~ A quick THANK YOU to all who commented, emailed, text, and called in response to this post. Hearing your stories and how this post impacted you have left me verklempt. I literally do not have the words to express how much it means to me – to not only hear your words of encouragement but also for you to share your vulnerabilities with me. I hold them dear. You have restored my purpose in writing and sharing my life stories which is invaluable to me at this moment. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ~
A couple months ago I was interviewed for a feature on Marketwatch and a few days ago a woman emailed me to follow up with some questions. I had no idea what was coming (I should really start asking for those questions in advance) but I figured the usual mainstream FIRE related mumbo jumbo like tips for beginners or how did I get here. Most of these questions I have answered before. With confidence. No hesitation. Almost always saying too much because, you know, I can’t help myself. But this time was different. This time I stumbled on almost every question asked. I found myself searching for words that should not only be at the tip of my tongue but should easily fall off of it. And they didn’t. By the time she got to the “What do you want to do when you retire?” question – I was an internal mess. So what happened?
I mentioned my crazy year in the last post but what I didn’t do is explain that most of that moving around was due to a relationship that no longer exists. And though everything is fine, we are friendly, life will go on blah blah blah, the end of that relationship also signifies the end of what I thought the last 1.5 years would lead to. That is the tough part to reconcile. Because when I think about my FIRE journey and what comes after retirement what I thought, at least for the past 1.5 years, is no longer my future. Turns out, that part of my life was temporary. But that alone didn’t throw me, it goes deeper. This year, despite everything else, I also reached FI.
By the time you reach FI, you already have more money than most people around you. You are way past the majority of savers, maybe even past your own parents in terms of retirement savings. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about something else. By the time you reach FI, you have trained your brain to strive for something. To reach an impossible goal. To jump one of the highest hurdles of life. You’ve managed to become a black belt in saying no to the shit you don’t need in favor of the thing you really want…financial freedom. And now you have it. And?? Immediately your brain wants to know what’s next? What is your new goal? Where is the next hurdle? You trained your brain to crave and consume efficiency with your time and your money. Have you thought of what you might feed it next? I didn’t.
As I talked to my friend Marla last night, I failed to mention my earlier phone interview. To be honest, I think I had already blocked that conversation with the woman from my head. All I knew and all Marla knew was that I was in a funk. Something from that day wasn’t sitting well and at some point, our discussion turned to the concept of “chapters”.
It is common for people to refer to their lives in chapters. I’m pretty sure I have done it here a time or two. Similar to my breakup and the end of that relationship, reaching FI is another chapter that has come to an end. I no longer need the benefit of a paycheck so working isn’t a necessity. And for some reason, the blank canvas in front of me is terrifying.
In a book it is simple. You turn the page and the next chapter begins. It’s clean. It’s quick. Again, it’s simple. In life, there is a lot of shit that happens between chapters that nobody talks about. It’s dark. It’s messy. It’s complicated. But we aren’t trained to deal with dark, messy, and complicated. We are trained for the immediate fix. Everything about the hard parts scream NEXT CHAPTER PLEASE!! And just like that, you start to seek a fix. Anything to move through the uncertainty faster.
Marla and I discussed the end of these chapters and together we had an epiphany. She was trying to fluff me up with “It’s just the end of a chapter.” To which me in my shit storm of funk replied “Then why hasn’t the next one started yet? Why is it taking so long?*”.
“Maybe that is why sometimes they have those “intentionally left blank” pages.”
And I have never felt more seen.
Think about it for a second. Think about the last chapter of your life that ended. Whether it be a relationship or a goal you reached like me. Or possibly a business that failed or even a business that succeeded so well that you were able to sell it and even make a profit. A chapter can end on a high note and effect you just as much as one that ends on a low note. Because it isn’t about the success of it. It is about the end of something. The fact that the space it took to hold it no longer has a purpose and something else now has to fill that space. What did you do when it ended? Did you fill the time with something/someone else or did you wallow in the hole it left behind? Did you jump to the next chapter or digest the one you just finished? Are you using distractions to not feel the loss of something??
I’ve decided not to jump. This is the phase of my life where I am intentionally leaving it blank. I am not working nor am I seeking work. I am not with anyone, and I am DEFINITELY not seeking a partner. I don’t need any distractions. All I am doing now is holding space for myself. Giving myself time to heal emotionally. Giving myself time to refocus my future and what it is that I want, separate from anything else that someone wants from me. Giving myself time just to be and accept that it is ok that I don’t currently have a plan. It’s ok that I’m FI and don’t have an answer for “What am I going to do when I retire?” when the retirement itself is 3 years away. Surely I can figure something out before then?? I know myself better than to let these blank pages become a chapter of their own. Because being intentional is what got me to FI. And being intentional is what will bring me to my next chapter…when I am ready.
If you are struggling between chapters I give you full permission to stand in one place. Take your time. Calm your brain to stop asking what’s next. Slow your heartbeat so the next person it jumps for is worth the risk to love again. Take time to embrace your success before moving on to the next big thing. We all know that success doesn’t happen overnight, even if it looks like it from the outside. Cherish how far you have come. Hold space for yourself and let your friends hold space for you too. Take this time to learn when it is to push yourself further and when you should just stand still. It is ok to leave this page intentionally blank.
Until next time…
*In an effort to be transparent, just because I found the concept of FI at 36 and became FI by 40 does not mean it only took 4 years to get there. I had a good head start when I found it which is documented somewhere in this blog and you are welcome to go searching.
**I realize I may very well be in my next chapter and not know it, but for the sake of a good story, let’s ignore that for now. 20/20 vision is rarely seen in the moment.