I always struggle to find words — not just the right words, but any words — after something horrible happens. That’s why I said nothing in Monday’s post about the unspeakable horror that took place against the LGBTQ and Latino communities last weekend in Orlando, despite how much our hearts ache over it. This blog isn’t a place where we take political stances, and I let that get in the way of expressing something human, which is that we mourn the victims and detest all forms of hate. Now, I regret waiting, even if it was just to say this simple thing.
As ever, this massacre is a reminder that terrible things can happen at any time, and we’re never guaranteed tomorrow. (Though if you want to see fewer of these things happen, you know, write to your senators and member of Congress.) The last thing any of us want is to get to the end of our lives filled with regret: regret that we didn’t say that thing we needed to say, regret that we didn’t do what made us happy, regret that we weren’t open about who we are and celebrating that with pride, regret that we waited too long.
So today, a call to action. There’s some early retirement in here, but early retirement is only one little aspect of our big, rich, complicated lives, and there’s so much more to living a full life than watching those pennies pile up.
In short: Don’t wait. Whatever you’ve been putting off, stop putting it off. Do it now.
There’s More to Life Than…
… [insert your goal here.] For us, our big goal is early retirement, but as all-consuming as that goal can be, there’s still more to life than that. Just as we can’t live entirely for tomorrow while living a joyless today, we can’t forget to keep that perspective: early retirement isn’t everything.
Early retirement won’t change who we are as people. Sure, it will make us less busy and, we hope, less stressed. It will give us more time to do what we want to do, but it won’t make us better human beings. We have to decide to be those better human beings.
Early retirement won’t make things perfect. We’ll still feel pain, mourn losses, get cranky, waste time and fight sometimes. We’ll still have to choose how to cope with those inevitabilities.
Early retirement won’t guarantee that we get any more time on the planet than anyone else. It won’t magically make us healthy if we’ve been neglecting our health during our working years. We still have to make the right food choices and put in the time exercising. And even then, we can’t escape life’s randomness.
Early retirement won’t say things for us. If we want to express something to someone, we simply have to find the courage to do it. If we are sad or angry about things we see happening in the world, we have to speak up.
And while we’ll have more time in retirement to pursue our passions and better ourselves, there is absolutely to reason to wait on this critical stuff. We may not be able to tackle everything at once, but we can definitely do what’s most important.
Don’t Wait to Take Care of Yourself
Has anyone else said to yourself things like:
When I reach FI, I’ll get back in shape.
When I reach FI, I’ll catch up on sleep.
When I reach FI, I’ll finally start doing yoga/meditating/going to therapy/whatever else I need to do to heal myself.
Life is too short. You’ll never regret taking action now to take care of yourself, but you may one day regret waiting.
Last month I wrote Financial Independence Means No More Excuses, recognizing that we all must prioritize how we spend our time, and that we can’t do it all. But also that excuses get in the way of doing what we need to do for ourselves. For too long, I’ve let my work travel be an excuse for why I couldn’t get back to a high level of fitness and endurance. I told myself that I’d get back into the mountain-climbing shape after we quit our jobs. But that excuse never felt right to me, and I realized that on the current trajectory, I was going to have to spend the first year of our early retirement just rebuilding my fitness.
Spurred on by that realization, I recently decided to stop looking at the barriers and start focusing on the opportunities. And the result is this:
Instead of wasting time in the late afternoon and early evening, I’m hitting the trails. There’s no longer a question about whether I’m hiking or not: If I’m home, I’m on our local trails, and if I’m traveling, I’m hitting the pavement. I walked six miles around Chicago starting at 9 PM one night two weeks ago. Today I hiked seven miles up the steepest trail I could find with a weighted pack. I’ve forced myself to make this my new normal.
I’m not bragging. It took me way too long to do this, to really commit to putting in consistent high mileage most days. To stop making the excuses I’ve been making for years. And it’s definitely a trade-off: I have a lot less time to read blogs and books (though more time for podcasts), I have spent less time with friends and I’m behind on sleep.
But the biggest positive of all is: I do not feel regret every day that I wasted another chance to get healthier. I feel better about myself, and I just plain feel better. If I die tomorrow, I’ll have the peace of knowing that I was taking real action to better myself.
And whatever it is you need to take care of yourself, the weight of the effort required to make a change is quite likely lighter than the weight of the regret of doing nothing. If you feel inspired, stop reading and go outside right now. I’m not joking. A walk around the block could be exactly what you need.
Don’t Wait to Live Your Joy
The very best part of focusing on my fitness for real is this:
My afterwork hikes have become my favorite thing. Work is stressful right now, but getting out into the fresh air makes me feel better without fail every single day.
We are unabashed lovers of the outdoors — it’s a huge focus of our to do list in early retirement, and it’s why we moved to the mountains. But for so long, work has forced us to think of the outdoors as coming in discrete increments, in expeditions we sandwich into too-short vacations, or outings we can only take on the weekend. Making time for the outdoors every day, not just on special days, has brought massive joy to my life.
This is definitely a “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” moment: in our perfect world, we’ll be living a life of capital “J” Joy. Having lots of unstructured time, traveling frequently and seeing new places, filling our days with creative pursuits and outdoor adventures. We don’t have time for all of that right now, but we can still prioritize the small “j” joy. For me right now, the daily fresh air satisfies that.
So maybe you can’t live your full, perfect Joy now, but don’t wait to live at least your little joy.
Don’t Wait to Say What Needs Saying
When tragedies happen, it’s a stark reminder that not only is our own time not guaranteed, but neither is that of the people we care about. So if there’s something you have been meaning to tell someone, do it. Even if it feels like you’ve already waited too long. Even if it feels like it’s not your place. There are few bad times to express love, support, friendship, compassion, empathy.
And if you’re angry about how something is going in the world, don’t just carry that anger around with you. Speak up. Not just on social media, but to the actual people making the decisions. Then say it again, and again and again. It’s the only way anything will ever change.
Don’t Wait to Be You
Whatever that means to you. Live as your full self, and don’t be afraid to share it. The world desperately needs more of us to share our full selves in all of our imperfection and differences. There’s so much more beauty in diversity than in sameness.
Thanks for reading this manifesto of sorts. This is my “say what needs saying” for right now. No comment-spurring questions today, but as always, I’d love to hear from you guys. The community here always makes me feel better about the world. :-)