Today is a significant day in my early retired life: it’s the day that Work Optional, my first book, turns one year old. I feel like I should be able to say that it feels like just yesterday that the book came out, but it doesn’t. It feels like years ago. 2019 was the longest-feeling year of my life, in (mostly) the best ways possible. And by any measure, it was one of the most memorable.
I’ve also recently celebrated other milestones: two years of early retirement as of the end of 2019, and five (!) years of blogging here as of two weeks ago.
All those milestones make it a good time to reflect.
An Ecuador Encore
Before we get into those reflections, I’m excited to share that I’m headed back to Ecuador this summer for more Chautauqua fun, and for those able to spend on the travel and event fees (a great deal for the all-inclusive package, but still real money, of course!), I hope you’ll consider joining me. I found Ecuador to be such a welcoming country where I felt super comfortable even with my beginner Spanish skills, and the event itself is something special: a time to bond deeply with new friends in a beautiful setting. You can go just for the event week, or add on extra time to tour the mainland, see the Galapagos Islands or hop over to Peru or Bolivia next door. I’ll be there for both weeks this year, which each offer something different, but both feature some of my absolute favorite people in all of personal finance land:
Week 1: August 22-29, 2020 – Join me, Kiersten Saunders from Rich & Regular, Kara Perez from Bravely (and my The Fairer Cents cohost), and Cheryl Reed who organizes the Chautauquas — all three incredibly smart, rad women who are a blast to hang out with, too. Last year, I was a part of the first Chautauqua with an all-women speaker lineup, and this year we’re taking it a step farther and offering week 1 as an event specifically for women (which of course includes trans women and nonbinary folx who relate more to the female experience). I recognize that not everyone can take a week off from life and fly to Ecuador, so don’t worry! I’m still going to offer Cents Positive retreats this year at a lower price point. Stay tuned. But if you can swing it, nothing replaces that week in the Ecuador, and last year we had some really wonderful discussions among the largely women participants.
Week 2: August 29-September 5, 2020 – Join me, JD Roth of Get Rich Slowly, both Piggy & Kitty from Bitches Get Riches and Cheryl Reed. Week 2 is for everyone, and like last year, we’ll be digging into life purpose and post-FI life, and you can get one-on-one time with any of the speakers to talk about your specific plans or anything else you wish. JD, Piggy and Kitty are all genuinely fantastic and funny humans, both for their knowledge and insights and for their excellent company, and I know week 2 will be a blast.
If you’re interested in either week, check out the Chautauqua site for all the info you need. I’m excited to meet some of you in Ecuador!
Other Places to Engage
I’m blogging here less often than I once did, but I’m still very much around if you know where to find me. Come join the discussion in these places:
- Instagram – I do a Q&A on Saturdays in Instagram stories, and regularly post stories from early retired life, including lots of photos from my travels and DIY projects, like a recent tutorial on growing sprouts at home on the cheap.
- Twitter – I share lots of relevant content and discuss post-FI life with folks on the platform.
- The Fairer Cents – The podcast I cohost about economic inequality, particularly as it pertains to women. It’s not a FIRE podcast, but we cover all kinds of things applicable to those who think about money and care about the world.
A Time for Reflection That Pushes Me
Since the promo period ended for Work Optional, I’ve been reflecting. A lot. The recent finale of The Good Place resonated with me like crazy (don’t worry, no spoilers, but go watch the whole series if you haven’t!), because the afterlife is in so many ways a perfect metaphor for early retirement. And the questions that arise in both cases are (apparently, since I’ve never experienced an afterlife), “What comes after you’ve checked everything off your list? What’s there to give life meaning when everything is perfect and easy?”
I haven’t achieved everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve, but I’m sure coming close, at least on the stuff that’s more brain-focused than physical. (Nowhere near checking off climbing El Capitan, for instance. I probably need to let that dream go.) I had a career I’m proud of, I retired early, I got published in my second act, I got to give my dream talk at FinCon last year, I’ve gotten to travel to so many interesting places, I’ve had more time with friends and family, I’ve become functional in multiple languages and the list goes on. I’ve been so, so fortunate. I know it’s crazy to say, and it flies in the face of everything I’ve ever written on the topic, but the truth is that I could see getting a little bit bored if I just keep doing more of the same, if I just keep living this charmed and easy life. Not bored in a day-to-day, “what am I going to do to pass the time?” sense, but bored in a big picture, “what does it all add up to?” sense.
Deep down, I know that what I’m really craving is a new challenge. I love this blog and I’ll keep writing here, but continuing to write about early retirement is not a challenge. Doing the same activities over and over is not a challenge. Traveling where the traveling is easy and comfortable is not a challenge. Honestly, even doing a lot of challenging things is not a challenge, because I know I can do them, or at least I know I can learn how to do them.
Related post: Don’t Let Life Get Too Easy in Early Retirement
What I’ve realized in my reflections that I need most now is a real challenge, which to me, means something that I am not sure that I can actually do, something where failure is a very real possibility.
In other words: something that scares me.
Just as I’ve written that we shouldn’t let ourselves get too comfortable in retirement, I’ve realized that that includes redefining what a challenge even means. When I took on the task of writing Work Optional, I saw that as a challenge, most especially because it was something I’d never done before. And it absolutely was an undertaking. Researching and writing 80,000 words is no joke under any circumstances, and more so when you’re creating a cohesive flow for people and weaving together both life and financial concepts. But looking back, I don’t see it as a challenge any longer. So long as I sat down and did the work, I would arrive at the finish line. There was never a question in my mind of whether I could actually deliver what I’d promised to my publisher, though like any writer, I absolutely doubted the quality of what I was writing at various steps along the way.
In the last year, I’ve come to understand that big task and challenge are not necessarily the same thing. And while non-challenging big tasks still ask a lot of us, I see now how important it is to include real challenges in early retired life, too. And that means diving into things where the conclusion is not foregone before we’ve begun, where the possibility of failure is real and where we’re at least a little bit scared.
Doing the Thing: The Collision of My Purpose and My Fear
For virtually all of my life, I’ve wanted to be a part of making the world better. Back in high school, I was president of the environmental club, leading all the way to my 16-year career in political and social change consulting aimed at helping good causes be successful. It’s the same desire that drives me to spend time on The Fairer Cents podcast despite not needing to earn money: because I want to engage more people in conversations around economic inequality. The desire to help, however I can, is woven into my being, and I now find myself with time to spend on that.
While I’m proud of Work Optional, much of it even happening in the first place was dumb luck. I happened to have a big enough blog at the time when FIRE got popular enough to warrant multiple publishers investing in books about some version of early retirement. I didn’t make the movement get trendy, and I didn’t invent any of the mathematical principles that underpin it. I didn’t have to fight hard and swim upstream to get published. I simply found a different way to frame it all and talk about it. And I’ve checked the “get published” item off my life list. It’s done. I could easily stop there. Or I could write additional straightforward, non-challenging personal finance books. But that’s not ultimately where my passion lies, and the thought of doing that doesn’t scare me in the least – or, it does, but only that I’d be afraid of getting bored.
Where my passion lies is in making the world better, and what scares me is taking on a much more ambitious, much harder to crack book topic. The last year taught me that that’s what I need to run toward, even though I could easily coast through life. But in the vein of the Shawshank Redemption quote, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” I don’t want to coast. That feels like getting busy dying. I want to truly live in early retirement, and that means pushing myself.
I’m excited (and scared) to share that I’m doing exactly that. I officially have a publishing deal to write my second book, tentatively titled Spend Like You Give a $h*t, which my agent described perfectly in the deal announcement:
I know this will be a hard book to write because otherwise it would already have been written. Tons of books tell you how to be an environmentally responsible consumer, but the book I desperately want to read myself does not exist: one that helps us think about how best to use our money in a flawed economic system in ways that don’t harm the planet or other people, the piece so often missing from environmental discussions. Sure, we could all just stop consuming entirely, but then what about the billions of people who need some form of consumption to earn their livelihood?
There is not a single easy answer in what I want to cover, and that’s the part that scares me most. But I also think we badly need a book like this given where we are with rising inequality and a worsening climate crisis, and I’m determined to make it happen. I’m sure that others have thought about writing a similar book, but fear has convinced them not to take it on, and I’m trying instead to lean into that fear. Leaning into it feels like getting closer to my highest purpose.
The new book won’t come out until late 2021, and I’ll share when the pre-order option is available, sometime next year, so this will be a longer road than Work Optional was. I don’t know yet where that road will lead me, whether it will be scarier than I think, less scary or something totally unexpected. Whether I’ll feel like I’m at a dead end and curse myself for taking it on. Whether I’ll feel happy or sad or just relieved when it’s done. But I’m doing the thing. It feels hard, and that feels right.
Doing the Thing That Scares You
Not everyone has a blog or aspires to write books, so the lesson here isn’t a literal one. Your goal isn’t to do the thing that scares me. It’s to do the thing that scares you, whatever that looks like, and whatever that means to you in each season of life. Writing this book is what scares me and feels like getting busy living now, but a few years down the road, it could be something entirely different. I’m open to that, and excited about it. Honestly, taking on this daunting challenge makes me feel more excited about the future, because it’s exhilarating to know how much I can still learn and grow and push myself. That’s something I hope I can always continue. Leaning into the yang so the yin will be that much sweeter. I will know at the end of my life that I tried, that I gave a sh*t. That’s what I want to be able to look back on.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What scares you but also speaks to you in some way? What lines up to your higher purpose but feels unachievable, but is worth considering anyway? I encourage you to really think about this, or even if you’re far from financial independence, to get yourself comfortable with the concept, so that when those scary ideas come up, you don’t dismiss them out of hand. Please share your thoughts!