In 2010 my husband and I packed up our family in a camper van and travelled for a year on his self-funded research project. We drained our retirement savings, believing only that it would all work out and why wait to retire when death could come first.
We budgeted ourselves to make the time last but we didn’t worry about letting the funds run out. Fortunately, we knew I had a job to return to. I didn’t quite trust that the safety net of the universe would be there if I didn’t weave it myself. We let go of a lot of our stuff—but not all of it. We stored things that we didn’t want to have to re-purchase.
Many people found our travel story inspiring but we found it very ordinary. It was a conscious choice to live a particular dream and while living it, it felt very normal and regular to us and we’d often wonder why others weren’t doing it too and then we’d remember…oh yeah…they can’t…because they believe they can’t. They’re working to pay for the big house with the big taxes and all the stuff in the house and the vehicles and the 2-3 weeks vacation and the Christmas debt and to fill up their retirement savings bank account and save for their children’s education—just like we did for several years. And they are stuck in the cycle of work, make money, spend money, work, which is all well and good if they are doing a job they love and making choices about their priorities that feel good to them. But often people would look at us and say, “I wish I could do that.” And they can…but they might have to give something up to do it—like the big-screen tv or the speedboat or the cigarettes or whatever it is that holds them back—maybe it’s just the belief holding them back; maybe they can have what they want while keeping what they have.
When I was a kid, people used to say my family was “rich”—my dad had acquired a large fishing boat and several rental houses. We had a swimming pool in our back yard, a telephone in every room. My dad bought every new gadget. We always had lots of food and booze. My parents flew to Hawaii every year. They were appearances that made us look “rich”, but we knew what we really were—heavily mortgaged. And we were “living”, making choices, and prioritizing what my dad wanted. And I do that now—prioritize life, not a lifetime of saving up for it.
We all make choices, prioritizing what feels right to us in the moment, or what we are told/led to believe is right. I like to challenge the status quo, really look at it and question it and see and feel what is right for me, right now, rather than relying on old patterns of thought created by environment and culture in my era.
My choices about priorities relating to money are usually met with two kinds of reactions from people…the “must be nice” reaction which can be interpreted as “I wish I had those options to make those choices, I am so hard done by, why are things better for you, my life sucks and yours should too”, and the “must be nice” reaction which can be interpreted as “Wow, that’s really amazing what you are doing. Way to go! Enjoy it! You deserve it. I wish I could do it. I feel inspired and hopeful that maybe I can.”
I am very grateful for the latter. Thank you.
The response I’d like to give to both reactions is, “Yes. Yes, it is nice. It is nice to know that I’ve worked hard, saved hard, and made choices that brought me to this place where I am now. Not all my choices were positive but most of them eventually led me in a positive direction and they all brought me to here.”
I’d like to hold my head up while speaking but I fear my eyes show that inside I am pushing “down, guilt, down”. There’s something about feeling good that bothers other people. They compare what they see on the table and they think they’re on the losing side, but they forget that underneath is a lifetime of values, beliefs, luck, and choices all rolled into the characters now standing on the game board—we are not comparable. And our positions will not remain static—we will continue to roll the dice and make choices. I know not to cry when I’m behind but I need to remind myself that it’s ok to celebrate when I’m ahead.
I’ve just given up my job—my security blanket of almost twenty years. It’s an excellent outdoor job with exercise, great pay, benefits, pension and perks. Am I crazy? No. Am I stupid? No. Will I miss it? Yes. Do I love it? Yes. Then why? A few reasons…but mostly because we have an opportunity to be with our kids right now for these precious years while they are young. We’re creating a lifestyle that offers us more freedom and a void we hope to fill with meaningful (community/global) activity. It must be nice. Yes. It is. Head held high.
And when our kids have left the nest, and we are working to pay the bills while everyone we know is retired and travelling and collecting pensions, we can say, “Must be nice.” We’ll feel joy for them because we’ll know how good it feels to accomplish goals and reap the rewards. And about ourselves, I hope we will also be able to say, “Yes it is. It is nice. Right where we’re at. Doing what we’re doing. Because of the choices we made.”