free to pursue guest post: financially independent despite herself
Happy Monday campers!
Today you are getting served up a lovely dish of “eye opening guest post” by none other than the gourmet word-chef that is Free To Pursue. F2P, as she is otherwise known, is a Canadian lady who managed to escape the rat race and is now living a happier, contented life with her husband. I won’t give any more details as it will spoil the story! It’s worth underlining before we start though that F2P’s new found time to read and write is clearly paying dividends, as her blog is a mine of wisdom and actionable advice on how to live the good life. There are also frequent and highly relevant quotes from various FI themed books and hence many suggestions for your reading list, which is great, except if you aren’t FI yet you probably won’t have time to read them all 🙂
I’ll be back with a postscript of my favourite Free To Pursue posts to give new readers an idea where to start but for now it’s over to F2P….
Financially Independent, Despite Herself
The pull of the marketers’ call is strong. We’re bombarded with messages every day about who we need to be and what products and services will help us get there. No matter what we’ve acquired though, the feeling of finally having what will make life better just doesn’t last and we start looking for the next item that will be the key to feeling we have it “together”.
“As the determinants of high status keep shifting, so, too, naturally, will the triggers of status anxiety be altered.” p. 179, Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
The trouble with these marketing messages is that those we notice most are not those that reinforce purchases already made, but those that inform us of what we need or should strive for next. And hearing and internalizing these messages has nasty consequences, not only on our pocketbook, but on our life choices.
They make us:
- Spend more money, sometimes money we don’t have.
- Work more or harder to maintain or improve our status.
- Stay in a job we hate because we don’t think we can make enough doing something else.
- Spend more of our precious disposable time seeking out and acquiring things (aka shopping).
- Rely on external cues to validate our personal worth.
- Believe our present self is never quite good enough.
Ultimately, the messages keep us in a state of perpetual unhappiness and discontent.
We can’t be happy or grateful in the present when all we do is think about and long for a future state of happiness that will always be beyond our grasp.
“Rather than a tale of greed, the history of luxury could more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma. It is the legacy of those who have felt pressured by the disdain of others to add an extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love.” p. 82, Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
The Ultimate Consumer
For a few decades, I was a marketer’s dream. Starting at age 19, I started filling an emotional void with stuff and various status symbols. I felt that if I acquired enough I would gain the confidence to feel I deserved to be a full-fledged member of the middle class.
Stage #1: It started with accumulating jewellery & clothes. Then I bought a flashy sport motorcycle. Both categories of stuff were possible to use and display as a student and retail worker.
Stage #2: Next came an engagement ring, a wedding, a lavish honeymoon, a new house & furnishings (and associated mortgage), a fully-financed SUV, fancy work clothes & accessories 1, yearly highend vacations, beauty & time-saving services, wining and dining, and the other necessary accoutrements to show we had “arrived”.
“Trophy homes, diamonds of a carat or more, granite countertops, and sport utility vehicles are the primary consumer symbols of the late 1990s.” Source: p. 44, Do Americans Shop Too Much by J. Schor
Stage #3: Then came the need to work never-ending long hours to get the best jobs at work, to actively participate on a board I didn’t believe in because it would help my social standing, and spend time with people doing things I didn’t like because they were the “right” people and the “right” activities to participate in. I also justified all this time away from home with the fact that I was the primary bread winner at the time and I needed to do all I could to provide what we needed.
On paper, I looked like I had it all. The right job, the right guy, the right stuff and the right activities. Inside, I felt hollow. I was tired, unhealthy, depressed & anxious, and never happy with what I had or what I looked like.
“People who are more envious of others, worry more about how much they have, have stronger desires to acquire money and possessions, and place more importance on financial success, are more likely to be depressed and anxious.” Source: p. 172, Born To Buy by J. Schor
I’d always believed I wanted the next promotion. I’d even been told by a number of people at work that it would not be long before I’d be promoted to director and that I’d even “be running the company one day”.
What I started noticing after over 10 years working at the same large firm was that I didn’t want to be a director, a VP or, worse, a president. Sure, they had the stuff, the power & the status, but they had no life. They also had accumulated a lot of personal assets that they were never around to use because they were always at work (huge primary residences, pools, vacation homes, fancy cars). They didn’t have what was most important: time with family and friends and the ability to break away from 24/7 work to do other things that bring meaning to our lives (the introduction of the BlackBerry and other subsequent smartphones took care of that).
The voice in my head and the feeling in my gut about not living the life I wanted to live had been there a lot longer, but the external noise, external expectations and reinforcing messages had always been so much louder.
Luckily, I’d always been fearful of depending on others for financial security and always wanted a fallback position. We’d saved 10-20% of our yearly income for years and quickly repaid our mortgage with the belief that:
- You can’t trust that your employment is secure.
- You can’t trust that you’ll receive a pension, even after years of dedicated service.
- You can’t trust that there will be a social safety net in place to help you when you retire.
As this nest egg grew larger, my inner voice grew stronger and I started to lend it an ear 2. I decided that doing what I was “supposed to do” was not the “good life” and that I wanted to regain balance, finding a life I could be proud of without being beholden to status-driven expectations.
This feeling lead me to go back to school for a degree that had nothing to do with business. If anything, it was a step backwards from my MBA. However, this three years of part-time study in the area of human movement, including a 4-month unpaid sabbatical 3, reinforced my need to break away. It also made me much more aware of the fallacy of chasing material possessions and status-reinforcing activities because I really felt like my life was more complete, self-directed and meaningful. I was feeling like myself again.
Despite some slip ups along the way, including accepting a desirable promotion that made me rethink my path for a short time, I ultimately left my high-paying corporate job of nearly 13 years in my late thirties to run my own part-time business and to spend time on two activities near and dear to my heart: reading and writing.
The Good Life
Our earnings are now much lower than they used to be but that matters little once you have a strong financial cushion and little desire to answer a marketers’ call to spend. That’s what happens when your measures change from external to internal benchmarks as ours have over time—ok, mostly mine…my husband has always been less drawn towards consumption.
We invest our time more purposefully and we’re more aware of our fundamental human needs than ever before. We do work that is meaningful to us while also taking care of ourselves and our family and friends. We know that we can turn down anything that doesn’t fit with what we want to do without having to worry that the financial repercussions will prevent us from living well. We also find we’re in a better position to negotiate paid work we choose to do because we’re not dependent on earned income.
Most importantly, we don’t measure our worth by what we own, but rather by our health & vitality, our level of freedom & independence, and what we’re able to create for ourselves and for those we care about most.
“Being truly wealthy, [Jean-Jacques Rousseau] suggested, does not require having many things; rather, it requires having what one longs for. Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.” Source: p. 42-3, Status Anxiety by A. de Botton
This new recipe for living has had unintended consequences. Not only are we happier as a household, but we’ve actually been building our financial reserves as opposed to depleting them by living a simpler yet more intentional life. We also look and feel better than we used to, thanks to better sleep, better connections with people and more time doing active things than ever before.
We have enough and it’s the best feeling in the world. My greatest regret is that I didn’t seek to create this new life sooner. My greatest fear is that marketers’ siren song will lure me back to consumerism. I think this healthy fear is what keeps my attention on nurturing this new way of thinking and living because it’s the most precious resource I have.
Special thanks to TFS for posting a woman’s perspective on the power of financial security and how it can be achieved…once I gave my head a shake.
What a great story! Now let’s quickly wrap this up with some of my favourite posts from F2P (there are too many to pick from really but here goes)…
Accidentally Happy – Learn how to spend your money to maximise happiness. Spoiler: It don’t involve retail therapy and expensive cars!
Liquid Courage – How building up your stash gives you the balls to live the life you really want to with no compromises, and tips on how to get there.
Urbanitis – I tried living in London and I only lasted a year so I fully agree with the diagnosis here! Being a staunch opposer of long commutes… also contains possibly my favourite ever quote:
To offset the happiness costs of going from no commute to a 22-minute commute, the average person would need to see their income rise by over 1/3—and that’s just to break even.” – p. 63 & p. 65, Happy Money Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
The Most Valuable Lesson My Father Ever Taught Me – A very introspective post and almost unbelievable turnaround of possibly the worst negative into something positive. An inspiring post and a good introduction to the concepts of Stoicism.
Beyond Interest – The Real Cost of Borrowing – I always just thought buying things on credit was just a bad deal mathematically speaking, but F2P makes some great points here on other aspects of why credit purchases are toxic.
Also don’t forget to check out her bucket list as well! Carpe Diem and all that!
Thanks again to F2P for taking the time to write such a great guest post and I hope this has highlighted her blog to some new readers out there.
- That meant LOTS of shoes and purses. I just could not have enough and I realized later they were a drug that helped me feel good when I didn’t like my life at a given moment. ↩
- As an aside, my husband had been telling me for years that I was working too hard and that I should quit certain occupations. He can see clearly much sooner than I can. I guess I’m a slow learner when it comes to what I need. ↩
- During this sabbatical, I spent a few months taking public transportation with my husband, who was also going to school to become a plumber on a separate campus. I felt like I was back in my first year of university over 15 years previously and I have many fond memories of those months spent talking with him in the back of the bus. ↩