Do I Know Who I Am? Can Anyone Really Answer That Question?

Reflections from three years living a financially-independent lifestyle.

It’s now been three years since I walked away from my job in corporate Canada. I find it surprising that it feels like it’s been so long and yet still feels so new. 

I initially called the move away from demanding salaried work a financial-independence leap—which it was—but I think that definition missed the point. Living with the means to do what we want—thanks to having a lifestyle that’s in line with our means—is more than just about being able to pay our bills and pay for the activities we want to engage in. For me it’s about being able to reclaim—rediscover even—who I am, only I didn’t know it at the time. 

“Do You Know Who I Am?”

To consider our petty status worries from the perspective of a thousand years hence is to be granted a rare, tranquillizing glimpse of our own insignificance. Vast landscapes can have much the same anxiety-reducing effect on us as ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time.
— Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (2004), p. 238-9.

The more I experience what feels like a perpetual yet constantly changing sabbatical, I realize that those most prone to ask others “Do you know who I am?” are the ones the answer eludes most. The only way to answer this question is with what drives the person professionally: title, status, money, power, prestige, influence. Any narrow definition that serves as an appropriate answer is rendered meaningless, even ridiculous, when the social context is stripped away.

We glean so much self-worth from our careers and our jobs that it can be really difficult to opt out of what when it feels like other people have defined your success for you. And it’s really hard to redefine that for yourself.
— Tess Vigeland, Leap (2015), p. 94.

It’s been a great exercise for me to shed the corporate title and the illusion that accompanies it. Even with a fancy title and a cool-sounding job, a widget is still a widget. I filled a role, I was replaceable, my time in it transient no matter the circumstance. Given these characteristics, why do so many of us assign such importance to our position?

I think the answer might be that it give us a convenient response that pardons our refusal to look any deeper for meaning behind our thoughts, actions, even purpose. The greater the title, the less we need to look at our lives, at ourselves and consider how little time we really have in this world; a type of tunnel vision akin to denial of our mortality.

When The Deafening Quiet Creeps In

The moment I left my job, I was elated. I knew I wanted to leave and I was pleased that I had the guts to pull the plug. Yes, I was high on liquid courage and that did help tremendously. 

The feeling I had was akin to how we feel when we start a new relationship. There’s the thrill of the unknown, the passion, the excitement. I was excited by what each day would bring.

Like a glutton, I devoured books the way I’d always dreamed I would. I soaked in the sights and sounds of the world around me when I walked and biked. I slept like a rock and woke up early with no need for an alarm. And I started to feel more creative than ever before, which lead to the birth of this blog as one of my outlets. 

Much of this is still true, but I have to confess that I had a trying time about a year or so after I left. Once the fanfare of my newfound freedom quieted, it left room for a little voice to creep in. You know the one.


It may be in our DNA to constantly try to earn more than we can ever spend, even if that effort makes us unhappy and deprives us of other valuable commodities, such as leisure time.
— Tess Vigeland, Leap (2015), p. 165.

Had I done the right thing? Had I killed my career? Why was I leaving so much money on the table? Was what I was doing now worthwhile? Was I investing my time wisely? Was I growing as a person? Was I living a meaningful life?

What helped me answer these questions was being presented with two opportunities to return to corporate life full time. I felt very fortunate to be presented with these offers for two reasons:

  1. It quieted the questions regarding my ability to return at some point in the future if the desire compelled me to go back. Of course I could go back if I wanted.
  2. It confirmed that I'd made the right choice because what I’d be giving up became clear and I felt the cost would be too high: the freedom to achieve balance, a rediscovered ability to to think on a deeper level, the joy of being productive on my terms—despite some hiccups—while not having to report to anyone.
…I believe that you know, deep in your belly, what you have to do and what’s best for you. The hurdle you have to get over is the rest of your body, your head and your heart, which are actively telling you to ignore your gut.
— Tess Vigeland, Leap (2015), p. 22.

Mr. F2P said he was surprised when I turned down not one but both opportunities. He thought I’d take the second one. I asked him if he felt that I should have and he said “No” admitting that he didn’t know if I’d be able to see it that way (sometimes I don't). I think in a way he was pleased, even though he himself has chosen to participate in the workforce full time (boss and all), at least for now. 

The experience did lead me to further consider what I missed about corporate life (other than a title) and I found my answers:

  • Working with a team of smart people: collaborating, problem-solving, creating
  • Using skills I use less often now: speaking, planning, coaching/mentoring

What I appreciate about having the flexibility to adjust course is that there’s nothing that prevents me from following opportunities in these areas and that’s exactly what I’ve started doing. In the last year, I’ve been doing more coaching, writing and speaking. I’ve also collaborated with others, mostly on a one-on-one basis, but that could change soon to include small teams. I find these opportunities invigorating and actively seek out more of them.

I’m fascinated with how I’m evolving and morphing into doing more of what I want, and that what I want itself changes over time. I’m intrigued and excited to both drive and witness this evolution. 

I’m discovering that living FI is so much more than living without a set agenda and external obligations. It’s about letting your passion and desires drive your choices and your personal growth. It’s turning the focus inward, where it belongs.

Do I Know Who I Am?

I’m still working on the answer to the all-important question because I’m having to continually rediscover what I’m about, what I care about. I feel a growing certainty that I’ll never get there. And I’m good with that.

Image credit/copyright: podpad/

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