodation significantly reduced through another credit card deal. Gotta love travel hacking – M.s PIE is the expert in our house on that front.
    Really enjoyed this post and we can only echo the notion of balance that keeps our stoke alive and flourishing.

    • It seems like you guys have a good balance figured out! Nice work on the travel hacking. And I laugh thinking about Corbett’s — that was the site of a rather epic yardsale for Mr. ONL in his younger days. :-D

  8. I use that word all the time. Maybe it’s very fitting her in LA? I did a bunch of retirement calculators yesterday and on one hand it was positive (if I keep doing what I’m doing I’lll have more than “enough” for retirement). The bad news? That age was 65…20 years from now! :( So, I will have to try to find a way to have those baby stokes here and there if I want to even be on track for that. It seems so far away, so there is no way I can sacrifice TOO much, if you know what I’m saying. BTW your dream sounds so awesome!

    • If the retirement calculator says you’ll have enough for retirement, you’re already ahead of 90% of people, so that’s a great place to build from! Just keep making little tweaks and optimizations each year, and I bet you’ll be amazed how quickly things accelerate. That’s totally how it was for us. Just lots of baby steps, with lots of baby stokes along the way. :-)

  9. I love slang! It’s really interesting and I’ve read a bit about Southern slang since moving to Texas. Know that I’m leaving my nonprofit job soon has got me stoked. The little victories lead to the big ones, and that goes for happiness too. Your point about musical acts in particular (RIP Prince) is a good one. A concert can seem so frivolous, but who hasn’t leaned on music in trying times? Who hasn’t found joy through music? It’s hard, but you can’t always sacrifice present day you for future you.

    • I love learning regional slang! Got any good Texasisms to share? :-) Yeah, if you love music, don’t assume the musicians you love will always be there. I learned that lesson early with Kurt Cobain — I saw Nirvana just a few months before he died, and since then, I have tried never to take for granted that I could see a musician “someday.” But, that stuff can also get expensive! And of course not everyone prioritizes music like we do. But as long as you focus on what keeps your stoke high, it’s all good. And I’m so stoked for you that you’re pursuing the freelance path and dropping your draining job!! :-D

      • the phrase ‘bless your heart’ is my favorite, because it’s secretly an insult! you say it when someone is being an idiot but you can’t be impolite. my former boss used it all the time, it was amazing

  10. Throughout our journey to FIRE my wife and I had a lot of conversations about these trade offs. Despite being good savers, when push comes to shove, we always decided that you can’t put off today for tomorrow – that’s like wishing your time away. After all, tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. At our best, we always make sure that today doesn’t preclude tomorrow by reminding ourselves that money doesn’t drive the fun, we do!

    • I love that you haven’t deferred all the fun. You’re proof that you can do the fun things and still achieve early retirement! You’ve clearly found a great balance.

  11. The only slang I hear used in Manhattan are swear words when someone almost hits on you with their Taxi or bike, or you j-walk in front of a car, etc. :) Part of the reason I’m excited for my upcoming move is so that I can be more easily be involved in outside activities like biking, the beach, and the like. This will hopefully keep the stoke alive.

    • Are there seriously no choice slang terms for all the tourists? Like our “gapers”? And I’m so excited for you and your move — it is going to be a positive thing all around, I’m sure of it. Lots of stoke coming your way. :-) (And I was thinking this past weekend, while at Coachella, about how I wrote our Liebster post last year while camping at Coachella, after you tagged us — it was the first time we had any evidence that anyone was even reading our little blog. :-) So thanks, buddy!)

  12. Four things:
    1) We have 4g AND wifi in Alaska – thought obviously not everywhere. :)
    2) I’m totally using “the stoke” ALL the time now. “Okay kids… oatmeal is almost ready. Do you feel THE STOKE?” Ha ha ha.
    3) My post today covers pretty much the exact same topic… because we have constant mind-melds.
    4) I’m glad “future you is still you” bounces around in your brain – I hope you think of me pleasantly and not naggy when I say it! :)

    • Hahahaha–I wasn’t suggesting that you have no wifi in AK! Just not *everywhere*… you know, like in Katmai NP where I can befriend grizzlies and name them and get up close to them and pet them like teddy bears, like that guy in Grizzly Man. (Kidding!) :-)

      Yes! Oatmeal stoke!!! “The stoke is high in there. Today we added craisins to the oatmeal!”

      I need to read your post! I love our mind melds. I’m just back from short vacation and catching up!

      And yes, I think about “future you is still you” ALL THE TIME. It’s such a perfect reminder, and helps me narrow down the things I want to do, because there are so, so many. Now I can just ask myself, “Would I do this now? No? Then let’s put other things higher on the list.” :-)

  13. I was just walking back to my desk this morning thinking about 67 year old Mr. SSC. Mainly, that I’ll still be me, just an older creakier version, that will take even longer to recover… That brings up a great point you made, that there isn’t any reason to start “schralping the gnarl” now brah! Whatever the hell that means. :)

    Some of the things I want to do when we start our Lifestyle Change, I’ve already started working on. Learning to play the resonator guitar – I’ve bee practicing and am way more comfortable picking around on it and can even play a couple songs. The gardening has even kicked up a notch, as I put in a 4×8 raised bed last weekend, and we have a compost bin started too. Ahh, gardening.

    In reality, I could get cancer and be gone in a few months, or get killed/seriously injured in a car wreck on the way to or from work (more likely scenario) and then I’ll never get to enjoy what I was putting off until our LC started. Like Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

    • I think shralping the gnarl is a good thing, brah! :-) (But I’m not totally sure — ha!) I’m pretty sure I’ve lost track of how many stringed guitar-like instruments you’re playing these days! That’s so awesome. Yours will be a very musical house in FFLC. And the garden — so jealous. We’re starting to have spring here, and I’m getting that itch to plant things. But I have to remind myself that we have like 10 frost-free nights all summer (I’m exaggerating a bit), and a garden would be doomed unless all I want is cabbage. Um, pass. And that Shawshank quote is so fitting. What a great movie.

  14. It’s cool you guys know what you like already! I spent so much time “being the job”, I am only now figuring out what I enjoy. This involves trying a bunch of different things and learning new stuff. Sometimes I hit on something that I enjoy. Sometimes the experiment fails.

    • We can definitely relate to that feeling of “being the job,” too! But we’ve been actively rebelling against it for a while now. :-) It’s awesome you’re trying new activities — stick with it! I’m sure you’ll find some things that really excite you.

  15. This article defines for me very good the little phraze I use: It is important to live alos now.
    I like the idea of having a lot of small stokes now, on an occasion a bigger stoke and all of that while preparing for the BIG stoke.

    My small stokes are family dinners, going to zoo/playgarden, karting with firends and helping out the local school where our kids go…not all that expensive. The bigger ones are a kid free weekends – one upcoming now – going to some music events and family ski holiday.
    The big stoke should be a world travel for a long long time…

  16. Thanks for expanding my American vocab. I am certainly with you on this one. I have a big plan for the future that involves travelling to parts of Europe we can’t reach in a three week holiday in our campervan and becoming more involved in our local community. But it would drive me over the edge to not be able to be out camping as much as possible while we save for that early retirement. So I still go away in the van, go to rock concerts (I was lucky enough to see Bowie in the 1980s) and saw Muse only the other week and get to the theatre, cinema and out for meals with friends. I also give my time as a volunteer. These are all joyful times that just confirm that this is what we want to do more of, whereas work is just a means to an end. Yes, if we had saved the money we would be able to retire earlier but I would be much poorer for missing all those experiences and taking all those opportunities … its always a balance and everyone finds their own.

    • Haha — glad to help with the vocab! :-) I’m so jealous that you saw Bowie, and in his heyday no less! I love how you put it: that even if you’d have saved more money, you’d be poorer for missing out on those experiences!

  17. This just totally fueled my stoke: “So that we don’t live our lives by accident, by default, or because we let the days drift by without noticing, without really grabbing a hold of them and squeezing out every drop of life.” That is exactly where I was before discovering the early retirement niche of personal finance. Weeks and months flied by because we were just passing time, trying to get to the good stuff, which was seemingly gone in an instant.

    Life is so much more full and purposeful these days. We’re working hard, but still enjoying the small stokes – just without spending money. The frugal experiences can sometimes be more meaningful than the expensive ones.

    Great post and funny slang :)

    • Your comment totally made my day, Harmony. How incredible that your life feels so much more full and purposeful now! That’s pretty much the best thing ever. :-) And you’re so right that the most meaningful experiences are often the free ones. :-)

      • OMG – I just saw that I wrote that the days “flied by” – that is definitely thanks to spending so much time with toddlers. At least I usually don’t tell adults that I’m going to use the “potty.”

        Glad the comment made your day . . . despite improper use of verbs :)

      • You get a pass for the “flied” moment. :-) I slip like that sometimes, and I don’t have the toddler excuse (and I can’t even make some joke about my clients or coworkers behaving like toddlers because they are mostly awesome). :-)

  18. Keeping our stoke high would involve short periods of work mixed with longer periods of travel. Right now for us, like most others, this situation is flipped.

    Also, a part of me has always wanted to run my own business, even something little. Hopefully my not yet created travel blog will cover both of these and keep the stoke high all the time!

    • I will definitely read your travel blog! :-) And I love the idea of running your own business. Though you’ll soon have the flexibility to try any number of ideas until you find the one that feels perfect.

  19. This is such an important thing to remember. It’s so easy to fall into a dull routine of work, sleep and tv because you’re too tired. I’ve made a list of things I need and want to do and taped it to my wall…this way I remember to do one thing each day .
    I also find that fitness is so important. I have more energy and more importantly, the drive to do things if I’ve been going to the gym and eating better. After all, retiring early won’t mean much if I don’t have any energy to do and properly enjoy the things I want to do.

    • I love the idea of your wall list, and the idea of doing something to make yourself happy every day. That’s so wise. And good on you for taking such good care of your health and fitness! We’ve neglected that to some extent in focusing so hard on maximizing our earnings and getting to FIRE, and we feel like our first year of retirement will be all about rebuilding our fitness. All the better if you can avoid losing it in the first place!

  20. I plan to shred some of my own gnar one day, but likely not on the slopes. Or maybe when I have more than one weekend available for skiing, I’ll be better than I am today. Anyway, when it comes to motivation today, I have fitness goals I want to reach, so daily trips to the gym are what I look forward to most. :)

    • Dude, nice slang usage! ;-) Don’t give up on shredding on the slopes — I learned as an adult, and can attest that it’s totally possible to get good with some determination and a sense of humor. And wow — if you look forward to the gym, then you are my personal hero. :-)

  21. You know, I’ve been noticing the past few weeks that I’m quite invested in my job. As in, my paying day job. It’s not that I sit around on the weekends wishing I were at work (and I definitely don’t love getting up at 5:30 am five days a week), but I do feel that this job gives me the potential to have a positive impact on my clients, and I tend to get really excited about that during the week. So that feels like a stoke for now.

    Still figuring out what my big stoke is! Good question! :)

    • That’s so awesome! Feeling a connection like that with your work is the best, and I hope it sticks with you until you’re ready to do the next thing! (Or ready to stop getting up at 5:30 every day — ouch!) This is in line with your recent post on not knowing what the big goal is, but don’t worry about the big stoke for now — you’ll know it when you see it. :-) (And I owe you a book club response! Have been away most of the last week, but have been writing my response in my head!)

  22. I love the idea of finding your Why. I’ve been meaning to write a post about that sometime about how I didn’t get good with finances until my daughter was born. She is my Why :)

    My big stoke in the future is retiring early and setting up my daughter for a bright future. My small stoke are the little wins along the way of getting there – maxing out retirement accounts, increase 529 contributions, and paying down the house when we can.

    One of my favorite quotes comes from Dave Ramsey. I know he gets a lot of hate from those in the personal finance community but his book was what motivated me to get better with money so I can’t knock the kooky old man too much :)

    He says – “Live like no one else, so later on you can live (and give) like no one else.” It inspires me to push on when I see others having “fun” buying fancy toys and spending all their money now.

    • I understand people’s quibbles with Dave Ramsey, but that dude has motivated tons of people to get their financial act together. Suze Orman did that for me, and while you can take issue with some of her stuff, she did a lot of people a lot of good!

      I love that your daughter is your “why” and that your stoke is all about doing things for and with her. She’s a lucky girl to have such an awesome dad. :-)

      • I was a Dave acolyte in the beginning! Even with his whole all cash idea. While that’s great for some, I need me some credit card rewards :) It’s free money and travel if you’re responsible!

        Besides, walking around with 10+ envelopes of cash is just crazy talk ;)

      • Agree 100%. I started out needing to follow the cash method, or at least the debit card method, after getting out of debt. But after I learned to trust myself again, I was all about the rewards credit cards. :-)

  23. Our big stoke for now is buying a house and paying it in 15 years max. I’d say financial independence is there as well. But we are enjoying our small stoke at the moment – road travels and visiting national parks! We still get to see new places but we don’t compromise our savings and our big stoke.

    Also, I love this: “Don’t wait for early retirement to start living the life that feeds your stoke. Build that stoke now.” :) Sometimes it’s easy to forget that maintaining balance while trying to save for the future is important and this is a great reminder to keep that balance in check.

    I hope all’s well with you guys!

    • I love your big and small stokes! Ours are similar but just flipped — the thrill of the FI progress is fueling us to our BIG stoke and big goal of spending all of our time traveling and visiting national parks and other beautiful outdoor locales. :-) And yeah, we’ve learned how we can get pretty miserable focusing only on tomorrow. So don’t do that — make sure your today is worth living, too. :-)

      Hope all is well with you, too! We’re good… just itching to get out of the work grind. :-)