Don’t Think Up. Think Down.

When it comes to overcoming fear and uncertainty, it helps to think "down", not "up". Let me explain.

I’ve had some animated discussions with some folks lately about what it means to have “enough” when it comes to financial independence. The answers vary wildly but there’s a common theme for some of us: the number can insidiously creep ever upward. 

Note: I'm definitely struggling with this issue. I keep taking steps to free myself of the need for more savings and, though my level of comfort with the idea is growing, let's just say I'm still a work in progress. ;)

Most of us are aware of the “want-buy-want more” cycle. As soon as we commit to liking or wanting a particular type of good, we can become insatiable. That can apply to homes, cars, vacations, clothes, sport & entertainment products, restaurants, almost anything that we feel helps us create our identity—the best reflection of “us”. For me, it seemed to be all of the above before I woke up and left the mainstream.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about the accumulation of "enough" savings (aka financial security). We can start with a target. Let’s say the target is the rule of 4%, which has us saving 25 times our yearly expenses. For many, a cool million or much less would do it. 

We eagerly start out with that goal, which is definitely a big step in a very positive direction.

We work at it and save, save, save…then, lo and behold..we achieve it!

That’s FANTASTIC! But…Then what? 

Achieving a big goal can be the scariest of situations. We get nervous because though we always thought things would be different, we're still who we are. We haven't fundamentally changed. We don't feel...ready. The result for many of us is that we start to rationalize that we just need a little more preparation, a little more money. 

We just need another few hundred thousand or more because:

  • The market is a little uncertain right now.
  • What if we want a different lifestyle in ten years?
  • Our home’s value might plummet.
  • We might want to move to a more expensive part of the country.
  • We might need to… [fill in the blank].

Fear and uncertainty are a b*tch. However, if our personal situation is similar to the above, there’s a solution.

Think Down, Not Up

We always think upward, toward the next goal or possession in a way that’s in line with what we’ve been doing. We look into the future and ignore the present's potential. That’s what we’re taught for years and it’s hard to unlearn.  

But once we’ve achieved the latest target, we need to stop and think about what we would've thought about the achievement when we set the target in the first place. What did it mean to us? What did we promise ourselves we'd do? Are we being true to our fundamental selves?

We have to retrain ourselves to stop looking at the sky and to look around for a bit and take in the sights right where we are. We need to try out our new level of financial security for a while. We need to get comfortable with it before we decide that more is better, because it seems that “more is better” is the easiest argument to win in today’s world. It's the default and it can rob us of our best judgement. It's easier to just keep going than to stop and think.

The default position of "more" is extremely expensive for a number of reasons:

  • It costs us time, possibly years of our life, which is what we didn’t want to pay more of when we set our financial goals.
  • It costs us freedom. We’ve created the opportunity to have more freedom but we refuse to take advantage of it.
  • It can *gasp* make us want to use some of our hard-earned savings to jump back into the rat race by upping our living standards and status.
  • Make us less happy because we get the nagging feeling that we may never feel we have "arrived". We'll just stay stuck living the same day over and over again. 

Ultimately, we relinquish the opportunity to choose what’s next and stay with the status quo that made us want to become financially independent in the first place!

How can we retrain ourselves to look down?

...or at least at eye level. :)

First, we need to appreciate our present situation. We really need to take stock of where we are and what possibilities our curent reality affords us. And I mean REALLY look at it from the outside in. We’ve sacrificed to get where we are and others would kill to be in our position. This is BIG. 

Once we’re owning this reality, we need to reframe our situation to some point beyond the status quo. If we’re not ready to pull the plug on the job then we need to take small steps, just like we did when we started our savings journey. We need to start living the new lifestyle we’ve been saying we deeply desire, but in bite-sized pieces.

Examples of small steps towards the full FI lifestyle:

  • Taking longer vacations.
  • Reducing work hours (maybe by 20% or even 50% like this blogger has chosen to do?).
  • Going down to one earned family income.
  • Going back to school part time.
  • Give your time to a cause you’ve always wanted to support.
  • Moving to part-time work or a shared work situation.
  • Living on nothing but passive income for a pre-determined period, just to try it out.
  • Requesting telework.
  • Scratch something off your bucket list.
  • Learning some self-sufficiency skills like home repair, gardening, sewing, cooking.
  • Rightsizing your living situation.
  • Staying at home with the kids for a while.
  • Requesting a leave of absence (sabbatical).
  • Taking a severance package if it becomes available.

Making some sort of a change offers many benefits, one of them is that it changes our perspective. We let more variables into our lives and it makes change feel easier because it expands our comfort zone. It leads us to want to try more, do more. 

Once that comfort zone is expanded, it almost never contracts. This new way of viewing our capabilities can lead us toward even bigger steps:

  • Quitting the J-O-B!
  • Experimenting with extended travel.
  • Going back to school.
  • Volunteering (days, not hours).
  • Taking on a big project, like remodelling a bathroom.
  • Writing a book or undertaking a similar all-consuming project that would be difficult to tackle mindfully in our previous life.
  • Trying out a new profession (without worrying about the paycheck!).

Changing the status quo is the most powerful thing we can do to start living in the present as opposed to thinking that our future selves will be more ready…whatever “ready” means.

Mr. F2P and I are working our way from some small steps to bigger ones. Though I've moved on from a full-time corporate job to part-time coaching, he's still full time. We're ready to start dabbling with more flexibility in his work schedule to travel more or tackle other items on his wish list. We're moving in the right direction and, as long as we stay focused, I think we'll manage to get our head fully in the FI game.

Are you struggling with when or how to take the leap into a new or different lifestyle? 

Image credit/copyright: TeddyBear[Picnic] /