Intentionally Left Blank

~ 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. ~

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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?*”.

Her…

“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??

snap-2013-06-04-at-15-16-52

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.

29 thoughts on “Intentionally Left Blank

  1. Jackie

    This really hit home for me!! From the bottom of my heart I’m so thankful to you for writing this! I’m in exactly the same position. I am FI and I just ended a two year relationship. I constantly feel like like “What now?” What’s next? What should I invest in next? Wheres my next rental property to purchase? It’s unsettling to say the least. Thank you for your permission to “leave this page blank”. It may be easier said then done. But I’m going to try. Jackie

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    1. Jackie! I will tell you what my friend told me a while back when I was divorcing and going through my short sales and having a terrible go of everything. Here is the excerpt from a post I wrote a while back:

      “The very next week I found myself scraping dried vomit off the side of the toilet (the tenants, not mine), blathering on to my friend asking her in my own desperation, “what am I supposed to do next??”. I had just left my husband, could barely get up the energy to work, and this studio that I was moving into was behind on payments and soon to be short sold. I had already lost 2 others and this was the last domino to fall. Things looked bleak. After 20 minutes of me crying about the situation my friend took the scrub brush from my hand and made me look her in the eyes. All she said was, “Why do you have to do anything? Just wait. Breathe.”. She was right! I may have been at my bottom, but the difference between me and my tenant was that I was aware of it.* Knowing that, empowered me to dig my way out. I guess all I needed was permission.”

      And sometimes that is all we need. Being FI definitely helps as we really don’t have to do anything. The tricky part is, It also gives us an excuse to not do anything. Sometimes you need to here someone say breathe and other times you have to hear someone tell you to get up, dust yourself off, and move the fuck forward. Knowing the timing for each is key.

      Hang in there and reach out any time!!

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  2. tradergordo

    A lot of people @Marketwatch question the $60/hour, did that factor in investments? Just seemed weird since most people don’t put investment income into $/hour and flight attendants don’t get paid $60/hour (do they?). Was the person you broke up with MMM? That would be funny, you guys seem like a good match on the surface, but it would end up like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates a woman who is exactly like him (it didn’t work for long).

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    1. First off, NO, Pete and I have never dated so let’s stop that rumor before there is a chance for it to start. Great Seinfeld reference though! 🙂

      Secondly, Flight attendants indeed DO get paid $60/hour…after many years in the trade. Nay of us old timers are making 6 digits…not me though. Too much work! Of course, our hourly wage is unlike most peoples jobs. We only get paid when the door is closed and we are pushed away from the gate. If you’d like more info on all the other pay stuff related to FA work, you can read more here: https://thinksaveretire.com/so-you-want-to-be-a-flight-attendant/. Happy reading!

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  3. afriad of success

    Sounds like you are sorta going thru what I am at the moment, which is possibly (maybe?) a FEAR of SUCCESS or in your case, living with success. This happened to me unexpectedly as I was working on my small business and started to realize that I was sabotaging myself AS I was succeeding at something I never thought possible – as the success was becoming more and more real and evident. I realized I was suddenly achieving my dream. I had to ask myself – can i really deal with success? It’s been a slow steady process but I’m trying to focus on a step by step process to remove all barriers so I really can fly! You actually accomplished what you set out to do and now you’re in a weird place, maybe part of it is you’d thought you’d never have this problem. GL to you!

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    1. It’s so funny you should say this because I wrote a post about it this very thing and, to be honest, I am not sure if I ever published it or not. I will have to check through my draft folder. I know there is another on Imposter Syndrome which kind of ties in as well (also in draft!).

      In the case of FI, I have already succeeded so there isn’t much for me to sabatage here, however, being one of the mouthpieces for it makes me very uncomfortable. Not because I don’t believe in my journey but because I don’t really need others picking it apart. What if I got something wrong? What if my numbers or what if I don’t add up? In the end, none of t really matters. This is my story and that part can’t be changed.

      It sounds like you are slowly coming through the other side so congrats to you. I am starting to say yes to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have before so that may be a sign that I am getting there too. Day by day we will emerge a stronger, wiser version of ourselves. Thank you for sharing with me!

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  4. This was a beautiful read! Thank you for sharing! It reminded me very much of a time and place in my life, I was in a few years back.
    Then the next chapter just…happened….unplanned…and much sooner than I would have thought…and a bit different from what I had imagined….
    But when it was there presenting itself, it quickly became very clear that this was it…the opportunity to jump into that next part of my story!! And I jumped with no regrets.
    I too have a bunch of drafts from back in that time, that I never published. So thank you and kudos to you, for having the courage to do so!

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  5. Great post! I love reading your thoughts! And I guess our paths will not cross in the sky any time soon! 🤣

    It sounds to me like you are experiencing the “bardo” right now. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the the state between death and rebirth. The bardo offers a great opportunity for liberation. Go within and find your source.

    What an amazing place to be where you can do anything you want! You have cut away all the fluff and condensed it down to what you need. Maybe explore a way to do this with your consciousness which is the ultimate frontier of our existence and an opportunity to transcend the physical?

    Call/text me if you want me to try to explain this better. 💖

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  6. i can’t help but use the analogy about the dog who finally caught the car. i did something similar late last year when all the money was straight and it felt like that project was done. i needed another project so i decided that fitness would be a pretty good one. i always figured as long as you’re not going backwards then just chillin’ in place and sorting it out is harmless or even beneficial. i was divorced and dating in my mid 30’s and it kinda sucked.

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  7. jenny

    Excellent post! Not a big car racing fan but I think they usually do a few laps before they line up and the race starts? That’s what my life has felt like this last year. Very busy with lots of changing scenery but I don’t feel I’ve gone anywhere really. It’s not the worst place to be but there also isn’t a lot of satisfaction in it.

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    1. You’re just revving your engine for the race to start!! I can relate.

      This isn’t my first blank page moment in life but it is the first where I am keenly self aware which has made all of the difference. I know who I am and what drives me but I haven’t figured out how to translate that to the next chapter. It’s like a puzzle I have to put it together piece by piece but I have no idea what the picture is. Looking forward to figuring it out. 🙂

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  8. I think I’ve been between chapters for a large portion of my adult life. I’ve taken some looong pauses too. Sometimes I’m not even 100% sure if I’m on to the next chapter or still on a pause. There’s often plenty of grey area.

    You’ll figure it out. Heck, we’re both FI, we’ve got that part figured out. The rest will come 🙂

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  9. I recently had a “chapter” end this past Winter. I am not wondering what to do now, in fact I’m even more focused to retire this Fall, sell my place and become a full time nomad in my vehicle. I absolutely miss parts of the relationship, but I also enjoy having less balls to juggle as chief problem solver for most everyone in my life, such that I can really hit the home stretch with the needed planning and finishing touches to my draw down strategy. As someone who likes to check off lists and chase goals, I too tend towards “what’s next?!” so I wonder what life will be like with no relationship to pursue, no projects to finish at work, no kids, no commitments period. It will be the first time in my life I’ll truly be free to do as I like, and though this goal chaser has some worries he won’t find meaning in life post-retirement, that pales in comparison to the upside. Heck, a bit of volunteering always leaves me appreciative and perks me up. Like I tell my close friends… “I’ve spent half my life doing what others tell me to do… clean your room, do your schoolwork, work harder, it seems fair I get to spend the other half doing as I please.” If that means a whole lot of nothing for the time being, so be it! I haven’t had time to stay up to date w/ your blog, but I’m so happy to hear you’re living the FI life. Rock on….

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    1. Wow – seems like you have a lot going on too!! You’re in a winding donw phsase and ready to move to the next. It’s clear you have thought a lot about the next steps. Looking forward to something is always better than looking back. I can’t wait to hear how van life treats you!! I only did it for a month and as much as I liked it, I missed a lot of things about having a home base. That may also be due to the fact I was in my CRV which is pretty tiny when you factor in the 60lb ball of fur I brought with me.

      I too have struggled with meaning as a whle but not really in the day to day. So I now think of my purpose as a daily practice and not an overall arch to who I am and what life is about. It took a while fo rme to reframe that, especially when I tend to surround myself with people drawn to a specific purpose or passion project.

      Keep me posted on your travels!!

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      1. I have always enjoyed learning things, but in the past it’s been more of a need vs. want with big corporate continually pushing me to prove my existence in the business world. No more! I am ~really~ looking forward to having the time to study behavioral psychology, computer programming, writing, and history as well as volunteer. My MBTI (ENTJ) always has me wondering why people do what they do. I find people and how they got to where they are in life as well as what makes them tick intriguing. Everyone’s journey is unique. I look forward to redefining my purpose as well. If you’ve come across some good books/blogs/YT channels for that during your down time, please share.

        As for travels, first stop will be:
        https://www.cheaprvliving.com/rtr/

        I do recall your adventure. I’ll be in a similarly sized RAV4 Hybrid. The hybrid allows me to run A/C during those unseasonably hot nights. I can’t imagine fitting a dog in there now that I’m semi-living out of mine. 😮 I have the ability to go back to sticks and bricks if it does not work out, we’ll see.

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  10. Abigail @ipickuppennies.net

    Newly divorced, my next chapter is starting, and I’m still waiting to see what it has in store. I’m sure there will be times when I need/have a blank page. The good thing about a blank page is that it makes us extra keen for the next chapter.

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    1. Yes!! I too am divorced so I know where you are. That blank page is so important to healing yourself to be the healthiest version of yourself. And hopefully the healthiest version of yourself attracts the healthiest version of your next love. ❤️

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  11. Oh gosh, I really love this! I went through that blank slate for a while last year (2018) and it was SO hard and confusing to explain externally. I’m really excited for my next chapter coming up though!

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    1. Yeah for the next chapter!! And I know what you mean about externalizing…though this post went through a few variations, I think I eventually boiled it down to something somewhat cohesive. At least enough for you to recognize so that’s enough for me!! Best wishes for your next chapter. 🙂

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  12. Bianca: I loved this article…. very transparent of your new season your in…. we all go through them, some smoothly, some bumpy. I wish you smooth sailing through yours once you find your path that seems to be right in front of you. Dear daughter, I have every reason to know you’ll come out of this “funk” on top, but if you ever need me, I’m here for you. xoxo

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  13. Powerful stuff, B. The good thing about writing our own story is that it’s literally a choose your own adventure book! Is it a comedy, drama, romance, murder mystery (hope not!), or some combination of them all?
    You’ve walked this path before, overcoming heartache and you did it from a much worse financial position (even if that doesn’t matter one iota in matters of the heart). Plus you’ve got a wonderful community in your corner, and we’re cheering you on at every step.
    I have every confidence that you’ll be back on track in no time at all.

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    1. Thanks, doll! I’m really doing quite well. I’m just in this weird space of what’s next and I’m guessing other people are there too. Why not share? It’s funny you mention the Choose Your Own Adventure series…I’m certain I wrote a post on that but I’m not so sure I published it! I’ll have to go back through my 60 drafts. 😂

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